Denver Venue Herman's Hideaway Closes, Was Local Music Powerhouse | Westword

Remembering Herman's Hideaway, a Local Music Powerhouse

On July 1, crews began transforming the 62-year-old venue into a Latino dance club.
An institution on South Broadway since 1962.
An institution on South Broadway since 1962. Herman's Hideaway Facebook
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As the cliché goes, change is inevitable. Progress — whether it’s good or bad, whether it can even be considered “progress” — happens whether we want it or not.

Herman's Hideway is no more. On July 1, the building's new leaders took over the "fiercely independent" venue at 1578 South Broadway and immediately began transforming it into Coco Bongo’s, a Latin dance club; all upcoming shows were canceled. The business is signed to a three-to-five-year lease.

"Once complete, Coco Bongos at Herman's Hideaway will be a premiere Latin night club while maintaining a focus on booking local and national touring bands as well," wrote Mike Roth, who'd been managing the club founded by his grandfather, Herman Roth, in a July 3 post on Facebook. "Over the last 65 years we have been blessed to serve Denver and S. Broadway with over 40,000 bands/sets and we're excited to see what happens in the future. Thanks for the opportunity to be Denver's home for so many bands and friends over the decades."

Since that announcement, much of the attention has been focused on the rising bands that Mike's father, Allan Roth, had the foresight to book back in the day: Dave Matthews, Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Faith No More and Jonathan Richman — who never became a big star, though he still performs to this day.

But there were other young-and-hungry artists who played there, too. Back in the early '80s, when I became music editor at Westword, the Mercury Cafe was the club where you could catch rising acts; I saw artists such as Green on Red, Long Ryders and X there. Walabi’s hosted the Go-Go’s (or was it the Bangles?) before they climbed the ladder to the Rainbow Music Hall. Straight Johnson’s was the place for blues, jazz and R&B stars from Rufus Thomas and Albert Collins to Sun Ra.

Then Allan Roth took over Herman’s from his father in 1982. The South Broadway bar, set in a neighborhood full of antique shops (including the super fun Blinky’s Collectibles, owned by Blinky the Clown, who held sway over Denver’s children’s television audience for decades), started showcasing a carefully curated list of local bands and became the place to really discover the local scene.

When I first went to Herman’s, it was a small bar with the booze along one wall and a stage and tables for audiences taking up most of the small room. It soon expanded to double its capacity as those local bands went national. Along the way,  I got to know Sharon, the sassy gatekeeper at the door, and Allan, the affable owner who loved hanging out in his joint. It wasn’t just a business for him — clearly, it was his life. While I can’t remember all the Denver bands I saw there, many I did achieved various levels of “commercial” success locally, including 40th Day, the Fluid, Chris Daniels and the Kings, and Captain and the Red Hot Blues Band.

Several deserved national recognition. Sadly, Electric Third Rail didn’t reach that level, but it was an electrifying and artistic Boulder band that mashed together punk, poetry and pop into a powerful and sometimes unpredictable musical brew; the driving force was mercurial singer-songwriter George Gatsiopoulos, The act built a strong following at Herman’s and got to showcase both at SXSW in Austin and the New Music Seminar in New York City. I vividly remember a release party for an indie cassette recording at Herman’s that was jam-packed with fans who treated ETR as if it were already a big-time national act. Alas, the band danced with major labels but never did ink a deal.
click to enlarge band on stage in dark bar.
The Subdudes reunion show at Herman's in 2014.
Gil Asakawa
Then came the Subdudes, who moved from their musical home turf of New Orleans to Colorado because one of the members, accordionist John Magnie, was from Fort Collins. They settled in Denver and built a reputation as a roots-rock powerhouse that blended R&B, soul, country, Cajun, folk and blues with three solid songwriters and a sonic twist: Steve Amedee beating on a tambourine instead of a drum kit — hence, the “subdued” sound the band had developed for weekly nights in a Louisiana bar. For a time, the ’dudes played Herman's monthly; they soon got a major-label record deal and released their first album in 1989. The Subdudes toured until they took a break in 2011. They reunited for a terrific tour with the original members in 2014, when I was lucky enough to catch them playing a welcome home show at Herman’s. Although Johnny Ray Allen, the band’s bass player and one of the band’s songwriters, died later that year, the group has still performed from time to time since.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters is the one band from the halcyon days of Herman's in the 1980s that's continued to play music, including annual shows at Red Rocks. The group formed as a trio when its members — including namesake Todd Park Mohr — were students at the University of Colorado Boulder, and began playing in the area in the late 1980s. Like the Subdudes, Big Head Todd had monthly gigs at Herman’s Hideaway, growing their audience base and jamming the club. BHTM was signed to a record deal and has toured the world, but the musicians still call Colorado home.

Herman's was home, too.

It's hard to imagine the rise of these local stars without the support of Herman’s Hideaway, the local club that supported their careers early on and also brought up-and-coming national acts to Denver, helping to establish us as a music city.

Manny Fleming, Coco Bongo’s booking manager, has left open the possibility of hosting rock acts like those that Herman’s showcased. So, yeah, change is inevitable…but maybe not immutable.
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