The Ginn Mill Story
The Modern Day Ginn Mill
First and foremost, the term “Ginn Mill” is not limited to an establishment that produces, sells, or otherwise solely deals with gin spirits. Rather, a ginn mill was and still is, an old-timers nickname for the local tavern or watering hole. The name reflects a different time and place in US History, one that was a bit less complicated, pretentious, and flashy—a time that was more welcoming, communal, and friendly.
The ginn mills of our past were tucked neatly away into the neighborhood blocks. Inside them, you would find locals of every strata of a young city’s populace, converging for a relaxer after a hard day spent on the lot, the factory floor, University, the office, hospital, firehouse, or elsewhere. This was the place for every type, rich or poor, to leave the hats of their differing professions at the door and enjoy a refreshing beverage in the company of humanity.
This is the intention of The Ginn Mill on Larimer Street in Denver—an established space that requires attitudes and pretenses to be checked at the door. You will find that The Ginn Mill is not the place to “see and be seen,” and it isn’t Denver’s “hottest, elite, VIP club.” It’s nothing of the sort. Rather, The Ginn Mill is a low-key, friendly drinking spot. In fact, as the story belowdepicts, The Ginn Mill is Denver’s original drinking spot!
From the back patio visitors can see that The Ginn Mill also shares the neighborhood with one of America’s great pastimes, baseball and the ballpark. This makes ‘The Mill’ a great spot for pre-game and post-game drinks, to meet with friends, or to make new ones.
Our history is what makes us who we are. The Ginn Mill is an important historical link to the past, and therefore a platform to bring us pleasantly forward, together, into the future.
The Ginn Mills of Yesterday
Larimer Street is Denver’s oldest and most historic block. It was home to the city’s first bank, bookstore, photographer, dry goods store, post office, and theater. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the street also featured one of Denver’s most notorious “watering holes,” which was at this very location—2041 Larimer Street. Tales are told of deadly, back-room, high-stakes poker games, as well as adventurous transactions on a second floor, involving the “world’s oldest profession.” Hard drinks were served on the cheap to a motley bunch primarily consisting of Prospectors, Cowboys, and Buffalo Hunters. Drinks ran a nickel a pop in what was then, nothing more than a dusty frontier town.
Thirty years after this building was erected, on New Year’s Eve of 1915, an end of an era dawned in Colorado as it became one of the first states in The Nation to go “dry.” Coloradan’s saw the State General Assembly enact a prohibition statute four years prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment by a mostly Puritan Congress in 1920. They believed that banning the importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of liquor would reduce crime, poverty, mortality rates, and improve the economy and over-all quality of life. Instead, the actual affects of Prohibition were heavier consumption of hard liquor, increased death rates, and the dawning of organized crime.
No sooner than they were passed, America’s new laws were being flagrantly violated by individuals labeled as Bootleggers—they smuggled liquor from Canada and abroad, stole it from government warehouses, and also began distilling their own special concoctions. Many people resorted to hiding their liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes, and anything else they could reasonably fashion to their needs. Illegal establishments were abundantly emerging, replacing the Saloons that once were. These shady stomping grounds became known as speakeasies, whoopee parlors, or better yet, ginn mills.
Six months after the passing of the 18th amendment, the first floor of this building was converted into a political club and social parlor to cover what was happening upstairs and down. The drinks would never cease to flow because the basement of this very building became home to one of Denver’s hottest ginn mills! The operation became so lucrative that the proprietor began investing in other legitimate local ventures. Additionally, the proceeds from his illegal hooch, sold at this very location, were integral to financing the one-of-a-kind, stamped tin ceiling suspended above your head. In today’s currency, this ceiling’s cost would have been nearly $60,000.
Within several years, a man by the name of Jackson Rutherford Review, III became the principle supplier for the region’s ginn mills. To transport all illegal liquor shipments, ‘Black Jack’ Review enlisted a fleet of 1920’s Chevrolet pick-up trucks—just like the one hanging above the bar—and a dubious crew of rebellious smugglers. From the time the mountains blotted out the sun, to the moments just before it began lighting the new day, the rumrunners, as they were called, picked up and delivered the forbidden merchandise at various hidden locations. They earned $20 for a night's work, the equivalent of a week's salary for many Denver factory workers.
On March 22, 1933, seventeen years after prohibition began in Colorado, the 21st Amendment, a complete repeal of the 18th Amendment, was signed into law. On April 6, 1933, the Saloons that once famously checkered the well-traveled streets of Larimer began to re-open their doors—legitimately, that is. 2041 Larimer Street was quick to follow suit. Years later, when fire caught and destroyed the 2nd floor, an inspector with the local fire brigade pointed at the ornate 1st floor ceiling and claimed, “This now fancy metal topper most certainly halted the fire from catching to the lowers.” Given that the business had already legitimized, the upper level was merely replaced with a roof.
During Denver's wild ride from a frontier and mining town to a twentieth-century metropolis, the city's saloons have played a vital role in the development of its personality. We at The Ginn Mill have come to think of these times as a “liquid history” of how Denver's bars both shape and reflect the adolescence of our “Mile High City.”
Some Prohibition-Era Slang
Smuggler of Alcoholic beverages: Rumrunner
Bootleg liquor/alcohol: Booze, brew, giggle water, hooch, jake-leg, vino
Moonshine: Home-made whiskey (sometimes made in outdoor stills by the light of the moon).
Bathtub Gin: Alcohol mixed in bottles too tall to be filled from a sink tap and commonly filled under a bathtub tap.
Illegal Saloon: Speakeasy, gin mill, whoopee parlor. (The 'speakeasy' got its name because one had to whisper a code word or name through a slot in a locked door to gain admittance).
Drunken bum: Rummy
Drink liquor: Booze up
Being drunk: Bent, blotto, crocked, fried, juiced, lushed, ossified, splifficated
Rum dum: Constantly drunk