On a cold Sunday night, five teenagers are hanging out on the sidewalk in front of the club at 1531 Champa Street. Inside, on the stage near the front window, I can see a few guys breaking down their equipment. A dozen or so kids are scattered in front of them; a few at tables, a few at the counter and a few on the couches along the back of the former JC's Ground, now resurrected as the Rock & Roll Grill.
So I'm thinking, all right, a mellow Sunday night, not too much shaking. But then I hear some thundering punk rock coming from downstairs. As I walk toward the back in search of the stairs, I check out the posters of Kurt Cobain, the Clash, Jimi Hendrix, the Dead Kennedys, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam and dozens of other rock icons covering the walls.
When I finally find my way to the basement, I expect to see maybe a few dozen stalwarts — but instead, there are a couple hundred kids rocking out to the hardcore band Crooked Ways. And there's probably room for another hundred. My perception of the place instantly changes, and I'm actually blown away by the whole scene.
I'm not alone. When owner Brian Robertson was showing potential bands around his place, he could tell they were a bit disappointed by the first-floor space. "But as soon as they went downstairs, they went bug-eyed," he reports. "The younger people definitely like the underground, and it seems like the older crowd loves the upstairs still."
Robertson and his wife opened the venue about eighteen months ago as JC's Ground, an eatery and Christian-music venue. But it was a tough go, and they tried to sell the place last summer. "I just believed that the good Lord wasn't going to let me get rid of it. Deals kept falling through, and it was obvious," Robertson says. "I came down from the mountains to do this, and I was led to do something and make a difference in some way. He wasn't letting me out of my deal. Once I recognized that, I said, 'We're going to make this work.'"
So they changed the name to Rock & Roll Grill and gave the space a bit of an overhaul, installing a new sound system and lighting, and putting up band posters where Christian scripture and artwork once hung. They expanded the food and music offerings, too. "We just wanted to be more accepting of all and didn't want any children to feel that there was a stigma there attached to us, so we changed the whole thing," Robertson says. "I no longer want to hear about anybody's faith; I just want to see it. I don't want to tell anybody about mine, either; I just want to show it."
While Robertson says the club is still a work in progress, it's already a fun place where kids can count on seeing live music Thursday through Sunday. It's also one of just a handful of all-ages music venues in town, joining the Marquis Theater (2009 Larimer Street), Sox Place (2017 Lawrence Street) and LIFESpot (7562 South University Boulevard in Centennial).
On January 7, the Rock & Roll Grill reopened for daily food service — unfortunately, without a grill. Robertson had made a deposit on a grill and even a couple of payments, only to have the company walk off with the money. Since he doesn't have the $15,000 to $25,000 it will take to drop a new grill and hood system right now, he's back to square one — and selling just sandwiches, soups and salads. "We're kind of looking for an angel," he says.
He's in the right place.
Club scout: At its original location, at 15th and Platte streets, Shakespeare's Pub and Billiards lasted a decade. But then the popular pool hall/watering hole moved to new digs at 2620 Walnut Street, where it lasted just a year. When owners Jerry and Nan Karsh threw a farewell party a few days before the end of 2007, many of the pub's regular Sunday jazz musicians paid their respects to the spot, once named one of the top ten billiard rooms in the nation by USA Today. Good night, sweet prince.
Ten blocks from Shakespeare's resting place, Cervantes' (2637 Welton Street) will celebrate the grand opening of Magoo's Pizza Parlour, located next door in the back of Quixote's. On Friday, January 11, Magoo's will serve free pizza and iced tea provided by Sweet Leaf Tea all night long, and Mason's Children will play tunes from the Grateful Dead's 1989 shows at Hampton Coliseum, where the act was billed as Formerly the Warlocks. Tickets are $10. — Jon Solomon
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.