Three years after fire, 15C almost ready to reopen

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Alan Pak says it’s important to him for 15C to reopen this month.

Alan Pak says it’s important to him for 15C to reopen this month.

Colorado Springs’ once-popular martini and cigar bar, 15C, is making a comeback.

The upscale bar, tucked in the alleyway between Bijou and Kiowa streets west of Tejon Street, plans to reopen its doors within weeks. When it does, it will mark the end of a three-year hiatus that began after the bar caught fire early on the morning of Aug. 2, 2010, and suffered significant damage.

Furniture burned, walls were charred and smoke blackened every surface. For three years, 15C has sat closed, a hazy memory for the large crowds of after-hours business regulars who frequented the bar, one of only a few in Colorado Springs in which patrons still could smoke after the statewide ban on indoor smoking in 2006.

“Alan has done most of this work himself.”

– Mara Pinell, bar manager

Everyone knew about the fire, but a burning question remained: Would it ever open again?

Owner Alan Pak says it’s time.

“I’m always the optimist, but this has taken a lot longer than I expected,” he said. “But we’ve been putting a lot of work into the place and we’re positioned to open soon. Very soon.”

Pak declined to offer an opening date because of the many loose ends that still need to be tied, like dangling lighting fixtures and giant paintings waiting to be hung.

Today, the bar is dotted with cleaning supplies, boxes, brooms, rags, towels and other odds and ends, but beyond that is the bar’s familiar shimmer. Giant walls dressed in red tones, dark wood trim, leather sofas and ornate lighting give the room its familiar, warm glow.

Pak said he’s been burning the candle at both ends in recent months to ready the bar for reopening.

“Believe it or not, Alan has done most of this work himself,” said newly hired bar manager Mara Pinell, who formerly worked at the Ritz Grill. She said Pak replaced flooring, did a lot of the trim carpentry himself and even built and installed the 28 humidified lockers that patrons can rent annually for cigar storage.

“He’s really a Jack-of-all-trades,” Pinell said.

Pak became part-owner of the bar in 2005 and later bought out his partners’ shares to become sole owner. The bar was always intended to have a speakeasy feel, and most passersby who hadn’t visited the place would never know the plush martini oasis that was inside. A nondescript gray metal door is the bar’s main entrance, across the alley from the popular art gallery Modbo, which opened in 2009.

The bar’s door is marked only by its address, simple black letters and numbers “15C,” under a small, one-way-mirrored window that allows those inside to see who’s knocking at the door.

But, despite the hush-hush feel, the bar managed to attract hundreds of martini-seeking patrons and cigar aficionados — until the fire.

About 60 firefighters from 15 units responded to the three-alarm blaze called in around 8 a.m. Pak said he smelled smoke while working in the bar’s office and ran out the door.

Soon firefighters were kicking in the door and crashing through walls, he said. No official cause was ever determined, except that it was ruled to be non-criminal.

Now, a look around the inside of the bar leaves no hint of fire or smoke damage, and Pak said he intends to open in late August to mark the three-year fire anniversary.

“It’s imperative that we open this month,” he said. “We’re going to do it within a few weeks, maybe not to the general public right away, but it’ll be open.”