The Roma building at 133 East Colorado Ave. has been a hub of activity since its earliest days as a raucous bar first established in the 1860s. Since those wild and wooly days, the historic structure has seen numerous dining establishments come and go, played host to a multitude of bands as a live music venue, and even bloomed into a warren of cubicles when it was used as shared office space. Today, the downstairs is home to Wood Ear restaurant, while the upstairs floor has, until recently, been a private, members-only club. It also serves as The Ride Festival’s home base. Now, as of just before the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, partners Todd Creel and Sean Keenan have opened the doors to The Ride Lounge to the public. The new gathering spot has already proven popular as young locals, yearning for a comfortable, stylish — and very rock ‘n’ roll — place to call their own, have staked a claim to Telluride’s newest watering hole.
Now offering a full bar, The Ride Lounge features a clubby billiards table, shuffleboard, darts and a poker table. A 64-inch television proved popular as the Colorado Avalanche made its exciting run to the Stanley Cup, and a banging sound system fills the warm room with perfectly mixed tunes. A PA system on a small stage rounds out the entertainment possibilities for the room — that The Ride Lounge will become Telluride’s newest live music venue is a foregone conclusion.
“The Roma is an amazing, vibrant historic building, and I just felt like it wasn’t being fully utilized,” Creel said. “Not enough people were getting to use the space. Live music is more the exception than the rule in town these days. When we first got here (late 1980s-90s) in a given night you could go to three or four venues going at the same time. And now it’s a ghost town.”
Creel and Keenan mean to fill the room with any number of events, including regular Thursday KOTO nights for the station’s staff to run anything from games to dance nights to film screenings. They’d like to have talent shows or open mic nights, too, and plan on live music Friday and Saturday nights, with local talent gigging on weeknights.
“We really just want to bring the community in,” Creel said.
The partners are excited to embark on creating the vibe of the newly opened space.
“We each bring our own skills and talents to the thing and complement what we do,” Creel said. “We’re both pretty excited.”
Keenan, who has been a familiar and welcoming presence behind numerous bars in town over the years, brings his vast front of the house experience to the gleaming bar, which is situated in the entrance arm of the U-shaped room. Patrons have seen him at Oak, the Last Dollar Saloon, the original iteration of the Cornerhouse, and, in a full circle turn of events, the Roma under former owner John Gerrity.
“I really haven’t gotten too far in life,” Keenan joked.
Given that rock ‘n’ roll is in Creel’s DNA, it’s no surprise that the walls are lined with not only several historic photos of the Roma building and past Ride Fest posters, but also numerous images of the acts that have performed for the July festival . Artists like Pearl Jam, Rival Sons, Beck, Dorothy, Brother and Bones, and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood are depicted. Joining the work of the Ride’s staff photographers is never-before-seen work by local photographer G. Douglas Seitsinger, whose decades of prowling the rail have resulted in remarkable shots of the music world’s most iconic figures. Creel proudly showed off recent additions to his Seitsinger collection that included Wille Nelson, JJ Cale and this weekend’s Ride Fest headliners, Arc Angels.
“I see this as a sort of music museum,” Creel said of the lounge.
Keenan keeps a practical eye on the bar’s operation and eventually would like to have a manager in place to run the staff and oversee day-to-day operations. Rather than dictate what happens at The Ride Lounge, he’s more of a mind to “let it evolve.”
The lounge’s first day was Bluegrass Wednesday, “the week I never wanted to open,” with Keenan the sole employee. Within days, Keenan had hired his staff, despite warnings from other businesses that good help would be hard to find.
“We were very pleasantly surprised with the feedback and the people we hired and the people that wanted to get jobs,” he said.
So far, The Ride Lounge has been filled with Telluride’s young working population, 20-somethings that Creel said reminded him of his own generation years ago, new to town and looking to meet their peers.
“It’s a living, breathing space on Main Street that’s driven by locals,” he said. “There is a desire for people to be entertained and go to a space they want to hang out. I see this as a pretty sustainable thing.”
This week, The Ride Lounge will offer free shows each night for featured Ride acts like Suzanne Santos, Danielle Ponder, James McMurtry and Arc Angels. Entry will be first-come, first-served, with doors at 4 pm and the intimate show at 5 pm The Ride Festival is today (Wednesday) through July 10 with acts performing in several in-town venues. For more info and a schedule, visit ridefestival.com.