Six decades ago, the blocky building at 3090 North Downing Street in Whittier was a church. Over the years, it has housed many promising businesses and cultural events — many not-so-churchy — that have opened in the space and later died.
Over the past few months, Denver muralists, curated by A.L. Grime, have covered the building. The bawdy decor, from the years the building held Denver’s long-running gay bear bar, the Wrangler, has mostly come down.
Inside, the walls have been demolished. Electricians are rewiring the building. BDSM gear like a Saint Andrew’s Cross have been removed. Construction workers are remedying years of zoning-code no-nos and preparing to create a stunning interior.
So far, everything’s dusty and the flaws of the building, like the holes in the floor, are on prominent display — but the drawings of the future space are promising and the entrepreneurs behind the remodel are beaming with enthusiasm.
The building’s latest renter, a collective of companies under the umbrella of Society Colorado, is leading the renovation.
The project’s cofounders are event-producer and longtime music industry player Crystal Wiggins, herbalist, performance artist and event producer Iman Haidar, and Boulder restaurant Thrive’s owner Corey Jacobs.
The group is preparing for a late 2022 launch of three stories and 15,000 square feet of interwoven businesses.
Society’s first-floor, dine-in restaurant and street-level window cafe will be the second iteration of Boulder’s Thrive restaurant, run by Jacobs. Wines, kombucha, cider and jun brewed by lead fermenter Ish Baker of Ish’s Brew will also be served. The second floor, called Vibe, will contain a multipurpose room that will function as a co-working space, a music venue, an art gallery, and a pop-up marketplace. The third floor will house Alive, an herbal apothecary, elixir lounge, movement and workshop studio, and body-work suite.
Jacobs will serve up mushroom jerky, and various raw delicacies, along with bar food cooked in the healthiest oils at Thrive. He promises the highest quality ingredients and food that is both delicious and nourishing — the kind of fare he likes to eat.
“My big saying in the past couple of months is ‘I’m done paying to poison myself,'” Jacobs said, and his hope is that his cooking brings a healthier bar experience to Denver, raising the standard for cuisine and culture in the city.
The coworking space by day will turn into a venue by night that will showcase music of all genres.
“We want to open it up to everything from electronic to disco to funk to bluegrass,” Haidar said. “We’re just open to letting people express themselves however they want.”
Health, culture and community will tie all the businesses together, and if things work as intended, having so many projects in one space will create an economic benefit for all.
“Good food is important to me,” Haidar said. “Moving my body is important for me. Socializing is important for me, too, cause I connect with my community. Art is really inspiring for me. All the different aspects of Thrive, Vibe, Alive all kind of go with the mind, body and soul. And I feel like that’s what I wanted to create with Society. It’s all under one roof.”
All of this is ambitious, but the big question: Can Society thrive at 3090 Downing Street, a building that has earned an unfortunate reputation as a place where great projects open and fail?
The first restaurant in the ex-church, La Hacienda, was a Five Points staple run by a Scottish family, the Mackintoshes. That establishment moved into the old church in 1956. The restaurant boomed and expanded, but eventually, the family’s partnership fell apart, and Ruben Mackintosh took over the former church, renaming it Tosh’s Hacienda.
That space kept running for decades but eventually closed. In the years that followed, a string of restaurants and bars occupied the building, including the Kiva Restaurant, the lesbian vegetarian restaurant Eden, Club Dynasty, Blackberries Bar & Grill and Swallows. Through the various iterations, the various businesses hosted Drag King events, poetry readings, music and more.
The building also once housed 3090 Eden, a swingers’ club, and the adjacent Downing Street Grill. The few swingers who showed could munch on greasy fare while bantering about the lifestyle. Ultimately, that business closed after it couldn’t attract enough swingers to its events.
The most recent business to go big and fail was the second iteration of the gay bear bar, the Wrangler, which hosted legendary, rowdy beer busts with big-bellied, hairy men whose volume, smoking and escapades drove some neighbors bonkers. Arrests at the address piled up after fights broke out around the venue. The building was often packed well over capacity with massive lines of men waiting for a turn at the keg.
When Society Colorado moved in, they believed they would just take over the licensing and zoning from the Wrangler. Unfortunately, none of it was up to code, city safety inspectors told the new renters. The venue’s capacity had been overstated, and the new renters would have to get a new liquor license — a process neighborhood organizers first objected to and then ultimately supported.
Whittier and nearby Five Points is a changing neighborhood — and the Society Colorado founders believe the time is right for a project like theirs in the community.
Businesses have come and gone as the surrounding Five Points neighborhood, including the River North Art District, boomed — especially since 2018. Whether the Whittier neighborhood and surrounding, growing environs will sustain a new slew of offerings in the 3090 Downing building will soon be seen.
The city has pledged to invest in Whittier in the past. When voters passed FasTracks in 2004, there were promises the L-Line would stretch down Downing Street to connect with the 38th and Blake A Line stop, but the Regional Transportation District has punted that plan down the road, leaving the Whittier community uncertain about its future and somewhat disconnected from the nearby arts district.
Since the Wrangler went bust in 2018, the building has stayed empty, as the surrounding area has boomed. Briefly, there was speculation the space would be turned into affordable housing, but no project got off the ground.
The time for Society Colorado is right, said the co-founders.
“I think that in general, Denver is growing like crazy,” Wiggins said. “This neighborhood specifically has changed so much, just even since my time here. I think that, you know, having this location right now, we are, I think, pretty centrally located but not downtown. Right? We’ve got neighborhoods around, so people can come and join us at any time from home. We’ve got, you know, amazing public transportation right now as well. The train is down the road. Bus stops are down the way.”
Jacobs said there isn’t a business like Society serving the neighborhood and bringing quick access to organic food. His plan is for Society to be a community-0riented destination.
“I think it’s really important that we add value to this neighborhood instead of taking it,” Haidar said. “I think gentrification is a big thing to talk about, and we really want to make sure we’re not adding to that, [so we’re] doing a good-neighbor agreement. We’re going to be offering discounts to people within a certain mile radius. We also want to support other local businesses in the area, because we don’t see other people doing things as competition. We want to support each other and uplift each other.”