Right under my nose, in my own neighborhood, the Mozart Lounge and its old-school neon sign had been hiding at 1417 Krameria Street, disguised as the Aqua Lounge. For the past eight years, and since I have lived in Mayfair in east Denver, the location has been known by the latter name, and the neon sign has been covered with a black and blue sign bearing the same. I enjoyed the Aqua Lounge, a friendly bar geared toward older gay folks that hosted outstanding karaoke talent on Thursday nights as well as intense dart tournaments. But I, like many who are a little newer to the Denver scene, never knew the history of the Mozart until it became the Mozart Lounge once more.
When I stopped in with a friend on a Monday night, I immediately noticed the crisply painted walls, nicer bar furniture and overall brighter, cleaner look of the bar. It's amazing what a little drywall and paint can do. It was around 6:30 in the evening, but our super-friendly bartender informed us that happy hour was still in progress. We ordered mixed drinks because of the Lounge's special on various top-shelf flavored vodkas and whiskeys, and some tater tots, because tater tots – and also because all of the bar snacks on the menu were a dollar off for happy hour.
The place was quiet, and owner Michael Bruntz was chatting at the bar with a customer. He was quick to greet us, offer us a shot of his pickle vodka (which tasted impressively like pickle juice) and give us the lowdown on the rebirth of the Mozart Lounge. The original Mozart Hall, opened in the late 1800s, was a social center and bar for German immigrants downtown. In 1955, the bar, including the sign and bar coolers, were relocated to the current spot at 14th and Krameria. It changed owners a time or two and expanded from what must have been an extra-tiny bar to take over an adjacent space that had been a dry cleaner.
Bruntz and his business partner and friend, Mia Peterson, had fond memories of the Mozart from their days drinking there in the ’90s and had been trying to buy the place for years. They finally managed to do so this past July, when the owners of Aqua Lounge put it on the market.
Aside from the remodel of the interior, Bruntz explains, the Mozart Lounge neon sign has been getting restored gradually as well. By the time they held the grand opening last month, the word "Mozart" was lit up, with hopes for the "Lounge" part of the sign to be restored soon.
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In addition to keeping regulars entertained with a lengthy happy hour and plenty of dart boards, the Mozart is getting things going with some new events. Live bands play on some Fridays, and there's a free standup comedy show the first Monday of each month. Broncos games are a draw on Sundays, of course. To my delight, Bruntz also tipped me off that starting in January, Thursday night karaoke will return. A friend of mine who was a karaoke fixture during the bar's Aqua Lounge days will surely be hitting the Mozart's stage in the new year.
The Mozart crew will be hosting a festive holiday party this Saturday night, December 17, centered around ugly sweaters and a white elephant gift exchange. And let's be honest: A gift exchange at a bar sounds better than an awkward office gift exchange where everyone gives each other candles.
As we munched on our tater tots and drank our large, cheap mixed drinks, my friend and I watched the Mayfair crowd roll in and fill up the bar stools. As is often the case in my beloved, old-people neighborhood, the regulars were definitely all over thirty. Bruntz confirmed that his core patrons tend to be people who live in the area and are in their thirties, forties or older. Everyone was friendly, and the place just seemed warm somehow. Maybe it was because it was super-cold out and anything would be warm by comparison. Or maybe it was because there's something comforting about the idea of an old neighborhood bar being lovingly brought back to life by friends who shared drinks there years ago.