For the Streets Denver staff, the loss was seismic. In 2018, Elliott bought what was then the Streets of London pub on Colfax. As reported in Westword that year, he notoriously and successfully changed the bar’s reputation from that of a neo-Nazi hangout to a welcoming punk-rock venue named Streets Denver.
During the takeover, Streets staffers were wary of the new boss. But he quickly allayed their fears.
“John's first promises to us were that he wouldn't be making any changes to staff and he wanted to keep the spirit of the bar alive, just improve on it," recalls Streets general manager Beth Hardin. "He kept those promises.”
Tributes to Elliott from his staff include playful memories of how he kept them fueled on junk food on show nights, and tales of how much he put into the green room for the bands: He installed a vintage TV console, video games, couches and a refrigerator, and provided a well-thought-out spread of snacks and drinks.
“Most of the time, if John disappeared on a show night, he was down in the green room getting to know the bands," recalls Hardin. "He genuinely respected the musicians and did as much as he could to accommodate them in his bar."
Other memories ran deeper: Elliott would do anything to help someone in need.
We caught up with the Streets Denver team to hear their stories and tributes to a man who not only changed the Denver nightlife landscape, but the lives of the people he worked with.
There was this time that John insisted on paying for some classes and helping me with my resume. I told him, ‘I've never had someone put so much work into getting me to leave their company!’ After a good laugh he said, ‘I always want to see people succeed and will always help any way I can.’ John would help anyone he could, even if it was to his own detriment. John was fun, he was charismatic, he was extremely intelligent, he was stubborn, and he loved with his heart and soul.
Another time, I was struggling emotionally and John sat with me through more tears than I care to admit. I can't imagine it was how he wanted to spend our meetings. But he sat with me. He constantly tried to remind me just who the hell I am. He put a lot of trust and faith in me, which is both an honor and wholly terrifying. He supported me and mentored me. As much as we feel like John took a piece of our hearts when he left, we should remember how much of his he gave us while he was still here. I am a better person for having had him in my life, if only for a couple of years. I can only hope to be half the person he was, and maybe at least as much of the person he thought I was.
I asked John if we could close the bar so everyone could attend my wedding. Before I even finished the question, he was already saying ‘yes’ and making fun of me for asking with such trepidation. I’ve been in this industry for twenty years, most places made it difficult to even get a day off, let alone closing the whole business for an evening to let us all celebrate together. He was a constant reminder that if you care about someone you support, trust, believe in, and most importantly love them wholeheartedly. Those relationships matter more than all the money in the world.
John was the most genuine guy that I've met. He had his ideals and stuck by them steadfast. He was kind and generous, like family. He would do anything for you if you needed it.
2020 has been a huge dumpster fire for all of us, but this loss really fuels it. We all have been hurting, exhausted, anxious and some of us sick. But losing John was probably the hardest of all. People might think or say, "Yeah, he was the one putting money in their pockets." But he was way more to us than that. In the last two years, there had been so many times that we all mentioned he was the best boss we've ever had. Our team was more like family. He wasn't just invested in the business, but he was emotionally invested in us. He believed in and protected us, and really supported our dreams.
In the time I've known him, John consistently checked in with people and offered support to this industry — to bars that weren't his, employees that weren't his. I know of so many times he's reached out to people in the bar industry, to families that had lost someone in this industry. It’s not something he would bring up a lot because he never wanted any kind of recognition for doing what he thought was right.
He was a friend and family to me in all the times I needed it the most. When my mom was battling cancer, I was back and forth between here and Pennsylvania every other week to take care of her for a couple months. I was so financially strapped because of it. John came into Crema and gave one of my coworkers an envelope with $500 cash in it to give to me. He told them not to say it was him, because he knew I wouldn't accept it, because I was raised not to accept charity. I didn't find out for months that it was him. That was John to me.
Do you have memories of John Elliott? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.