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 VII
I haven’t found a clear exit yet, but I’m searching for it.
Christou, you might notice, runs his mouth. Josh Hanfling, a well-connected Denver entrepreneur, defends his good friend while also admitting his shortcomings. “He’s a good businessman,” Hanfling says. “But is he controversial? Yeah. One time before a liquor license hearing, I called him up every day for two weeks, and just said, ‘Shut the fuck up’ and then hung up. He tends to speak his mind, and it pisses people off.” Others have tried to muzzle Christou, futilely. Before Christou testified about the Truax shooting, his brother Chris warned him: “I told him not to do it,” Chris says. “It would do no good.”
Even though Christou’s rags-to-riches story can stand on its own, he still feels compelled to embellish the truth, as with the provenance of the soccer picture or his college degrees. He changes dates and drops dollar amounts that rise or fall, depending upon whether he’s trying to highlight the reach of his success or the humbleness of his roots. He makes claims against the police; some check out, some don’t. In the end, he sounds like a politician exaggerating his service in Vietnam or padding his resume, hoping no one will take the time to verify his claims. Maybe he’s afraid that including the boring bits might deflate his self-created legend. After all, even Vito Corleone might downplay getting fired from his grocery-store job and pump up the account of how he and Clemenza took over the neighborhood. Yet despite his not-always-verifiable riffs, Christou still has the audacity to tell me, “Everything I’m telling you, you can double-check, triple-check. If you ever catch me lying, call me a fucking asshole.”
Despite all his double talk, Regas is charming and smart. He started a business from nothing that now employs somewhere between 150 and 250 people. He built the number-one nightclub in the country—in Denver. He picked a different area of town than John Hickenlooper did, and he opened a nightclub instead of a brewery, but he did essentially the same thing as our much-loved governor-elect. The main difference is the customers. Hickenlooper’s Wynkoop brew pub attracts mostly middle- and upper-class whites who drink craft beer and shoot pool. Christou’s nightclubs tend to draw a younger, less wealthy, and more racially diverse group that sometimes includes gang members and gang wannabes. But how accountable can any club owner be for the behavior of his customers after they leave?
If the city’s objective is safety, it’s in everyone’s best interest to let police work security at any clubs that are legal and licensed. “Regas’ staff has talked to me about off-duty officers, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” says Jeanne Robb, a Denver city councilwoman who represents part of Capitol Hill. “I never fully understood the reasoning, but I think it’s because the chief of police thinks his officers aren’t totally safe. Would people be safer with officers there? Yes. But with the liability from the Truax shooting, it’s a tricky business.”
If Christou’s clubs are that dangerous, then by all means, shut them down. But if Christou is running a legal business, then why can the police—who may harbor their own grudges—boycott his nightclubs? Young men are going to act stupidly, drunkenly, and violently. It’s happened all over town, in good neighborhoods and bad. The difference is that the owners of the Cherry Creek and Larimer Square bars, and their public relations teams, know when to keep quiet and when to push back. For all his purported education, Christou has never learned to speak out without being defensive—or offensive.
There are signs that he’s starting to chill out. “The city doesn’t know him,” says his partner, Melissa, who’s been with him for nine years. “A lot of what happened has been misrepresented, that he is this scary person who always fights. If they knew him, it would be different.” Every night in their tasteful Observatory Park home, Christou reads his boys bedtime stories. After staying out late at his clubs, he wakes up at 6 a.m. to help get his kids ready for school. And while he still grouses about the Living Room’s rebuffed patio, he hasn’t filed any more appeals with the city. He hasn’t received a late-night music license for his City Hall amphitheater, but he’s talking about turning it into a beer garden, something Denver sorely lacks. His brother Chris might retire soon, and Christou is talking about what he’ll do next. Earlier this year, Christou sold the space that once held Fat Daddy’s—a diner he ran on 11th Avenue, around the corner from Vinyl—to some younger Mexican guys who opened up Zocalo Restaurant & Bar. On his club loops, Christou stops in to banter, immigrant to immigrant, bootstrapper to bootstrapper. “It’d be ideal to have someone buy the business,” he says of his future plans. “I’d just keep The Church.”
Christou even seems to understand that maybe he needs to learn, as Hanfling put it, to shut the fuck up. “I suppose in retrospect that I would have been a better businessman if I had bowed down to other people,” he says. “It’s a character flaw. When I see something wrong, I have to say something. I’m stubborn. I got it from my mother.” m
Patrick Doyle is a senior editor of 5280. E-mail him at email@example.com.