All Wet

All you folks who took alcohol into La Fabula (see review, this issue) at the owners' urging over the past four months have something in common: You broke the law.

Although we aren't subjected to state-controlled liquor stores here, Colorado's liquor laws can still be very annoying. For serious wine drinkers, two regulations are particularly tough to swallow: one that makes it illegal to drink alcohol in a restaurant that doesn't have a liquor license (essentially, you'd be drinking in public, and that's a no-no), and another that makes it against the law to bring alcohol into a restaurant that does have a liquor license. It's damned if you do, either way. So while diners in more sensible states have the option of bringing to dinner a fabulous $20 bottle they've hand-selected in a wine store and then simply paying the restaurant a $5 corkage fee, in Colorado we have to settle for whatever wine a restaurant offers and then pay a 300 percent markup on it.

Both of these regulations have come up for legislative review many times, but Colorado restaurants that already have liquor licenses don't want to see the rules changed, for obvious economic reasons, and so lobbying against any changes has been fierce. As a result, restaurants like La Fabula that don't have a liquor license have no option but to get one, at least if they want to serve alcohol. (Bali Island, the restaurant that occupied 2637 West 26th Avenue before La Fabula, declined to get a license, so La Fabula has had to start the application process from scratch.)

La Fabula owners Ramiro Sanchez and Ron Ford thought they'd found a legal way out, however: They told would-be diners that they could bring in their own wine, beer or even hard liquor, and La Fabula would just charge a $5 corkage fee (the restaurant would even provide the mixers). But anyone who took them up on that offer technically drank in public, and La Fabula was an accessory to the crime, according to Pat Fitzgibbons, a detective assigned to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.

"We aren't going to shut them down or anything, but they have to stop right now," Fitzgibbons said when he learned of La Fabula's practice.

And in fact, Ford and Sanchez say they have, now that they know the practice is against the law. According to Ford, he was unaware of that restriction in Colorado's liquor law -- although you'd think they'd cover the topic in the curriculum of the Colorado Institute of Art's School of Culinary Arts, from which Ford recently graduated. "I'm from Idaho originally, and the law there is different," Ford explains, "and it's different in the other states I've worked in, too."

Well, the party's over -- for now, at least. La Fabula has applied for a liquor license, and Fitzgibbons says that since the owners have put a cork in the corkage practice, their chances of getting a license shouldn't be affected. But until La Fabula's officially wet, it's Limonatas all around. La Fabula's liquor snafu is nothing compared to the address's most infamous incarnation: The International, a restaurant operated by pianist and convicted check-forger Chiffon von Seeburg-Schausten -- at least, that was one of the many names she used and the one she was going by a few years back -- who now sits in Cañon City for violating the state's habitual-offender law. She's just finished up year four, which means she has eleven more to go before she's eligible for parole. If she does get out then, at the age of 75, she'll still owe Mary Davis, who will then be 88, the $110,000 that she ripped off from Davis in order to finance a defunct club. I described much of this in my February 15, 1995, cover story, "Would You Buy a Used Restaurant From This Woman?"

Periodically, one of Chiffon's oldest friends, local gadfly Randy Wren, pens me a letter on Chiffon's behalf, asking that I write another article, this time exposing "the truth" -- which, according to Wren, is that all of the people who said Chiffon stole from them were trying to hurt her because they were her former lesbian lovers (or because they never were and wanted to be). Meanwhile, Chiffon has made some new friends in jail, Wren reports, and apparently has been allowed to play the piano at a few big-house functions.

The oddest aspect to Chiffon's sorry history is that she's truly adept at tickling those ivories and had career options besides crime. And while she wisely used someone else's name in order to procure a liquor license for the International (you can't have a rap sheet and get a liquor license), she also had a great idea for getting around the lack of parking in the area: A limousine that picked up diners anywhere downtown.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner