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—Courtesy of Sarah Boyum

Flip This Meth Lab

Two Denver entrepreneurs turn a former drug factory into a trendy meeting place for nonprofits.

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—Photography courtesy of Sarah Boyum (2); Sarah Lavigne

Until this summer, the 1960s-era building at 1630 Federal Boulevard looked more like a filming location for Breaking Bad than a hipster hangout. Once-white paint peeled off the exterior. Plywood boards covered broken windows. You basically needed a hazmat suit to enter the troubled location, which had been the site of several failed nightclubs, a prolific meth lab, and even a murder.

But Justin Anthony and Lisa Vedovelli—co-owners of the Matchbox, a chic bar in RiNo that was also a major makeover project—saw good bones for a new venture: Field House, a bar and event space for corporate and nonprofit events. The timing was good, too. The city had cleaned up the meth lab and told the landlord to find a trustworthy tenant or risk losing control of the building. “The city has been incredibly receptive to pretty much anything we’ve wanted to do as a result of our community involvement,” Anthony says. “When you do well by doing good, it’s got more sustainable, long-lasting benefits.” There was a lot for Anthony and Vedovelli to like about the open floor plan, the commissary-size kitchen, and the oh-my-goodness panorama of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, downtown’s skyscrapers, and the Capitol.

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So the duo went to work, cleaning and splitting up the 7,500- square-foot space into three main areas. They stripped six coats of paint off the bar’s floor-to-ceiling beams to reveal beautiful arches made of Douglas fir. Anthony resurrected the 38-foot-long bar in front of the windows facing downtown. And they found the original terrazzo floors under three layers of carpet and two layers of tile and tar. Field House officially opened on July 4 with three tenants. Tru Cannabis, a dispensary, operates out of one unit; El Cafecito serves burritos from the parking lot’s kiosk; and the rehabbed kitchen can be rented out by fledgling food startups such as Bosco Baking Company. What had been the dance floor and bar remain just that—but they also make up an event space that will offer significant discounts (at least 30 percent) to nonprofits and other groups to hold fund-raisers, galas, and more. To make it work financially, Field House will be open to the public on Broncos game days (the regular season begins September 13 against the Baltimore Ravens). “We love the challenge of making a small amount of money go a long way for a lot of people,” Anthony says. That’s not too bad a view, either.

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