The Carioca Cafe, known simply as "Bar Bar" for its bright-red neon sign, has had a tumultuous year. The beloved dive at 2060 Champa Street was forced to pause its live-music offerings last year after the city learned that it didn't have a cabaret license, even though it had hosted shows for decades. Denver made the discovery after an underage, undercover cop was allowed entry with an under-21 ID, then allowed to purchase alcohol. Bar Bar reached a settlement with the city and closed for fourteen days; when it reopened, no live music was allowed.
To cover the cost of the closure and the loss of live music, Bar Bar launched a GoFundMe back in May while it applied for a cabaret license.
While the bar is still trying to secure that license, the end could be in sight, according to Richard Granville, a local musician who first came to Bar Bar in 2018 to play a show and eventually ended up working there as a bartender and booker. Granville says that Bar Bar paid its fee for the license and received a receipt in August, but was then notified that some physical updates were required before the license could be granted.
"This whole process has just been so, so arduous, and we've kept thinking that we were on the cusp of it, but now I think we actually are, because we got through everything with the licensing board" at the Department of Excise & Licenses, Granville says. "And they finally gave their full recommendation for approval to the executive director. She replied very quickly, saying we just had to go through a round of inspections and then she'd give us a cabaret license. That was only a few weeks back. Within a week, we had inspectors come out; there were a few fixes that they're requiring, which were all totally manageable. So we've gotten down to the last item on the list, and after today we'll be following up with inspectors. And once they come out and give their approval, that should be the last couple of little steps, and we should get the cabaret license in hand."
But Granville doesn't expect the venue to be holding that license for at least another two weeks. And once again, Bar Bar is asking for help to cover mounting utility bills and other expenses. Granville launched a GoFundMe on March 5 with a goal of $5,000, which will keep the bar from having its water and electricity shut off — but the campaign hasn't gotten much traction yet.
"We've really stuck to our guns about not asking for help unless we really, really need it," Granville says. "I think almost every member of our staff has deferred payment or come out of pocket to help Bar Bar since COVID started. And [owner John Kennedy] has taken out loans to cover things, but it's just reached a point where we're worried that utilities could get cut off any day. ... If either of those get cut, then, yeah, we're just dead in the water."
Since the last GoFundMe was fairly successful, he's hoping that people will again be responsive. Until live music returns and brings in bigger revenues, though, Bar Bar needs all the help it can get.
"It's been about nine months since the initial ordeal began of acquiring the cabaret license in order to have live music," Granville says. "And the place just doesn't even break even without the live music. So we've done everything we can to still try to keep the doors open, to have a place on the map. It's been a slow bleed. And we've known that all along, but we've just been pushing as hard as we can to get things off the ground again with music. It feels just like the COVID shutdowns."