Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

John Hickenlooper skips Rockmount Ranch Wear, My Brother's Bar: Always boot Colorado?

First, gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper sports a Western shirt by North Carolina-based Wrangler rather than one by hometown hero Rockmount Ranch Wear in a campaign commercial. Then, he shows up for a fundraiser at Brothers Bar -- the Wisconsin import, not My Brother's Bar, the Denver original. Always boot Colorado?

My Brother's Bar is the oldest continually operating saloon in Denver, with roots that date back to the 1870s. Jim and Angelo Karagas bought the place at 2376 15th Street in 1969 and named it My Brother's before snapping up a spot eight blocks away that they turned into the Wazee Supper Club. While Angelo supervised that joint (and some rowdy tenants upstairs, which included the Westword office in the early '80s), Jim watched over My Brother's.

You'll still find him there most days, seating guests and doing paperwork -- which these days often involves legal action concerning Brothers Bar & Grill, a chain founded in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in 1990 by brothers Mark and Eric Fortney. A Brothers opened in Denver, at 1920 Market Street, this spring -- but not before Jim Karagas's lawyer sent a letter to the Fortneys suggesting they might want to choose another name in order to avoid any confusion in the marketplace. That inspired the Forneys's attorney to file a motion in U.S. District Court in Denver even before Brothers opened asking the judge to approve the name and arguing that no one could confuse the two bars.

That ruling is still pending. The confusion is not. Last Friday, people kept dropping into My Brother's Bar, asking the bartender up front where they should go for the Hickenlooper fundraiser. Not My Brother's, it turns out -- the fundraiser was actually at the Brothers bar a mile away.

Should the Brothers versus Brother's case ever get to court, Jim Karagas could have an ideal expert to testify about confusion over the names -- one who actually made his own name as a tavern-owner.

And Jim already knows this potential witness: After Angelo Karagas died, the Wazee was purchased by the Wynkoop restaurant group -- then run by one John Hickenlooper.

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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