Denver Dive Bar Carioca Cafe Victim of Arson Fire | Westword

Bar Bar, Denver's Last Great Dive, Target of Possible Arson Fire

"Somebody burned her. They burned our bar."
The Carioca Cafe, aka BarBar, was one of the city's last true dive bars.
The Carioca Cafe, aka BarBar, was one of the city's last true dive bars. Molly Martin
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The century-old Carioca Cafe, better known as Bar Bar because of the redundant, glowing red sign over the door of 2060 Champa Street, has survived tough times. Over the past few years, it survived the pandemic shutdown that closed bars, survived a city crackdown on its liquor license, survived a burst pipe and an inaccurate report that it had closed for good, and survived being in the center of a host of homeless encampments, one of which even set up its own illegal bar.

It survived all that, in the process reclaiming the title of Denver's Best Dive Bar in the 2023 Best of Denver. But now it must overcome another disaster: a fire.

Early on June 24,\ the Bar Bar Facebook page posted a photo of the damage with this announcement: "Somebody burned her. They burned our bar. Fire department told us it was arson. They had to use forced entry on all the doors and there’s structural damage. It’s getting boarded up. Don’t know if or when it can be fixed."
click to enlarge burned bar
BarBar after the fire.
BarBar Facebook
The bar has a storied past. The backroom that now has a pool table once operated as a whorehouse; decades later, the by-then more upscale Carioca was frequented by stars like Dick Van Dyke and Mr. T when the area surrounding it was filled with movie production houses. But those left decades ago, and Bar Bar sank into its current identity: one of the last great dives of Denver.

One that also had live music, most recently booked by Richard Granville, a local musician who, after playing at the bar, eventually started working there, then booking and promoting shows, then raising funds to keep the bar going. "It was like, every time we were almost out on our asses, I got one show to pull off and we'd make a grand or two, or even just a few hundred bucks, and then had another show planned the next night, and it was like, 'Well, hold off on that fundraiser,'" Granville told Westword in May 2022.

But while the shows helped Bar Bar survive, it turned out that the bar never had a cabaret license — which is now required in Denver for "any establishment licensed to sell alcohol which offers or provides live entertainment or dancing for its guests," according to the Department of Excise & Licenses. That sad fact came to light when the bar served an underage police cadet, a violation resulting in a closure of fourteen days that spring.

Once the bar was reopened, though, it needed a cabaret license if it was going to bring back live entertainment. To get that license, it had to pass city inspections, and that meant retrofitting some of Bar Bar's more antiquated systems. So Granville set up a couple of crowdfunding campaigns to help with that, too.

Over the past year, things had been looking up for the dive. The burst pipe was repaired (another fundraiser) and the encampments left the area, which made Bar Bar a bit less least until you got to the front door and peered inside.

But could the fire be last call for Denver's diviest dive?

Granville hopes not. He's had dreams of buying the business — which has no insurance — and isn't ready to give them up just yet.

The fire started early on June 24, in the doorway, and spread inside — but not too far inside. Since the crew got to the address pretty quickly, "it didn't extend far into the building," says Captain John Chism of the Denver Fire Department. Inspectors will be looking into it, doing their "due diligence," he adds, before a final report can conclude the cause, although arson has not been ruled out.

Granville has no doubts that it was arson, though he says he has no idea of what the motive might have been.

Since the DFD cut the electricity to the building, Granville, who generally speaks for both the business and building owners, had trouble powering his phone and getting information on just how much it will cost to repair the place. There's certainly structural damage to a wall, but the landlord is talking to contractors about how much it will cost to repair the damage.

So he's looking at another fundraiser. Fortunately, the music equipment in the bar was unscathed. "None of the stuff we really cared about was damaged, except that wall," he says. "It was a pretty rough way to wake up, though."

Granville is trying to stay optimistic as he works to reschedule the bands he'd booked. "It's been a nonstop cycle of trials," he admits. "We'll get a crowdfunding page up as quickly as possible."

In the meantime, at least there were no injuries — except to a century-old saloon that now has another challenge to survive.

The fundraiser to help Bar Bar is now live; the goal is $25,000. Learn more and make a donation here.
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