The Annotated Gospel According to Regas Christou
Anyone who knows Denver’s foul-mouthed, hyper-educated, perennially controversial nightclub king knows that he’s a storyteller. But whether you think he’s as fabulous as he claims to be—or merely a very entertaining fabulist—the one thing everyone can agree on is that the guy just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.
Regas book III
There were no people here; everyone was in the suburbs.
Inside the church, above the nave, is a stunning, 10-foot-tall stained glass window. Jesus, depicted in century-old stained glass, looks down every night upon the teeming crowds dancing and ordering drinks at bars that were built from converted pews. The Son of God is preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The meek will inherit the Earth, the mourning will be comforted, and the poor in spirit will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Across the bottom of Christou’s window is a passage from the Book of Matthew: “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
Jesus’ sermon instructs pacifism: If you put up with this world’s abuses, you shall be rewarded. Christou, though, left behind his Greek Orthodox upbringing a long time ago. He’s never learned to turn the other cheek, to take abuse. He’s more of an Old Testament kind of guy: An eye for an eye.
When Christou bought The Church in 1994, Capitol Hill was still run-down, like much of downtown Denver. The middle and upper classes fled the once-thriving neighborhood in the ’70s and ’80s, single-family mansions were converted into multi-unit apartment buildings, and Civic Center Park surrendered to the homeless population and drug dealers. The neighborhood was so downtrodden that Christou was able to buy the century-old building—formerly St. Mark’s Episcopal Church—for $275,000. The stunning limestone edifice hadn’t been used for several years, and there was talk of it being demolished. Instead, it would become the crown jewel of his growing empire. A dozen years after opening the Regas Mediterranean Café—now the Deadbeat Club—he also owned 1082 Broadway, another enormous nightclub in Capitol Hill. Like John Hickenlooper, who had begun revitalizing a run-down LoDo when he started the Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988, Christou was planting the seeds for a vibrant nightlife district in central Denver.
Converting a century-old holy building into a modern nightclub took two years. Christou and his brother, Chris, removed and gave away the organ and retrofitted the church with a heating and air-conditioning unit. They built a wooden bar on the altar from discarded pews and added more bars beneath the arches of the side aisles. They kept the cathedral’s stained glass, including the window depicting the Sermon on the Mount. In October 1996, they ran out of money to finish construction, so they settled on an ingenious, if tenuous plan: They’d host a New Year’s Eve party—charging $50 to $100—to finance the rest of the work.
The tickets went quickly, but two days before the party, the construction crew was putting the finishing touches on the building when a worker set his torch down on the roof. When the fire department arrived to extinguish the blaze, their hoses flooded the basement. Christou sat on the sidewalk across the street, wondering if he was watching his nightclub wash away. “It was one of the hardest moments in my life,” Christou says. “But people saw it on TV and brought wet vacs down. We had 80 people in the church, mopping floors and cleaning the walls. And that was one of the highest moments in my life.”
The cleanup crew finished just hours before the sold-out New Year’s Eve party was about to start, while delivery trucks drove around, killing time, waiting for the club to pass its inspections so they could deliver their booze. Beth McCann, then director of the city’s department of excise and licenses, hung around to make sure Christou got his liquor license, going above and beyond to ensure that the young entrepreneur would be able to open on time. The party was a hit, until a police officer visited Christou in the downstairs cigar bar and issued a warning: Central Denver isn’t like southeast Denver, where your other clubs are, the officer said. Be careful.
Christou should have seen it coming. Nine months earlier, a man named Jeffrey Truax and his friends had gotten into a fight outside of another Christou club, 1082 Broadway. Truax got into his car and allegedly backed it into Andrew Clarry, an off-duty police officer who had been working security at 1082. Clarry, along with Kenneth Chavez—another officer working security that night—fired 25 bullets into Truax’s vehicle, killing him and injuring a passenger. Denver district attorney Bill Ritter eventually ruled that the use of force was justified, but Truax’s family sued the city and the officers in civil court.
In 1998, two years after the shooting, Christou testified against Chavez and Clarry, saying that the deadly force was unnecessary. In November of that year, the court found that the men had deprived Truax of his constitutional rights and ordered the city to pay $500,000 to the Truax estate. Christou remains unrepentant about his testimony. “They shot the kid 26 times from 12 feet away,” Christou says today. “I thought in the 20th century, you don’t shoot people 26 times from 12 feet away. If you shot a dog like that, you’d be in jail.”