The Nob Hill Inn has survived wars and economic depressions in its more than 80 years in Denver. But COVID-19 might prove to be the downfall of the beloved dive bar on East Colfax Avenue.
The bar shut down in March after the city imposed restrictions on non-essential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When restrictions on bars were lifted last month, Nob Hill planned to reopen on July 1 at 25 percent capacity and with new social distancing rules.
Then, on June 30 — the day before Nob was scheduled to reopen — Governor Jared Polis announced that bars must again close for in-person services. The move was a response to nation-wide spikes in coronavirus cases.
“We were ready to do it the right way,” said John Plessinger, the Nob’s longtime owner. “We never even got the chance.”
Plessinger said that before the pandemic, business was good. Sales were up. Now, despite offering takeout drinks and pizza sold out of the parking lot, Plessinger has furloughed most of his staff and is struggling to pay the bar’s expenses, which include the steep cost of rent on Colfax.
Last week, a group of the Nob’s staff created a GoFundMe page in an attempt to rescue the bar from permanent closure. The page has now raised more than $3,000 — enough, Plessinger says, to cover the bar’s expenses for July.
“It’s desperation at this point,” said Christy Simonsen, who’s been a bartender at the Nob for eight years. “The GoFundMe is what’s going to keep the bar open. That’s the only way that we’re going to be able to reopen our doors.”
At 83 years old, the Nob is one of the oldest neighborhood bars in Denver.
While the bar is known to welcome a diverse and eclectic clientele, it’s especially essential to the Colfax community, said Frank Locantore, executive director of the Colfax Business Improvement District. Locantore said it’s important for locals to have a place to blow off steam at an affordable price. Such bars, he said, are a dying breed.
“The thing about Colfax is that it’s resilient,” said Locantore. “Colfax has always been defined by change.”
But he worried that the isolating nature of current times might be detrimental to the community.
“They’re missing that social interaction of just being able to sit on a patio and see their friends walk by, or walk down Colfax and get into impromptu conversations,” he said. “Without people mixing it up on Colfax, you really lose the energy and vitality that makes Colfax so special.”
Locantore said he’s applying for small business relief grants to help support the Nob, but that it’s a slow process.
Plessinger said he’s grateful that people are contributing to the GoFundMe. He’s hopeful now that he can keep the Nob running.
“There’s a lot of people that consider it their second home,” he said. “If there’s any way possible, I will keep it rolling for as long as I can.”