The Three Owners of Cold Crush Have Big Plans for the Future
On a recent Wednesday evening at Cold Crush, a customer sits on a high bar stool, eating a shrimp po' boy. The bar is half filled with twenty- and thirty-somethings, talking and sipping cocktails. Original art hangs on the red-brick walls. There are about twenty people in the building, but it's only 7:30 p.m.
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The unmistakable drawl of Ol' Dirty Bastard slices through the low chatter over the P.A.: "You're gonna love this." Resident DJ Gypdahip has amplified the line, an ad lib before the MC's most famous song, "Brooklyn Zoo." The track kicks in, and a couple of people clap; someone gets up and starts dancing.
One of the bar's owners, DJ Mu$a Bailey, is sitting outside on the patio, finishing his cigarette and talking to a few people from the neighborhood. Another, Brian Mathenge, is inside talking to a middle-aged woman in an elegant dress. The third Cold Crush owner, Eric Cunningham, is behind the bar, working to get the beer restocked. The energy is starting to pick up. Bailey and Gyp, who have deejayed together for two decades, take turns in the booth, and by 11:30 p.m., the room is at capacity.
It's like that most nights from Wednesday to Sunday, and special events can bring a crowd early in the week, too. Accolades have poured in since Cold Crush opened in late June last year; in January, Westword's Cafe Society blog named it one of Denver's best new bars. But its three owners aren't satisfied yet, and their plans for the future involve everything from broadening the appeal of the current Cold Crush to opening a new nightclub in Denver.
Bailey and Cunningham met more than twenty years ago, when they were both high-school students in Denver. Later, Cunningham worked tending bars and then managing them in Denver, and Bailey earned a reputation as one of the city's best hip-hop DJs and concert promoters.
When Mathenge came to Denver from Los Angeles a few years ago, he had no intention of opening a business. But he met Bailey and Cunningham one night at a bar on Colfax, and the three immediately connected. "Sometimes you just know when other people have a skill set you appreciate," says Bailey. "We complement each other well as people."
They soon identified what they saw as a void in Denver's nightlife scene. Mathenge recalls sitting down with Bailey about two months after they met and telling him, "You either gotta hang out at these little dive bars or you have to go downtown to the guest lists, VIP and all that. I'm from L.A. I've done all that VIP stuff." He wanted something different, a "lounge where you could get food, hang out with your friends." They brought Cunningham into the conversation and set out to, as Mathenge describes it, "make a place for us."
They found a building to rent at the southwest corner of 27th and Larimer streets and decided to focus on three things: art, music and food. They borrowed a name from the Bronx-based hip-hop group Cold Crush Brothers, which formed in 1978 and featured artists who would go on to be in both the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Critically, though, the three had no particular demographic in mind for the business. "My dad is black, my mom is white," says Mathenge. "This is all I have ever known: People party together. I hadn't seen that here."