The controversial 1919 Blake Street space that was home to Falling Rock Tap House for decades — briefly becoming Cabin Tap House before closing after a shooting in January 2022 that left two people dead — could soon come out of its slumber; the city has approved a new hotel and restaurant license and standard cabaret license for the address.
This spring, Tom Saifuldeen Zaidan applied to open a sports bar, Sky Lounge, in the space. Saifuldeen Zaidan lives in Aurora and owns several businesses, including a trucking outfit and a bar and lounge in Grand Junction. Soon he’ll get into the LoDo scene — but not without conditions.
In a November 20 decision, Molly Duplechian, executive director of Denver Excise & Licenses, listed three provisions for the Sky Lounge license, which Saifuldeen Zaidan applied for through the Western Barn LLC.
The Sky Lounge must notify the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association (LoDoNA) ten days before it files a transfer of ownership application and provide licensed security from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during special events.
“The Licensee agrees not to employ any individuals who have been a registered manager or owner of a Liquor or Cabaret-Licensed establishment which has had its license revoked or suspended for a period of more than 30 days as a result of sustained violations of the Denver Revised Municipal Code or Colorado Liquor Code,” the decision says, describing the third condition.
Controversy began engulfing the building after it was sold to Valentes Corleons (legal name Hussam Kayali) in June 2021. He owned the neighboring Beta Event Center at 1909 Blake and transformed the longstanding Falling Rock bar into Cabin later that year.
Shortly after the New Year's Day shooting at Cabin, it was determined that Corleons had sold the Cabin building to Thomas Schaefer, and the liquor license for the address was voluntarily surrendered. Not even a year after Corleons bought the building, both Cabin and Beta were shut down by the city for being public nuisances.
According to Duplechian’s decision, however, the address's rap sheet and his own lack of experience can’t be held against Saifuldeen Zaidan, despite what the Office of the City Attorney had argued earlier.
“The Director finds that having prior experience managing a bar is not a prerequisite to holding a liquor license,” Duplechian wrote in her decision. “The Department routinely grants licenses to operators with little to no experience. Additionally, there is no experience requirement set forth in Colorado Liquor Code provisions for those who may own a liquor license.”
After a May 30 meeting before Career Service Hearing Officer Ryan Brand, it was recommended that Sky Lounge’s licenses be approved. But the assistant city attorney on the case, Blake McCracken, asked for another hearing on June 15 and objected to Brand’s recommendation.
According to Duplechian’s decision, McCracken said there was new evidence to consider, mainly having to do with Saifuldeen Zaidan verbally contradicting details contained in his written application during the hearing. The assistant city attorney also alleged that Saifuldeen Zaidan “provided false or misleading statements in the application” over his management of another liquor establishment: the Lux Ultra Lounge in Grand Junction.
In her decision, Duplechian clarifies that at the time Saifuldeen Zaidan applied for his Denver licenses, he did not own the Lux Ultra Lounge, which he formally opened in August after acquiring the business on May 31.
After another hearing on July 28, Brand said the application should be approved, with the conditions that Duplechian subsequently included in her final decision. The City Attorney’s Office again objected, but the final decision belonged to Duplechian, who decided to allow the business to move forward.
Duplechian also wrote that Saifuldeen Zaidan’s clean history with licensing makes him a good candidate for approval.
“The Director finds that no evidence was presented at either hearing indicating that the Applicant had an adverse liquor license history, a history of liquor violations or other disciplinary actions, or that the Applicant himself was not of good moral character,” her decision reads.
And despite the building’s sour history, the relevant neighborhood organization is in support of Sky Lounge. LoDo resident Don Ku said at the May 30 hearing that LoDoNa supported the license approval; the organization has since formalized a Good Neighbor Agreement with the bar.
“The Director cannot deny the application based on speculation that the Applicant will be just as unsuccessful as previous owners,” Duplechian concluded in her decision. “Further, the poor management of these bars has negatively impacted the neighborhood. Thus, what the location needs is a serious and experienced manager to come in and make a positive change, as well as lawfully operate.”