Brother May I? A Kerouac-Era Hangout and Denver's Oldest Bar Facing Identity Test in Court

May 19 2010, 10:08 AM
Patricia Calhoun at Westword lays out the turf in a legal dispute over the name of My Brother's Bar, a legendary hangout for Denver wildman Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac's muse in his books, "On the Road" and "Big Sur." Four decades ago, Jim Karagas happened to dub the beat-up, ol' drinking spot at 2376 15th St. "My Brother's Bar." There's no sign over the bar indicating its name, but that's how everybody has known the place since not long after Jim and his brother, Angelo, from Detroit, bought it in 1970. The saloon---Denver's oldest---first opened in 1873 as Highland House and underwent a series of resurrections in the following century, including a stint as Paul's Place, where Cassady allegedly never paid his final tab. Now, a Wisconsin-based corporate chain wants to move into Denver's heart at 1920 Market St. with a new bar called Brothers Bar and Grill, and the company argues that Karagas' bar doesn't have exclusive rights to the name. The chain has filed a complaint in U.S. District court against the small, local bar, according to the Denver Business Journal. And the chain wants the court to find that its trademarked name does not infringe on My Brother's Bar's turf. Karagas' attorney has tried to prevent the chain from using variations of "Brother's" in the name of the planned restaurant, which would be located just one mile from My Brother's Bar, because it "appears to be an attempt to unfairly trade on and benefit from [My] Brother's 40 years' excellent reputation and goodwill." Marc Fortney, president and CEO of Fortney Companies and the owner of the Brothers chain, responds that 67 other businesses in the Denver marketplace use the word "Brothers" in their name.