FKR: A unique set of circumstances gave birth to Tiki Boyd’s.
LS: Unique and strange.
FKR: Beforehand, it was a sterile sports bar that no one went to.
LS: It was a dive, but one of those shitty dives without any character. Almost a blank.
FKR: Right. So Boyd and I, mostly Boyd, talked the guy running it into switching to Tiki. It wasn’t a hard sell.
LS: If your business model is heading over the waterfall, you’ll reach out and grab any hand offered you.
FKR: Exactly. It took Boyd and some of the gang about two weeks to lay in the thatching and bamboo and totems and presto—the legendary Tiki Boyd’s was born. It was an instant hit and lasted . . . Christ, how long did it last?
LS: About a year. It was like being part of the best then worst kept secret in town. Boyd decreed that there would be no vestige of the modern world. No TV. No digital jukebox. The only music was old Tiki records from the ‘60s.
FKR: It was chock full of the Tiki spirit. I’ve been to a lot of Tiki bars and most of them are missing a key element. They get the music wrong, they get the attitude wrong, they get the drinks wrong. Tiki Boyd’s got them all right.
LS: It was magnetic. Everyone had grown tired of the old haunts and they wanted a new old place. From the start, it had that weathered feel, that historic, archaic feel.
FKR: Because Boyd had a collection of Tiki decor that he loaded in. Layers that usually takes a bar years to acquire. Make no mistake, it wasn’t a Trader Vic’s million-dollar renovation. It was probably closer to a $1000, which is why it kept that dive-bar feel. It was one of those “Old Farmer Brown says we can use his barn to stage our play!” kind of deals.
LS: What it lacked in budget it made up for with exuberance.
FKR: Right. And this, of course, violates one of the main dive-bar dictums, the idea that a dive bar can’t be conspired, that it has to happen organically over time. Tiki Boyd’s put the lie to that.
LS: The Tiki drinks were also divey, in the sense they were cheap and strong.
FKR: And not sugary or frou-frou. They were powerful, masculine. Boyd installed our mutual friends as bartenders: Lorin, Brian, Jimmy and the rest. They set about creating fantastic new Tiki drinks.
LS: It got crazy towards the end.
FKR: Right. First, it was just the cool crowd, and you knew everybody, then it wasn’t such a secret and you’d walk in and not recognize most of the people and have to stand in line for a drink. Still, it was a beautiful place to be.
LS: It was very dark, the music was right and there was a sense that anything was possible.
FKR: It was our Casbah.
LS: It was like time had caught up with us.
FKR: I think I know what you mean. Then we found out that back in the 1960s this very location was home to one Denver’s original Tiki bars. It was pure kismet. It was like it was just waiting to spring back to life. Friends would visit from LA and London and would be astounded that a bar this cool existed in Denver. I built a lot of friendships there. There was a powerful zeitgeist that seemed to attract the best and brightest.
LS: And drunkest.
FKR: The manager would gently lecture the bartenders about overpouring and not drinking behind the bar, and they would just smile and ignore him. They didn’t come from bartender backgrounds.
LS: They were bartenders in that folksy craftsman tradition. They were autodidacts.
FKR: They were idealists. They served drinks in gutted pineapples. Sometimes on fire. And the manager couldn’t complain too loudly because almost overnight he’d went from wallowing in a money pit to making money hand over fist. He’d been handed the pearl, and all he had to do was stay out of the way and count the take.
LS: And the pearl shone so very brightly.
FKR: Listen to us. Is it possible we’re looking back through rose-colored glasses?
LS: Anything is possible.
FKR: Or maybe, just maybe, it was even better than we remember. Did you know that all Boyd ever asked for or got out of it was free beer? He’d sit at the end of the bar and hold court and never pay for a drink.
LS: Sometimes that’s enough.
FKR: Oftentimes. I’d spend five nights a week here minimum. For a year I stopped going anywhere else. I was hypnotized. The other bars suddenly seemed cold and hard. It was like the Yanks who got a taste of the South Seas during World War II and found it hard to go back to the farm or the factory. You wanted to linger in paradise. It was one of those beautiful moments in time, and you just knew it wouldn’t last.
LS: It never does.
FKR: So, of course, it collapsed. Not slowly, but suddenly.
LS: Something went sour.
FKR: Everything went sour. After a year of stunning success, the manager decided it was time to climb out of the backseat and take the wheel. I mean, why not?
LS: Everyone thinks they can pilot a magic carpet. How hard could it be?
FKR: Right. So he started firing the bartenders, our bartenders, for no good reason, and bringing in his own pals. He wanted to play top-40 music. He wanted to weaken the pours. So Boyd decided, all right, let’s pull the plug.
LS: Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone.
FKR: It took about two hours. We came in during the day shift. The day bartender, who we knew—
LS: It was Mike.
FKR: Right. We rolled in with drills and crowbars and hammers and Mike was like, “What’s going on, guys?” And we said, “Oh, we’re just going to renovate the place.” And in two hours time we stripped it bare. There was a dozen of us, all members of the Denver Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking League, and we worked like dervishes. Like a gang of Grinches swooping down on Whoville. We took everything, even the colored light bulbs. When we were finished it was back to what it was a year before—a sterile sports bar.
LS: Then the manager, after the tears and teeth-gnashing, tried to recreate it. He glued flip-flops to the wall.
FKR: And put up movie posters and cardboard bamboo. It was like an orangutan trying to build a jet airliner he’d glimpsed passing overhead. He had no concept of what Tiki was. To some people, Tiki is nearly a religion. It was like an atheist building a church just so he can pass the collection plate. It doesn’t work.
LS: And that was that.
FKR: It came, it hung around awhile, everything was beatific and righteous, and just like that, it was gone.
LS: The Tiki magic flew back to from whence it came.
FKR: And now it’s this. An empty bar with a—I guess you’d call it Standard Ramada Bar Theme #9. It’s went through eight or so different incarnations following Tiki Boyd’s but nothing has caught on. All the new leasees thought it’d jumped because of the location, but it had nothing to do with that.
LS: And now it’s just another Colfax Avenue ghost.
Next Up: Cricket on the Hill