Shelby’s Bar and Grill is located at 519 18th St. in downtown Denver . The building, which is the only freestanding bar left in downtown Denver, was built in 1906 and became Shelby’s in 1979 . (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
The low-slung building housing Shelby’s Bar & Grill has stood at 519 18th St. in Denver for more than 110 years. It’s been a bar for just about all of those.
Now, in late 2018, with a new landlord and redevelopment plans for the land in place, Shelby’s owners know the end is at hand. For the moment, though, it’s business as usual at the stubborn watering hole.
“We don’t own the property, we own the business and once they say it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” said Howard Nelson, who has co-owned Shelby’s with his wife Nanette since the couple bought it for $125,000 in 1991. “We don’t know how long.”
For more than 15 years Shelby’s building and the ground it sits on was owned by Antelope Real Estate, an arm of the Anschutz family’s Colorado empire. In April, Canadian real estate company Amacon Development bought it for $8.8 million. The deal was first reported in BusinessDen.
Nelson said an Amacon rep told him this spring the business would have at least through the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but that person isn’t with the company anymore so it’s all up in the air as far as he knows.
“We’ll start sweating it around the Super Bowl, but until that comes we’re not doing anything,” Nelson said. Along with his wife, five of the six Nelson children have worked or still work at Shelby’s. “There is no going-away party. It’s just business as usual.”
On Tuesday, Amacon submitted development plans for a pair of condo towers on the property, one 38 stories and the other 32. Between them, they would bring 477 residential units to the Central Business District, a neighborhood that has experienced tremendous residential growth over the last decade. Representatives of Amaco did not return requests for comment on the project’s timing Thursday.
“I’m happy that Denver is really starting to move into the next century but how many luxury condominiums do you really need?” Nelson said. “I’m happy for the city but sad of us.”
Business at Shelby’s is doing fine. Nelson expected a packed house Thursday night for the Carolina Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers NFL game and it’s become popular with a younger crowd.
“The millennials have found us out of nowhere,” Neslon said, adding he thinks it might have something to do with the bar being “very, very reasonably priced.”
Shelby’s surge in youth appeal may also be related to it landing on Esquire magazine’s “18 Best Bars in America” list in 2016. The culture mag hailed it as a tangible reminder of the “ornery frontier town” Denver used to be.
Shelby’s would be the latest in a line of local mainstays to close. Bar, restaurant and comedy club El Charito announced this week it will close Dec. 23 after five decades in business at 2100 Larimer St. A dozen blocks away, at 3463 Larimer, Phil’s Place served it last smothered burrito last month. Govrn’s Park Tavern is holding a goodbye party at 672 Logan St. Saturday.
“We don’t want to go,” Nelson said. “We knew eventually it was going to happen. They weren’t going to leave a small little bar like this in downtown Denver.”