Falling Rock Tap House, Denver’s pioneering craft beer bar, closing after 24 years

Denver’s craft beer scene was dealt a crushing blow over the weekend when Falling Rock Tap House, a pioneer in serving and supporting America’s microbreweries, announced it will soon close.

Brothers Chris, Al and Steve Black opened the bar in 1997, and with more than 90 draft taps and a cellar full of rare and speciality bottles, it’s been a destination for seasoned beer drinkers and craft novices for more than two decades. It was also known as the go-to spot after the Great American Beer Festival, where craft enthusiasts could find special releases and like-minded drinkers. The party comes to an end June 27.

Chris Black attributes the closure, in part, to the evolution the craft brewing and bar industries have experienced over the course of Falling Rock’s 24-year run. There weren’t always spaces where small breweries could sell experimental or limited-release recipes. Falling Rock was designed as a place where these operations could showcase something unique and get the public’s feedback, Black said.

But since breweries have been able to open taprooms and sell directly to the public, many of those beers never leave the breweries. And that’s put watering holes like Falling Rock in jeopardy.

“Things have shifted so that some of the breweries have gone from the idea of having a taproom where you can sample beers and learn about the brewery and people who made your beer; they’ve become full on retail outlets,” Black said. “Breweries saw the retail dollar, which I liken to crack, and they decided to keep special releases for themselves.”

Falling Rock Tap House, Denver’s pioneering craft beer bar, closing after 24 years

Couple that trend with a year-long construction project that caused a 30% drop in sales, changes to the neighborhood that have impacted business negatively, challenges in finding kitchen staff and rapidly increasing costs, and Black said the business has become financially unsustainable.

Fans lamented the loss on social media, calling Falling Rock’s closing the end of an era and sharing fond memories. Todd Bellmyer, brewer at the neighboring Wynkoop Brewing Co., said there will be “a hole in the heart of the Denver craft beer industry” once the bar closes. Charles McManus, head brewer at Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., agreed.

“Falling Rock not only helped Denver become a beer destination city, but the unrivaled camaraderie in the Denver brewing scene owes a great deal to Chris Black,” McManus said in a statement. “Getting your beer on tap at Falling Rock was a badge of honor, and having a pint with Chris was like shaking hands with Sinatra.”

As for what comes next, Black, a 38-year veteran of the beer bar business, said he hopes to remain in it in some capacity. But first, a five-day toast to the craft beer institution.

Drinkers are invited to help clean out the kegs and cellar Wednesday through Sunday. Everything from T-shirts to tap handles to signage on the walls will be for sale, as will the remaining stash in the beer cellar.

The party runs 5 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday, noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday and noon to a yet-to-be-determined time on Sunday. The taphouse is located at 1919 Blake St.

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