Denvers Ephemeral Rotating Taproom has opened, serving beer from breweries

Some things are meant to be appreciated because they are glorious in the moment, but don’t last long. Sunsets, chalk art and fall colors are ephemeral in this way.

So, too, are the craft beers that will be tapped every few weeks at a brand new beer bar in Denver’s Skyland neighborhood, just northwest of the City Park Golf Course.

That’s because the owners of Ephemeral Rotating Taproom have come up with a novel idea, one that could add to the complexity of Denver’s beer scene. Rather than featuring a menu of beers from a wide range of breweries, business partners Weston Scott and Shannon Lavelle will focus on just one brewery every few weeks, with up to 20 taps of its beer.

And once they’re gone, they’re gone. Like a sunset.

In addition, the highlighted brewery will always hail from outside of Denver, whether it’s another Colorado town like Greeley or Golden or Grand Junction, or from another state. For the June 18 grand opening, Ephemeral was pouring 18 beers from Toppling Goliath Brewing in Decorah, Iowa, which makes hazy IPAs that are highly sought after around the country. Next up will be Boneyard Brewing, a West Coast IPA specialist in Bend, Ore.

“We’ve made it clear that we’re not anti-local by any means,” Lavelle said, adding that both she and Scott are Colorado natives. In fact, they love nearby breweries like Cohesion, Reverence and Cerebral. But they want to cater to locals who are interested in beers from breweries they can’t get that often as well as to transplants who miss the beers from their home states.

For the breweries in other Colorado cities, having a “Denver taproom” for a few weeks is a great way to get their name out there to more people, said Scott, who used to work in sales for both Aspen Brewing and Pug Ryan’s Brewery in Dillon. “The biggest hurdle for breweries outside of Denver” is not having a local taproom or dedicated taps in a lot of bars.

Scott and Lavelle, who first met while they were both working as bartenders at the now-closed Factotum Brewhouse, are also pumped up about their location, at 2301 E. 28th Ave., on the highly visible corner of York Street, in an area where there aren’t a lot of local watering holes, particularly those with craft beer.

“We looked all over Denver, and we were extremely lucky. It’s a gem —  and not even a hidden gem, but just a gem,” Lavelle said.

“It’s different, but it’s refreshing,” Scott said, adding that the majority of the people who have stopped in from the surrounding neighborhoods to say hello have been excited.

Unlike the beers, the building itself is far from ephemeral. It had previously been Ben’s Super Market, a longtime neighborhood convenience store that was started in the 1940s by Ben Okubo and his family. The Okubos had been living in California before being forcibly detained and relocated, like thousands of other American citizens of Japanese descent, to prison camps in the United States during World War II — in this case, to Colorado’s Camp Amache, in Granada.

After being released, the Okubo family had nowhere to return to in California since they no longer had a house, possessions or jobs. So they moved to Denver and started Ben’s.

The Okubos sold the market in 1961, according to grandson Derek Okubo, who still lives in Denver. But the store lived on for decades under new owners who kept the name.

In 2021, Ben’s Market was included on Historic Denver’s 50 Actions for 50 Places list due to its ties to Japanese American heritage in Denver and Amache. The list was compiled after input from Denver residents about places and spaces in the city that mattered and should be saved or commemorated in some way, according to Historic Denver’s website.

Local property developer Nathan Beal, who specializes in the northeast Denver neighborhoods of Skyland, Whittier and Five Points, bought the property, which had fallen into disrepair even when it was still operating, in 2020. Then he leased it to Scott and Lavelle, who has worked as an architectural designer. They remodeled it, gutting the interior, incorporating much larger windows, and adding a black corrugated metal façade for a more modern look.

Scott and Lavelle also kept one of the Ben’s Market signs and decided to add a few shelves of convenience items on a wall in the taproom, which they sell as a tribute to the building’s history. The sign is now inside, above the shelves stocked with ketchup, spaghetti sauce, chips, pickles, candy and salt, along with a wide selection of cold beverages. Based on customer feedback, they plan to add milk, eggs, baking soda, tonic water and limes.

Derek Okubo said Beal and the Ephemeral owners contacted him about the renovations. “That was a very kind gesture on their part and I look forward to meeting them and seeing the new site.”

Michael Flowers, director of preservation action for Historic Denver, says the group is working with Beal on some interpretive signage for the building that would explain its role in Denver history.

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