Prohibition started exactly 100 years ago, on January 16, 1920. It was a failed experiment.
Even before Prohibition officially ended on December 5, 1933, Colorado was back in the alcohol business, brewing 3.2 beer in accordance with a measure passed by the state legislature. Although in 2018 the same legislature essentially put an end to 3.2 beer by allowing full-strength brews to be sold in grocery stores, there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate the end of Prohibition. And plenty of places to do it.
The Cruise Room, which was modeled after the lounge of the Queen Mary, was ready to set sail in the Oxford Hotel, 1600 17th Street, on the day that Prohibition ended. Tucked inside the circa 1891 hotel, it's still an art deco classic.
The Brown Palace, at 321 17th Street, was constructed a year after the Oxford, and it was a year behind in opening its cocktail lounge: The Ship Tavern launched on August 24, 1934. Initially, this space had held shops, then a gentlemen’s club. After Prohibition ended, though, the Boettcher family, which owned the hotel at the time, decided to turn it into a nautical bar, complete with model ships and a crow’s nest.
Beating both of those bars was El Chapultepec, the legendary club at 1962 Market Street, which got a jump on its future competition when Tony Romano started pouring that 3.2 beer in the summer of 1933. Romano’s son-in-law, Jerry Krantz, inherited El Chapultepec in the 1970s, adding jazz to its menu. Although Krantz passed away in 2012, his daughter, Angela Guerrero, is still running the place.
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On South University Boulevard — then a dirt road — the Bonnie Brae Tavern opened on June 6, 1934, which makes it one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Denver, run by the same family for over eight decades. Carl and Susan Dire purchased the property at 740 South University, in the Bonnie Brae Annex subdivision, back in 1933, when the street was still dirt and the area was very slowly transitioning from farmland to residential. They opened a gas station on a corner of the lot, then the next year added a small frame structure for a bar/restaurant at 740 South University, and started pouring in what was then a very dry, and dusty, part of Denver. Despite rumors, the place keeps pouring.
Farther afield, the Columbine Cafe opened the year after Prohibition ended, in a former barbershop at 15630 South Golden Road in Golden, right above the sprawling Coors brewery that was already working overtime restocking bars across Colorado. It's another family-owned joint, and the building has been in the hands of the Artemis family since the ’20s.
Want to raise a glass at another old-time spot? You can’t beat My Brother’s Bar, whose home at 2376 15th Street has held a saloon since the 1880s, except for that unfortunate time when the 18th Amendment ruled. Not quite as old as My Brother’s but boasting liquor license #1 (simply because it was first in line after Prohibition ended) is the Buckhorn Exchange, at 1000 Osage; that building dates back to 1893, when it was a favorite hangout for hunters and outdoorsmen, including Teddy Roosevelt.