On a stairway overlooking the dance floor at Laura Belle's, a small Westside bar on 19th Street, a black-wigged mannequin stares down at the patrons. Next to her is a cardboard cutaway of John Elway, sporting a football and a Super Bowl grin.
The mannequin, by the way, is named Laura Belle, after the area's most famous, turn-of-the-century prostitute, who is also the namesake of this cozy neighborhood watering hole.
Further down the wall, though, there's a less flashy memento, which nevertheless tells another big story about this 17-year-old neighborhood bar. It's a handcrafted wooden plaque made for bar owners Phil and Nancy Tracy after they hosted a benefit concert for a friend who needed a liver transplant.
That concert, it turns out, was just the first in a string of benefits this cozy tavern has hosted for local folks in need in recent years. A show for a King Soopers employee who needed a heart transplant; a benefit for a woman whose husband died in a car accident. The list goes on. On Sunday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m., Laura Belle's hosts its next benefit, for a local man diagnosed with testicular cancer.
It's not the main reason they're in the bar business. Nancy likes the live music and dancing; Phil's likes to stand behind the bar, mix drinks and crack jokes ("It's basically hanging out with your buddies and watching TV, but I get to charge them for the beers they drink," he chuckles). But the benefits are one reason that Laura Belle's now has a reputation as a little bar with a very big heart.
Phil: We had a woman bring her mother in one time, and she remembered that as a little girl, when Laura Belle walked down the street, people would see her coming and cross to the other side of the street. But when she died, the wives let their husbands go to the funeral, because they wanted her to have a proper processional. It's because she had given away so much money to the poor and stuff.
Nancy: There was a tunnel from her house that went to where the old Army Surplus used to be.
Phil: She was called "the tunnel lady."
Nancy: People would go in on the nice side of the street and end up at her house.
How did the benefits start?
Nancy: That was with Phil's best friend, Tom Harris, who made that wood plaque on the wall over there.
Phil: His dad opened this place.
Nancy: He had a liver disease, and we found out he had to have a liver transplant. The insurance was kind of iffy, and the family needed money, so we said, "Well, let's do a benefit to see how much money we could raise." We didn't even come close.
Phil: Basically, it was just spending money.
Nancy: But we also had a heart-transplant victim. We had a gal who had cancer, melanoma. That was one of the best benefits we've had here. There was so much heart at that benefit. We auctioned one Laura Belle's T-shirt four times. The first guy bought it and gave it back to the benefit to auction off again. Then the second guy did the same thing and the third too ... and then the fourth guy I think paid $100 bucks, and then he gave it to the gal who was ill. She didn't make it, ultimately.
But everybody gives up something. Kemper Galleries is always giving up $300 or $400 paintings every time we do an auction [at a benefit]. And Rick's Nursery is always giving really nice plants. We get sets of tires, a weekend away ... So it's not just us doing this.