Streets of London Pub
1501 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80218
“Fuck you, Phil Collins!”
The gentleman was quite cross, fuming, and had a weird apparent Phil Collins animosity at the end of the bar the night Kelly and I had a couple drinks at one of our neighborhood pubs: Streets of London. Above us, another of the countless repeats of ‘Sharknado’ was playing on some of the several TVs scattered around the bar. I only spared a brief glance, noticing a lot of chainsaws, people running around, and boatload of computer generated carnivorous flying fish. Most of the people around us were drawn into the B Movie Hollywood faux-carnage, trying to ignore the furious Phil Collins Hater as he continued his diatribe against several others at the end of the bar about the merits of the Lionel Richie’s song ‘Say You, Say Me.’
“I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying that you’re opinions suck!”, bellowed another regular’s retort. Obviously he must have been touched by diabetes-inducing saccharine of Collin’s ‘Another Day in Paradise’ ballad. Kelly and I were located a safe distance further down the bar. I really don’t remember how this particular argument started, or what’s so special about Lionel Richie, or what Phil Collins even had to do with it all. All of this seemed to have stemmed from the ongoing music war playing out on the jukebox. Some of the regulars were apparently in a ‘Yacht Rock’ kind of mood, much to the chagrin to the rest of the other regulars wrapped up in ‘Sharknado.’ A friend of ours was crooning Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ in the corner over an old Hall & Oates song playing from the speakers. It was only 8pm.
“It already sounds like 2AM in here.”, Kelly said from around her Newcastle.
“For Day Drinkers, it is 2AM.”, I replied as I ordered another whiskey and soda from Zhawna, our bartender, who places the pint sized drink in front of me. Yes, that is how they roll here. Outside the window and across the street, a long line of people went down the block towards Franklin Street, all patiently waiting for treats from the new Voodoo Doughnuts that recently opened. The new garishly painted pink building was hard to miss.
“Christ, they are just doughnuts.”, someone close by said to me. “Why do they still have lines after 8 months?”
“I don’t know.”, I replied. I’ve been in this argument before and didn’t want to hear about it anymore. Pleading ignorance was the safest bet.
It was just another night at Streets. Some people hate the place, others love it, you just can’t ignore it.
It was just another night at Streets. Some people hate the place, others love it, you just can’t ignore it. Streets is within stumbling distance of our place and we do enjoy the bar, dropping in every now and then for a change of pace. In the many years we’ve been coming here, we’ve seen a lot of changes: shift changes, staff changes, regular changes, crowd changes (though it always seems to be a core group of punk rockers, skaters, Englishmen, locals, and drunks), and even kitchen changes. That seems like a weird change of phrase, but it’s apt when you watch the pub kitchen move from standard pub grub, to being utterly closed (food then being served from the small breakfast joint sharing the building in the back), to original kitchen becoming a separate pizza joint… and then that being sold to another person as a different pizza joint… in an English pub. However, I do find the smell of pizza in the bar oddly comforting. A reminder of my East Coast roots, perhaps.
Streets of London even got a recent cosmetic renovation inside. Gone are collection of green painted bricks, replaced with a more making faux-finished off white and dark painted bricks, making the bar look more like a classic down-to-earth pub and to also compliment their sister bar, Churchill’s Public House, in the LoHi area.
As the Yacht Rock argument dies down, a new argument starts on the other side of us. A half-lidded woman slurs complaints and abuse at a sober-looking gentleman sipping his whiskey. “Don’t be drunk at people.”, he calmly comments to the open-mouthed confused woman. “Then, people may respect you more.”
His friend shakes his head at the entire scene as he tries to get Zhawna’s attention. “Some people are born drinkers, some have drunkeness thrust upon them.” I overheard as he orders a glass of red wine, a drink that a pub is not really known for. He pulls a pained face after his first sip, adds a few ice cubes to glass, and gunned the whole glass down in one.
“I’m impressed.”, his friend comments.
“I’m disturbed.”, I chime in.
“I’m an alcoholic.”, he grins as he wipes at his mouth. A moment or two pass before his eyes lose some of their focus. “That may have been a mistake.”
Streets. No matter how classy you make it, it’ll always be Streets.
2030 W 30th Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
“Hey Karl and Kelly!! What are you up too?” came a voice from a high balcony in one of the newer apartment buildings as we walked up 16th Street in recently renovated LoHi neighborhood. While still certainly odd to get yelled at while walking up a street, it took us both a moment to recognize our friends waving at us high above.
“Heading to Linger for a drink. Wanna come?”, I yelled back up. They again waved, saying they had plenty of beer at their place. So we continued on, moving further up the hill, past the massive Coney Island-inspired cream can of Little Man Ice Cream, and up to the former funeral home – now restaurant, Linger.
“It certainly is bright.” I said as we came up the staircase and high on the roof deck of Linger in the early evening. This was the part that Kelly wanted to see and the real reason we came here. Though Linger has been open for several years, neither of us have ever been here before, but have heard about the deck and view from many others. Growing up in Denver, Kelly was quite familiar with the large iconic ‘Olinger’ sign always looming over Interstate 25. Once the historic mortuary closed and turned into a restaurant in 2011… which still seems like an odd idea to me… thankfully the iconic sign was kept, though only ‘O’ is no longer lit up at night, leaving it as ‘linger’ (the smaller ‘mortuaries’ is also now lit up as ‘eatuaries.’)
Even before we looked around for the rooftop bar, we quickly realized that the crowd up on the deck was not really our normal crowd. There was a vibe around us of Saturday nights in LoDo, Coors Lights and Margaritas, and club kids having their first drink. We also noticed, after some frantic searching, there there was no bar on the roof deck either. A gutted RV, kitted out with bottles and taps, was sitting in the center and served as a self-service bar. Neat idea, but getting beers from the window of the RV was way to similar to ordering from a food truck.
I walked over and got Kelly a Dry Dock Apricot Blonde Beer and a Hall Farmhouse Red Amber Ale for myself. Once we had our drinks, we moved to the ‘self service’ area underneath the massive Olinger sign. Both of us would have preferred to sit at a bar, but here there was no other option.
“I think we got in here right on time”, I said as I motioning with my beer towards the growing crowd coming up the staircase and looking around confused, searching for either friends or a seat. Kelly didn’t notice as her eyes were closed, enjoying the breeze and cool evening air. I looked over towards the city. As I mentioned, many have told us that the view from Linger’s roof was one of the best in the city. I’m sure that was once the case. Now however, with the growing real estate in the rapidly gentrifying LoHi (stands for Lower Highlands) neighborhood, several new apartment buildings (including one being built right then next to the restaurant) blocked much of what should have been an otherwise brilliant view of Denver. So instead of looking at a partially completed sky rise, I looked down towards at Tejon & 16th Street and the growing queue around the massive milk can building of Little Man Ice Cream.
We were not impressed. The RV was a neat idea, but I missed sitting at a bar. The piped in music was kind of middle-of-the-road salsa dance mix that I found safe and inoffensive. There was also a greasy smell coming off the small kitchen, behind the RV and towards the back of the roof, that reminded me way too much of the Boardwalk and my youth on the Jersey shore. Kelly and I finished our beers and briefly thought about getting another, but decided against it. We saw the historic Olinger sign, checked out the view, and were done. We were a bit dissapointed. No need to come back. Besides, Williams and Graham is right up the street.
However, sitting up on the roof, I really missed the feel of a bar. That is where you really get a good judge of a place.
However, sitting up on the roof, I really missed the feel of a bar. That is where you really get a good judge of a place. As we defended the stairs, I suggested we give Linger another chance and have one more drink at Linger’s actual bar. So, we moved downstairs, through the main dining area, and up a small staircase to the cocktail lounge. I would have called it ‘the bar’, but no, it was a cocktail lounge and I was delighted. Aside from the series of thrown open windows that gave a much better view of the city (in my opinion), the lounge was a dark 70’s inspired bar. There were mirrors, a sort of tacky wallpaper, velvet art, Christmas lights under the bar top that gave a sort of classy, yet seedy kind of vibe. I loved it.
We sat down and Kelly ordered another Apricot Beer, but I wanted a cocktail. It’s easy to pull on a tap, but how about mixing a drink? After a quick scan of the menu, I decided on the ‘French Quarter’ (cognac, rye, green chartreuse, lillet rose, bitters.) However, it was hard to pin down on who was our actual bartender as it seemed there was a rotating collective behind the bar. The several times we had a question about the menu, a different bartender would answer it. So, who was our bartender? Apparently, all of them.
Aside from that, we enjoyed the bar a hell of a lot better than the roof deck. Better drinks, better music, better setting, and a much better view… though there was still that strong wafting smell of marajuana (or ‘Colorado Cigarettes’ as we’ve taken to calling them) that seems to be ever present in Denver nowadays. Also, the mortuary restaurant theme was more present here. I enjoyed that they went a bit classier rather then out of some sad goth’s wet dream. Sure, there were some odd pictures and paintings around the place.. a skull here, a casket shaped tray there… a collection of billiard balls over there (yeah, I didn’t get that one either), but the bar tables were far more subtler as sections of rollers for moving coffins around under glass. I wondered if people even knew what they were.
“What do you think?” Kelly asked. “Should we come back?”
“I don’t know.” I replied. “But it is growing on me.”
Colt & Gray
1553 Platte Street
Denver, CO 80202
“I’ve only had a few sips and I’m already feeling it”, Kelly said as took another sip of her Belgium Saison. “This is delightful.”
I set my Old Fashioned back upon the dark wood bar of Colt & Gray. It was still early. The bar had only opened 20 or so minutes before and was slowly filling up with people finally getting off work. The glass was slightly sticky in my hand from the sugar of the cocktail. Normally, I may make a mental ‘tut tut’ over this small fact, but it didn’t matter at all since the cocktail was so very good. This was my first time at Colt & Gray, which has been one of those bars that have always been high on the best cocktails in Denver lists since they opened a several years ago. Kelly, knowing where to go, has already been here several times before; but I have been shamefully lax on making it over to this neighborhood for a drink.
Looking around, the bar’s dark wood gives the entire area a classic feel. Several bow ties decorate some of the bottles along the right side of the bar. There was a growing blend of businessmen and locals are on the other side of the room enjoying their cocktails or beers while a mix of Jazz, Soul, and Blues (Fred Astaire, Aretha Franklin, Junior Kimbrough, Otis Redding, etc…) plays over the stereo. Kelly has always been delighted by the space. It’s on the same lines of recent cocktail lounges like Williams & Graham or Green Russell, without the kitsch factor of the latter (which always kind of reminded me of some sort of a booze theme park… wait a moment… new idea: ‘Whiskey Land!” ) This can be a problem in the new era of spreading speakeasy cocktail lounges culture (which I do enjoy.) Because of the kitsch factor of some of these new places, you often get overwhelmed by the sights and lose a lot of the elegance and crafted cocktails. Happily, this is not a problem here. Colt & Gray is elegant and understated.
Happily, this is not a problem here. Colt & Gray is elegant and understated.
I started with an Old Fashioned (which I always a reliable drink test for the quality of the place), while Kelly sips at her Lost Abbey Saison.
“As I was walking over here through Commons Park West, some kid yelled at me ‘Hey Swing Kid! Wanna buy a pair of sunglasses as sharp as that suit?’ ”, I mentioned as I was taking another sip. “Sure I was in my suit and hat, but…”
“Swing Kid?”, Kelly asked confused. “How do they even know what that is?”
“No clue.”, I replied as I finished my Old Fashioned and contemplated my next cocktail. I wanted something new. The chalkboard high up next to me listed several drink specials, including the ’50/50’ (which is an old pre-prohibition martini, where the gin and vermouth are mixed in an equal ratio, unlike the scant whisper of vermouth in the modern version.) I was stuck between ordering that and the ‘Bennet’ (which I’ve seen several recipes for and always sounded just like a Gimlet with bitters… which I’d thought was called a ‘Marlowe’ after they cocktail he and Terry Lennox drink in the ‘The Long Goodbye.’) I asked Dwight, our bartender, about the differences between the two drinks.
“Well…”, Dwight replied. “It depends on what’s going on.”
Kelly laughed, ordered an Upslope Belguim Pale Ale, and continued to look over the menu. I fell back to the 50/50, since I’m not afraid and do enjoy some good vermouth in my martini (and still thought a ‘Marlowe’ was a better name for the Bennet.)
I fell back to the 50/50, since I’m not afraid and do enjoy some good vermouth in my martini (and still thought a ‘Marlowe’ was a better name for the Bennet.)
Once our new drinks were placed in front of us, Kelly still looking at the menu, insisted that we get snacks. Colt & Gray has a limited, but precise and selective menu; and quite a few things caught her eye. “I want oysters! No, fritters! No meat and cheese plate! No, marrow bones! No, sweetbreads! They are quite tasty here. When I was last here having drinks with Meaux, she got me to try them once…”
“Aren’t those like gizzards and whatnot?”
“Thymus glands, I think. Of baby cows.”
In the end, we settled on a Charcuterie & Cheese plate (we picked Proscuitto Cotto, Pea-Meal Bacon, with a Vermont Farmstead Windsordale) along with an order of the Sweet Corn & Crab Fritters. They were all quickly demolished.
I finished my gin cocktail as Kelly got that gleam in her eyes again.
“Along with a good beer, I can just eat meat and cheese all the time. This is perfect!”
The World Famous Lion’s Lair Lounge
2022 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80206
“God… I’m starving”, Kelly said as she rushed into the bar.
The World Famous Lion’s Lair is not something that you immediately think of when contemplating food. Easily enough though since they don’t serve any (aside from an M&M and other odd candies in an over sized gum ball machine in the corner.) Luckily however, I brought a tortas sandwich along with me for Kelly from a small hole in the wall a bit further along East Colfax (Tortas Grill… very good.) She sat down and tore into the bag while I ordered another whiskey from Sara Belle. As Kelly had just walked in, Sara also mixed up a ‘Buckshot Beauty’: an original cocktail that she made up and named after Kelly (that’s a longer story for another day.)
The World Famous Lion’s Lair… a no frills space for a beer and a shot. Part venue, part East Colfax institution. I’ve heard various stories about the origin of the place, depending on whom you ask, which can be traced back to the 50’s or 20s (as a dancehall that also included the spaces where the tattoo shop, dispensary, and liquor store all reside now.) To me, the Lair best represents what Colfax Avenue actually is: a bare-bones, low-down place full of stories and characters. This is the bar where everyone eventually finds themselves in at 2am. This is the bar where bad and sometimes great decisions are made. This is the bar where you collect stories.
… This is the bar where everyone eventually finds themselves in at 2am. This is the bar where bad and sometimes great decisions are made. This is the bar where you collect stories.
One of the reasons we love the Lair is that you never know what to expect from this place. Walk in on a Saturday afternoon and you may find half the bar singing and dancing along to Abba, Nancy Sinatra, or some weird unknown cover of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (Thank you, DJ Bell of ‘Kooky K!t$h!’). At another time you may be accosted by one the East Colfax Regulars, slurring his way through a story that involves an alley, a wheelchair, the cover of darkness, and a copious amount of bourbon. Walk in on a weeknight and the place may be full of music from some band passing through town. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a The Melvins secret show (happened to us), or a set by John Doe (who only plays the Lair when he’s in town).
The Lair was also one of the first bars I found myself in when I finally moved to Denver years ago (living only a couple blocks away also helps). Not only had I been hearing about that place for years back then (even before I started visiting the city), but at that first night there was able to see Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – one of the best, most welcoming (at least to me) events after I’d only been living in the Mile High City for less than a month. If Denver was some sort of communicable disease, I got it that night from the sheer press of the crowd at the show in such an intimate setting.
Yes, I used the word ‘intimate’ which in all ways seems wrong. It kind of brings to mind singer/songwriters strumming on acoustic guitars, singing about their lost cat by candlelight… which is totally not the case if you’ve ever set foot in the place. The size of the Lair is so small that you can be punched on one side of the bar and still hit the wall of the other, likely hitting a half a dozen band stickers that have been placed there over the years (I can still find the sticker of a local Philly band that I saw many times in the 90’s among the collection of band debris scattered over the Lair’s walls). That first night, and most other nights I’ve been there for shows are cramped, beer soaked, rowdy, near riots. People yelling for drinks or at each other; booze being tossed onto the floor, over the patrons, and down their gullets; shoving matches that could be called dancing or drunken stumbles; and music blaring over everything, demanding some attention. Events that have to be experienced to be believed.
Kelly finished her torta and the last of her ‘Buckshot’ cocktail. She then looked straight at me, saying, “Another round?”
“You’ll never leave this bar with your dignity intact”, the bartender said as he slid a Lone Star and shot to a friend of ours.
Kelly took another sip of her cider when I gestured toward Marion Street outside the bar window.
“Is it me or has that guy with the green duffle bag just keep walking passed the bar, up and down Marion, every 15 minutes or so? It’s getting pretty ‘Truman Show’ out there…”
We were sitting at the bar and our local watering hole: Tooeys Off Colfax. Kelly finished her pint of cider and ordered a Newcastle. I have finished my whiskey and moved on to a glass of Montenegro. Our friend finished his shot, turned around, and glanced out the window at the tall lanky man with the bag strolling past.
“The guy with the green BUM bag? Yeah, he’s been around for a couple weeks. One of the ‘Off Colfax Players’. Kind of homeless, but not crazy enough for the real Colfax as of yet.”
We’ve been Tooey’s regulars for the last couple years. We’ve had good nights there, we’ve had bad nights there, we’ve had incredible nights there, we’ve had several art shows there, several 30 MILES OF CRAZY! stories have been set there; in the end, we’ve probably spent way too much time there. No matter what’s going on when we walk into this bar, we are guaranteed a good drink from a great bartender and conversations covering everything from World War I, Shakespeare, the pros and cons of the pot economy, the merits of any numbers of the bottles of liquor on the back shelf, and which hobo came around during the day. Doesn’t matter, though – when you become a regular at a bar, it’s your second home, and the rest of the regulars are family.
“You’ll never leave this bar with your dignity intact”, the bartender said as he slid a Lone Star and shot to a friend of ours.
It’s hard to pin down and define what kind of bar Tooey’s (named after the owner’s cat) actually is. Aside from its close proximity to our place, this mystery is one of the reasons we like it so much and keep coming back. Is it a dive bar? Not really, though most of the regulars are beer-and-a-shot people. Is it a cocktail lounge? Not really, though Ryan N. has put together a decent cocktail menu as well as a fine selection of scotches, whiskeys, and a full shelf of local and regional boozes behind the bar. Is it a sports bar? Not really, though they have a screened projector TV and infrequently show a game or two if there is enough enthusiasm from the regulars. Is it a venue? Not really, though bands and DJs play there frequently (We highly recommend Denver Vintage Reggae Society (DVRS) events as well as the blues-infused ‘Biscuit Lunch’ nights.)
No… the only thing Tooey’s should claim to be is just a great neighborhood bar with a cross section of widely divergent regulars from the neighborhood. This is the bar that, when the bartender sees you walking in, they have your beer already waiting for you. When you can simply ask for ‘A Cocktail’ and they will know exactly what you would like. Sure, there may be an internet jukebox (which are becoming way too frequent in many bars), but you can make that work for you. After a couple rounds, Tooey’s is the only place where the regulars try to out-do one another in music wars in an attempt to find the weirdest (and sometimes most annoying) songs to play. You may hear a cross section of Edith Piaf, Nick Cave, Dropkick Murphys (ok… that was one of mine), Charles Trenet, Duke Ellington, The Melvins, Lesley Gore, and the Muppet version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ (Christ… I had Chicago’s ‘You’re the Inspiration’ running through my head for three days after the last music battle. Damn you, Dale.)
Honestly, the best example of why we love this bar is this: most Sunday afternoons the regulars get together and have a pot luck buffet. Sometimes it’s themed, most times it’s not. It’s just a moment in the week were we get together, share a moment, and meal with each other… like a family… which is what your best bar friends are.
Gin, Beer, and Beignets
Everyone who knows me knows that I love a good hotel bar; so the idea of finally trying out Ship Tavern had me delighted before I even set foot in the place. After a drink or two, I was loathe to leave the AC and the insulated ‘we-are-all-just-travelers-here’ camaraderie of the Tavern, but snacks of a slightly more affordable nature were hollering at us from up 17th Street. So Karl and I bravely set forth, back into the scorching heat, and further on up the hill.
Our second stop for the afternoon was our original destination: Avenue Grill. Opened in 1988 and styled after the supper clubs of the 1930s and 1940s, Avenue Grill is one of my favorite places to drink in the Uptown East neighborhood. I just love this place.
Remember me saying, I love a good hotel bar”? Well, what I love even more is a really good hotel bar that’s not actually even in a hotel. Avenue Grill is that bar. Just stepping into the place always makes me feel like I am in an historic hotel in Any City. I just want to park myself at the bar with a book and an excellent beer. The service at the Grill is always excellent, the snacks are tasty, the bartenders are knowledgeable and very friendly – the sort of thing one comes to expect from the best hotel bars. There always seems to be an immediate familiarity between bartender and drinker at a hotel bar; an effort to give the weary traveler a moment of comfort and ease while in an unfamiliar place. The hotel bartender’s job, in many ways, is to make the patron feel like they are a regular and to treat them as such, even if only for the night. It is this sort of service that I have always received at Avenue Grill. Combine that with the 1940s-inspired retro sign, the spacious 1920s building with its pressed tin ceiling, the warm blond wood of the bar, and I just feel like I should be able to say goodnight the bartender and crowd and walk right up the stairs to my room. It’s just that kind of pleasant and comfortable place.
Avenue Grill is that bar. Just stepping into the place always makes me feel like I am in an historic hotel in Any City. I just want to park myself at the bar with a book and an excellent beer
Anyway, Karl and I finally made it to our destination after our sludgy humid walk from downtown (seriously, I am pining for that ‘dry heat’ Denver generally has – there has been nothing but humidity over this summer – although I am delighted that the state is not on fire this year, as in previous years…so, you know, that’s a decent trade-off…). We immediately went to sit at the corner of the bar. With just a few other patrons further along the bar – and only a couple of occupied tables – it was quiet, cool, and just the right thing for my over-heated brain-meats. Our bartender, Chris, immediately brought over a couple of ice waters and I ordered my Avenue Grill usual – the Avenue Amber (a very nice, mellow amber ale). Karl went with a dry gin martini with a twist, hoping that the crisp clearness of the drink would banish any remaining effects of the lingering heat. Once we had our drinks, glancing periodically at the lone TV in a high corner (which was showing some local sportsball team), my growling belly quickly reminded me what else was missing. After a perusal of the menu, we got the Fig and Prosciutto flatbread (with ricotta, watercress, and peppers), along with an order of beignets (new item for brunch – warm, not too sweet, completely covered in powdered sugar and resting on some raspberry jam).
Granted we were starving, but the flatbread is really tasty (and fills the hole punched in my soul when Encore closed up and took away their Fig & Pig dish…but that is another story entirely. Suffice it to say, I like fig jam and cured pork products, together, in perfect harmony), and the beignets were quickly demolished. I had another Avenue Amber while Karl finished his martini (a quick note: Avenue Grill makes their martinis in the proper size – none of those gigantic big-gulp candy-booze concoctions – just a sensible, classic gin martini served next to the shaker, with enough for a refill. And they are good – very, very good. You have been warned) and it was time to settle up and head back out into the heat. We had more places to be and people to see. As much as I would have preferred lingering, we had to leave much too soon.