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Pearl Street’s Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar celebrating 25 years in Boulder

Owner Dave Query recalls downtown change, restaurant memories

Dave Query, owner of Big Red F Restaurant Group, poses for a portrait at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar in Boulder on Nov. 22, 2019.
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When Dave Query opened Jax Fish House in 1994 at 928 Pearl St. in Boulder, he said “it was just a different downtown.”

Across Pearl from the seafood joint, there was still a giant cottonwood, Query said, one he is convinced was among the largest three in Colorado. Now, a mixed-use building sits across the street with shops including Topo Design and eateries including a Chipotle Mexican Grill along with an Oskar Blues taproom.

“Everyone wants to sort of demonize growth and change,” Query said. “… You look a ton different than when you were 10 years old. So does this street, so do these buildings. I think Boulder has grown pretty intelligently. There’s been maybe too heavy of a hand on the growth, but it’s been good. It still feels like the same vibe.”

When it opened 25 years ago, Jax Fish House was the only place in Boulder to get raw oysters.

This month, the owner of the Big Red F group, which has grown to multiple restaurants in locations across the Front Range, is celebrating 25 years of serving patrons seafood at Jax in Boulder, where Query grew up.

The business has come to operate six Colorado restaurant brands in the time since Jax’s opening followed Zolo’s start in Boulder earlier in 1994 as the beginning of Query’s Big Red F venture.

Upon its opening Jax was among few seafood restaurants in the city,and was perhaps the only one that wasn’t a chain, according to Query.

“We had this tiny little fish house, which didn’t really exist in Boulder at that time. You couldn’t get a raw oyster, couldn’t really get a plate of good seafood,” Query said.

Reflecting upon Jax time in Boulder, and his business’s growth with it, the Pearl Street location evokes special memories for Query, including stories he’s heard of some customer experiences that may lend some more legitimacy to the commonly held belief that oysters are an aphrodisiac.

“This is the only restaurant that is dinner only, this is the smallest restaurant that we own, only 49 seats, yeah, near and dear to my heart,” Query said. “A lot of great firsts, a lot of people who met in this place, got engaged in this place, conceived their baby in the car after dinner in this place, a lot of kids named Jax running around.”

He also recalled a rainy night in the late 1990s when actor Bill Murray, dressed in a slicker, visited Jax while filming in Colorado.

Query seized the chance to speak with Murray about the restaurant business, since the movie star is invested in eateries, and said Murray obliged patrons who asked for pictures and autographs, and then even showed up to play golf, “Caddyshack”-style, the next morning with a frequent Jax customer who invited the comedian to his Boulder Country Club tee time.

Jax also has served as a launch pad for other restaurateurs, who have advanced onto their own eatery ownership ventures. One such former Jax chef is Hosea Rosenberg, who won the fifth season of television series “Top Chef” in 2009 while in charge of the Boulder seafood joint’s menu.

Rosenberg, who worked five years as Jax head chef, now owns the Boulder-based Santo restaurant and the Blackbelly restaurant, market, butcher shop and catering business. His success on the show served as a major boon to Jax’s profile, Query said.

“Two years is an amazing run for a restaurant,” Rosenberg said. “For a place to go 25 years is rare. Especially here in Boulder and Denver, to have a longevity like that is a testament to the way (Query) treats his employees and his customers. … It was a really exciting place to work at the time for me.”

Customers have held onto their experiences with Jax, too, echoing much of what Query said made it special when it got its start in Boulder — it now has locations in Denver, Glendale Fort Collins and Kansas City, Mo.

“I indeed frequented Jax whenever possible,” former longtime Camera sportswriter Neill Woelk said.

“It was great to have a quality seafood place so accessible to the Pearl Street Mall,” Woelk said. “At that time, fresh seafood wasn’t always readily available in Boulder, and the oyster bar provided a fun touch. I think people went the first time for the novelty, then kept coming back when they found out how good it was. It was one of those places that you would always run into someone you knew. … The fact that it’s been open for a quarter century in Boulder speaks to the quality and professionalism.”

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