Cafe Society

My Brother's has a legal date with Brothers Bar & Grill

Brothers, where art thou?

When Jim Karagas, owner of My Brother's Bar, Denver's oldest continually operating saloon and a joint he's run for forty of its 120-odd years, heard that Brothers Bar & Grill, a Wisconsin-based chain, planned to open an outpost in town, he was concerned that it might cause some confusion in the marketplace -- particularly since his joint, which he bought with brother Angelo back in 1970, is frequently referred to by its many fans as "Brother's."

So on March 3, Karagas's attorney sent a letter to the Brothers franchisee, asking that the company discontinue the use of the word "Brothers" in Denver and arguing that it "appears to be an attempt to unfairly trade on and benefit from [My] Brother's forty years' excellent reputation and goodwill."

Marc and Eric Fortney, the brothers who founded Brothers Bar & Grill in 1990, disagreed. They counted 67 other businesses in the Denver marketplace that use the word "Brothers" -- Brothers BBQ among them (Uptown Brothers would soon make it 68) -- and went directly to U.S. District Court in early May, asking the judge to rule that they had a right to use the Brothers name in Denver.

The judge hadn't ruled by the time they opened their joint at the end of May, under the Brothers name. And if you've been to both bars, you'd never confuse them: Brothers is a giant sports bar (read Drew Bixby's Drunk of the Week on Brothers here); My Brother's is a quirky spot that plays classical music and doesn't even have a television.

But for those who just hear the name "Brothers," there's been plenty of confusion. While the owners of Brothers were renovating their building at 1920 Market Street -- a spot that's been a number of bars and restaurants, as well as the set of The Real World: Denver -- some expensive electrical equipment for the project was delivered to My Brother's, located a mile away at 2376 15th Street. Job applicants stopped by My Brother's to drop off their resumés for Brothers. And ten days ago, supporters of John Hickenlooper's campaign for governor kept stopping by My Brother's, asking about a Hickenlooper fundraiser that was actually held at Brothers.

On Friday, attorneys for Brothers and Brother's will meet for a required settlement conference. Jon Kottke, Karagas's longtime lawyer, isn't optimistic that they'll reach a deal. "The other side has not reached out at all to suggest anything," he says. "There's been no substantive talk."

But Hickenlooper would make a hell of an expert witness for My Brother's.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun