When Chris Cone set out to remodel the Buffalo Rose — a popular bar and live-music venue made up of five historic buildings in the heart of downtown Golden — he had no idea what histories he would uncover.
Workers removed plaster from a brick wall of one of the buildings, exposing painted black numbers that indicated where cars should be parked; the structure, constructed in 1922, had originally served as a garage and auto dealership.
“It’s really kind of cool to have found that beneath all this old plaster,” Cone says. “And in general, just the brick from that 1920s era that we uncovered is beautiful.”
Cone says that they also discovered interesting artifacts and historical elements, like a shipping crate from the early 1900s once used to send dry goods.
Throughout the remodel, Cone, who purchased the venue in 2016, has aimed to preserve as much of the existing structures as possible. The oldest building dates back to 1870, while the newest was built in 1922.
“It’s a very old set of buildings that have really had no updating for quite some time,” Cone says. “When we closed the operations [in November 2017], we knew it was going to be quite an effort, quite a journey to get these buildings redone. And it really has been. There’s a lot to the project.”
Still, given the age of some of the buildings, Cone says there was surprisingly little structural work that needed to be done.
“For example, on the corner building, where we now have the main entrance to the restaurant, it’s been a commercial property since 1870,” Cone says. “For that building, we could have found significant issues with the structures, and we really didn’t. We were able to do a little bit of shoring up. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
“All the original wood is pretty well-kept from being encased in plaster...so we can refurbish a lot,” he explains. “Honestly, the surprises, for the most part, were good surprises. In general, it’s a challenging project because of the size and its location in a busy downtown commercial district, but in a lot of ways, things could have been much, much worse as we got into these old buildings.”
Originally, Cone anticipated having the venue up and running by the end of 2018, but renovations took longer than expected. Now the Buffalo Rose will celebrate the grand opening of its concert venue and event center starting Friday, January 25, as part of the fifth annual UllrGrass Music Beer Festival, a wintertime community bluegrass festival; a bar and restaurant are slated to open in spring.
The Buffalo Rose’s new tagline, “Where the old meets the new,” sums up the place perfectly.
The complex, Cone notes, is made up of "different buildings from different eras or different years,” all of which have been updated with safety equipment, lighting, a new HVAC system and flooring, with an eye toward safety and comfort.
“On top of that, we built this new bar with a retractable glass roof along 12th Street,” he says. “We got this brand-new, state-of-the-art kitchen. So it's been preservation and refurbishment in the classic sense, plus adding some new elements that really round out the property from a functional standpoint — and from an aesthetic standpoint, as well.”
Concerts at the venue will continue to be held on a dance floor that covers what was once a swimming pool.
“They built this pool, at which point they excavated a significant portion of that interior floor and also popped the ceiling,” Cone explains. “They literally raised the roof and dug out the pool at the same time. I was just trying to imagine all that in 1925 or ’26. It must have all been done by hand. The equipment back in that day isn’t what we have today. And that’s an extraordinary thought that they converted this pretty big structure — at the time the biggest in Golden — to a pool, and raised this roof and put in a bunch of skylights.
“The pool itself, I always joke, could hold water today,” Cone says. “It just happens to be a really well-built pool for back in the 1920s.” In 1941, the building was sold to a local carpenters’ labor union, which built a drop ceiling and covered the pool with a floor so the structure could host meetings and dances and serve as a roller-skating rink, among other uses.
“We continue to use their floor,” Cone says. “It happened to be a really well-built floor by these carpenters. We tore out the drop ceiling that they had put in back in the ’40s to open up the rafters and the beautiful trusses and all that.”
Cone, a Golden resident whose family is in commercial real estate, was drawn to the Buffalo Rose buildings because of their beauty and historic nature. He saw them as "dying for a development, to bring back their wonderful architectural elements and enhance downtown Golden."
While Cone hadn’t been a regular patron of the venue, he says he’s known about its “interesting demographics” since the 1980s, when it was reformatted to cater to hard-rock and blues fans.
“As far as a business — a bar and restaurant and an event venue — I was convinced...that those would be good long-term businesses in Golden,” Cone says. “I’m very bullish over the long-term about the demographics here, about the need for a good restaurant and bar, the need for a larger event venue on this side of town. So it’s really those factors that drove me to make the investment.”
Golden has become a destination city outside of Denver and Boulder, he says: “It’s one of the Front Range towns that people come to for a day or a couple of days to enjoy the river and enjoy downtown, and enjoy the historic nature of the Old West and the attractive buildings.
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“There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Golden, but it’s also done a good job of maintaining its past — a late-1800s, early-1900s frontier-town feel, and it’s done a good job attracting visitors, through things like the Golden Art Fair, Buffalo Bill Days, Fourth of July and candlelight walks,” he continues. “The city’s well-run. It’s an interesting town to visit, not far from a lot of metro areas. So you don’t have to go all the way up to the mountains or whatever to experience the Old West.”
In a state where concert giants AEG and Live Nation have bought up so many theaters and clubs, the Buffalo Rose has another connection to the region’s history: The venue will be independently run and operated. Concerts will be booked by promoters who will bring blues, bluegrass and folk musicians to the stage, as well as the occasional hard-rock band.
“We’re trying really hard to stay balanced in the genres, to be an open, independent — but at the same time world-class, professionally run — music venue and live-performance venue,” Cone says.
The Buffalo Rose is located at 1119 Washington Avenue in Golden; for more information, go to buffalorose.net or call 303-278-6800.