—by Donna Stephenson
In 1982, I was a bar fly. Six days a week, my friend Janice and I went to Walabi’s at 22 broadway. We’d meet around 9 pm after our jobs; Janice was a tele-marketer or somesuch and I worked days at my parents hardware store. We’d dance for hours, stopping to only to smoke, pee or to take a quick hit from a warm beer. Occasionally we’d ask guys to dance. But Janice was my main partner, we’d rigorously hop up and down for hours to music that sounded so good and so original and was wholly homegrown.
We were accepted as regulars pretty quickly, by the bands and friends-of-bands, and most importantly by the bouncer and doorman, Jim Scott. I was just 21 and pretty naive about things. Jim, a black guy at well over 6 feet tall and older than us, kept an eye out and became a friend. He ministered good advice — “Donna, don’t drink your beer with a straw” — and tips on who was good to hang out with and who was not so great. And he’d see us safely to our cars.
Most of the music was new wave with some rock-a-billy and punk. We’d wear un-breathable plastic pants in black or red with anything tight on top. We’d park on Broadway, lock the car and walk as fast as we could to the safety of the club. We’d pogo all night in short heeled ankle boots and leave at closing to go have a 3 am breakfast at Reed’s on 8th and Speer. Whether Reed’s was a gay and drag place all the time or just late night I don’t know, but Janice was hopelessly in love with one of the regulars so we’d go and eat eggs and drink coffee before going home to start all over again the next day.
I left for art school late in 1982, leaving the town and all the music I loved. I plastered my Kansas City dorm room with flyers from my time at Denver clubs, memories from nights at Walabi’s, Straight Johnson’s and the Mercury.
My favorite bands were The Pink, The Aviators, and The Rock Advocates. Great nights were also spent with the Astrobeats, Crank Call Love Affair and the Rotisseries — I don’t remember seeing anything I couldn’t dance to.I cannot read the gallery's xml file: /home/12842/domains/buckfifty.org/html/images/walabis/gallery.xml
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B50 Note: Walabi’s closed its doors in 1985. Show flyers are courtesy of Trash Is Truth, where you will find images of hundreds of flyers from concerts in denver between 1977 and 1986. Donna Stephenson (formerly van horn) is an artist who lives in Denver. Her most recent exhibit was at Ironton Studios; her work can be seen on her website, donnastephenson.com.
Loved Walabi’s, the Merc, all of them. Aviators and the Pink were definitely it. I still have a copy of that “TV Man” 45 — but copied onto cassette, sadly. Why I got rid of the original I’ll never know.
Walabi’s saved my sanity at least once. Anybody remember a group called “The Spades” black punkers?
Great post about a wonderful place, loved Walabi’s! Max and Sandy, Jim at the door, and all the others helping behind the bar…….but oh, the bands!!!! The Numbers! The Gluons doing “Sue Your Parents” or “Cinderella City”, The Young Weasels doing “Mighty Mouse” or a cover of The Supremes “Back in My Arms Again”…..Lunch “Youth In Asia”……The Guys doing “Walking In The Sand, or “TIme Warp”……The Astrobeats with Cal Can and Craig Hausenstein…….and you are right, all danceable
I was an Aviator and a Rock Advocate……..and madly in love with KK and rock and roll…….I was there on the last night…..Bop Street (later the Jinns) was playing…..I had to leave before they finished playing….I always wanted to remember Walabi’s with music playing….
The Aviators (1980), The Rock Advocates (1980-????)
I vaguely remember “The Spades” and “Tweezers”. What about arm swinging to the Aviator’s “The Big Slide”? Leroy X & Kenny? Thanks for obliquely including Quarry (1978-1983). Your poster was thrown together in the funky little basement office wher the “New Wave Hotline” was recorded. Quarry played Walabis so frequently that the co-owner Max dubbed us “The Walabis House Band”. I remember getting so drunk negotiating gigs up at the bar at the corner with Max that I couldn’t remember my telephone number. Quarry played there mostly for fun and because I could walk from our studio on Logan Street.
The Mercury was bigger, Straight Johnson’s was cleaner. The Junction was more dangerous. Remember seeing “The Weasals” first gig at the Library? The Israelite cover? “These memories can’t wait…”
I just saw “The English Beat” here in Tucson with “Reel Big Fish” last night and remembered when Lunch opened for “The Beat” in Denver. I still play lots of songs that I wrote in those youthful daze here in Arizona. Lin’s fretless bass is still in my collection too.
I loved The Aviators! They were a terrific band. Some excellent original songs. I thought they were going to make it big. Saw them plenty of times back in the day in Denver. Also, The Young Weasels, Crank Call Love Affair, and Quarry. Walabi’s, The Mercury, Straight Johnson’s.
I’d love the get hold of The Aviators’ album but they were at their best on a good night at Walabi’s. “The Big Slide!” Yes, indeed. Thanks for the memories, guys!
i’ll send you an aviator album. got a couple left. glad you liked it. and i loved playing at walabis. we were the first band to play there because of maggie, a friend of a friend, who invited us down there. good times!
you can email me:
Good to see you guys holding on to great memories. I had the time of my life at walabis, the Merc, bamboo gardens, straight johnsons and the Rainbow. I hope you guys are doing well. I wonder if anyone has photos from those days? I still have alot of the music and have recorded it to cd. Sometimes after listening to it i want to quit my job and find a band or six that need a roadie and a drinking buddie, but i’m not that young anymore. I got nostalgic and typed in walabis—Glad i did. Peace.
Ah yeah, I was young and dancing in all the same clubs mentioned above. I lived on first street in Denver, not far from Straight Johnsons.
All those and others I can remember such as the University of What. Shows at the Rainbow, etc.
Those were wonderful days and that was a great time to be in Denver.
Wow, first time I googled for Walabi’s, and this is the first thing I found.
I never had a friend to dance with so often, but I was there most nights. Had a fake ID to get in, but also a giant crush on doorman Mike Savage, who let me in free and knew too many details about me. I took the bus that didn’t run till closing, so I usually walked home to Race St by Colfax….
I left for NYC ’82, and am giddy to read all these band names: THANKS!
I was a DJ back in those wonderful days. I had a mobile DJ business called Moby Disc. My partner’s name was Britt and I was Shady. We played at Walabis, The University of What, and we were the first ones to play at Straight Johnson’s. I went into Straight Johnson’s and asked the owner, “ what is your worst night”? He said “Tuesday”. I said “how would you like me to fill your club on Tuesday”? Of course he said yes! So, I hired the Pink, as the band, me and Britt were the Dj’s, we had clothing from Rudely Decadent, and 3 of my friends (Rusty Coleman, Susan Key, and Steve Toney)modeling them. We had a light show and a fog machine with dry ice, not smoke. The place was packed and people stayed the whole night! After we paid the bar tab for me and the rest of my crew, and paid the band, there wasn’t any money left! But it was worth it! That was the best party EVER! I miss those days.