FKR: This is a sea change. From what it was, I mean. It’s the difference between a savage Viking booze temple and a hipster cafeteria where they sue you for using the wrong pronoun.
LS: Every corner is well lit. There’s no need to imagine a strange fungus growing where the light doesn’t hit.
FKR: The best dives have their own ecosystem. The Cricket was pretty filthy. But that just added to its ambiance.
LS: It was seductive.
FKR: The first time I drank in here I nearly got in a fight with the bartender over some pool table hassle. It was kind of an asshole bar. The staff, the regulars, the guy delivering the beer, everyone seemed like an asshole. But once got inside that asshole circle, it seemed like paradise.
LS: Once you’re inside the asshole circle, you can’t smell the shit.
FKR: You are the shit.
LS: Advanced nose-blindness. Part of the allure was the power of the pour. They did not fuck around. When you went someplace else the contrast was stark.
FKR: Especially when Leslie was behind the bar.
LS: Oh yeah, she would punish you.
FKR: And that’s it. She thought she was punishing us by pouring heavily, angrily, but it was like trying to drown a school of thirsty sharks.
LS: It made you crave more of that liquid abuse. This was the first place I played in Denver. It was open mic with Baggs Patrick. This was where I first met Denver Joe. He was standoffish at first but I wore him down. I was still learning how to play, but Joe appreciated the fact that I was going for it.
FKR: You can’t really talk about the Cricket unless you talk about Denver Joe. In my mind, Joe was the Cricket and the Cricket was Denver Joe.
LS: They were one and the same to me.
FKR: Though, the first time I met Joe, I thought he was this mean old dude . . .
LS: He wasn’t that old.
FKR: I know, but he carried himself that way, like the wise old man of the mountain.
FKR: And he was. It wasn’t an act. He was that guy. He was our Bukowski.
LS: That was him.
FKR: But when you first met him, he’d test you. But later, after I started working here, I recognized him as a mentor. He had a definite and heavy influence on the magazine. He personified what the magazine was about. The avatar in its purest form.
LS: It was a weird dichotomy with that guy. He had much more mental capacity than those who consider themselves intellectuals, but he didn’t keep that sort of company. At the same time, he didn’t suffer fools. You had to prove you had some modicum of mental wherewithal or you didn’t get his time.
FKR: And he would let you know immediately. The cruelty he would lay down. I’d introduce him to a friend and if Joe didn’t him, he wouldn’t be shy about saying so. And you just had to stand there, grinning like an idiot.
LS: Yeah. We both worked here, and there was an unspoken rule that if you couldn’t handle your alcohol, you couldn’t work here.
FKR: And that qualification was constantly tested. It was one of those rare jobs where you could drink as much as you wanted so long as you could more or less do your job. They practically forced them on you. I remember many instances where I was drunker than the guys I was throwing out for being too drunk. Sometimes they would give me a strange look, perhaps appreciative of the irony.
LS: The after-hours parties here were epic.
FKR: Just madness. It was a constant battle to get out of here before Tom showed up to do his morning thing around five. He almost caught us a few times.
LS: He knew what we were up to.
FKR: Yeah, probably. My favorite nights were Joe’s nights, after-hours. He’s holding court at the bar, the whipcrack repartee is flying, Davey is antagonizing Leslie who’s getting even by bludgeoning us with heavy pours. It was fantastic.
LS: A free for all. And it was easy to get your after-hours chores done quickly. You got everyone out, wiped down anything three feet or more off the floor, and you were good to go. It was so dark in there, it was so intrinsically dirty, there was no real point. It would be like sweeping a dirt floor.
FKR: I found it very comfortable, the darkness, the dankness. When you first went in, you were like, “Good God!” Once you sink in though, you feel really comfortable.
LS: Like an old catcher’s mitt.
FKR: An old catcher’s mitt with the most bizarre selection of live music.
LS: There was a lot of bad music being proliferated.
FKR: Do you want to know why?
LS: Because they had live music seven nights a week.
FKR: Not only that. It was Brian’s job to listen to the demo tapes the bands would send in. He’d ask me to come back to his office and help him decide. And after listening to 30 seconds of three tapes, Brian would get bored with it and start booking bands by their names. Or just randomly.
LS: I’m sure the vetting process—
FKR: There was no vetting process! Sheer chance. That’s why on a single night you’d get a Christian folk band, followed by Satanist black metal, then a high-school new wave band. Bands that had never played anywhere but a basement.
LS: Throwback hair bands, drum circles, people who chanted over xylophones.
FKR: In was a very democratic bar in that respect. It didn’t take any skill, influence or merit, you just had to send your tape in to enter Brian’s lottery, and you had a chance of winning a spot. You could be the best band in the world and you’d lose out to the xylophone chanters.
LS: It kept things interesting.
FKR: Wait, there was one sure to win the lottery. He would always book foreign bands. He figured if a band traveled all the way from Finland to play, they must be good. Also, he would disregard any band that had a rider demanding anything beyond drink tickets.
LS: Riders are for assholes. Unless it’s my band. We need all that shit.
Next Up: Congress Lounge