On any given Friday night, the Colfax strip is packed with people navigating their way in and out of the bars and food joints that make up the street’s vibrant nightlife. As partiers make their way along the strip, they’ll eventually start running into people carrying pink boxes of Voodoo Doughnuts and start smelling the sweet concoctions as they near one of Denver’s most notable stops for tourists. Once they hit the 1500 block of East Colfax, they’re greeted with an overwhelming longing for donuts, and, more importantly, some of Denver’s most accepting queer people.
They aren’t gathered at Voodoo, but at the bakery’s more colorful neighbor Blush & Blu.
Spilling out of patio doors surrounded by a perfect rainbow paint job, which covers the entire face of Blush & Blu, is an assortment of people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and genders. Some look like they’ve stepped out of a club kid fantasy, while others are sporting a more casual look. Despite what they are wearing, they are greeted at the door by a woman covered in tattoos and plastered with a smile. She waves patrons in, telling them to get a drink and that the “party is in here.”
The woman acting as gatekeeper to the rainbow palace is Jody Bouffard, the only lesbian in Denver who owns a queer bar. More specifically, she owns Blush & Blu and has kept it alive through her own blood, sweat, and tears — and that’s not just a cliché.
“I’ve gotten three splinters already today and I’m only halfway done,” Bouffard said as she hammered together pieces of light grey flooring over the existing faded, wood floors covered in bar stool indentions. “But I own a queer bar and I’ve got to do a lot of this myself. I don’t mind, because I love this place. It’s home to a lot of people, myself included.”
Bouffard is currently in the process of remodeling the bar, with the help of some friends. Together they’ve made the flow more efficient, removed the gender-specific colors of blue and pink and replaced them with a dark, neutral color, begun a queer icon mural, and re-floored the bar. It’s the second time the bar has undergone a massive transformation.
When Bouffard set her eyes on Colfax, she purchased a small hallway of a bar in cash, noting that the best way to do business is to “owe nobody anything.” She first opened it as a coffee shop in 2005, and was forced to wait nine months to get her liquor license.
“I’ll never forget that day because it was 4/20,” she said. “On April 20, 2006, I opened up the smallest little gay bar on Colfax and called it Blush.”
When it opened, the pink-painted bar was not the only “lesbian bar” in town and faced competition. But it never felt that way to Bouffard. It was during a time before social media and smartphones took over the world of dating and interaction, and before Denver was overwhelmingly supportive of queer people. A new bar just meant there was one more place for LGBTQ people to gather.
Now, she’s sitting on the last remaining “lesbian bar” in Denver.
“It’s a lot different now than before,” she said. “The queer bars don’t look after one another anymore because we are all competition. I think it’s sad, but it’s the reality we live in now.”
It didn’t take long for Bouffard to expand her bar, buying the building next to her once the Rent-A-Center went out of business. She used half of the huge space to expand Colfax’s smallest bar to something a bit more spacious and welcoming; the other half she offered to her friends from Portland so they could expand their doughnut shop to the Mile High City.
She painted her expansion blue and renamed the bar Blush & Blu to let the city know it wasn’t just a spot for lesbians, but for queers of all sorts. But once labeled something, it’s hard to shake that reputation. Today, if you ask anyone about Blush & Blu, it’s still considered “Denver’s Lesbian Bar.”
“We love all of our customers, and, especially now, it’s important for everyone to feel welcome,” Bouffard said. “We just want to be known as a queer bar that will accept you no matter what… unless you are an asshole.”
“Yeah, we have a zero asshole policy here,” SJ Paye chimed in as she dug an exacto knife into the new flooring. “We make sure that no matter who walks through that door, they’ve got a friend. It’s something that’s missing in a lot of queer bars these days.”
Paye is Bouffard’s partner in business and an essential player in the bar’s remodel. She cuts through the flooring like she’s done it everyday of her life and keeps her focus on finishing as much of the floor as she can. But when she speaks up, she packs a powerful punch.
Paye, who has worked in queer bars for decades, has seen the drastic changes that come with more accepting times. But she also notes that, while things are better on the surface, there are still a lot of queer people who don’t feel safe outside of our community spaces. For her, queer bars have always been about support, love, and family. She treats Blush & Blu no differently.
“When you walk through that door and sit down across from a bartender, or sit next to a stranger, you’re not leaving here without a friend or at least a good night,” Paye said. “It truly is a special place.”
Both Paye and Bouffard come from small towns in the Midwest where these bars are still a sanctuary for our brothers and sisters. They know the importance and the history these bars hold, and why they were, and continue to be, a safe place.
“A queer bar is more than just a bar,” Bouffard said. “It’s a place where anyone can come and dress however they want. They can hold hands with whomever they want. They can sing and dance however they want. They can come and just be themselves. These people will always have a place at Blush & Blu.”