The Oxford cocktail bar’s March 18 opening returns the space formerly known as Joel’s Bar to Durango’s night scene.
While the bar may be in the same place as Joel’s, owner Chip Lile assures it is not the same vibe.
Along with business partners Chris Lile and Clinton Holnbeck, the team has branded the bar as an upscale establishment that features traditional cocktails and high-grade spirits.
The interior has been completely renovated and has high tables with tall bar stools instead of the lounge chairs that were a prominent feature at Joel’s. The inside remains minimalistic with just a few paintings hanging on the walls near the seating and dim lighting over the bar. Lile said there will be TVs hung and a new stereo system added by next week.
The bar’s booths are also sectional, which means they can be rearranged for private events. The atmosphere is supposed to be mellow and quaint instead of the ruckus nature of the previous bar or the other two bars the partners run.
The other side of the bar features more booths, where ownership intends to put up curtains so that people can have private gatherings and events. The bar hosted events for the Durango Film Festival and has already received inquiries for more.
Lile said interested parties can either rent out a portion of the bar or the entire bar for the night.
The management team, which also runs El Rancho Tavern and The Garage, has noticed that the bar has attracted a different customer base compared to their other businesses.
“We've seen a lot of people that we never see at those bars and we've seen a lot of people that we hadn't seen in a long time too,” Lile said.
He also said that business has been steady when considering the bar does not have a sign and the management team has done little advertising, relying mostly on word-of-mouth. The bar just recently put up a sign on its doors.
For the management team, it was important to distinguish The Oxford from The Garage and El Rancho, saying that The Garage is a “completely separate” bar. Lile said that having The Garage next door helps business because it brings foot traffic to West Eighth Street, but many of downtown’s restaurants have a similar impact.
As for the bar’s name, it is a tribute to a former hotel that was located above El Rancho Tavern at 975 Main Ave. during the late 19th century. Lile discovered the building’s historical context in a “This Day in History” photo from The Durango Herald.
“There’s a picture of like a pack of horses standing inside of the El Rancho Tavern during the late 1800s, and there’s a striped awning hanging down in front of the windows that says ‘The Oxford’ on it,” said Lile.
The Oxford’s opening was delayed as the team hoped to have the bar open by the start of the annual Snowdown. However, Lile is president of the Snowdown board of directors, and the event took time away from opening the bar. He also said that renovations to the bar went on longer than expected.
“We've completely remodeled the place and we did change the floor plan a little bit. We added new equipment like a new walk-in refrigerator, tap system and plumbing where it was needed,” Lile said.
The management team looks forward to seeing if the The Oxford will be as successful as The Garage and El Rancho. Lile attributes the success of the two other businesses to his partners and the staff members who work at those locations.
Lile and his brother took over El Rancho on New Year’s Eve 1999 and bought Colorado Pongas in 2019, which became The Garage.
“It’s a family business in a sense,” Lile said. “We all worked together at El Rancho, so we just copied what we learned about managing a bar from that experience.”