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Christmas miracle: Crowdfunding campaign aims to save oldest concert venue in Denver

Lion's Lair on Colfax in business since 1940s
lion's lair.jpg
Posted at 5:21 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2022-02-10 14:50:29-05

DENVER — For decades, there was a familiar roar after dark between Race and Vine Streets on Colfax Avenue in central Denver.

“It’s been the Lion’s Lair for 63 years,” said Lion’s Lair co-owner Doug Kauffman. “A long time.”

The history of the intimate concert venue dates back even further.

“As far as I can tell, since sometime in the ‘40s,” Kauffman said.

It was first a jazz club.

“There were an endless number of jazz artists that played here,” Kauffman said. “Including Dexter Gordon and Clark Terry.”

The venue has housed legendary musicians and now some modern bands.

“The Black Keys, the Decemberists, Ozomatli, Mojo Nixon,” Kauffman said.

Kauffman said he believes this monarch of the Denver music scene might just have the oldest liquor license among all concert venues in town.

“With El Chapultepec closing, I can’t think of anywhere else,” he said. “The liquor licenses are numbered and it was one of the oldest liquor licenses on Colfax. They didn’t have records dating back that far, so they couldn’t figure it out at the Excise and Licensing Office”

And boy, does the place have history. Some even believe this hideaway is haunted.

“Ghosts of old jazzmen, ghosts of old regulars,” Kauffman said. “You come in here and you get a few drinks in you, you might start to conjure them, you never know. It could be real.”

Like every other live music venue, the COVID crisis has silenced the Lion’s roar as of late.

“It’s been closed for eight months,” Kauffman said. “It’s a drag. Really, it is. It’s not like its old self.”

While the venue’s landlord has been patient, with so much looming uncertainty, Kauffman and one of his employees decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign a few days ago.

“A lot of people have come out of the woodwork,” Kauffman said.

He and his business partner are absolutely blown away by the support.

“It caught us all by surprise,” Kauffman said.

More than 350 donors and counting as of Wednesday evening.

“Small amounts, big amounts,” Kauffman said. “It’s been moving that the place means a lot to a lot of the community around here.”

They’ve raised nearly $16,000 so far. People in our community who value this cultural icon.

“We’re just very thankful for everybody that’s chipped in,” Kauffman said. “It’ll come back. I’m confident that it will.”