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News From the Front

Local publications and pundits have long found pleasure in labeling Denver a Cow Town, an oversized burg with big-city pretensions but lacking the sophistication and culture to back it up.

And up to three weeks ago, those decriers may have had a foot to stand on. But no more. Denver is now a real city. A full-fledged metropolis. And if you think I’m saying this because of the recently opened opera house, you couldn’t be more wrong.

I’m saying it because Denver finally has a Tiki bar.

It’s been a long, harrowing and shameful drought. Cities like NYC and San Francisco have dozens. Small towns in Iowa and Tennessee have them, Salt Lake City, for crissakes, has one. And at last, one has sprung up in Denver.

Tiki Boyd’s, ensconced in the East Colfax Ramada, was designed and assembled from scratch by namesake and legendary Tiki aficionado Boyd Rice. Over the past weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching it slowly take form, steadily transforming into a portal to another world, a better world, where the shackles of modern life can be traded for the trapping of savage sophistication. Where a man can drink rum from a pineapple, listen to Martin Denny and drift into Polynesian Paradise.

Whenever something this beautiful comes along, however, it’s only a matter of time before the sordid tawdriness of the outside world tries to reassert itself. The ego hustlers, know-it-all dilettantes and well poisoners slither their way in and try to put the kibosh on it.

So in prances Dave Flomberg, nightlife writer for the Rocky Mountain News’ Denver Buzz section. If you’re familiar with Flomberg’s writing, you’ll know he fancies himself something of a bar expert and trendsetter. His instincts are so honed that, without having actually set foot in Ireland, he possesses the capacity to inform actual Irishmen that their Irish pubs are unauthentic. Such are his skills.

He brought these same fine instincts to Tiki Boyd’s. Right off the bat he employs the old theater reviewer trick of praising the scenery and cast to high heaven, so as to damn the director. After describing the bar with lavish praise and handing out the title of the “best bartender in Denver . . . maybe even the universe” based on the production of a single cocktail, he announces he will never set foot in the bar again.

Why so? Because, Flomberg claims, Boyd Rice, the bar’s namesake and creator, rushed up to him and declared, “Charles Manson is a great guy.”

It so happens I’d attended a wedding reception with Boyd earlier that evening and we’d drank plenty, so my first gut reaction was echoed in an email I fired off to Flomberg, and I quote:

Let me get this straight — you’re going to demean an entire bar in print based on the words of someone who is blackout drunk? I got a newsflash for you, pal: you follow anyone around who is blind drunk and you’re going to hear some crazy shit. People will tell you they want to nuke Paris (the city, or perhaps the socialite as well), leave their wives for the cocktail waitress they just met, or build a fricking rocket ship to investigate rumors the canals on Mars are running red with bourbon. I’ve heard drunk bar owners say they’re going to blow up their competition. Are they serious? No. They’re blackout drunk.

And don’t tell me you’ve never said anything crazy when you’re out of your mind on the booze. Anyone who’s ever put fifteen drinks together has. The difference being, no one’s going to attack the Rocky Mountain News in print because you rambled some insane nonsense while mullocked. Can you picture it? A Westword column crowing: “After fifteen drinks Dave Flomberg remarked that he wanted to drop a 15 ton shit-hammer on LA, so don’t pick up the Rocky Mountain News. It’s obviously staffed by homicidal lunatics.”

> I went on to say I’d respond to his review and take it out on him in this issue. Flomberg, sensitive soul that he is, construed this a “personal threat.” See, when it comes to communicating, journalists like Flomberg prefer a one-way street. They’d prefer they did the talking and everyone else keeps their trap shut. And if you do speak up, well, you’re “threatening” him.

After I sent the email, a couple things started bugging me. First, why would Flomberg, who pals around with a gentleman who runs a website called iamthedevil.net, resplendent with satanic imagery, be so sensitive about Charles Manson? Second, and more to the point, why the hell would someone who is promoting a new bar (Boyd has no financial stake in the place, by the way) rush up to a reporter and state, strictly out of the blue, that he thought Charlie was a happening cat?

It didn’t ring true.

So I did some investigating. I tracked down and interviewed five witnesses to Boyd and Flomberg’s conversation, staff and patrons alike, and not one of them corroborated Flomberg’s story. None heard so much as a whisper about Charles Manson.

Which leads me to believe that Flomberg was (or became aware through the Internet) Boyd had interviewed Manson 19 years ago for the book The Manson File, and decided to fit Boyd with a sufficiently controversial quote. But why? Why would Flomberg make up such an unbelievable statement out of whole cloth with an eye toward assassinating a bar’s character?

Flomberg answered that question in his reply to my aforementioned email, revealed that a number of his friends had “crossed swords” with Boyd in the past. In other words, Flomberg walked into the bar with an agenda. He slithered into the Garden of Eden looking for a serpent, when all he had to do was take a look in the mirror behind the bar.

When you discover that someone like Flomberg is charged with determining what’s cool and what isn’t in this town, it’s suddenly no wonder we’ve had to wait 20 years for a Tiki bar.

But I have news for him: despite his best attempts, he won’t succeed in poisoning this well. All the cheap hacks in the world can’t stop an bar whose time has come.