Which National Story About Denver Beer Bars Was Fake News?

The Falling Rock Taphouse closed in June.
The Falling Rock Taphouse closed in June. Westword
The world is going through weirder and weirder times, and the craft-beer industry is following suit — which is why you could almost be forgiven for not knowing which one of two Denver-focused national headlines yesterday was real...and which one was fake.


Story number one, “Last Call for the Beer Bar?,” opens with the demise of Denver's Falling Rock Tap House last June and goes on to ask whether bars across the country that specialize in serving a wide variety of craft beers are now finding it hard to compete with the growing number of brewery taprooms — many of which are the very breweries that sell to the beer bars.

The premise seems difficult to swallow. How could beer bars be struggling at a time when craft beer remains at the peak of its popularity? Is this the fake story?

Story number two, “City Of Denver Shuts Down Bar For Operating Without A Brewery,” which reads almost like it was written in response to story number one, reports that city officials have temporarily closed the Green Owl Tavern for operating without an attached brewery. The bar will not be allowed to reopen, the story continues, until it begins brewing its own beer.

Although containing surprising news, this article seems somewhat believable given Colorado’s often confusing and restrictive liquor license laws, not to mention the heavy-handed way that some people feel the city acted with bars and other businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

click to enlarge A screenshot from The Onion. - SCREENSHOT
A screenshot from The Onion.
The Green Owl Tavern is a fake bar, of course. And the story about it was published on October 26 in The Onion, which had a lot of fun skewering Denver's craft-brewing culture with lines like "[T]heir investigation had uncovered dozens of bottles of mass-produced dreck including Sam Adams and Corona without so much as a session IPA with a quirky label named after the owner’s dog."

The story about Falling Rock wasn't so funny, however. Written by Joshua M. Bernstein for The New York Times (and reprinted in the Denver Post on October 31), it spent a lot of time with Falling Rock founder Chris Black before delving into its counterintuitive thesis — one that Black himself had served up for years.

"Several decades ago, the beer bar, with its dozens of draft options and deep bottle lists...were places" where people discovered craft beer...and "helped the genre grow," the story reads. But the growth of brewery-owned taprooms, which host frequent beer-release parties and other events, eventually took the business away from the beer bars as people decided to "sip fresh beer directly from the source."

The good news in all of this? The City of Denver actually announced yesterday that it will make its pandemic-era outdoor dining program permanent, which should help beer bars, breweries and restaurants survive. And there are still plenty of craft-beer bars around town. In fact, with all of the handles they now have, just about every bar in every corner of the city has become a craft-beer bar.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes