"I can explain that," Al says. "Sure, I had problems, but really just two incidents." In both cases, Al felt it necessary to evict a drunk--one an employee, one a customer--each of whom reappeared with cops in tow, crying brutality. "Cop cars come roaring up!" Al recalls. "This idiot tells them I pulled a gun on him! I'm dressed in a suit and tie! And they decide to believe this drunk who's actually weaving and refuses to press charges!"
"We're talking three or four incidents that I can recall," protests Officer Burkhardt. "He pulls a gun on a guy. He beats up a guy!"
So, okay, there was a .22 target pistol behind the bar at Barbarosa's, Al explains patiently, but not for use on patrons. And as for the beating, well, "one of my customers leaves to go to the restroom, and this drunk takes a sip of his beer. I say, `Hey pal, you're leaving.' And he hauls off and takes a punch at me, see. So I decked his ahss. Then I tossed him out into the street."
Anyway, Officer Burkhardt is an "abusive asshole," Al continues. "He complains he comes in here to do his inspections and is greeted with cold silence. Well, what--we're supposed to fuckin' applaud him?"
Well, it wouldn't have hurt. Because by last July Denver authorities were hot on Al's trail. Detective Patrick was beginning to wonder how Al Avram had been granted a liquor license in the first place.
"He lied," Patrick says, "by omission, shall we say." In other words, while Al listed one felony on his liquor license application, he conveniently forgot at least three others, as well as two five-year-old arrests for "exhibiting a firearm" and possession of a "controlled narcotic substance" in southern California. (Al can explain that, too. He spent two days in jail because his pants were covered with pool chalk. After that, he says, charges were dropped.)
Patrick learned all this in a phone call from Detective Paul Reffitt of the Thornton vice squad. Reffitt, who did not respond to numerous messages from Westword, has filled three hefty files with the Al Avram saga. In short, they reveal this: In 1991 a company known as Contelex bought the former Best Western Capri Motel at 84th Avenue and I-25, renaming it the Hacienda Plaza Inn. Contelex had its share of sub-entities and management arms, but this much--although not much else--is clear: It was Al Avram and his then-wife who had bought the place. They paid $350,000, which appears to have been loaned by Al's wife. As for Al, he's described on his Thornton paperwork as an "entrepreneur, investor." Although the couple kept the motel business going, it was the restaurant/ lounge that really grabbed their interest. "We had the Glass Menagerie," Al remembers. "They did Top 40, show music, they'd even been on Johnny Carson. What a class act."
Which is more than Detective Reffitt could say for the Avrams. They were serving liquor after hours, tipsters reported, and even though Al's name appeared nowhere on the license, he was managing the bar. Reffitt dropped by the Hacienda Plaza often, discovering a building-department violation on each occasion. He finally concluded that Al was the power behind the throne, and when he checked up on Avram, he discovered the aforementioned felonies, as well as the distressing fact that there really was no way Al could be a retired general in the U.S. Air Force, as he had recently claimed. By December 1991 Al's name was purged from all Hacienda Plaza paperwork, but employees claim he remained on the premises.
And what premises they were! Ballroom and banquet facilities were rented out to a series of Mexican Independence Day promoters--despite the fact that none of the resulting blowouts occurred on Mexican Independence Day. Employees observed children, ages five to ten, drinking beer out of baby bottles on the premises. A restaurant health inspector recoiled at the sight of "flour infested with weevils, liquor adulterated with insects...and cook wiping hands on apron!" Whether or not food was actually served at the Hacienda remains a mystery, although the interior of the dishwasher had to have gotten "filthy" somehow. (The Hacienda ambience has not improved. A recent lunchtime visit revealed exactly no one dining at what is now called Senor Benjy's Tex-Mex, and a sad marquee trumpeted the existence of "Lunch, Din Specils.")
Stool-pigeon members of the waitstaff finally convened to tell Detective Reffitt their stories. They were constantly being told to "push booze"--to bring customers drinks whether they'd been ordered or not, they said. And the hotel rooms, despite their $44-per-night price tag, were a mess. "Oh, one room has a flood," one chambermaid related, "or the other room falls apart, or uh, furniture comes apart, or the TV blows up." When asked about those years, Al's ex-wife responds with a stifled yelp. "Ah, you just blew me away!" she says. "No! I don't know anything! I'm divorcing the guy! I would prefer just to get on with my life. I don't know anything. I mean, this is unbelievable. I want to just keep things quiet!"