Carioca Cafe, aka Bar Bar, is launching a fundraiser to help it stay open

It’s a continuous lament: Denver is changing, fast — and not always for the better. One by one, the beloved classics closed their doors. But now we have a chance to help save what might be the most divisive dive bar in town, by donating to a new fundraiser.

The cash-only Carioca Cafe, better known as Bar Bar because of the red, repeating sign above the door, has been serving drinks at 2060 Champa Street for more than a century. Its historic past includes a time when the back room, which now houses a pool table, functioned as a brothel. Later it was frequented by stars like Dick Van Dyke and Mr. T when the area around it was filled with film production houses.

Today, Bar Bar is one of Denver’s last real dives, where booze is cheap, bathrooms are questionable, and the rotating cast of characters can always count on a good time and stories. even better.

For the moment.

In 2008, Westword wrote of Bar Bar’s uncertain future: At the time, he had seven years left on his lease and it seemed likely he would be dozing off for another luxury apartment complex once the economy rebounded . But 2015 has come and gone, and Bar Bar has remained — on a month-to-month lease ever since, according to Ed, the longest-serving bartender in the place after nine years serving drinks for current owner John Kennedy (of the Canadian Kennedys, Ed rates the man he calls “the best boss I’ve ever had in my fucking life”).

Click to enlarge Originally from Texas, bartender Ed came to Bar Bar "upset and angry at the world" one day and "never left." -MOLLY MARTIN

Originally from Texas, bartender Ed once came to Bar Bar “upset and angry at the world” and “never left”.

Molly Martin

But it’s not the owner or the promoters who are threatening Bar Bar’s future this time around. “There were a few times when we really needed some fundraising,” says local musician Richard Granville, who after performing a show at the bar three and a half years ago finally started doing it there. working, pouring drinks, then taking charge of booking and promoting shows.

Bar Bar has long been known as a live music venue. The first time I came across, around 2005, there was a rowdy punk band playing right outside the entrance – a scene I encountered several times afterwards. It’s the live music, says Granville, that has kept Le Bar Bar through the past two years, because like every other bar and restaurant in the area, it has weathered the pandemic. “It was like, every time we were almost on our ass, I had a show to do and we made a grand or two or even a few hundred dollars, and then another show was scheduled for the next night, and it was like, ‘Well, stop this fundraiser,’ Granville recalled.

It turns out, however, that Bar Bar never had a cabaret license – which is now required in Denver for “any establishment licensed to sell alcohol that offers or offers live entertainment or dancing at its guests,” according to the Department of Excise and Licensing Site. Bar Bar has a standard liquor license; it is to be renewed on July 2.

The cabaret license issue came to the fore after Bar Bar received a show cause order from the department for an incident “on or about March 25” in which an underage undercover police cadet was allowed to enter after allegedly showing an “under 21”. ID and then order and be served two cans of PBR. “It kind of started this domino effect,” says Granville.

Click to enlarge Bar Bar's game room was an Eisenhower-era brothel.  -MOLLY MARTIN

Bar Bar’s game room was an Eisenhower-era brothel.

Molly Martin

It was the third time Bar Bar had received an underage drinking violation since 2018. The bartender involved in the previous two incidents no longer works at the establishment, but the most recent involved Granville’s brother, Daneal , who came a few years ago to help. It was a particularly busy show night, Granville said, adding that he thinks the caddy just passed.

Either way, Bar Bar is currently working with the city on a settlement agreement, which is a typical course of action in situations like this. “The city often seeks to reach settlement agreements before revoking or suspending a license because we are focusing on compliance instead of closing a bar, which can impact employees – unless it is not there are repeated gross violations that result in violence, injury or death, as was the case in the recent Cabin Tap House and Beta Nightclub cases which received wide media coverage,” explains Eric Escudero, director of communications for Excise and Licenses.

The settlement will force Bar Bar to close for a total of fourteen days, according to Granville. Details are still being finalized, but “it’s a setback that hurts us, but it’s not that bad either. We could take it easy and keep moving forward,” says Granville. But then there’s the added challenge of getting that cabaret license in order to keep the shows going.

The fees for the license itself are reasonable – $500 for the standard cabaret application and $750 per year. But the process involves inspections, which Granville said could be a roadblock for the former bar.

Click to enlarge MOLLY MARTIN

His main concerns are plumbing and electrical systems, and although many bar friends have offered free labor for any renovations to be done, Granville knows that these types of repairs require experts and can be expensive. . “I just want to be prepared for the worst, and even in the best of times we still face expense,” he notes.

As well as helping to cover rent, utilities and other basic bills (particularly during the upcoming fourteen days of closure), as well as necessary renovations, donated funds will be used to help replenish the depleted stock of the bar. “It’s been catastrophic since COVID,” says Granville. “It’s been very difficult to replenish our stock. Music is really the only way for us to keep the place open.”

In addition to launching the GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000, Granville hopes to partner with other venues for benefit shows.

In the meantime, Ed will continue to unlock the doors at 8 a.m. for those who want a drink: “Just give me time to get the checkout up. Then I can serve you, then I can set everything up,” says -he. But not the espresso machine that made its diving debut a decade ago. Ed got rid of it. “They’re heavy, by the way,” he notes.

And Bar Bar will keep flowing until the last call just before 2am. “We’re not ready to go to bed yet,” Ed concludes.

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