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A few weeks before Chris Black announced to the beer world that he would be closing his famous Falling Rock Tap House on June 27th, he showed up at the Bull & Bush Brewery, a place he’s spent a lot of time over the years to have a few pints and talk to the owners Erik and Dave Peterson. Then two days after making the Falling Rock announcement, Black was back at Bull & Bush for dinner and a few more beers with his friends.
For the past 24 years, Falling Rock has been a prop against the ups and downs of the beer world and a changing city, offering a place of comfort and consistency and really good beer. But for Black and many others, the Bull & Bush, now fifty years old, is the backstop of the backstop.
“It’s almost surreal with Falling Rock,” says Erik. “But it really got me thinking about our fifty years here. As things change and evolve, it’s almost shocking to be able to keep something going for so long. “
The English pub-style Bull & Bush, built by twin brothers Dean and Dale Peterson in 1971 on empty property in Glendale, a small town surrounded by Denver, was passed on to Erik and Dave, Dale’s sons, in 1996, so that they are now almost all of them as long as her father and her uncle. In 1997 they added a brewery to the 4700 Cherry Creek Drive South pub.
Dave (left) and Erik Peterson from Bull & Bush.
Bull & Bush Brewery
That same year, Black and his own brother opened Falling Rock in Ballpark, and the two companies have a longstanding relationship and friendship because of their similarities as family-run pubs. Now, as Bull & Bush prepares for their 50th anniversary party in August, the Petersons are counting their blessings.
“What if exactly the right people did exactly the right thing at exactly the right time?” Asks Erik to explain the longevity of the pub. “[Our parents] could buy the land, which was crucial, ”and they went for a concept that would never go out of style. “English pubs are timeless,” he notes. “There are some who have been in England for 400 years. That meant they didn’t have to remodel. I mean, what if this had been a fern bar instead? “
Owning their property also helped Bull & Bush withstand pandemic restrictions that forced every brewery bar and restaurant to close for at least several weeks and then grapple through distancing and masking restrictions for over a year. Instead of trying to hobble through the to-go service, the Petersons closed everything from March to June 2020 and focused on cleaning and maintenance – including replacing miles of TV and stereo cables.
But they also expanded their indoor and outdoor beer gardens and terraces in autumn and winter. “That saved us,” says Erik. And while it might have been easier to streamline the menu during the pandemic, they decided against it. “People want real experiences that are real and tangible,” he explains. “We never changed and I think that was the secret. The entire time I tried to make it look like a normal Bull & Bush experience. “
The original Bull & Bush sign from 1971.
Bull & Bush Brewery
That idea of never changing is, of course, part of the restaurant’s charm. Your parents ate the same dishes thirty years ago and sat in the same places where you can now, emphasizes Erik.
But Bull & Bush brings in “all walks of life,” he adds. In addition to neighbors, the place attracts young couples with children, singles, extended families, business people, grandparents and great-grandparents. In fact, the sixty-plus people came back first this year because they were the first to be vaccinated.
“I want to do this for the rest of my life,” says Erik. “We’ll do this as long as the people come. It’s a deal I made with them.” He hopes that COVID’s limitations have made people appreciate and inspire “small independent businesses” more, especially the unusual or even “weird and wonderful” places like Falling Rock and Bull & Bush and support the people who live “. in their community. “
Bull & Bush is celebrating its fiftieth birthday from August 5th to 7th with two nights of live music, beer tapping and culinary specialties. Until then, the pub will tap a new beer every Friday as part of its 50 Beers for 50 Years countdown.
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Jonathan Shikes is from Denver and writes about business and beer for Westword.