When St. Mark’s was first built, it was a gorgeous home for the Episcopal community of the city to come together and be in a place where they were free to be themselves. But empires rise and empires fall and for St. Mark’s, rising costs, dwindling membership, and organizational discord led to them abandoning the building and letting the grand structure slowly crumble into the sands of time.
Or maybe not. Regas Christou, the owner of SoCo Nightlife, saw the space and envisioned a different kind of sanctuary, one that paid homage to the original intent of the building while also bringing in a new kind of crowd to experience it. All while preserving the soaring interiors and stunning façade of the original building.
Today, The Church is a venue that is a sanctuary for music lovers to come together in a place where they can be themselves. The popular Denver music venue plays host to amazing lineups of artists from around the world and the historic church is now restored to much of its original glory.
SoCo Nightlife themselves are now doing a series with a writer from Westword to document the history of the venue. I got a chance to speak with SoCo’s marketing director, Stephanie Kroll, on what she thinks makes The Church such a crown jewel in the Denver music scene.
First off, how did The Church end up in such a unique space?
The Church originally started as St. Mark’s of Denver, which was a church on 13th & Broadway that eventually moved to its permanent location on the corner of 12th & Lincoln in Denver when the building was completed in 1889. For almost 90 years, it served as a real operational church, until there was internal unrest within the “old school” and “new school” versions of the Episcopal community in the late ’80s.
Because the building was so incredibly expensive to maintain, and church membership started to dwindle with the internal unrest, they lost the space and it sat vacant for years. Someone tried to start a punk club there, someone else tried to turn it into a theater company. Regas [Christou], the owner of SoCo Nightlife, eventually bought it in the early ’90s and renovated the space into a nightclub, which has been open and operational since its launch on New Year’s Eve, 1996.
Are there any secrets about the building that you were surprised to discover? Anything that people might not know about?
There are so many stories and interesting facts here I’m not quite sure where to start. Definitely read through some of our series on the history of the The Church for more information. We are continuing to write stories about the venue on our website over time with a writer from Westword.
The building has gone through a very long and controversial history that most people don’t know about.
The building has almost burned down a myriad of times — the most notably being two nights before Regas opened the club on New Year’s Eve, where he had to rebuild the roof in 48 hours before opening with a small team of people and was determined to finish it in time for his sold-out event. The second time was when Dr. Reverend Houghton stored his turtles in the basement of the building during the winter, and one of them knocked over a lantern that lit the entire place on fire.
The building used to have a massive bell tower with a turret at the entrance that fell over due to a massive wind storm before Sunday service in the early 1950s, and eventually the building had to be condemned until they could rebuild. But it was never the same. As a result, they took all decorative sandstone pieces off the outside.
The emblem of St. Mark’s is the winged lion, and there are still winged lions in paintings, stained glass, and metal sculptures throughout the building that can be seen better by day.
Dr. Reverend Houghton, at one point, didn’t think the church choir was very good, so he ended up pissing them off and started some drama between other church groups in the Denver area.
The basement of the church used to be a gymnasium, the chapel room which now hosts a VIP area used to be a library, and the cigar lounge used to house a ministry to the deaf.
St. Mark’s was always well known for it’s musical quality and also won awards for the various art pieces that used to be housed inside, some of which were donated to art and history museums within Denver.
Regas tried to donate the $60k organ to another church group during nightclub renovations as a kind gift to a religious community. They then went on and resold the organ for a profit.
The club is called Church of the Seven Candles because of the seven candle stained glass pieces by the back VIP bar and for the seven bars in the building, which are all made of old church pews.
There used to be a sushi bar housed in what is now a lounge area and the building has a full operational kitchen in the basement. Currently both are not being utilized (but I’d LOVE to bring someone in to use both spaces properly again).
I have so much knowledge about this place and so many stories to tell still. It’s just really special to me and to the city of Denver as a historical building, so I feel that it’s really important to share those stories back with the community.
The Church also caters to the under-21 set as well as those of age. What made you go in that direction? How does the space accommodate both groups at events?
That would be a question for Regas when he opened, I’m not quite sure why he wanted it to be 18+. The entry age is tied to the liquor license.
That said, I’m sure he just wanted for everyone to be able to experience the beauty of this place and the excitement of a club night, regardless of if they could drink or not, and to also have an extra opportunity to make money. It provides a lot of challenges though, as the 21+ crowd does not always like the 18+ crowd, and the younger crowd can really cause problems for any venue sometimes, so it can be tough to navigate.
In terms of accommodating both parties, on Fridays we block off the back VIP area to 21+ only, leaving the 18+ kids to still navigate the main floor as well as the other few rooms in the building (this space is HUGE and most people don’t know that). VIP bottle service is designed to be an experience for the 21+ crowd that makes being “of age” a little more special.
What’s your favorite show you’ve seen at The Church?
Me personally? I mean, The Church was the first club I ever went to when I was 18 years old, it was the first place I ever wanted to go out in Denver. It sounded so cool to me. So many people have met here and gotten married because of meeting during a night out, or actually gotten married IN The Church, even after it became a nightclub.
I think the two shows that stand out to me the most were the Anjunabeats Tour in 2016 (Brennen [Bryarly, SoCo’s talent buyer] also booked Kidnap Kid in the basement that night) and when Rusko headlined 420 on the Block, our mini-fest put on by The Green Solution, THC Mag, and Incredibles in 2017.
Anjuna was the first time I had come back to the Church since living in LA and they had revamped it full of amazing production, I just fell in love with it all over again. I also had never been to the balcony area that overlooks the crowd, and explored that and the outdoor patio for the first time that night.
A few weeks later I came to Deorro and had never seen any venue that packed and raging in my entire life. I pretty much started coming every week after that and knew I had to work for SoCo eventually.
And the Rusko set was one of the last times he ever played before he stopped touring because he got stomach cancer, and it was just one of the most high energy moments I’ve ever witnessed at the club, so I will never forget both of those nights.
What upcoming events at The Church are you most excited about?
Our fall lineup is killer, in my opinion.
We have some of the biggest trance acts coming through, from Aly & Fila, to Hodor from Game of Thrones, to Markus Shulz for our annual Trancegiving party (in its 14th year), to one of my personal favorites, Gareth Emery (who has come through The Church before… but I used to listen to his weekly podcast religiously for a while).
We have a few weeks at the end of November and beginning of December that are just outrageous in terms of huge bookings between all of SoCo and The Church in particular. Some of them just aren’t announced yet. We do the holiday season really well and the clubs are super busy from September through December.
Also, we are (potentially) experimenting with bringing in some special experiential and storytelling pieces to our New Year’s Eve and Halloween events that I get to help curate, and that has been a really fun project for the SoCo team for the greater half of the year.
Since The Church is part of a wider network of venues you have around the Denver area, what niche does The Church itself occupy? How does it play off the other venues?
The benefit of having a bunch of venues in our wheelhouse is that we can leverage them to work with each other instead of against each other. Sometimes we move events from one space to the next, if a private event is booked somewhere where we have regular programming. We can run dual ticket giveaways for the same demographic across multiple shows. There are just a lot of options in terms of mobility.
The Church and Vinyl are easily the largest venues in the fleet square footage-wise, as well as in terms of how much work they require. Both take a ton of heavy lifting from a marketing perspective. The Church is great because we can also take acts that do well at Bar Standard and Vinyl once they grow and move them to a larger space.
Now that City Hall has been leased out to Temple Nightclub, The Church is the largest main floor space we have to work with across SoCo now. It’s also the most whimsical, mystical, and unique of all the venues, whereas Vinyl has a very modern industrial feel, so there are a lot of art clients who want to host showcases there, and we can get really creative with all the rooms in the space. You could say that it’s the crown jewel of the fleet, to some degree, but we love every space that we get to work with just as equally.
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