The announcement that Quixote’s True Blue was closing this past October came as a shock to its dedicated patrons. More than just a bar to its regular clientele, the jam-music venue represented a way of life. “The first time I walked in the place it felt like home,” said a devoted fan at the final show of the club’s 20-year run on Halloween.
Quixote’s first opened in 1996 at an unlikely-yet-cozy space on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. Any given night there could find a room full of heads bobbing to the sounds of artists including Lazy Lightning, Stir Fried, Chief Broom, Banana Blackout, Larry, Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck, and even an occasional visit by members of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
“It was a sort of refuge for Deadheads who needed a place to gather and celebrate the life of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead,” explains owner Jay Bianchi. “Kind of like a VFW for old Dead fans.”
The rootsy performances at Quixote’s were fun and intimate and word of the place spread. The positive response to the bar soon spurred Bianchi and his brothers, Phil and Aric, to open another spot, Sancho’s Broken Arrow, which continues to be a favorite Denver watering hole at its more central location on the northwest corner of Colfax and Clarkson. And though Sancho’s featured (and still features) musical performances on Monday evenings, it was Quixote’s that carried the banner of nightly live music.
(A poster from the second iteration of Quixote’s on South Broadway in Denver. Image courtesy of Jemimah Puddleduck)
“Man this is like playing in my living room,” guitarist Mark Karan once quipped about the musical intimacy of the Quixote’s experience.
After its first incarnation in Aurora, Quixote’s hop-scotched around Denver, landing at a variety of addresses over the years, including stints at 7 South Broadway (now the Hi-Dive), 2635 Welton Street in Five Points (adjacent to Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom), a complex near Coors Field at 2151 Lawrence Street (which was eventually scraped to build condos), and its final resting place at 314 E 13th Avenue in Capitol Hill (in the building that had previously housed Bender’s Tavern and is now the Black Box).
(The Quixote’s marquee at 13th and Logan)
Eventually, Bianchi opened a few other similar venues using different names, including Dulcinea’s 100th Monkey, Owsley’s Golden Road (now in Boulder) and a second Sancho’s in Boulder (which recently closed to make room for a new hotel). At times the clubs almost seem to be competing with themselves, but he says he enjoys starting new projects and the freedom that such change allows. His various venues provide him a canvass of sorts for what appears to be an evolving expression of the original Quixote’s concept.
Bianchi’s trove of vintage concert posters and music-related memorabilia migrate seamlessly from space to space, helping to create the atmosphere that his patrons have come to know and love. Inside his places things feel unstuck in time and communal — as if stepping into an alternate version of the Avalon Ballroom or a late ’60s acid test. Elaborately tie-dyed banners adorn the walls, along with vintage posters and vanity license plates, from a smattering of states, that spell out “DRKSTAR,” “JKSTRAW,” “WALSTIB” and other Grateful Dead-related motifs.
(Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple prepares to open near 17th and Logan in Denver at the end of 2016)
“Some people compare me to Bill Graham,” Bianchi says. “But I think a more accurate analogy might be Chet Helms of the Family Dog.”
(Music promoter Chet Helms was often called the “father of the Summer of Love” in 1967 San Francisco)
Quixote’s, which Jay and his brothers dedicated to their late parents, represented the ever-evolving center of the Colorado jam scene. Fortunately for its fans, the long strange trip goes on.
While the Quixote’s moniker has been officially retired, the music and general vibe that the Bianchis cultivated will continue under the name Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple, which is scheduled to open at the end of this year at 1700 Logan Street in North Capitol Hill. Psychedelic Ripple includes a bar, a game room, a merchandise sales desk and an outdoor patio.