Opening a brewery in Colorado is hard enough under any circumstances. But opening during a pandemic? Well, it's a circus.
But that's okay with Jeff Smith, because he's got circus people in the family. His great-grandmother, Frieda, charmed snakes and rode elephants for Ringling Bros. in the 1920s. Known as Mademoiselle Chloe, she performed alongside clowns, tigers and sideshow acts like the world's tallest woman and smallest man. Smith's great-grandfather handled advance ticket sales and promotion for the traveling show.
So when Smith and his wife, Cammy, chose a theme for Luki Brewery, which opens at noon today, July 3, at 14715 West 64th Avenue in Arvada, it was hard to resist the family history. As a result, the decor features a partial big-top tent over the bar, circus posters, barrel-shaped glassware, a monkey hanging in the corner, clown face masks, and a set of hand-carved lion heads adorning the booths, which resemble the seating in a train car.
Still, the circus-y touches aren't overwhelming. "We didn't want people to walk in and think they are in Casa Bonita," Smith says. "It's supposed to have more of a 1920s feel."
With the coronavirus pandemic hitting in March, Luki's opening hasn't gone entirely as planned. Smith's father had to make some last-minute patio furniture (out of kegs and wooden platforms), since restaurant patio furniture is hard to find these days with all the increased demand created by social distancing requirements. Smith had to figure out a touchless menu, load up on hand sanitizer and take the popcorn machine offline since people aren't supposed to be sharing food. "It's just my personal snack machine now, I guess," he says with a laugh.
And a planned grand opening, complete with circus food like funnel cakes and cotton candy, is off the table for now — though Smith still has special glassware and Crowler labels for the day.
But at no point did Smith consider backing out, despite the difficulty that bars, breweries and restaurants are having making ends meet with limited-capacity rules. "We were already this far along," he notes.
Smith moved to Colorado for school in 1991 and immediately fell in love with the nascent microbrewery scene — New Belgium Brewing, in particular. He also got into home brewing as he watched Colorado's beer culture grow.
So when it came time for a career change — he'd been an engineer in the precision manufacturing business for 22 years — Smith decided to open a brewery. The location is just a few minutes from his house, in a part of the Arvada area where there aren't many beer makers. In fact, the closest brewery to Luki is New Terrain Brewing, which is more than four miles away, in Golden. "It's really odd," Smith says. "You wouldn't expect there to be a brewery dead zone in Colorado, but there is."
Luki will open with four or five beers on tap, including an IPA, a hazy IPA, a malty Irish Red, and...a raspberry wheat, which truly shows Smith's roots in the 1990s Colorado beer scene, when that style was ragingly popular. Luki's is based on the raspberry wheat from the long-gone Heavenly Daze brewery, Smith says.
Smith also plans to brew beers that his customers request, something he hopes will create a sense of community and wonder — just like the circus.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.