The dive bar Phil's Radiator has had a profound musical impact on Pueblo and its community for nearly 20 years.
This won’t be a eulogy. Phil’s Radiator is dead. Dead and buried. No flowers at the gravesite, unless you count intelligible death metal band stickers and equally intelligible graffiti on the walls and windows of its facade.
I don’t believe Phil’s Radiator is to be mourned and wept for. If anything, it’s to be sanctified, and maybe even canonized.
St. Phil’s of Pueblo, the Patron Saint of Cheap Beer and Ringing Ear. Some said it was the hidden gem of Pueblo. Others claimed it was a blight on the historic downtown district. It was both and that’s why it meant so much.
As a graphic designer, in the last decade I’ve put the address ‘109 East C Street’ on dozens upon dozens of posters and handbills, advertising everything from DIY punk rock and metal shows, comedy nights and fundraisers, and even my own wedding reception.
Some might say that booking your wedding reception at Phil’s would be strange and some might ask questions like how could you do that to the poor girl. Slow down–I met and fell in love with a girl who also loved the local music scene.
For us, Phil’s Radiator seemed like a natural choice of venue, albeit unconventional. Which made it the perfect place for us. So many of our earliest dates included trips downtown to Phil’s, watching any number of local and touring bands, or later on in life to see touring alternative comedians that weren’t too scared to tell jokes and stories to a room full of loud yet enthusiastic metalheads.
As for the wedding reception, we couldn’t have held it in a more perfect place.
Phil’s Radiator has been a backdrop to our cultural lives. Whether it be friendships, dates, hookups, breakups, fisticuffs or anything else you can imagine, Phil’s saw them all. Some of my greatest friendships and acquaintances with the finest people in Pueblo I’ve ever met, and I’m not alone in saying this, have come about because of this adoringly disgusting place.
From the all-too-young age of 14, the seedy yet endlessly charming bar Phil’s Radiator has been the setting to many a sordid tale in my life.
I remember with mild amusement that I’ve recently turned 28 years old, and the realization that I’ve been a patron to such an “unsavory locale” like Phil’s for half of my time on this planet floors me. My teenage malaise and misplaced angst found a home within its unforgivingly loud concrete walls, forever awash in distorted guitar and the thunderous crash of cymbals. I was able to rest my bones and shoot the breeze with like minds on their myriad of mismatched and off kilter chairs and barstools offered.
As one of the only venues in town, probably only, to allow underage music fans into its doors, Phil’s Radiator galvanized a flurry of young and hungry musicians, and miscreants (myself included), to pick up an instrument, start our own bands, and make some noise, secure in the knowledge there was now somewhere to play and be heard even if the audience was just your friend, the bartender.
For those of my ilk, Phil’s Radiator was more than just a bar or a concert venue. It was a creative hub and outlet.
Our desolate outpost in the cultural wasteland of Southern Colorado. Our Rick’s Place in Casablanca. Where freaks and geeks alike could get together and drink, share small talk and big ideas. Figure out what it was we wanted to do, who we wanted to be. How many dive bars can you say that about? Or maybe that’s what you are supposed to do at dive bars.
The void left with the closing of Phil’s Radiator isn’t only measured by a bar’s closing, or by a suddenly more sullen downtown district that has by far too many for rent signs in its windows.
A community is now left without a rallying point, a music scene without a sordid venue full of fantastically weird sights and sounds. It’s an arts community left without a spiritual home base.
In every thriving city in America, all-ages venues are scarce and all too often fleeting, but beautiful because they are essential for a young art subculture to thrive and to produce a new generation of music and art.
Maybe, though, this isn’t the death of a wonderfully weird venue we love when we are young. Maybe this is just a generation getting older and saying goodbye to its youth. Maybe this is a beginning.
Maybe. And we can only hope that the youth of Pueblo, in their infinite pluck and rebel-against-the-man attitude, will form a new a place with cheap beer, terrible sound and lighting, and thrift store chairs. A place where they can rest their youth.