4

The Thunderbird Comes Full Circle, From Bar to Birth and Back

The bar crowd, circa 1905, now hangs on the wall at the Thunderbird.
The bar crowd, circa 1905, now hangs on the wall at the Thunderbird.
Mark Antonation
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Jesse Morreale knew that the Thunderbird Imperial Lounge, the new place he opened in December at 3759 Lipan Street, had very old roots. When Larimer Associates purchased the property in 2012, it was home to Longo's Subway Tavern, a neighborhood watering hole that claimed to have cooked up Denver's first pizza back in the ’50s.

But the building definitely dated back much further than that. According to city records, it had gotten its start more than a century ago as a tavern...perhaps owned by the mysterious E.P. referenced above the corner entrance. Although Larimer Associates had done a major renovation of the original structure and added on to the place — which they first opened as Sunnyside BurgerBar and then switched to a second TAG Burger Bar before going to Morreale's new concept — somehow a stash of old photos had survived the changes.

"When I took the place over, we found a bunch of black-and-white pictures," Morreale recalls. "I'd been asking everybody, 'Does anyone know what these pictures are?'"

They found out on Saturday night, when a family party came in. The ninety-year-old in the group was celebrating his birthday, and it turned out he'd been born in the building. His father, Ernie Piro, had built it in 1905 as a saloon, and then had turned it into a market and family home during Prohibition before it became a bar again.

Ernie and Isabell Piro had eight children; four of their sons fought in World War II, when the rest of the family was living at 4707 Lipan Street, according to 1940 U.S. Census records. George Piro is the only one still living.

He's promised to come back to the Thunderbird for another round this spring. "It's a great northwest Denver story," says Morreale.

The Thunderbird today, with E.P. still over the door.
The Thunderbird today, with E.P. still over the door.
Mark Antonation

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