Big Denver Barbecue Block Party [Photos: Angie Mosier]
New York City's popular barbecue festival Big Apple Barbecue Block Party made its way to Denver over the weekend with eight of the country's leading pitmasters for Big Denver Barbecue Block Party. With 10 years under its belt, and a reputation for bringing together over 100,000 barbecue lovers from all over the country, the block party had potential to be a real success, but was it? The media was issued fast passes to scoot past the anticipated lines for each barbecue tent, but aside from the lines at Breckenridge Brewery's beer tent... there weren't lines and there was hardly a sea of people. Kenny Callagan, Blue Smoke pitmaster and founding partner for Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, told Eater that while Denver's event can't be compared to the Big Apple's current success, it can be compared to the first block party he helped restaurateur Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality organize in 2002. And hopefully, pending adequate sponsorship, Callagan will be back next year to give Denver another 100 percent charity-driven Big Denver Barbecue Block Party.
The event is considerable smaller than the party you throw in New York. Yea, but you know what? The first year it took us awhile to build momentum as well.
Why was Denver picked for the Big Barbecue Block Party's expansion? We've been looking to take it on the road, and we talked to couple different places. We actually had it up in Aspen a couple years ago, and we were talking to Chicago earlier this year, and Denver. Gabby Gourmet [Pat Miller] was out at the Aspen event and she told us we should really take it to Denver, so she kind of convinced us. And then our friend Nick Pihakis of Jim 'N Nicks came on as a sponsor and he helped make it happen. Denver's a great city, and we had heard a lot of great things about it. So far everything has come true.
Are you planning on brining it back to Denver? We hope so. We'd love to. We need to market a little better and get some more local businesses on board. We need the press and media to help us get the word out there. We pulled this together in five months.
Why did you only have five weeks? A lot of it came down to sponsorship. We can't just come out here and do this for free. It has to pay for itself. Our friend Nick Pihakis stepped up and was very generous with funding.
How have you seen it grow in 10 years? Well year one we hosted it in front of Blue Smoke, which is on 22nd between Park and Lex, and we closed the street. We had five pitmasters. The last nine years we've had it in Madison Square Park, and there's about 140,000 people. It's grown exponentially. It's people from all over the world, including transplanted southerners and midwesterners in New York, to get a little piece of what they got back home. They've really embraced the event, and it's now one of the premier food festivals in the country.
What have you noticed about the Denver crowd? It's different because what we've built over the years has become such a destination. If we open up at 11 a.m., people are in line at 10 a.m., whereas here, people are window shopping and I don't know if they really know about it. I was talking to the cops yesterday [on Friday] and they found out the event was happening yesterday. These are the cops that patrol here, so we obviously need to do a better job. We need to partner with some local businesses and really get the word out.