Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Nighthawks at the New Terminal Bar Should Remember to Toast the Old

Long before there was a renovated Union Station with its fancy Terminal Bar, even long before Lower Downtown was nicknamed LoDo, the area had a Terminal Bar. It was a down-and-dirty workingman's joint, named for both the nearby Union Station and the long-gone Terminal Annex Post Office; three happy hours a day -- early morning, late afternoon and very late night -- catered to workers coming off their shifts at those spots. Or maybe headed to their shifts. See also: Photos of the Restaurants of Union Station In any case, at any hour of the day or night, you could grab a stool around the horseshoe bar and enjoy some of the cheapest drinks in town as well as some impromptu philosophy. The place even rated a line in Tom Waits's 1975 song, "Nighthawk Postcards," on Nighthawks at the Diner: "Maybe you're standing on the corner of 17th and Wazee Streets, yeah/Out in front of the Terminal bar there's a Thunderbird moving in muscatel sky, you've been drinking cleaning products all night, open for suggestions..."

(Photographer Kim Allen captured that time in the above photographer that will be part of his retrospective show opening September 9.)

Twenty years after Waits wrote that song, Coors Field opened a few blocks away from the Terminal, and LoDo's transformation went into overdrive. Terminal owner Nancy Archer had gotten many offers to sell her place, but had repelled all comers. And then one day, Dave Query of Big Red F came in with some friends who'd been watching a hockey game. He'd recently opened the first Jax Fish House in Boulder, and he hit it off immediately with Archer; they struck a deal for him to buy the building. Just a few months later, he opened the second Jax in LoDo -- to immediate acclaim. "I paid her off in five years," he remembers.

But in the meantime, there were many surprises during those early days: bones in the basement (turns out there had been a butcher in the space at one point), folks who kept trying to return to the flophouse that had once been upstairs. Query cleaned up the place, refurbished the bathrooms, added windows. But he kept the horseshoe bar -- and even expanded it during last year's renovation of Jax.

The Terminal Bar has been gone almost twenty years -- but last month, its name was resurrected for the new watering hole in the former ticketing area at Union Station. It's an ideal spot for toasting some great memories -- and making new ones.

"LoDo has changed quite a bit since we opened up down there," says Query, who says in touch with Archer. "Retail dwarfed entertainment back in the day. First Thursday art walks were a big thing because there were so many galleries and funky shops. Coors Field was not here. The 87 sports bars that service Coors Field were not there. Nuggets and the Avs were still playing across I-25. There were parking lots everywhere -- like, empty lots people parked in.

"But the changes have been great," he continues. "LoDo has a national reputation as a destination fun center. We're entirely honored to be a part of it. The Union Station operators have a huge responsibility to the whole city to make this an enormous success. Done correctly, this can be a major regional tourist destination. It is a fantastic property, an unbelievable treasure for Denver, and what promises to be a really intelligent and significant transportation center for the entire Front Range."

All nighthawks welcome.

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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