Congress Park has a new neighborhood bar: Bad Habits, located at 3014 East Colfax Avenue, next to Goombas Pizza Grinder and across from Asuka Ramen. When they decided to open a bar there, married co-owners Billie Hawkins and Tony Pachelo collected more than 75 possible names for the place from friends. They were lying in bed one night, saying all the options out loud, but none of them sounded right. Finally, they gave up and turned on Spotify. Ed Sheeran's "Bad Habits" came on, and they instantly knew that was it.
Bartending started as a side hustle for Hawkins. In 2004, he was working for Time Warner Cable in Milwaukee as the supervisor of its high-speed data division while moonlighting as a DJ and bartender. When the company restructured in 2008 and Hawkins’s entire division was let go, he went into bartending full-time at gay bars, which is where he met Pachelo, in town for training with Midwest Express Airlines (which merged with Frontier in 2010). In 2009, Hawkins packed up his bags and moved to Colorado to join Pachelo.
Hawkins had long thought about opening a bar. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business. I really wanted something tangible, something I could design and build and interact with people,” he recalls. He got serious about it when he and Pachelo volunteered to bartend in the VIP section of the Rocky Mountain Airshow (now rebranded as the Rocky Mountain Air & Ground Show), which they did every year from 2013 to 2016. Along the way, they picked up skills in negotiating with vendors, customer service, inventory management and even dealing with drunk patrons.
Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken. To fit in with the surrounding neighborhood's vibe, they decided to pivot to a more casual concept. "If, after work, you like to have a glass of wine, I want you to feel comfortable coming in, and the bartender will chat you up if you want a friendly face," says Hawkins. "Or if you’re on your iPad, we’ll leave you be."
There are still hints of this being a proud, LGBTQ+-owned bar, but the goal is to be a neighborhood place where locals can play games, watch music videos on the multiple TV screens, choose songs for the jukebox, and just relax while enjoying good food and drinks. In addition to a large cocktail list, Bad Habits has fourteen mocktails on its Sure, Jan! Menu, including a Marsha Brady Appletini made with apple juice, lemon juice and Granny Smith syrup; there are also sugar-free cocktails and mocktails. Beer drinkers aren’t ignored: There are twenty beers on tap downstairs and another six upstairs, and the owners are working with Great American Beer Festival organizers to bring in smaller-batch brews, such as options from Launch Pad Brewery.
The food is typical pub food, including jalapeño poppers, loaded tots, cheese curds, waffle fries and cheese balls. The six-inch French bread pizzas are customizable and can be made gluten-free and/or vegan on request. In addition, air fryers are on hand to create healthier alternatives to food coming from the deep fryer. Down the road, Bad Habits will expand the menu further to be more inclusive for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan friends.
Because the upstairs space has an alcove with an enclosed mini stage, the owners are planning to put concerts, karaoke nights, bingo and other events, such as speed dating, on the calendar. Hawkins is particularly excited about hosting gin, whiskey, wine and beer tastings on a consistent basis.
Bad Habits is open now, but will host a grand opening next month. In the meantime, both Hawkins and Pachelo will be keeping their day jobs, in the hope that some day, at least one of them can quit his day job and work the bar full-time; they would like to open a second location, too. “We’re using this as our retirement opportunity,” Hawkins says.
Bad Habits is located at 3014 East Colfax Avenue. Currently in its soft opening with a grand opening set for March 11, it's open from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the weekends.