Heaven Dragon loses its liquor license (for now), while owner Dan Tang sits behind bars in drug bust fallout

When you stop in at Heaven Dragon, the popular Thornton eatery that served President George W. Bush on three separate occasions, you'll likely notice two things missing. One is Dan Tang, the restaurant's workaholic owner, since on Monday he went to prison to start an eighteen-month sentence for his part in Operation Fortune Cookie, the largest weed bust in Colorado history, that imploded in allegations of crooked cops, paid-off politicians and bureaucratic cover-ups. The other is booze, since the mess cost Heaven Dragon its liquor license.

Tang applied to renew his liquor license this past spring but withdraw his application in early April before his renewal hearing, says Thornton Deputy City Clerk Lucille Miller. That meant at the stroke of midnight on April 7, 2010, Heaven Dragon had to stop serving alcohol.

Maybe Tang wasn't too confident he'd pass the liquor-license requirement that applicants be of "good moral character." After all, he'd recently been convicted of money-laundering and sentenced to prison in association with the weed bust.

Some Operation Fortune Cookie investigators complained that Tang's punishment seemed like little more than a slap on the wrist, one of many grievances associated with the tumultuous case, and Colorado's drug task for head said that Tang's relatively light prison sentence made "absolutely no sense." Authorities had been so confident that Tang was running the multi-million dollar drug ring at the center of the investigation they called it "The Dan Tang Drug Trafficking Organization."

Still, Heaven Dragon losing both its ever-present head honcho (hardly a day went by without Dan Tang micromanaging every part of its operation) and its all-important liquor license should count as further punishment.

According to Gene Ciancio, one of Tang's lawyers, members of Tang's family -- some of whom were also convicted in Operation Fortune Cookie -- will fill in for Tang while he's away. "The family is going to continue to run the restaurant to the best of their ability," says Ciancio. "It's a tough environment out there right now for any restaurant. And to lose the top guy is not easy. But they are going to do the best they can to maintain the same level of service and quality food as they always have."

The food may be the same -- but don't expect to wash it down with a beer.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner