Dave Query's Big Red F group will have a red-letter day tomorrow when it celebrates the birthdays of two of its restaurants: the tenth birthday of Lola, a concept that Query and crew created with chef Jamey Fader, and the 25th birthday of West End Tavern, which Big Red F took over after the death of one of its founders.
Big Red F already owned both the original Jax Fish House in Boulder and a second Jax in Denver, along with other restaurants, when it took the plunge on opening another seafood spot on Old South Pearl Street: Lola, a restaurant that focused on the cuisine of coastal Mexico -- and tequila. Lots of tequila.
"In its early days, Lola was very small and intimate, tiny," Query recalls. "That's kind of where we figured out what Lola food was all about, and the brunch started to get its identity there, as did the passion for tequila."
But Lola outgrew that "small, restrictive" space (which was next occupied by India's Pearl, and is now part of what will open next spring as Tavern Platt Park), and started looking for a new home. It found it in LoHi, an area on the edge of Highland that seven years ago was far from the hipster neighborhood that Forbes recently recognized.
Jen Lydiard, who'd been a manager at Lola from the start and lived in the neighborhood, spotted the space in the huge, former home of Olinger's Mortuary that Paul Tamburello and his then-partner were developing, and convinced Query to take a look. He liked what he saw, and signed a deal. "He was a catalytic tenant for us and the entire Lower Highland neighborhood," Tamburello recalls. "He was well-respected, and that opened the eyes of a lot of people."
The space opened Query's eyes, too. It was "gigantic, with two floors, six times bigger," he says. "We keep pushing until we get it figured out."
And figure it out they did. All day tomorrow, Lola will celebrate its tenth birthday, with a fall fiesta that starts with brunch and runs until 11 p.m., with live music and specials along the way.
But that's not the only birthday Big Red F will be celebrating tomorrow. West End Tavern will be marking its 25th. Not long after it opened Lola, Big Red F also took on West End Tavern, another restaurant that helped define a neighborhood -- this one the west end of Pearl Street in Boulder.
The West End came with its own story, which Query shared in the most recent Big Red F newsletter:
Thank you, Beaver:
Twenty-five years is a long time. If we were all 25-year-old dogs, we'd be staring at 175 years of age (and the wall, probably). But twenty-five trips around the sun ago, the West End Tavern opened its doors on a piece of West Pearl Street that looked remarkably different than it does now. That is when "Beaver and Minnie" pulled together some cash, and opened up the Tavern, serving basic burgers and burritos and a lot of cold beer. You could usually find a few other things there that weren't on the menu, but were in "high" demand as well, but that's for another story.
In those years, you could fill your tank and get some honest car repairs at Rich's Amoco on the corner of 9th and Pearl. You could sit in front of a little house under the biggest cottonwood tree you can imagine across the street where Pasta Jay's had a home for a decade and Chipotle now lives. And you could sit up on that West End Tavern patio and see Davidson Mesa and the cars coming down the hill into Boulder, a clear shot of Chautauqua and Flagstaff, and a glorious view of Sanitas, all without having to stand up. There were climbers and musicians and, freshman CU football players working as bussers who would hold a national trophy in their hands four years later. There isn't a beer-maker in the area including Kim Jordan from New Belgium, Adam Avery, Dale from Oskar's, and the crews from Oasis, Odell, Left Hand and a host of others who wouldn't agree, in unison and in tune, that The West End Tavern was a major launching point for their beer and their efforts in those early days.
Marc Minion (Minnie) is still around and still a business partner in the West End. But our dear friend Steve Goren (Beaver) passed away long, long before his time. On an early summer night in 2001, a few of us were on our way to Game 7 of The Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New Jersey Devils with Beav who was, without question, a huge sports fan, and maybe the biggest Colorado Avalanche fan to ever live. We never made it to the game that night, and ended up watching the game from the same room at Community Hospital that my son Harrison was born in 9 years earlier. Except this time, I was with a few friends and Beaver, who had died earlier in the day of a heart attack. And of course the game went into over-time.
Steve "Beaver" Goren was a visionary. A big, bearded, bear of a man that at first glance could be mistaken as intimidating and as a back-stage bodyguard for Jerry Garcia. But he was nothing but the kindest and most amazing man you'll ever know. He purchased the building that houses The Tavern at the same time he purchased the building next door, where Jax now lives, and was previously home to Robb's Music for a decade. Not stopping there, his group purchased the Armory building that is now home to Urban Outfitters and in that deal, he also acquired the only still remaining piece of dirt at 911 Walnut which he had dreams of developing, and us doing a bar on top called THE PANIC BAR. (9-1-1, get it)
He loved West Pearl, originally coined the name "West End", and brought a brand of entrepreneurial behavior to Boulder at a time long before Outside Magazine ever said a word about how cool Boulder and it's people were. He was generous, intelligent and a genius in his efforts to build up the downtown business area that he loved so much. A picture of "The Beav" hangs behind the door at The West End, and a big, heavy, comfortable bench that sits between Jax and Urban Outfitters is a place to rest, in his honor.
There have been some really amazing people that have helped shape the business community and especially the hospitality culture that has made Boulder so very famous, and Beaver is at the very top of that list. He didn't teach me much of anything about cooking, but he ingrained in me a spirit of community and of giving back and sharing knowledge that has been huge part of our success at Big Red F. Gone but not forgotten, we will all raise a social glass to Beaver on October 27th and I hope I can clink your glass in the celebration.
Whether you're at the West End Tavern, Lola or your own home tomorrow, raise a glass to the restaurateurs who have changed the face of the metro Denver dining scene -- and helped create a true Colorado community.