Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Cheers to First Friday

Drink up!

Representative Jerry Frangas has moved to protect one of Denver’s most liquid assets: First Friday, the art events that every month draw thousands of people to gallery-heavy districts around Denver – including Tennyson Street, where Frangas first encountered the event. There are also First Friday celebrations in Rino (River North), on Broadway and in Lodo, but the real champ is on Santa Fe, which regularly attracts thousand revelers on the first Friday of the month, some of whom even buy art.

In order to keep within state liquor codes, the Santa Fe Arts District prohibits its members from serving alcohol at these openings, but still, plenty of the galleries – as well as galleries across town – have been serving free wine and beer at First Friday. And all of them have been breaking the law – because in this state, it’s illegal to serve liquor to the public, even at a free party, if the venue doesn't have a liquor license.

For years, the alcohol-enchanced openings stayed under the radar, but as crowds increased, so did official scrutiny of the events. And legally, there weren't a lot of options other than going dry, because getting a liquor license is a pretty laborious -- and expensive -- process for a small gallery that only wants to tap a keg once a month. Frangas’s bill, however, would create a loophole that would grant a short-term liquor permit to art galleries for no more than four hours a day, no more than fifteen days a year.

On Thursday, January 24, Frangas’s proposal passed out of the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on a unanimous vote, with reps recognizing that letting arts galleries offer free liquor is just good business – not monkey business. “The offer of wine in a paper cup can help entice people to visit the galleries that they’ve never been into before,” says. Frangas. “These events bring the community together in appreciation of the arts. And importantly, this is a pro-business bill that takes only a minor adjustment in the law.”

We'll drink to that. -- Patricia Calhoun

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun