DENVER • On a recent Saturday night at My Brother’s Bar, Paula Newman turned on a little-used light. Then she heard a complaint.
“Someone said, ‘It’s a bar! Why is it so shiny?’ says Newman, the bar’s owner. “People are so funny. . »
Things like the perfect burgers and the paper they’re wrapped in, no plate required. Things like side carts, personal tomato, onion and pickle storage. Things like the brick exterior here at 15th and Platte streets, a stark contrast to the surrounding trendy development and marking its proud reputation as Denver’s oldest bar, largely unchanged since 1873.
And yes, there is the dark interior. Turn off that unnecessary light, a regular would say. And dare not add blue glare to any TV.
Newman knows better, of course. With the rush of sports fans — the bar is in an easy pre-game area of Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche venues — she admits it’s tempting.
“Maybe one day, in the parking lot or the tent,” Newman says. “But I don’t think we would ever put a television inside the building. I think Jim would disapprove of that.
It’s Newman’s former boss, the late Jim Karagas. He, alongside his brother, Angelo, is credited with the current iteration of the bar with many iterations.
The Karagas brothers bought the place in 1970. When the vendors came to collect payment, one Karagas or the other would say something like, “Don’t look at me. This is my brother’s bar. The name stuck.
Early bartenders turned classical music records, explaining the melodies often heard today. Newman joined the staff later, starting as a young mother in 1984.
“I remember she was talking about an ad for My Brother’s Bar and I was like, ‘Don’t go,'” says her husband, Dave. “In 1984, (the area) was pretty sketchy.”
But inside, Jim Karagas fostered a family environment. It was so friendly that Paula brought her little boy, Danny. So friendly that she worked as a waiter and manager for decades until 2017.
It was then that Jim, nearing the end of his life, said he would sell the old building. Paula considered a demolition, another high-rise apartment building.
“I remember (Jim) telling me that, and my eyes went wide and my mouth just went down,” she says. “I said, ‘Can I call Danny? “”
Danny had become a very successful entrepreneur and technology investor. His earnings have been City’s earnings of late; his reputation is that of a cultural curator. One fan said in a Gazette interview last year, just after he bought the iconic Mercury Cafe, “I want to do ‘Danny Saves Denver’ t-shirts.”
Having had his mother’s admiration for My Brother’s Bar, Danny got to work on a deal right after that call.
The bar, the family knew, had to be saved.
“We realized we were just caretakers,” says Dave, who retired as an optometrist to run the place with Paula. “We are just maintaining the tradition.”
The tradition goes back to an Italian immigrant named Maria Anna Capelli. She saw this building constructed near Denver’s founding site, near present-day Confluence Park.
Capelli opened a boarding house to look after his railroad and mining compatriots. She and her husband apparently completed the Highland House with a saloon, restaurant and meat market. (The record isn’t entirely clear; the bar isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places, unlike the Buckhorn Exchange, which is known as Denver’s oldest restaurant.)
The revelry continued through various properties over the years, including Schlitz Brewing Co. in the early 1900s. Later the bar was Paul’s Place, famously frequented by Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
It was still an artists’ center when Reza Dargahi started working for the Karagas brothers in 1978. Dargahi is now a manager.
“It’s changed a lot,” he says. “You can see people have changed a lot too.”
Now the bar is a tourist destination, but not one to shy away from regulars. They are always there no matter the price changes.
Not so long ago they could get away with a burger and a beer for $10. The burger costs more than that now.
“It’s hard for (Paula) to realize that’s what we have to charge to pay staff and get things done,” says Dave.
The pandemic has changed a lot of things, says Paula. “We hang in there,” she says.
Hanging in there, keeping the lights on.
However, not too many lights.
On the menu
The burgers at My Brother’s Bar are cooked à la mode, with beef from local supplier Castle Rock Meats and buns from Bluepoint Bakery. Singles and doubles range between $9.50 and $22, with added toppings, like the beloved onion rings.
The JCB is the popular topped with jalapeno cream cheese. Named after a former cook, the Johnny Burger combines this filling with American and Swiss cheeses and grilled onions. Also a leaner and sweeter bison burger.
Several hot and cold sandwiches ($10-$14) combine rye with turkey, ham, salami and/or pastrami. Three of them complete the Hot Bum Steer, with cheese, onions and peppers. With sausages, cheese, onions, peppers and marinara, the Sweet Italian Swiss aims to honor an item said to have originated early in the bar’s long history. The peppersteak sandwich is another hearty option.
Also named after a former worker, the popular Ticky Turkey, another creation of jalapeno cream cheese and Catalina dressing. The Ragin’ Tuna is a favorite of owner Paula Newman, along with a Cajun aioli. Also a Ragin’ Chicken.
Meatless choices are the Nina (American and Swiss cheeses, jalapeno cream cheese, onion, peppers, and marinara) and the Hooper, a veggie burger topped with kraut, Swiss, and Catalina.
Appetizers ($5 to $10) include chicken tenders, jalapeno peppers, mini corn dogs, and nachos smothered in chili peppers.