Stepping into the historic 715 Club, at the corner of Welton and 26th in Five Points, is like stepping into another era. The entire bar is a museum of old Denver, with mementos from the past of both the city and original owner Charles Cousins hidden beneath a thirty-year-old layer of dust.
A trio of partners — Sudhir Kudva, Corey Costello and Michael Reilly — just finalized their lease taking over the long-closed 715 a few days ago, and have quite the task ahead of them. But the spot is in good hands: Managers Costello and Reilly are service-industry vets with a lifetime of experience, including at the Matchbox, and owner Kudva explains that the threesome did a similar resurrection of The Squire several years back.
"We’re going to try to keep as much as possible," Reilly explains. "We're keeping it the 715 and just trying to restore it in the best way possible. We have to modernize it a little bit; it needs a new roof entirely. Bars have changed: You can’t just have four beers on tap. We need space. We’re obviously going to add our touches; it's not going to be exactly what it was. The bar top is just wrecked — we have to rebuild the bar, maybe into a shape that fits the room better. We’re going to try to open up the space. We also have the corner where the flower shop is right now, it's going to be be the patio eventually."
That corner was once the home of Zona's Tamales, another Five Points institution that closed in 2010 after a little trouble with the cops. But the 715 has been closed for decades.
As dive-bar aficionados, all three men are excited about using the history of the space instead of wiping the slate clean, and keeping as much of the original 715 as possible. Among the surviving relics from the past: two painted dog-bar scene murals, red leather accents and booths, a frosted stained glass sign above the bar that reads "715 Club," an art-deco patterned ceiling, and ornate yet dusty gold light fixtures. They even want to save the old signs, particularly one in the back that reads, "Please No Dancing."
Kudva, Reilly and Costello signed the lease for the space with the Bean Foundation, the property's current owners. As a non-profit, the Bean Foundation wouldn't sell or make a move on leasing the space until it knew it had found someone who cared about the history of it. Although offers reportedly went over a million, the foundation went with the lower bid — but more appealing business plan — of Reilly, Kudva and Costello. "I told them, look we’re really interested in this space, I live up the street," Reilly recalls. "We want to make something interesting. Keep a part of history intact. The city needs that right now." A lot of construction work lies ahead, but the team is ambitious and excited to get the place open. "We’re shooting for around St. Patrick's Day," Reilly says. " it’s easy to say that now, but in reality probably April or May. Luckily we’ve already been in talks with the neighborhood association and they all seem really excited about it."
For the trio, it's a dream come true, and the Bean Foundation knew this when it let the crew have the property. "My real estate guy was in contact with the Bean Foundation and they said, 'Look, you guys don’t have enough money.' They had crazy offers, people offering more than their asking price. All of those people wanted something different than us. Everybody has been by that bar and seen it and been like, 'Man, one day, hopefully someone cool gets that.'"
And now three guys have. What should bar-lovers expect at the new 715 Club? "Big bar menu, same pricing structure," says Reilly. "If it’s not broken, don’t fix. What sets Matchbox or The Squire apart from a lot of other bars is that our pricing is just very uniform and low. We want everyone to come in and have a drink and not feel like they’re in the wrong spot. It's their neighborhood just as much as it is ours."
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In fact, neighborhood passersby continue to peek in as the tour continues. "A lot of memories in this place," says one seventy-year-old gentleman who works across the street. "You have no idea."
But you do, in fact, you get a feel for the ghosts of dive bars past all around you. You feel Charles Cousins, see his photos and plans for a new bar hanging on the wall of his office. Cousins, the son of a Pullman porter, was born in 1919; he worked as a porter, too, but decided that wasn't the job for him. Instead, he opened the 715 — and then proceeded to amass a real estate empire in Five Points. Since he died in 2009, pieces of that empire have passed on to heir Renée Cousins King, who remodeled the historic Arcade building and then leased it to Joshua Pollack to open Rosenberg's Bagels and Deli just around the corner. Further renovation in the area will come from the new owners of 2801 Welton Street, which was BJ's Port.The contents of the 715 bar have been untouched for decades. "When you go in, you can tell they just left," Reilly says. "There’s a table in the back with an empty bottle of Jack and ten shotglasses turned upside down. You can just tell that it was ten people standing around taking their last shot before closing up."
Welton Street is changing, and there are more big changes ahead. And that's what makes saving this relic of the past for the future so important. "You and I both know that Welton Street is gonna blow up. It’s just a fact," Reilly continues. "It’s the next area that will see this development and growth, and we want to define it before someone else does it for us. We're not sitting here trying to take advantage of the neighborhood because it's like the new up-and-coming neighborhood. We want to get in and set the bar. Because this is our home."
Keep reading for an inside look at the 715.