The Broadway Roxy, at 554 South Broadway, is one of many venues struggling to stay afloat through the pandemic. While the venue has pulled that off so far, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, no federal relief in sight and the threat of more stay-at-home orders looming in Denver, the Roxy's fate is far from certain.
Owner Paula Vrakas recalls stressing out as she first learned about COVID-19 on the news and watched Colorado start to close. It wasn't long before she realized that her venue faced "impending doom."
On March 16, she was forced to shutter her doors until further notice. After laying off 87 people at her Denver and Encinitas, California, locations, the remaining staff unplugged the sound equipment and freezers, shut down the gas and power breakers and turned out the lights, not knowing when, or if, they might open again.
"It was the worst day of my life," she says.
During the months that the Denver club was closed, Vrakas and her remaining team remodeled the Roxy's kitchen and staff lounge.
The venue and restaurant were finally able to open again on June 3, with a performance by Denver folksinger Louise, Lately. The Broadway Roxy has showcased musicians every night since.
While the staff at the Roxy was excited to get up and running again, business is far from normal because of the pandemic. Capacity has been cut. "Regulation says that the musicians have to be 25 feet from the tables," Vrakas says. "We used plexiglass as an extra barrier."
Outside, the venue offers patio space; inside, seating is down to thirteen tables from the original 25. For months, capacity was cut to 50 percent. As of last week, the state reduced the capacity for indoor venues in Denver to 25 percent.
"[I miss] seeing everybody high-fiving, laughing, hugging, being jovial and having a good time," Vrakas says. "I don’t think I even realized how much it mattered until I didn’t have it anymore. The energy in the Roxy when we were having those shows was magic."
But despite the situation not being ideal, Vrakas was happy to bring back almost all of her Denver staff once the spot reopened.
Keeping the lights on has been anything but easy, however. In January and February, the Roxy, which took over the Syntax Physic Opera space in the summer of 2019, was thriving. It had won the Westword Readers' Choice for Best New Restaurant in Denver and was booking musicians left and right. But it can't bring in enough customers to keep it in the black.
"We’re living week to week," Vrakas explains. "We don’t have anything in savings. There's not grants. We don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel."
She says that the venue is doing everything it can to raise awareness; the Roxy can even be found on DoorDash and Uber Eats. Vrakas hopes that when winter comes, people will be more interested in indoor activities and events.
Still, it's no secret that COVID-19 rates have skyrocketed, and Denver is facing the possibility of another stay-at-home order.
With no federal aid, says Vrakas, "Roxy won't make it if there is another shutdown."
Find the musical lineup for the Broadway Roxy here.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.