"It's a gay pirate ship meets Land of the Lost with phallic and bird undertones is how I'm describing it," says Lexi Healy, co-owner of Hell or High Water, the fully immersive tiki bar she's opening July 1 with business partner Veronica Ramos. "We're gonna give Denver the tiki bar it deserves."
The two longtime industry vets opened their first solo venture, the Electric Cure, at 5350 West 25th Avenue in Edgewater, last August. The eclectic tiki bar with rotating themes and a commitment to keeping things weird is packed with odds and ends, most of which were collected secondhand by Healy herself. The Electric Cure quickly gained a reputation as an irreverent escape, leaning into one particularly vocal community member's fears about it being Satanic with such events as its recent Zombie Jesus "Easter" Drag Show.
"We weren't planning on opening a second one," Healy admits. "Eventually we wanted to, but we didn't have any plans or anything." But then they ran across an ideal space in a haunted building.
Zach Cytryn and Nathan Stern are the Denver real estate agents who found the spot for Electric Cure. They are also behind Fuel & Iron, the Pueblo-inspired bar and restaurant that opened in the former home of Brass Tacks, at 1526 Blake Street, in April.
The building — which held the Blake Street Vault before becoming Brass Tacks — has long been rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a former barmaid named Lydia, and has an actual vault in the basement, which Healy describes as "terrifying." Future plans for Hell or High Water include an opportunity to drink in that vault for those who join the Necro Tiki Club. "The last step to be initiated will be to have a cocktail in the vault," she explains, adding that it will be up to the imbiber whether to keep the door open or closed.
Vault-drinking opportunities are also available through a crowdfunding campaign in which supporters can buy pins, VIP experiences and even a lap dance to help back the project.
The space may be small, but Healy and Ramos have filled it with big ideas, including automated features created with the aid of such local artisans as Dan Nevin of Go Figure Woodworks and Stacie Barbarick, who is helping with prop design.
You won't find any traditional tiki totems, however. "We don't do any tiki totems because we don't want to step on any other culture's toes, so we don't have masks and we don't have tiki mugs that are totems," Healy explains. "There are people in the tiki community that say if you don't have masks or totems, you're not tiki."
In response, Healy has commissioned a Las Vegas artist to make a "five-foot dick totem" for the new bar. "It's as tall as me," she notes.
As with the Electric Cure, Healy expects Hell or High Water to continue to evolve after it opens. "With both spaces, I don't think we'll ever be done," she concludes. "We'll just keep adding and changing."
Hell or High Water is located on the mezzanine level of 1526 Blake Street and will be open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. July 1 and 2, with regular hours coming soon. Reservations are available at hellorhighwatertiki.com, and walk-ins are also welcome.