Old Town: Ghost of Nightclubs Past

Now- Lucky Joe's, Then- Ale House (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Tim Van Schmidt


It’s a dark, cold night in Old Town Fort Collins and everything is shut down.

But when I stand very still, I can distinctly hear the clink of glasses, laughter and the boom of a hot band. Everything’s closed, but there is definitely the noise of partying coming from somewhere.

That’s when a hoodied figure steps up and says, “Follow me”. 

Silently, with hands jammed deep into his pockets, the figure leads me to Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon (25 Old Town Square).

Now- Lucky Joe’s, Then- Ale House (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Here he says, “I am the Ghost of Nightclubs Past”, and without another word he raises his arm and points to Lucky Joe’s.

Instantly, I remember that Lucky Joe’s, in itself a longtime NOCO institution, once was a club called the Old Town Ale House. I had a conversation with Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters in the back hallway there one night.

What is now Lucky Joe’s was also called Rooster Cogburn’s at one point.

But before all of that, it was called the Red Garter. This was before there was an Old Town Square and Linden was a through street. Often, motorcycles would be lined up along the curb out in front of the Red Garter, a kind of wild and crazy place at times.

The echoes of past good times ring in my ears as my hoodied friend beckons me over to Coopersmith’s Pub and Brewing (5 Old Town Square).

Now- Coopersmith’s, Then- Friends (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

In that building once stood a neighborhood bar called Friends. Here I remember great nights with local bands. One such night featured a local group called the Jukebox Naturals, who would eventually move from Fort Collins to New Orleans and form The Iguanas.

Friends survived the havoc of Old Town Square construction, only to go down shortly after it was done, to the sorrow of local club goers.

Right next door, the Ghost of Nightclubs Past then points to the building that now houses Little Bird Bakeshop and Old Town Metals Artisan Crafted Jewelry (11 Old Town Square).

Now- Little Bird Bakeshop, Then- Sam’s (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

At one time, that building housed the main nightclub in town — Sam’s Old Town Ballroom. I remember rocking on top of my chair to a raucous set by Commander Cody and staying on the dance floor for Koko Taylor’s tough, upbeat blues.

But the number one memory I have of Sam’s was an evening with Gil Scott-Heron. It was the quintessential nightclub experience — a haze of smoke, a packed in audience, and a super cool performer. 

Standing outside now I can still hear Scott-Heron’s sonorous voice, powerful words (“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”) and the groove of his funky band.

The Ghost of Nightclubs past now doesn’t need to lead me around Old Town. I stop in front of The Blind Pig Pub and Grub (214 Linden St) and remember way back when it was called The Nutmeg, then Kimsey’s, but most famously as Linden’s.

Now- Blind Pig, Then- Linden’s (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

When Linden’s was a single unit — kind of a long black box — I saw Joe King Carrasco duck walk across the bar and bluesman Lonnie Brooks grab three shot glasses with his teeth and down them, all the while delivering a stinging guitar solo.

When Linden’s expanded into two units, the acts got bigger and better. I remember evenings with Jesse Colin Young and Leon Russell. The best was a night with Edgar Winter with super drummer Carmine Appice, delivering an intense and electrifying performance.

While passing by the Northern Hotel (172 N College Ave) I suddenly remember the Bar Bazaar, a gritty, no frills club that supported local bands and touring acts alike.

Now- Northern Hotel, Then- Bar Bazaar (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

The Bar Bazaar was the first place where I saw the subdudes play — for me and maybe a dozen people at the bar. The music was flavorful and the band was powerful and I was hooked from the very start.

One great night in Fort Collins nightclub history, some years later, saw the subdudes at Bar Bazaar, Liz Barnez at Linden’s and The Iguanas at the Ale House.

And let’s not forget that the Old Colorado Brewing Company, an early NOCO craft beer operation, started in the Northern Hotel.

Finally, The Ghost of Nightclubs Past and I stand in front of what is now The Comedy Fort (167 N College Ave).

Now- Comedy Fort, Then- Starlight (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

It was once a restaurant called the Cow Paddy. It then became the Mountain Tap, an early pioneer in serving craft beer in Fort Collins. The Mountain Tap also put in a stage for live music.

But then it became the Starlight, perhaps one of the coolest venues of all times in Fort Collins. It wasn’t the most spacious nightclub but it always had a great schedule.

I saw Ozomatli start their raucous set on the sidewalk out in front of the Starlight, super bassist Tony Levin bring in a world class band, and just countless raging bands during festivals.

The good times continued when the club changed hands and became Hodi’s Half Note and I saw some great stuff there too. That would include seeing Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann playing with Papa Mali, an incendiary set by punk icons the UK Subs and so much more.

“All the good times in the past, where have they gone?” I ask out loud. 

I turn to my ghostly friend, but find that he has vanished in thin air. And here I am again, alone on the late night street.

“Time marches on”, I tell myself as I head for home.

These old memories of mine seem to be almost soaked into these buildings. All the while, new businesses are making new memories, adding to the Old Town lore. 

But right now, deep in the night, everything is quiet. Or is it?

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt”.

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