Eighty-two year-old JoAnn Turner, who bought the Rustic Tavern (5126 West 29th Avenue) with her husband 52 years ago and continues to oversee its daily operations, is showing me her photo albums. There's so-and-so: His dog got hit by a car and we buried it out back. There's Uncle Fred: He bartended here for ten years and left us $300 when he died so everyone could have a few drinks at his wake. There's so-and-so: She lives in Oklahoma now but still visits. There's Sexy Rexy...
As we flip through page after page, album after album, JoAnn tells me that in all her life, she's never had a drink of alcohol or a drag from a cigarette; that her mother just passed at the age of 101 plus seven months; that her uncle opened the Satire, another family member was involved with Herb's Hideout, another the original Brown Barrel. She shows me so-and-so's funeral program, tucked into the sleeve of the large brown album, and a Rustic Tavern matchbook ("The Friendly Tavern") so old that the phone number is in two-letter-plus-four-digit format (GL-9843). She shares her entire life with me, and I soak it in along with more $1.75 frosty mugs of Budweiser than I can count.
We gab and gab about her bar, which existed fifteen years before she bought it and was a butcher shop before that. I am an inquisitive grandson, desperate for family folklore; she is the matriarch of an extended family so large that five photo albums can't begin to tell the whole story. While we're rapping, Cathy, the bartendress, leaves to give Jimmy, a regular too drunk to be operating heavy machinery, a ride home. During her absence, JoAnn draws my attention to the cash register (older than the Rustic), the vintage, non-regulation-sized pool table (which she owns and is worth a bundle) and the sign behind the bar that reads, "In God we trust. All others pay cash."
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When Cathy returns, we laugh about how the kids who broke the original neon sign by throwing crabapples at it now come in as adults. Cathy and JoAnn recount the hilarity that ensues at semi-annual decorate-your-own lampshade-wearing parties and potluck dinners. They give me a tour of the new back yard/patio area, which features a bamboo fence and electronic tiki torches; full, low-hanging trees; green grass (and a dog grave); and a few tables crafted from large wooden cable spools. I sink into a patio chair, light up a smoke and never want to leave.