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If a business "blatantly refuses to realize that we're trying to improve the neighborhood," Merida says, the Unsinkables set up a meeting with its owner. For example, the 7-Eleven at 13th and Pearl was once the site of forty to sixty arrests each month. "We just approached them," Merida says. "They sat down with us, with good heart and honesty, and said, `We think you're full of shit.' But that changed. Now they contribute ten to twenty bucks a month."

That money goes to pay the off-duty police officers who accompany the Unsinkables on their patrols--an expense most neighborhood businesses consider reasonable. Al did not. "He would not work with us," Merida recalls. "He came to our meetings and tried to manipulate us into his point of view, which was that all the garbage from Colfax should be allowed to drift down toward his place."

"Well, look," Al explains. "My position was this: I only been in this neighborhood a week and a half--my door is open to whoever wants to walk in. They're telling me my patrons come out of the bar and make noise. Well, excuse me, but big deal--who would live near a bar and not expect that? Then he starts asking for donations for his little group! I'm not up for that, and I told him so."
Within a month of Barbarosa's grand opening, Al says, Merida was making his life (and his customers) miserable--and at the most inopportune moments. "One time me and my ex-wife are talking about some things," he says, "and this Jorge bursts in yelling about we better clean up our act, and I'm sorry but I'm not a guy you wanna threaten."

Want proof? Here's what Al claims to have said to an underage customer: "Put your hand in your pocket, pull out some ID, and it better be the right ID or I'm gonna break off every one of your fingers and shove 'em up your ass"--which Al patricianly pronounces "ahss."

Such displays of temper did not endear Al Avram to the Denver Police Department. "We immediately started receiving complaints about that place," recalls Denver vice detective Michael Patrick. "When it was Zenobia's, we investigated a couple of things, mostly teen night, but the owners always worked with us." Al was different. "Everything just hit so rapidly," Patrick says. "He had people in there so intoxicated they passed right out, and he just denied anyone was drunk. He gave my officers fits."

Officer Burkhardt, who worked the Barbarosa's area both on- and off-duty, was among the most vocal. "It seems that each night I work," he wrote to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, "I handle some sort of incident that originally began in or the people come from this bar."

More specifically, what he remembers is responding to complaints of "people creating crimes, domestic abuse, drug dealing. And that guy Al made it worse. The minute he opened up, there was more crime," Burkhardt insists.

"Barbarosa's had hardcore drinkers," remembers neighborhood landlord and Unsinkables member Don Koller. "I'm a big guy and it takes a lot to scare me, and I didn't feel comfortable there at all. I avoided it and never went near the place."
Barbarosa's customers were "not your upscale persons, okay, but not street people, either, so who took away their right to drink in a public place?" Al asks. "Then this Jorge starts saying maybe I should close down early. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about staying open 24 hours a day, which they should like. I mean, hey, wouldn't it help if my patrons sat around for a few hours after last call eating steak and eggs and things of that nature?"

No, it wouldn't. No sooner did District 3 Sergeant R.L. Samson get wind of the plan than he wrote to Excise and Licenses, asking the department to put a stop to Al. "I took the occasion to briefly talk with the owner," the officer wrote. "I expressed my concern that if he stayed open 24 hours that it would attract a lot of `scumbags' to the area. He replied that he already had a lot of `scumbags' frequenting his bar."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff