In the years since it became Lost Lake Lounge, the strip-mall bar sitting on Colfax just west of Colorado Blvd. has maintained a low-key, log-cabin-like atmosphere; beers were sipped at the front room's small crescent-shaped bar, and bands played in the back room on the floor.
The space has a long history in Denver music. It opened in the early '40s as the Alamo, Denver's first piano bar. It went through several name and ownership changes. By 2010 it was the Bulldog and wasn't hosting shows. Matt LaBarge bought the spot that year and brought back live music. When fellow venue owner Scott Campbell bought Lost Lake Lounge from LaBarge in late 2013, he didn't waste much time before turning the modest two-room space into a full-on venue. The Lost Lake Lounge of today is in some ways unrecognizable from the one in which you might have spent an evening as recently as December.
"Basically, bands would load in and set themselves up on the floor, and there was a small PA system they could run their vocals through. That was about it," says Tony Mason, Lost Lake Lounge's general manager and talent buyer, of the pre-purchase layout.
The first thing to go in Campbell's renovations was the drop ceiling, which fell to reveal several more feet of vertical space. Crews cleared out the sparsely populated room containing a photo booth, an armoire and a handful of booths, and they built a stage from scratch. A few subwoofers were put in, along with speaker cabinets hung from the ceiling and a monitor system -- quite a step up from the previous sound situation.
They created a second stage out of an existing platform in the bar's front room and installed a totally new sound system there as well. This smaller stage area has already seen quite a few DJ acts in the last few weeks since Lost Lake Lounge began hosting post-Bluebird show after-parties with headliners from across the street behind the decks. Mason says the new sound systems are powerful but not overwhelming; after all, with a capacity of around 150 for both rooms, there isn't too much space to work with.
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Expanding that capacity is something Mason and Campbell are working on as part of their long-term plan. Shows like Dead Meadow's two-night stint earlier this month have been selling out. Mason says they are considering the idea of eliminating the wall between the two rooms to open up the space. "Having one big room would make it easier to be a bigger-capacity venue, and that way we wouldn't have the wall blocking the view." In the mean time, they have installed a camera that points at the stage and broadcasts the show around the corner on a flatscreen TV behind the bar, much like the set-up at Campbell's other venue, the Larimer Lounge. Mason says they've also done some work on the bar itself, adding a second well to keep up with the growing crowds. Even as one big room the two stages would remain and Mason sees the potential for festival-like events with sets rotating between stages. The idea of taking out the wall and moving the bar to the other side of the front room has also been discussed, but nothing is official.
Being sandwiched between a nail salon and a liquor store leaves Lost Lake Lounge with limited expansion capabilities, so the bar is trying to use what it has. A back room currently used for storage may eventually become a green room for national acts, but that too is an idea for some day down the line. For the time being, the sound system, soundproofing and proper stage set-ups in both rooms are the priority.
And if you're wondering about those shitty bathrooms, they aren't going anywhere any time soon. "We definitely plan on doing something with the bathrooms, but it isn't in the immediate future, because it is such a big project," says Mason with a laugh. "We don't have a lot of room to do much more, but we know the bathroom situation kind of sucks."
Besides, what's a Denver venue without a shitty bathroom?
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