Alexander George Karagas, the last of the four Karagas brothers, passed away last month. He was remembered at a celebration of life on February 3 at My Brother's Bar, where the beer and the stories kept pouring out.
There couldn't have been a more fitting spot for the memorial. The watering hole at 2376 Platte Street is the oldest bar in Denver, dating back to the 1870s. It already had a long and storied history — Neal Cassady drank here when it was Paul's Place in the ’40s, and at some mysterious point it lost its top floor — when Angelo and Jim Karagas, who'd been restaurateurs in Detroit, moved to Denver and bought the place in the late ’60s. Back then, this corner of 15th Street was a dusty, desolate area just past Confluence Park, not the hot-hot stretch it is today.
As Jim Karagas explained it, they never got around to naming the bar; when a creditor came in, one of the brothers would always say, "Oh, that's my brother's bar. Talk to him." They never got around to putting up a sign, either. But it didn't need one.
While Jim oversaw My Brother's Bar, Angelo moved on to the brothers' second spot, ten blocks closer to downtown: the Wazee Lounge & Supper Club. And in the early ’90s, Alex joined his brothers in Denver, helping at both My Brother's and the Wazee. (The oldest Karagas brother, Nick, somehow avoided the pull of Denver.)
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Alex quickly became a fixture at both spots, befriending (and advising) the young people who got their first jobs through the Karagas brothers. At the memorial, one longtime employee remembered how, when he was just seventeen, a My Brother's customer got rambunctious, and Alex went over and asked: "Have you ever been kicked in the ass by a 75-year-old man?" That was just the start of the stories about Alex, coming from colleagues and customers alike, all emphasizing his wry sense of humor, work ethic and big circle of friends.
After Angelo died in 1994, the Wazee was sold, then sold again. In January 2018, it closed altogether; it reopened this fall as Morin, a French restaurant for new Denver in an old Denver building. By then, Jim had passed away, too, and the Karagas family had sold My Brother's.
But everything's relative: Paula Newman, who'd been working at My Brother's for more than three decades, bought it with her husband and her son, Danny, an entrepreneur who'd conveniently sold a business in the summer of 2016, just as developers were sniffing around this prime piece of property. They vowed to keep My Brother's in the family, and relatively unchanged. And that included keeping Alex, a cheerful, generous presence. He worked there as long as he could, even after he turned ninety last February.
Now the last of the Karagas brothers has passed, ending an era. But the bar they gave to Denver lives on. At My Brother's, they made us all part of the family.