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“With a heavy heart, the Zephyr is now closed after 73 years in business,” announced owner Myron Melnick on November 1st on social media. “The train that never leaves Aurora will leave the station.”
The Zephyr Lounge was a legendary family-owned bar, restaurant, and event space that Melnick inherited in 2003 from his father, Barry Melnick, who bought the building at 11940 East Colfax Avenue in 1947, more recently it was a hangout for workers on the nearby Anschutz Medical Campus as well as for vintage cars in the rapidly changing neighborhood.
“When I originally took over the Zephyr from my father, I thought it would take a few years,” recalls Melnick. “It’s almost twenty. It was an amazing run. My dad always said if he was born again or came back he’d do the same thing all over again. I understand the charm of the business. It opened my eyes to so much. When I have gone around the world five times, I would not have seen humanity and everything that I have seen in the twenty years that I have been there. “
Over the years, Westword has hailed the venue for its great drink deals, free concerts, and eclectic atmosphere. Denver bands valued the Independent Club, an alternative to the city’s increasingly corporate-controlled live music scene. In 2012, the bar stumbled over fifteen minutes of fame when TV stations reported that the Aurora stage shooter had been drinking there. News teams and qualified journalists flooded the place; Melnick quickly debunked the rumor.
With a diverse crowd, 1940s train-themed architecture, vintage decor, quirky art, and a commitment to its seventy-year history, the Zephyr stands out in a region that has been overtaken by new developments. Add to this killer karaoke, a loaded jukebox and a long history of blues acts as well as soul, R&B and rock. The Zephyr has earned its reputation as a legendary dive – a type of waterhole that should never dry out.
But blues bars have been dying for years before the pandemic. Ziggy’s, the oldest in Denver, closed its doors in 2017. Most of the bars near the Zephyr also have their shutters closed. Some had to close near the city.
Then came COVID-19.
While Melnick intended to stay while the neighborhood was changing, COVID-19 made that impossible, and sold the property to a developer who is providing 450 affordable housing units.
“When we first had to close because of COVID, I think about two weeks a month,” he says. “Then it’s two months, two and a half months. Now I think we’ll probably wear masks for another year.”
Although the Zephyr managed to reopen, it was not easy to run the place. “I have to make sure everyone is safe, whether it’s the alcohol they’re consuming or the COVID,” recalls Melnick. “We asked everyone to wear a mask. People came in, sat down, had a drink and took off the mask and tended to the drink.”
Some exposed customers had a drink for an hour, which angered the staff. While only one customer coped with COVID-19, Melnick knows many other people who have contracted the virus: his nephew, banker, handyman, and more. “I didn’t want my employees to get it,” he says.
A menagerie of oversized cuddly toys combined with the lights and streamers on the karaoke stage of the Zephyr Lounge.
Even so, Melnick is concerned about dismissing these employees. He’s also concerned that his customers have lost a community hub that has served as a home away from home for some. The furnishing of this house is also possible.
“It is unfortunate that a lot of things have to disappear immediately,” he says. “I feel very bad for the customers, the staff, and I hope they can find something new to do and get back on their feet. Customers all say we have nowhere to go. Where are we going? I feel very bad about it.” all of those things. I don’t jump up and down. “
The Zephyr is hardly the only place where shutters are closed during the pandemic. The subway area has already lost 3 Kings Tavern, Live @ Jack’s, La Cour and more.
“This is a bittersweet end to a great run,” wrote Melnick on his November 1st farewell. “I know this will affect you and everyone … Unfortunately the writing is on the wall and I’ve held out as long as I could. I’m sorry this has to end like this. I have wonderful memories , Experiences and amazing stories and I hope you too!
“Once we get the virus under control,” he added, “we may be able to celebrate all that Zephyr has to offer at some point in the future.”
The response to his suicide note was overwhelmingly positive, says Melnick.
“We had all these normal people,” he notes. “They were very nice in their words. Everyone was really nice. I think most people understand: you can see the big buildings invading the area. It was a matter of time. With COVID and all the problems, this was the time. “
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Kyle Harris stopped making documentaries and started writing when he realized he could tell hundreds of stories in the same amount of time it took to make a movie. Now he’s the arts editor for Westword, writing about music and art.