Blake Street Vault serves a real taste of history

Jenny Meade exercises her biceps with a schooner of beer at the new Blake Street Vault.

Walking through the Blake Street Vault, you can appreciate all the history -- as well as blood, sweat and beers -- that went into the creation of this new restaurant, which opened last month in the 1500 block of Blake Street, which has turned into a real restaurant row. The project was massive (click here for a slide show), since it involved taking one of the last unrestored buildings in lower downtown and getting it ready for the next 145 years. The original, two-story building at 1516 Blake Street was constructed shortly after a fire decimated five-year-old Denver in 1863, leading to a city ordinance requiring that all structures be constructed out of brick.

Among the first built on this block was the People's Restaurant at 1514 Blake and the Empire Bakery at 1516 Blake. Initially, 1526 held a boarding house and a saloon; then, after a renovation in the 1880s, it was home to assorted businesses, most recently American Costume Company, which had a two-decade-long run before it closed last year.

The new owners, including general manager Kim Reuter (who ran a number of joints around the state in the 1990s) and assistant manager Tim Kilgannon, did their best to keep as much of the building's heritage as possible. In the process, they unearthed some secrets, including underground tunnels used for brothel runs and bootlegging transfers, as well as the secret vault that inspired the restaurant's name. Pull up a stool at the bar of the Blake Street Vault, and you're likely to hear all about them -- and perhaps even meet the resident ghost, Lydia.-- Kimberly Berkey

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