Harpo's Sports Grill closed its doors for good this week after its owners said they no longer could afford to keep running the restaurant in Boulder amid declining crowds and increased costs.

The sports bar at 2860 Arapahoe Ave. closed on Monday, and posted a farewell message on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

"It's tough," co-owner Charlie Schmanski said Thursday. "It was a bummer for us. We had a lot of good regulars, a lot of good employees. But things have just changed in Boulder, and we just weren't getting the crowds we used to. It was a sad day."

When Schmanski and Mark "Harpo" Karpowich opened Harpo's 15 years ago, they just wanted the establishment to be known as a place to grab some beer and food while watching a game.

"We just wanted it to be a local sports bar," Schmanski said. "We weren't trying to do anything fancy, just be a local, blue-collar joint."

It was that vibe that kept many of its loyal customers coming back.

"It was just a low-key, casual, local place that had good food and beer," said Tamara Elias. "It was comfortable and had everything we needed for watching the game."

Elias is actually from California, but stumbled upon the bar one day while visiting her son when he was a student at the University of Colorado. Every time they visited their son in the years since, Harpo's was one of their first stops.


"We couldn't just hang out with him in the dorms and watch TV," Elias said. "So when we were in town, we would go there to watch the 49ers' game and our other hometown teams."

While the bar obviously carried games by local teams and was a big CU Buffs hangout, Schmanski said a lot of Harpo's customers were people like Elias — visitors or transplants looking to find out-of-market games.

"Back in the day when we opened, if you didn't have a sports subscription, you couldn't watch your team," he said. "Our niche was the people who weren't from Colorado who came to the university. We had a lot of people watch the Yankees or the Tigers or the Packers."

But as it became easier and cheaper to watch those games online or on mobile devices, Schmanski said business began to slow.

"Now, you can watch pretty much anything on your phone," he said. "I think it's just a lot more convenient, and we definitely weren't getting the sports crowds we used to. NFL Sundays were always solid for us, but during the week we definitely lost some of the hockey, NBA and MLB crowd."

Combined with the increasing cost of operating, Schmanski and Karpowich decided to close Harpo's and concentrate on the bar they co-own in Louisville, Mudrock's Tap and Tavern.

"We just couldn't make it work in Boulder anymore," Schmanski said. "Decreasing sales, taxes going up, costs going up. The usual case."

Annie Sugar, who worked and studied in Boulder, said she got hooked on fish tacos at Harpos in the late 2000s, but said she didn't go back as often as she hoped because of its location. She also said that she didn't think Harpo's had enough publicity to attract new customers.

"It just wasn't a part of town I was in very often," Sugar said. "In the Front Range, particularly the Denver and Boulder area, we become obsessed with the latest place, so it's very easy to become distracted from what's tried and true."

Steve Ross, the owner of Lazy Dog on Pearl Street, said that sports bars have to keep things fresh to continue to attract customers especially with games on TV no longer being enough.

"In recognition of that reality, we've made drastic changes to the menu to give us a higher-quality food product," Ross said. "We want people to think of the Lazy Dog as a great place to dine."

Ross said that the Lazy Dog also benefits from the amount of people it can accommodate and its location on the Pearl Street Mall, which allows large groups of fans to come in and creates a raucous atmosphere during big games.

"If you are a Steelers fan or a Packers fan, you can meet other people and have that party atmosphere," Ross said. "But you have to have good food and good service. The sports can't stand alone like it used to."

Sugar said she had driven by Harpo's a few times and now wishes she had taken the time to stop in one last time.

"They were just a good old-fashioned sports bar, and it's unfortunate to see that go away," she said. "Even though people are watching sports on their phones or at home, sports is one of those things that is meant to be shared. Boulder is losing that, and that is sad. And losing fish tacos is always a tragedy.

"There is something to be said about a pitcher of beer, fish tacos and the game with friends."

Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars