"Get ready for the fight of your lives." That was the advice barked at Jeff Smokevitch and Giles Flanigan, the owners of Brown Dog Pizza, a Telluride-based pizzeria that had inked a lease on a vacant, build-out space on South Gaylord Street where they wanted to open a second Brown Dog Pizza that would have poured beer, wine and spirits.
And since I live on South Gaylord Street -- just three blocks away from where Brown Dog would have tied its leash -- and I enjoy a beer with my pizza, when a man with a petition came knocking at my door asking for my signature in support of the liquor license, I had no qualms signing it. And judging from the chats I had with my neighbors, neither did they.
But the South Gaylord Neighborhood Association, of which I'm not a part, fought Brown Dog's liquor-license application like pit bulls, and on Monday, July 11, its liquor license was flatly denied.
"We were devastated and really, really surprised," says Smokevitch, who spent more than $120,000 of his own money on the Wash Park project. "I'm not rich, and I just lost $120,000 -- money that I've been saving for the past five years to make this happen," he laments, letting out a deep sigh.
The hearing, which was attended by both advocates and protesters, spiraled into a litany of questions by Mike Schneider, the "Get ready for the fight of your lives" bearer of advice, a Wash Park resident, lawyer and, in his own words, "the face of the fight" against Brown Dog's liquor license. "Mike kept asking witnesses whether or not they had any problems getting a drink in any of the bars on South Gaylord Street, and most people said that they didn't," says Smokevitch. But the fact of the matter, he adds, is that "you can get a drink in any bar in the world. I can walk into the busiest bar in New York City and still get a drink. It's an absolutely ridiculous argument."
For his part, Schneider, who asserts that the fight "wasn't particularly personal, but what I thought was the right thing to do," maintains that Brown Dog didn't meet the needs and desires of the neighborhood -- a view shared by the liquor-license hearing officer who denied it. "We already have six liquor licenses on the block," says Schneider, "and while I agree that we need a family restaurant, we don't need one with liquor."
The bigger issue, claims Schneider, comes down to logic. "What you have is a certain demand from the neighborhood and a certain demand from the people who drive to the neighborhood, and there are natural limitations on how many people are going to use the block at any given time," he says. "If I'm going to drive to a neighborhood to get a drink or a meal, and I can drive to the front door, that's convenient, but if I've got to spend ten minutes looking for a place to park and then have to walk two blocks, that's not very convenient."
(Because, you know, walking two fucking blocks is just a preposterous notion. Give me a break. For those of you reading this, tell me, in all seriousness, if you're so obsessed with front-door service that you can't possibly walk two blocks to a restaurant or a bar. If you want door-to-door service, take a limo, for chrissakes.)
"I'm not frothing at the mouth over this," contends Schneider, who says he "got dragged into this by emotional neighbors." He says, too, that the official position of the South Gaylord Neighborhood Association, of which he is the president, was "neutral" with regard to Brown Dog's liquor license.
Which is interesting, considering what Smokevitch has to say about his meeting with both Schneider and the neighborhood association. "When we first met with Mike, he told us that the South Gaylord Neighborhood Association was going to run us out of town -- that the goal of the group was to make us so upset that we'd just walk away from the project," recalls Smokevitch. The next meeting with the neighborhood association, was even worse. "They didn't care who we were, what we'd accomplished, or what we wanted to do," Smokevitch says. "In fact, they kept interrupting us and and wouldn't even let us finish our sentences."
After those meetings, both of which took place in March, Smokevitch and Flanigan halted construction on the space, insead devoting their time to securing the liquor license. "We stopped what we were doing in late March -- we didn't want to spend any more money until we were approved, plus the bills were piling up," says Smokevitch. By the time the hearing took place, they'd amassed close to 500 signatures in support of the license.
"We had the signatures, we signed a Good Neighbor agreement, we had promotional days where we gave out free pizza and we've been working so hard on this since last October," attests Smokevitch. By the way, during one of those promotional pizza giveaways, which were held outside on the patio, in the open air, an uppity neighbor called the fire department, the police department and the department of health to complain, according to Smokevitch. "The fire department came down the street with their sirens roaring," he tells me. "We had an open fire -- that's legal in Denver -- and because we were giving food away for free, we didn't need a permit, even though whoever complained insisted that we did."
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The worst part of this -- "the biggest lie of all," says Smokevitch -- is that the neighborhood association insisted that Brown Dog was a sports bar. "That's what they kept telling people, and they couldn't be more wrong. We're a family-style pizzeria," he reiterates.
A family-style pizzeria that will have to find another location. "We're definitely going to find a space in Denver, but patience is going to need to be our biggest virtue, because we don't have any money left and we need an existing restaurant with a kitchen," admits Smokevitch. "It could be six months from now, a year from now or two years from now before we find a new location, but we're not giving up."
In case you're wondering what Schneider would like to see appear in the plot at 1001 South Gaylord Street, it's a car-share program. Noble idea, so long as you don't have walk more than two blocks to get behind the wheel.