The newly renovated Union Station isn't hosting its official grand reopening until July 26, but it's already seeing plenty of looky-loos - and there's plenty for them to look at, including more than 600 pieces of art. For our money, though the real masterpiece is the historic sign that just went up in the Kitchen Next Door Union Station, which officially opened yesterday in the southwest wing of the building. For more than forty years, the green-and-red Union Station Restaurant sign pointing the neon way to the Continental Room and the Caboose Lounge hung on the outside of the station -- and now it's above the Kitchen's bar.
Both the Caboose, an intimate bar, and the Continental Room, an upscale nightclub, opened in 1950, when the dining room to the side of Union Station was remodeled. (That's about the time the marble top of the lunch counter inside was replaced with up-to-the-minute formica, too.) Both spaces closed in the late '80s, though, when that side area was leased as offices. And soon after they disappeared, so did the great neon sign.
One day in 2011, Richard Rost, manager of facilities engineering for RTD, which now owns the station, got a call from Habitat for Humanity. Bullwhackers was closing a casino in Black Hawk, where the sign had wound up, and was going to donate it to Habitat. The nonprofit planned to put it up for auction, and wanted to know if RTD was interested in making an offer. "How it got to Bullwhackers I can only guess," Rost says, but he knew that it belonged back at Union Station.
So RTD hired an appraiser and got a valuation on the sign, then split the cost of purchasing it with Union Station Alliance, the partnership that has a hundred-year lease on the property, and donated the money to Habitat. After that, the sign wound up in an RTD warehouse along with other fixtures taken out of Union Station when the property closed in early 2012. "We put it into storage, hoping that someone who was part of the station team would take it into their space," Rost recalls.
And someone did. The Kitchen Next Door -- a sibling of the nearby Kitchen in downtown Denver and Boulder and Fort Collins, as well as Kitchen Next Door locations in Glendale and Boulder -- agreed to pay for the repairs, refurbishment and installation of the sign, and Kitchen co-owner Hugo Matheson was there to supervise its placement above the bar on Saturday. "It's great to find a business that would actually pay for the refurbishment," says Rost. "It's awesome." And it will be even more awesome when the incandescent bulbs and glass are replaced this week -- which will make it look like the train on the sign is moving, he promises.
Sadly, there's no sign of the caboose mural that used to hang in the Caboose Lounge -- but in an odd bit of synchronicity, both the booths and the tile in the Kitchen are the exact shade of green that predominated in the old Caboose Lounge.
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The Kitchen Next Door Union Station is open every day from 11 a.m. to close (closing time will vary, but should typically be 9 or 10 p.m.), serving lunch, community hour and dinner. Find more information here.