Neighborhoods

How Hard Is It to Open a Club in LoDo? Ask the GM at Status Ultra Lounge

Status Ultra Lounge is in the process of getting formal signage.
Status Ultra Lounge is in the process of getting formal signage. Catie Cheshire
Walking down Blake Street from Coors Field on a weekend night, bar after bar feels eerily similar, often overly crowded with patrons and brimming with pent-up energy.

Now there's a new spot adding to the area's vibe: Status Ultra Lounge, which opened on New Year's Eve at 1822 Blake Street. The location was once Vesta, an upscale restaurant that closed in 2020 after 23 years in business. The building also briefly housed the gay nightclub Sir, which opened last January but shuttered in April; the owners told Westword that the needs of the community didn't quite align with their vision.

Tommie Ellis, Status Ultra Lounge's general manager, is the latest person to take a crack at the space, with the goal of bringing a different, more upbeat feel to that part of the city. Ellis loves the neighborhood, he says, but thinks it could use an infusion of the atmosphere found elsewhere — he mentions Meadowlark Bar at 2701 Larimer Street as showcasing the type of music he hopes will be played at the club.

"I want to make sure, first and foremost, we're good with the community and neighborhood that we're in. That's the biggest thing for me right now. Because we're three weeks in, and I know it's been a little wild,” Ellis says.

"A little wild" might be a bit of an understatement, considering that chaos reigned on opening day for the fledgling club, and the surrounding area has had more than its fair share of problems in the short time since.

Granted, New Year's Eve can be a problematic night to launch in Denver, especially considering that the Downtown Denver Partnership was estimating that 15,000 people were headed to the area to celebrate and watch the city's fireworks shows.

Although Status Ultra had security guards and an off-duty Denver Police Department officer scheduled, Ellis says the security team got there later than it should have and hadn't set up a line system before the crowd came, which resulted in a bottleneck at the door and people sitting down on the street or sidewalk while they waited to get in. In fact, there were so many people clogging the space just outside the club that at least two other bars nearby, Pony Up and Seven Grand, closed early to avoid unsafe interactions between their patrons and the Status Ultra crowd.

Status ultra owners Jessie Mack, Gabriel Lindsay and Neelin Shead declined to comment, instead pointing to Ellis as their spokesperson.

“It was kind of rushed with everything,” Ellis says. “My name is also on this place, as well. Not on paper, but in public perception, and I have a lot of things I do myself outside of this, so I want to make sure that anything that happens with this place, whether it's tied to money or not, it's not anything bad. I love this area.”

The club hadn't had time to perfect its sound system — which was left over from the previous owners — before it opened, Ellis notes. There is a residence right next door to the club, and one of its occupant visited on January 8 to ask that the music be turned down. “We're trying to build a good relationship with him and make sure we're not stepping on his toes or anything,” Ellis says, adding that the goal is to get the sound system reworked with better equipment and soundproofing by mid-February.

Ellis says he’s also endeavoring to keep the neighborhood in mind by remaining closed on Sundays until he can figure out the live-music setup, and then when the club does open those nights, it will close by 11 p.m. instead of staying open until 2 a.m. Status Ultra will also offer themed evenings of R&B, music from the 2000s, reggaetón and DJs on weekends to give the place more structure, he says. Ellis plans to offer food during the day and throughout the week to brand the space as a restaurant as well as a nighttime destination, and notes he’s in the process of creating the menu.

Status Ultra Lounge signed a Good Neighbor Agreement with the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association. Other local business owners aren’t convinced that the lounge has kept up with that agreement so far, however, pointing to overflowing trash cans in the alley behind the building after the weekend of January 7. The GNA states that the club "shall maintain the exterior of the licensed premises in a neat and clean manner, including cleaning up regularly to remove trash such as, by way of example, cigarette butts, graffiti, and other garbage," but Ellis says Status Ultra accidentally ordered the dumpster a size too small.

The City of Denver had attempted to preemptively mitigate any problems that Status Ultra Lounge might bring to the area after residents testified at a November 16 hearing over the business’s licensing, urging the city to consider not allowing the club to hold a cabaret license. The cabaret license was ultimately approved, with conditions to address the needs of the surrounding community.

“The Licensee shall operate its business in such a manner that noise emanating from the premises is not plainly audible after 10 PM within nearby residential units as defined by Section 38-101 of the City of Denver Revised Municipal Code,” the licensing decision reads.

The thirty-year-old Ellis has worked at many clubs in Denver over the years, including the now-closed Dorchester Social in the 1400 block of Market Street, and Epernay Lounge and Onyx near the Denver Performing Arts Complex; Onyx was shut down by the city because of concerns over crime in 2019. At the time, Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca protested the closure of Onyx for being motivated by racism — Ellis is Black — rather than actual safety concerns.

Because of his time in the industry, Ellis says he's aware of what can happen if a business becomes the subject of scrutiny from police or other city agencies. — and he points to an example less than a block away: Beta, formerly an EDM club, at 1909 Blake Street. After the club was taken over by Valentes Corleons — who recently shared his intention to run for mayor of Denver but never formally filed — it became more hip-hop-focused before eventually being shut down by the city and declared a public nuisance for a laundry list of violations.

Ellis says he’s determined not to let Status Ultra Lounge, which is fully Black-owned, become another failed hip-hop club. Though he believes that many of the issues at Onyx weren’t the fault of the establishment, he notes that “a lot of people aren't doing what they're supposed to do” in the hip-hop club space. He insists that Status Ultra Lounge will be different.

“I don't want it to be 'status' in the sense of 'I'm better than you,' but that everyone's on the same status,” Ellis says of the club’s name. “Somebody might get jealous. This guy has this bottle, and they can't. I don't want to create that environment. Most of the nightclubs out here that have been shut down — from Beta to even stuff at Native, Purple Martini, Mojito Lounge — they get shut down because of those kinds of people that are in the club. What I want to do here is create a space where everybody is just here to have a good time."

Ultra Lounge, he adds, is a term many in the industry are using to signify that the place is a club, but with a better connotation.

“We just came out in the world being loud, so we gotta get that right,” Ellis says. “I’m very optimistic. I think, with anything, there's a lot of bumps in the road and kinks. I have a vision for this place that I want to make come to fruition."

Since New Year's Eve, though, the bumps in the nearby roads have included literal bumps: On January 8, a driver hit four pedestrians at 18th and Wazee streets, about a block away, with the DPD announcing that it is investigating the hit-and-run incident as an assault. Then, on January 9, a shooting involving four victims occurred just behind the club; the shooting is being investigated by the DPD FAST team, the department’s unit for non-fatal shooting investigations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also part of that team.

“In general, regarding the business aspect of an investigation, Denver Police works with Denver Excise & Licenses to investigate if there is a licensing violation or if it appears the business was directly or indirectly involved in the violence that occurred,” according to a DPD spokesperson. “Such a determination has not been made at this stage of the investigation.” The DPD also says that because the case is still under investigation, there are no police reports available for release — and according to Excise & Licenses, there are no pending disciplinary actions against Status Ultra Lounge.

Still, some other business owners in the area continue to have concerns. Ellis says he wants to work on building relationships with the neighborhood, and offers to hold a meeting with them.

“I can say whatever I want to anybody, and it can be true or not be true unless you actually come in and experience what I'm telling you,” he says. “That's the best way for anyone that has any hesitations about this new space: to come and experience it.”

Meanwhile, until the food menu is ready, Status Ultra Lounge will be open Thursday through Saturday starting at 9 p.m. 
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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