Food News

Jesse Morreale's Thunderbird Imperial Lounge Opening Saturday

A building with a long history as a neighborhood hangout is about to reopen in its newest incarnation: The Thunderbird Imperial Lounge, a joint effort from restaurateur Jesse Morreale and property developer Larimer Associates, will begin pouring drinks for the public at 8 p.m. this Saturday, December 3.

The project has been in the works since Morreale announced the partnership in late August. Over the next few months, the name was revealed, and chef Goose Sorensen, owner of Solera Restaurant & Wine Bar on East Colfax Avenue, was brought on to design the opening menu.

Saturday's opening will unveil a large portion of the restaurant's food and cocktail menu, but more of each will be added as the Thunderbird adjusts to its neighborhood. In keeping with Morreale's history as a music promoter and the Thunderbird's rock-and-roll style, menu items include punny pop-culture references, with starters labeled Appetizers for Destruction (Sympathy for the Devil’ed Eggs and Mozzarella Styx, for example). Wings, sloppy Joes, chili cheese dogs and other bar bites are the main draws, but there's also a veggie melt, Hinman's Bakery ciabatta and other light bites.
Denverites with a long memory might remember other Thunderbirds that have come and gone; the Thunderbird Lounge was a favorite dive bar for decades at 721 Quebec Street before it closed in 2014 (the space is now a fitness center, and the strip mall itself is owned by none other than Larimer Associates), and Thunderbird Burgers briefly called 1530 Blake Street home a few years back.
But the history of Morreale's new bar goes much further back. The building has been a watering hole of one kind or another since at least 1905. For the last half of the twentieth century, it was home to the Subway Tavern and then Longo's Subway after Ray Longo bought the place in 1962; it served beer and Italian food (and claimed to be the first place in Denver to serve pizza). Larimer Associates bought the building in 2012 and did a major renovation; it reopened as Sunnyside Burger Bar in 2014 and then became TAG Burger Bar, but neither caught on.

Will the new Thunderbird have staying power in a neighborhood that has lost many classic bars and eateries over the past few years? Morreale's concept certainly attempts to capture the spirit of days gone by while adding a touch of edginess to the West 38th Avenue corridor.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation