The Wazee Supper Club turned forty last fall. It predates all the hipness, all the gentrification of LoDo -- in fact, it predates when lower downtown was tagged with that nickname. Over the years, the Wazee has been a neighborhood hangout for everyone from artists to sports fans to Westword staffers (our office was once upstairs). It's seen some famous faces -- including President Barack Obama last year -- and has even been owned by one, John Hickenlooper. And now it has a new batch of owners: the Shipp brothers, who now own seventeen restaurants, including Reiver's, Spanky's Urban Roadhouse, Hodsons and the four Dusty Boot locations. See also: Breckenridge-Wynkoop CEO Lee Driscoll Talks About Wazee Supper Club's Fortieth Anniversary "We thought it was a great fit for what we do," says Dan Shipp.
Hickenlooper and the Wynkoop Holding group had bought the Wazee from its original owner, the late Angelo Karagas (his brother, Jim Karagas, continues to run My Brother's Bar). But then Hickenlooper left the restaurant business for politics, of all things; the Wynkoop family later married the Breckenridge Brewery crew, and the Breckenridge-Wynkoop group then got involved in other projects, including the massive Farmhouse and beer farm in Littleton, slated to open this May.
So even as the Wazee celebrated its fortieth birthday at a bash, the majority owners were considering a sale. (Developer Charlie Woolley, who is keeping the minority ownership of the restaurant and building he got in the original Hickenlooper deal, interviewed potential new partners this fall, including Shipp.) Still, the party went on: "With so many new places opening up in Denver, it's a major celebration to recognize one of the original places that's been serving Denver for four decades," Breck-Wynkoop CEO Lee Driscoll said at the time. "This throwback party is our way of thanking our loyal customers who've been such an important part of the Wazee's history."
And if Dan Shipp has his way, that history will be more important than ever. "We want to bring it back where it was," he says. And they'll have help: Rita Reeverts, who's been at the Wazee thirty years and moved from server to manager, is staying on, for example. Shipp even plans to restore some of the original features that disappeared in a renovation two years ago. The booths, for example.
But that renovation also made some much needed updates on the building -- adding a real kitchen, digging out the basement and updating much of the infrastructure. Which means that the cosmetic changes can be made relatively easily, without closing the restaurant. Shipp promises "better lighting, better music" and better pizza -- a longtime hallmark of the Wazee -- on a simpler menu than the one introduced just a month ago. (He's bringing in a new pizza recipe -- but is interested in finding out if anyone has the original one.)
"We're very excited," Shipp says. And the brothers aren't just excited to be able to bring back an important piece of history -- they're also excited about what's happening in this part of town, with the renovated Union Station and all the people who now live in lower downtown, which forty years ago was pretty much a ghost town at night -- except for the Wazee.
Shipp knows LoDo, knows its history. In fact, Angelo Karagas sued him over his last LoDo venture -- Wazoo's on Wazee -- because he thought the name was too close to that of the Wazee Supper Club.
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But now Shipp has the real thing.