Cafe Society

Gary Lee's will bring smoked meats, live jazz and a large patio to Broadway -- if it can win the liquor license fight

Gary Lee Bomar has been active in the Denver restaurant industry for 27 years, starting as a busboy and then working his way through most of the jobs in the businesses, putting in ten years at the Skylark and four years behind the bar at the Horseshoe Lounge.

But he's always dreamed of owning his own spot. So earlier this year, he picked up an old garage property on South Broadway, a block away from where he lives, and drew up plans for Gary Lee's Motor Club and Grub, a restaurant that would play on the historical use of the building for the decor, feature live jazz and serve dishes built around smoked meats and cheeses paired to drink specials and tap beer.

Bomar has hit a snag, though, and it seems to stem from some confusion about the concept: Worried that the new "motor club and grub" would attract a biker-bar crowd, a few members of the West Wash Park Neighborhood Association are doing what they can to make sure the eatery doesn't land its liquor license.

"It started with my initial plans to the city," Bomar explains. "The West Wash Park Neighborhood Association found out I had off-street motorcycle parking in those plans, and they took it and ran, assuming that I might attract a crowd that would have a negative impact on the neighborhood."

Since the opposition was raised, the restaurateur has been out canvassing the neighborhood -- which he's lived in for seventeen years -- and talking to his neighbors about his plans. "I've met with fourteen people who are opposed," he says. "But I've collected about 500 signatures from people who are excited about it."

Because what the would-be restaurateur actually has planned is far from a biker bar. Bomar wants to open what he calls a "first-class restaurant" -- manned by a young chef who's opened four restaurants and currently holds an executive-chef position at another Denver spot. "I'm trying to do something first-class with cuisine and entertainment," Bomar says. "And I'm trying to give something back to the community."

He wants his place to be a neighborhood spot where people can afford to come and eat, as he puts it, "more often than not." And he'd like to give neighbors an area where they can enjoy nice weather -- and listen to live music at the same time. "I'm planning to have a large patio on the Broadway side," he explains.

Patios are few and far between on that street, he points out, since most restaurants only have room for outdoor seating on a sidewalk. The deck will be flanked by ivy and bamboo and outfitted with fire pits, he adds, so that people can sit and enjoy live music, especially jazz, on the weekends. (Bomar says he's working with KUVO radio station on the programming.)

In the process, he'll breathe new life into the dilapidated building that's currently sitting, abandoned, on the overgrown lot.

Still, some neighbors are persistent, insisting that the block doesn't need another restaurant -- or the traffic that comes with it. Those willing to compromise want Bomar to sign a good neighbor-agreement, which he says he's more than happy to do as soon as they find common ground. "The first draft included a clause that would prevent me from getting a cabaret license for five years," he notes. But since his plans include live music, he's trying to renegotiate.

Bomar is optimistic that he'll be able to find an amicable solution with the association before his liquor license hearing scheduled for July 11 so that he can show the city the support he's drummed up with the residents. And he's also hoping to score the blessing of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association when he meets with that group today -- and he'll need it, since his restaurant borders both districts.

And after that, he can get on with his dream and plans. "I want it to be beautiful," he says. "This is part of what makes our neighborhood great."

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk