Booze

Gravel Pit Agrees to Surrender Liquor License Over Code Violations

Gravel Pit has surrendered its liquor license.
Gravel Pit has surrendered its liquor license. Google Maps
Gravel Pit, a bar and music venue located at 2014 South University Boulevard, near the University of Denver, has surrendered its liquor license over a series of code violations.

In a December 8 settlement agreement with the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, Gravel Pit admitted to violations of providing alcohol to a minor, unlawful sale of alcohol to a minor, time limits for entertainment and unlawful display of liquor.

"I created this space for the community of Denver to bring music/art back to the people after COVID," says Gravel Pit owner Kofi Ansong. "I am proud of what I (me)/(staff) accomplished. Our space promoted local musicians and artists. Unfortunately, Denver’s liquor laws are outdated and antiquated for this growing city. It’s sad to see the city doesn’t care about small businesses anymore; just look at all the small businesses that have been shut down. Perhaps the city will stop targeting small businesses when city budget cuts arises because loss of tax revenue."

The venue had previously been home to Quixote's True Blue, a bar and music joint owned by Jay Bianchi, whose Grateful Dead-themed spots have also run into trouble with the city. Bianchi shut down Quixote's in early 2021 because of COVID-related violations. Not long after, Gravel Pit opened.

But in less than two years of operation, the bar got dinged for multiple liquor-law violations.

In June 2021, an undercover Denver Police Department officer entered Gravel Pit with an underage cadet. According to a past order to show cause, which Excise and Licenses sends out to venues to notify them of potential liquor-licensing action, once the two were inside Gravel Pit, the bartender asked the undercover cop and the cadet if they would like anything to drink. The cadet then ordered two Coors Banquet draft beers, which the cadet paid for in cash.

Immediately following that transaction, a DPD detective entered and served a summons for serving alcohol to an underage person. The bartender then asked the undercover cop and the cadet for their IDs, saying he had forgotten to do so; upon discovering that the cadet's ID stated she was under 21, the bartender said that he would need to take back the beer.

After that incident, Gravel Pit received a show-cause order and struck a settlement agreement with Excise and Licenses in October 2021. The agreement required the bar to close for sixteen days and to have an additional forty-day closure held in abeyance for a year, conditional on no further liquor-code violations.

But around 2:25 a.m. on August 13, after bars are supposed to be closed to patrons, the Denver Police Department's vice team conducted what it calls a "license compliance investigation" at Gravel Pit. After entering the bar, a DPD detective reportedly "observed a DJ performing live music and patrons of the establishment dancing on the dance floor," according to city documents. The detective also "observed a bottle of Corona beer displayed on the bar."

On September 15, Excise and Licenses sent another show-cause order to Kofi Ansong, the owner of the bar, for "unlawful display of liquor" and "time limits for entertainment." A hearing on that order had been postponed. Ansong did not respond to a request for comment.

But then, on September 23, an eighteen-year-old Denver Police Department cadet and an undercover DPD officer paid a $30 cover to enter the premises before being asked for their IDs by the doorman. The cadet presented her Colorado driver's license, which showed that she was under the age of 21.

According to another show-cause order, "Realizing the cadet was underage, the doorman told her, 'I won’t say anything if you don’t.' The two were then allowed to enter the establishment."

Once inside the venue, the cadet ordered two bottles of Bud Light at the bar. The bartender handed over the beers, which were paid for in cash, without asking for ID, the order claims.

Excise and Licenses sent out the show-cause order in relation to this incident on October 16.

An administrative hearing that had been scheduled to adjudicate these matters was also postponed, owing to the settlement agreement negotiations.

Per the terms of the settlement agreements, aside from surrendering Gravel Pit's dance cabaret, hotel and restaurant liquor and underage patrons cabaret licenses, the venue agreed that it will not be able to get any similar licenses for one year. The surrendering of these licenses essentially makes Gravel Pit inoperable as a business.

"I look forward to seeing what Governor Polis and the new liquor council will put together," says Ansong. "Hopefully common-sense laws that don’t shut down small businesses."

This story has been updated to include comments from Gravel Pit owner Kofi Ansong.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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