RIP Sancho’s Broken Arrow, a Lunatic-Friendly Bar for Freaks & the Dead
Fare thee well to an extraordinary place in Denver.
Until this week — or maybe even today — there was a kind of fucked up place on East Colfax in Denver called Sancho’s Broken Arrow. It was a dive bar, if that’s how you describe these kinds of things, but man, it was oh so much more. Story goes that it used to be a burlesque club back in the day, which is why it had a big, empty marquee above the entrance, but until a recent drug bust (and some repeated shady behavior), it also acted as somewhat of a Grateful Dead museum. Inside, the walls are lined with various photos and Dead memorabilia from over the years, the personal collection from the former owner.
There was also that distinct heady scent — you know what I’m talking about… a rare and specific musty blend of incense, cheap candles, and dorm rooms.
On top of the giant graffiti mural of Mr. Natural on the back wall of the building, or the Terrapin turtles that sit on the marquee watching guard, or the massive psychedelic Stealie made of tile that judges every game of pool, my favorite element of Sancho’s was the jukebox. Specifically, the sign on top of the jukebox, which read:
Hey Sancho’s Friends: Please keep in mind there is a lot of great music on this jukebox! Be respectful of everyone’s taste in music. Let’s shy away from playing entire albums or only one band. The bartenders have the right to skip music without a refund. Let’s ALL have fun and enjoy this awesome Jukebox!
Now Sancho’s is closed, and that’s that, and that sucks. But as my dad says, you gotta know when to leave the party.
One silly day earlier this year, I was hanging out a Sancho’s and met a German guy named Max. I don’t remember exactly how I justified being at a bar with no windows on a Sunday afternoon. But I did, and I’m grateful. Max had just turned 75 and told me about how he had recently gotten out of prison. I can’t remember what caused him to get tossed in the big house — I know it wasn’t like, murder — but I do remember he was an amiable guy, and he had a tattoo that said “HAWAII” sprawled across his forearm. As far as I could tell, it was his only tattoo, written in a big, blocky font and surrounded by a sunset on one side and a boat (I think?) on the other. Just your classic Hawaii tattoo.
Max told me, through his thick German accent, that he tattooed it on himself. I asked him why he tattooed the word Hawaii on his own body.
“Well Rick, because I love Hawaii!”
Good enough answer for me.
Max was a freak. I don’t think he’d mind being called that, either. There’s a strong chance the label would make him proud. At one point, we ripped a couple of cigarettes together in the backyard with another local guy — a middle-aged fellow wearing a full-on Grateful Dead sweatsuit with a Stealie on the chest and a Stealie on the thigh. I can’t remember his name, but he wasn’t alone. He’d brought his paralyzed dog to the bar, a little French bulldog who walked around in a tiny wheelchair. I’m pretty sure the dog’s name was Gizmo, or maybe that’s what my memory tells me.
Details are a bit hazy, but I recall Max the German arguing with the Stealie Sweatsuit Man about the definition and meaning of America. After they got over that, they both pointed at my shoes, a white pair of Vans, and laughed about how clean they were. I don’t remember much of what else was discussed, but I’m confident we solved many of the world’s problems.
It was a weird afternoon.
Man, I fear for the freaks. Where do we go? The scary thoughts about a dystopian future creep further into reality. A few miles north of Sancho’s is a hotspot of tech development. The combination of already high-living costs in the mountains and Google’s presence in Boulder have turned the front range into an ever-expanding blob of urban sprawl, dotted with Amazon distribution centers as pillars of its cancerous growth. Sure, it’s a nice place to raise a family if you can afford a million-dollar starter home.
But I’m not here to wax poetic about capitalism and the stupidity of our modern era. There are much more intelligent people than me tackling the idea that our tech and media leaders’ addiction to “disruption” over the last 15 years has been a farce. I’m here to remember a bar for the freaks, a place where a guy like Max wants to drink a Coors Banquet on a Sunday afternoon and not be bothered while he bothers other people.
There are many opinions about Sancho’s. In reality, the world might be a safer place without its existence. They had their liquor license suspended or taken away or whatever happened because it was an extremely easy place to acquire extremely illegal drugs. They allegedly served minors, which is something I wouldn’t doubt happened. And the venue was plastered with imagery associated with drugs. Getting shut down by the cops was inevitable.
But I’m not here to judge. And I’d encourage you not to as well. I had some very pleasant times in that establishment with some very interesting characters. That’s what these kinds of places attract. People who want to live their life however they want to live them. And hey, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, that’s cool with me. Maybe you’ve got a lesson or too you can share. Maybe I’ve got one as well.
The hippy ethos is to embrace freedom in its purest sense. Don’t judge the things you might not understand. Sometimes, it’s our own fear of the unknown that causes us to react hastily. When’s the last time you thought about the story of Frakenstein?
Here’s to Sancho’s. Here’s to the freaks. Here’s to the goddamn Grateful Dead.
on the turntable:
Grateful Dead - Dick’s Picks Volume 18: Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI 2/3/78 / UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls, IA 2/3/78