What’s next for Danny Newman, owner of My Brother’s Bar, Mercury Cafe?
Danny Newman’s success as a tech entrepreneur has been a very good thing for Denver and, at times, a very frustrating thing for him.
“People have reached out with requests like, ‘We can’t let this go! We need to save it!’ ” said Newman, 42, over a video call from his renovated-church home in Governor’s Park. “And I just don’t have it in me right now. Part of that is exhaustion, and part of that is the newborn.”
Danny and wife/business partner Christy Kruzick’s first child is only 6 months old and they’ve been hiding out from humanity to protect little Niko from COVID. It’s a well-deserved rest for the family that has been responsible for preserving some of Denver’s most iconic, and endangered, cultural icons in recent years.
Last summer, they bought the 32-year-old bohemian hangout the Mercury Cafe, a focal point of Denver’s jazzy, poetic arts scene that existed long before its current boom. That was after buying My Brother’s Bar in 2017, the hometown legend that hosted Beat poets and countless others. Newman’s mother started working there when he was 4 years old — as did he, summers between college — and his love for it means the paper-wrapped bison burgers, classical music and garden-patio seating at Denver’s oldest continuously operating bar has stayed more or less the same.
“I have pictures of my very pregnant mom there,” he said with a laugh. Fittingly, his parents were part of the deal in buying it.
Requests he has turned down over the past year include saving the teetering Denver Diner and Breakfast King, or rescuing the former jazz club El Chapultepec.
“We obviously did a big push for Casa Bonita,” he said, referring to a save-our-sopapillas drive that ended with “South Park” creators/Colorado natives Trey Parker and Matt Stone buying the Mexican restaurant in Lakewood. “I’m pretty happy with where that one ended up.”
Newman, who recently joined the board of Historic Denver Inc., is passionate but picky about preservation. He and Kruzick, a producer for HGTV’s “Good Bones” and other TV projects, know every building or business cannot be helped. But Newman is hoping to bring younger members in for different perspectives on what’s ultimately worth saving.
“Not just architecturally important or 1800s historic buildings, but culturally important things that need to stick around to make Denver not just a generic city,” said Newman, who also paid $2.5 million to buy the top five floors of downtown Denver’s D&F Clocktower in 2020.
Newman made his money with business partner Austin Mayer by creating and building up and selling tech companies, such as the location-based advertising platform Roximity. He’s also known for founding the Denver Zombie Crawl in 2005, and throwing a number of fun, ridiculous parties around town.
The Zombie Crawl is on hiatus due to the 16th Street Mall’s massive construction project but will return in 2023. Newman sold the event to the haunted house company Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group about seven years ago but is still heavily involved.
Amid other start-ups and investments, he also launched Switchboard, a phone-managing system that was inspired by the near-unmanageable flood of calls at My Brother’s Bar. He’s also working on other slowly developing projects, such as Colfax Country Club on West Colfax Avenue (“silly and fun,” he said, but with no opening date due to zoning), and a conceptual new building near Denver Rock Drill for artists that’s still on (or potentially off) the drawing board.
“I do think calling yourself an arts district and not having any artists anymore is tough,” he said of the nearby River North Art District, which has been criticized for being too expensive for working artists. He’s feeling a bit tapped out by the churn, and would love to have a team on hand to help save things.
“In a lot of cases I feel really alone doing it,” he said. “Not in an ‘Oh, pity me’ way, but more like ‘If I didn’t do it, it was not going to get saved.’ ”
Despite his exhaustion from the Mercury Cafe in particular — he said the beloved business doesn’t need to make a profit to continue, but it does need to break even — he’s dutifully resisted mainstream programming and other upgrades that would change its character. But it’s a fine balance.
“Everyone has their version of what it should look like,” he said, “and that’s thousands and thousands of people being served there.”
The same could be said of Denver, where transplants making their mark is just part of the deal. Newman knows that, but as someone who grew up and still lives here, he worries about the fate of downtown, and the city in general.
“I don’t feel like these (social habits) are coming back,” he said. “I would love to keep My Brother’s Bar open until 2 a.m. and serve industry folks until all hours, but the entire neighborhood is just dead after 11 p.m. There’s no late-night chiller vibes that exist anymore because people are going back to their nests.”
He readily admits he’s one of them, holing up in his converted Greek Orthodox church home and conducting business from there. A lifelong and passionate traveler, he’s canceled long-planned trips for his birthday (he just turned 42 on Saturday, Oct. 22) and other celebrations. He used to visit New York City several times a year, and hasn’t lately.
But he’s still capable of the seemingly impossible.
“Christy said I was allowed to go to Burning Man (an arts festival in the Nevada desert) this year if Niko was sleeping through the night, so I took that as an actual, real challenge. And it worked.”
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