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In late 2020, a bright star in Denver’s barbecue firmament went out. That place was Boney’s Smokehouse BBQ, aka Boney’s Barbeque, which was owned and operated by Lamont and Trina Lynch. I really miss Boney’s, and my healing process has been low and slow for many reasons.
When the Lynches opened Boney’s in 2005, Denver’s barbecue scene was decent, but not scintillating. Some of my barbecue-loving friends (I call them “cue heads”) alerted me to Boney’s arrival. For months, I heard some variation of: “Hey, man! Have you been to the barbecue joint downtown that’s under the McDonald’s? It’s pretty good.” As perfect as that description was, it took me awhile to dine there. One day in 2006, I happened to be walking down the 16th Street Mall in search of lunch, and I caught the distinctive, wafting smell of hickory smoke as I approached the intersection at Champa Street. The chorus of cue heads reemerged in my head, and I made a beeline up the block for Boney’s.
After descending down the restaurant’s two flights of stairs, I beheld an awesome sight: A team of African Americans serving a diverse clientele packed into a tiny restaurant. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a Black-owned barbecue joint in downtown Denver, and I was thrilled that they drew a crowd. Yet, it was time to get down to business. I ordered the pork spareribs—my touchstone for smoked meat excellence. The Lynches didn’t disappoint. After one bite, those slightly charred on the outside and tender-to-the-bone ribs transported me to the type of barbecue served at my family’s outings on the sacred summer holidays of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. This was a good thing.
Since I worked at a political think tank at the time, Boney’s became a lunch spot that I frequented with friends, work colleagues, and strangers alike. Boney’s was my first answer to people who declared with supreme confidence that “Denver doesn’t have any good barbecue.” (Maybe you know the type?) I’ve noticed that these people tend to fold under intense questioning because they haven’t really eaten at many barbecue places. Even these naysayers gave a begrudging nod of approval after a few bites at Boney’s.
Boney’s gave me a taste of home and it also felt like a home away from home. The Lynch family—including their kids and grandmother, who were also often at the restaurant—treated me well, just as they did all of their customers. I beamed with pride as Boney’s was thrust into the national spotlight when then vice presidential candidate Joe Biden stopped by for takeout at the small kiosk that they briefly operated across from the Tabor Center in 2008. I had my 34th birthday party in their expanded location on Champa Street, just up the block from the first spot. Boney’s catered many food events that I did around town, including presentations for the Denver Eclectics lecture series and a farewell party for Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.’s staff. An unfortunate and inevitable consequence was that many people smiled while eating their meal and nodded off while I presented afterwards. I always blamed the heavy eyelids on the food coma, not my presentation skills.
My love for Boney’s didn’t fade one bit when I had to cancel a blind date one evening because the restaurant’s pleasant hickory aroma had not left my clothing since lunch. I know, I know, it was a drastic move—but there wasn’t time to change and didn’t want her to think that I had a hygiene problem. Lastly, I gave Boney’s a shout out in my latest book—Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, which was published in 2021—where I included them a list of the “Top 20 Best African American Barbecue Restaurants in the U.S.” I was so sad when I had to substitute them with another restaurant just before the book went to print.
Mainly due to their military service, the Lynches have spent time in different parts of the U.S. That bouncing around influenced a barbecue that was hard to typify. “Memphis-style” was how Lamont described his barbecue style to me in an interview back in 2019. Yet, their style seemed to capture several elements of Southern barbecue beyond what characterized Memphis. Nothing on the menu exemplified this more than my “go-to order.” That was the “Smokehouse Sampler”—a wondrous collection that allowed me and my guests to get a taste of everything. I still can see that platter piled high with sublimely smoked sliced brisket, pulled pork, sliced turkey breast, medallions of spicy sausage, four pork spareribs, and some smoked then crisply fried chicken wings (my personal favorite). As side dishes, I always got the soulful collard greens, lightly dressed coleslaw, meat-laden beans, crunchy fried okra, and squares of slightly sweet cornbread. Some preferred to wash it down with sweet tea, but I always gravitated to the red drink (fruit punch). The food was tantalizing without sauce, but the house-made sauces were always a delight. Though the Lynches were channeling Memphis, the thick tomato-based sauces—one tangy and the other spicy—reminded me of Kansas City.
Alas, as is the case with a lot of restaurants, the pandemic hit Boney’s hard. I knew things were getting rough when Boney’s hours became more irregular, and the phone would go unanswered. What has hit me so hard about Boney’s closure is that it happened without any fanfare, without a chance for me and their legion of fans to dine there one last time. I just wanted to say “goodbye and thank you” with my mouth full of food and a heart full of appreciation. I tried to reach the Lynches to interview them for this piece, but I was unsuccessful. Perhaps these words suffice. It was truly a blessing to have Boney’s barbecue.