Not long after Governor Jared Polis announced that he was banning 250-plus capacity events statewide last March to slow COVID-19, Lion’s Lair co-owner Doug Kauffman shuttered his 105-person dive bar, comedy hub and music venue, even before the state and city mandates closed businesses around the state.
"We made the call right away," he told Westword at the time. "It shouldn't be a hard one to make, considering how dire the situation is."
The Lion’s Lair, which Kauffman considers Denver’s oldest consistently operating independent music venue, was one of the first bars to close in the city and reopened for a short period starting in June with 25 percent capacity.
“We've been closed for eight months, except for a brief six-week period where we observed all the restrictions and kept things real safe for folks,” Kauffman says. “But people weren't going out that much.”
During the period the Lion’s Lair was open, Kauffman says it wasn’t possible to book live bands with 25 percent capacity because of COVID mandates, and he had to cancel about two and a half months of bands that were on the books.
Kauffman says the Lion’s Lair didn’t have room for a patio in front on Colfax Avenue, and having one in the alley was obviously out of the question. While he says the landlords have been helpful, the venue just launched a GoFundMe to raise $25,000 in back rent and other expenses that have accumulated over the past eight months.
“The Lair has a community that is supportive,” the GoFundMe page states. “LL's community consists of people that live for this bar. People that need the bar for support, friendship, expression of music or art, and sometimes you just need a place dark and calm to grab a drink.
“It's easy to be a part of the Lair community, all you have to do is stop by," the GoFundMe continues. "We drink together and enjoy our daily conversations with the people that come to say hi, while respecting the people that want to drink their drinks alone. There are people we see daily that worry us when they are late. There are others that come to visit, because everyone has a story about 'that one time at Lion's Lair!’”
Kauffman also says the venue's talent buyer, Demi Merritt, will work on getting funding from the $900 billion federal relief bill Congress just passed that is waiting on President Donald Trump's approval. Part of that relief package would include financial assistance to independent venues and promoters that have been crushed by the shutdown.
Since Kauffman took over the Lion’s Lair in 1995, the venue has been hosting local and touring acts most nights of the week, including punk icons like Mike Watt, John Doe and Flipper, as well as Jonathan Richman, the Blasters, the Black Keys, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (which played its first gig there in the mid-’90s) and Jello Biafra’s Incredibly Strange Dance Parties. The venue has also hosted long-running open-mic nights for musicians and comedians.
The building’s history dates back to the 1930s, when it was the Playboy Club and hosted jazz stars like Dexter Gordon and Clark Terry. Then it was a 300-person venue that included the storefront that is now End of Days Tattoo next door. It was later known as the Aladdin Lounge, a name it kept until 1967, when John Lyons took over the space and dubbed it the Lion’s Lair.
"I can't think of any other longer-running place that's done music in Denver," Kauffman says. "We've got to be the longest-running live-entertainment venue in the city."
To support the venue, go to the Lion's Lair GoFundMe campaign.
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