It has been an incredible 19-year journey for me at the Falling Rock. I was 26 years old, had just gotten out of the navy and Cj and I weren’t even married yet. I met craft beer heroes like Michael Jackson, Don Younger, Sam Calagione, Thomas Dalldorf and Charlie Papazian. I’ve had the opportunity to try so many beers I can’t count them. I’ve watched small breweries like New Belgium, Great Divide and Odell become powerhouses. And along the way I’ve made so many great friends, people who I couldn’t imagine my life without. I’ve become very close to the Black brothers who are family to me.
When the Falling Rock first opened, the cooler behind the bar was filled with Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, Miller Light, MGD and all those nasty products the world certainly could do without. It wasn’t by choice. Today, we only carry Coors and Coors Light. At that time, being so close to Coors Field, we didn’t have much choice. We were often rebuked for not having any of those products on tap. And when we stated our motto, ‘No crap on tap’, we would get an earful. “Craft beer is just a fad,” we often heard.
We didn’t have any TVs then either. That caught us a rash of shit too. When 50,000 people used to turnout for Rockies games, we were always the last to fill up. It was only after all the sports bars on the block were full, pretty much all that was around us at that time, did we pack the house. But we had a small group of loyalists who still come in today.
We had a small kitchen with a pizza oven too. There was only one man back there for most of the day, Dewayne. Dewayne’s footprint still remains with us. The queso, wings, many of the sandwiches and salads and the general concept of the food are still in great part Dewayne’s, even after he left. Today, Dewayne has returned, temporarily. He now works the front of the house. With only one grill, a small flat top and two small fryers, at that time, food took a lot longer. Not to mention the higher quality of the food prevented us from just dishing out slop at a baseball, breakneck pace. We used to advertise that we didn’t have a microwave. We still don’t. Nor a freezer. The food was and continues to remain fresh. We also used to have a sign behind the bar that read: If you want fast food, take your happy-meal eating ass to McDonalds. Ah, the good ol’ days.
We also didn’t have doormen, extra staff and an all-time full kitchen.
After the first year, Danno and I were the only fulltime servers. We were only there to fill-in for the most part because, back then, the bartenders hustled the floor as well. It was only because of the baseball crowd that Danno and I were brought in. Sammy, Kimmy, Tony and a few other people had full-time jobs at other restaurants because we weren’t busy enough then to carry a full staff. They often filled in during their split shifts or before they had to go to their full-time jobs. Winters were meager and Danno and I would come in to eat because we didn’t have enough money to feed ourselves. Thank you, Falling Rock.
After the first rush from a baseball game, one of us from the floor, which was no more than two or three of us, would head to the kitchen to do the dishes or help prep, or both because Dwayne couldn’t do it all. Even though he did a lot. Part of that crew included the Black brothers. Sometimes all three of them participated by bartending, cooking, prepping, serving or all the above.
But as most things coming from the Falling Rock, they were ahead of their time and certainly ahead of what was happening in Denver. Today, it’s much different with a full staff, with so many craft beer locations you don’t know where to begin. We used to know all the breweries, the brewers and their beer. In fact, much of the beer we were getting then was driven in directly by those brewers. Chris often had to drive to pick up beer from small places that no longer exist like Wolftongue (oh, Mr. Hoppy), Oasis and Tabernash. I remember when Blue Moon used to be carted over by handcart by the brewers themselves, who would sit at the bar and have a beer. This was before Blue Moon became a mass-produced product. To know all the brewers and their beers today isn’t even possible.
So often we were criticized by that crowd, “you should get Bud on tap; you should play the game over the speakers; you should get more TVs; you should get more people behind the bar; you should get a bigger kitchen;” for which often resulted in a quick and sharp response from us, “You should go fuck yourself.”
We became legendary for our acrid attitudes, but were offended by the level of ignorance coming through our doors. “Look at this!” We would say, dismayed at the customer’s requests pointing to the great wall of then 69 taps, “Look at the marvelous things we have here. If you want Bud, Coors, Miller, you can go anywhere!” We didn’t take it so well. Our bosses were much kinder.
We were all dedicated to the concept the Black brothers had set up. We cared and still do. But after 19 years, nearly exactly to the day, it’s time. I’m on a journey I’ve long wanted to be part of. Italy: Beer Country has opened many doors for me. But mostly, I am driven by a passion to make what I saw happen in Denver come to light here in Italy. I say here, because I’m in Italy where I will be stationed for 3 or 4 months.
Leaving the Falling Rock wasn’t an easy choice. But it’s not often you get a chance to fulfill your dreams, so I’m jumping ship. For Paul and I, what began as an answer to our long quest to work some project together has become a new venture, a continuum into a beer pursuit, a pursuit of passion. The moment Paul suggested we write a book about Italian craft beer, my life changed. I found a new thirst that I cannot quench. I imagine this is how Chris Black must have felt some three decades ago in Texas as he began his journey into the American craft beer frontier.
I learned many things from the Black brothers and from the businessmen around us whom we became close friends with on our block on Blake Street. I’ve become friends with countless publicans, brewers and chefs who today run many of Denver’s prestigious locations. There’s not one moment I regret working at the great Falling Rock. It has become my bedrock.
I hope to see you at the Falling Rock. You’ll find me bellied up at the bar or working a shift or two from time to time till I manage to get this new venture off and running. I tip my hat to all those who have sat at my bar, joined in our festivals and stayed way too late in the wee hours of the morning hanging out; to the short list of workers who’ve passed through the revolving door of the Falling Rock, for good reason. I also want to tip my hat to Chris, Stephen and Alan. As they celebrate 20 years, I roll through the thousands of great stories we all tell each other. To Danno whom I began with and to Cj, who opened the bar. She even filled out an application as did Kat!
It’s been a great ride. Thanks for the journey. Looking forward to the next 20!