How Two Club Co-Owners Are Aiming to Diversify Denver’s Nightlife
Scott Bagus and Brian Mathenge have track records of attracting crowds of different backgrounds to their respective former establishments, but neither found the sustainable long-term success desired. Now as partners, they are hoping their new bar Rock Steady will be one of Denver’s premier nightclubs and in the process become the new face of Denver’s melting pot of nightlife and culture.
After Mathenge noticed Curtis Club shared similar traits with his now-defunct hip-hop club Cold Crush, he offered to purchase the low-key biker bar located in Arapahoe Square. Bagus countered the offer with one of his own: join as a partner. The duo quickly worked out the terms of the partnership, came up with a joint concept and re-opened the doors this past August.
“Brian approached me and asked if I would be interested in selling the bar. I said no, but I was interested in a partnership,” says Bagus. “We kept talking, and eventually decided to go for it. We thought it’d be a good match; we both had similar visions, and it seems to be working out pretty well so far.”
While Mathenge’s experience running Cold Crush and Bagus’ experience running Curtis Club show off their complimentary skillsets, the concept itself came from both men just wanting to have a bar that was inclusive and welcoming to the people residing in the area and to Denver as a whole.
The results are Rock Steady, a concept that loosely pulls inspiration from the early 80s New York breakdancing team called the Rocksteady Crew and the diverse and inclusive hip-hop parties they’d hold in their respective communities.
Though wild breakdance parties aren’t going on inside the club, the results of the joint concept are a perfect marriage between the two parties and the respective backgrounds each come from.
“I think Denver is changing into more of a melting pot kind of city,” says Mathenge. “For us, this concept is to show that people with different backgrounds could figure out how to run a business together and make it work from a community aspect.”
“If you come on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s like United Nations in here — which is different than a lot of the places in Denver. Us being leaders in that aspect, in the community — I think a lot of other places will have to change and adapt.”
The bones of Curtis Club are still visible: the stylish bar and mural backdrop, finely handcrafted tables and chairs, a gorgeous Victorian-style ceiling, an intimate corner table and booth, and an outdoor patio with a killer view of the ballpark — all constructed by Bagus, who has an extensive background in construction and custom fabrication.
But a new concept requires some updating. Much like Cold Crush, murals will eventually line the walls of the club and change on a quarterly basis, the space will occasionally moonlight as an art gallery for local artists, and a killer DJ booth now takes center stage every Thursday through Sunday night.
“People liked to come here because we played good music and the food’s good, so there wasn’t much of a defined concept other than that,” says Bagus. “It was like ‘where can my friends come and hang out, ride their motorcycles, listen to good music and eat good food?'”
“Now we’ve got a little more of a focused thing with DJs, but people still ride their motorcycles down, people still hang on the patio and we still play good music. It’s just a little different music.”
In a way, Rock Steady is part-nightclub and part-social experiment; if two club owners with very different backgrounds can come together to create a space that invites and welcomes in diversity, will Denver show up?
There will, of course, be folks out there that will prefer Cold Crush or Curtis Club as separate entities, but Mathenge and Bagus had to evolve in their thinking to stay relevant and reflective of the city. Here’s to hoping their brand of unique and welcoming nightlife will inspire others to evolve too.