21 December 2008

The PS Lounge

PS. Postscript. Defined as an afterward or an afterthought, something you forgot the first time around. That's a good descriptor of a dive bar, that forgotten spot that deserves to be come back to.

I first heard about The PS Lounge from my neighbor Bryan who works at National Jewish. He described it as a dirty little place where people he worked with like to go after work for cheap beverages and recommended that I check it out. Bryan understands my preferences in a tavern, as he has accompanied me on maiden voyages to Charlie's Silver Fox and to The Mozart Lounge, so I regarded his recommendation highly and made plans.

My little brother Nick joined me on my first time. We settled into a booth and ordered up a couple beers. The decor in the PS made it look kind of like someone's basement, circa 1982. Pictures plastered the walls, some of recent patrons and their antics, others that looked like shots of the cast of a European soap opera. A nice touch. Promptly, our beers arrived, along with juice glasses of what looked kind of like Tang. We had to ask our waitress. 'Free house shots from Pete, the owner,' she said nodding in the direction of an older surly looking gentleman standing by the bar. 'Everyone gets one with their first drink. It's an Alabama Slamma'. Free house shots, a very nice touch.

Pete turned out to be not so surly after all. He worked the room all night, commiserating with his happy patrons. Not only did he give out a free shot to everyone coming in the door, but he also gave out roses to each of the ladies. Meeting Pete also
dispelled any thoughts of mine that the PS was owned by an english major with a minor in booze. Just some guy's initials.

Nick and I were starting to get comfortable when I noticed a plaque on the wall next to our booth. 'Best Dive Bar', awarded to The PS Lounge by some local publication. Pedigree. I groaned and sunk down in the booth. I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary summiting Everest and finding a sign posted there saying 'Future Home of Starbucks'.

I ceased pouting when a girl sat down next to me in the booth. She said that she was looking for somewhere to sit while waiting for a friend who was in the bathroom. Fair enough. The friend arrived and instead of proceeding to leave, he joined us as well. Normally I wouldn't be ok with this. These two were either going to ask us for money or they were super drunk and looking for someone to vomit on. I was wary. It turned out to be the complete opposite. They ended up being just two kids out having a good time and making plans to meet up with some other people for a birthday party. We had a few drinks, had fun chatting for awhile, until eventually they left. It was a totally random deal, but looking around I couldn't help but get the feeling that having an enjoyable chat with a couple of perfect strangers was par for the course at The PS.

The PS Lounge is not the best dive bar in Denver, as some would have you to believe. It's got the right location, a solidly shabby decor, but it lacks that special ambiance that prompts a 'Did that just happen?' It's more like the comfort food of dive bars - not the grade A fillet mignon, but the mash potatoes and gravy that are good enough that you have no trouble coming back time and time again. To that end, calling itself The PS Lounge is a misnomer. It's hardly an afterthought.

The PS Lounge is located at 3416 East Colfax. The first shot is on the house.

PS Lounge on Urbanspoon

21 September 2008

Real de Minas

When I was about 10 years old, my parents took our family on the standard issue family vacation to Disney World. We hit all the tourist biggies: The magical kingdom, Epcot, Cocoa Beach, and hours and hours in line waiting to ride space mountain. The thing that I remember most (other than my little brother having to wear a plastic bag filled with ice duct taped to his hand for half the trip because he got stung by a jellyfish at the beach) was the kind of surreal quality to the place, how it tried very hard to boil down elements from the real world like Main Street and the countries of the world, add some plastic and plain vanilla, and present them as attractions. And it isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Disney's Main Street is cleaner than yours, and you can go to the China Pavilion without having to wear a mask and get run over by a bike. It's also devoid of character, charm and really anything that would get a person really excited.

Real de Minas is like that. I have been there and to its sister restaurant, the uniquely named Real de Minas II, on several occasions, and have left each time wondering why I wasted my time. It serves 'Mexican' food (and perhaps should change its name from Real de Minas to 'Mexican Food') - your standard medley of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and green chiles. All of it is OK, and you get just about what you expect... Mexican food. Every plate comes covered in cheese and served with a blob of refried beans and some lettuce and tomato kibble. The burrito I had looked much like the enchilada ordered by a friend of mine. The salsa was fine. The Carnitas plate was average at best - dried out chunks of pork in green chile. On one visit I ordered the Pollo Poblano - 'tender chicken strips cooked in an authentic Mexican sour cream, poblano pepper and corn, and served over rice'. It takes quite a lot for me to not clean my plate when eating out, but the Pollo Poblano I just could not fight through.

I would recommend Real de Minas if you are looking for an average Mexican food experience, assuming you don't mind blowing your bucks on that sort of outing. Perhaps you could spice things up a bit with a little fantasy, Disney style: pretend you've just flown in to Florida, can feel the salt air blowing through your hair (I realize Orlando is 60 miles from the ocean, but we're spicing things up here), and the sounds and smells of the Epcot Center Mexican Pavilion are just up around the corner next to the Japan Pavilion and the German Biergarten.

Real de Minas is located at 11101 East Colfax in Aurora. Real de Minas II is located only a couple blocks away at 3341 Peoria. Check out their website at realdeminasrest.com.
Their oddball Mexican creamed corn dish is a ripoff at $8.99.

Real de Minas on Urbanspoon

14 July 2008

Famous Dave's Barbeque

Famous Dave's Barbecue is not a dive. Not even close. It serves decent enough barbecue food (though pricey) in a clean and well decked out facility that is usually packed to the gills with middle class folk looking for a night out with the fam. It is the barbecue restaurant equivalent of a Chili's and its semi-mexican/grill spread that it peddles. Not bad, but not very interesting either. It does have one redeeming quality, though, that makes it worthy of attendance and worth of a mention here. At Famous Dave's you can enjoy a can of Hamm's, the beer refreshing, which is something I can say that I have not seen anywhere else in Denver. Sure, you can buy a 12er of Hamm's at a couple of beer outlets around town, but I have to give props to a place like Famous Dave's that fancies itself a respectable restaurant, and will gladly charge you 22 dollars for some ribs, yet will serve you up an ice cold Hamm's, in a can, no less.
Well done, Dave.

Famous Dave's has two locations in the Denver area. Whisk yourself away to the Land of Sky Blue Waters by enjoying a $2.50 Hamm's at the bar, then go somewhere else for some BBQ. 

Famous Dave's on Urbanspoon

15 June 2008

Bruno's Saloon

A couple Friday nights ago my friend Jeff and I checked out Bruno's Saloon. Bruno's gave off a questionable vibe from the get-go, as it looked as if it was obviously closed for the evening. The sign out front was unlit, and there was only one car in the lot. We drove around the block to further inspect, and noticed the beer signs in the window burning brightly, so we decided to go in.

Bruno's was definitely open, but quiet as could be expected. The majority of the patrons were playing poker off in a side room, and we joined the two other customers at the bar. Although I'd seen more impressive poker matches in my friend Matt's basement, Bruno's obviously took things very seriously, as an ATM was available. An ATM is always an interesting inclusion in any bar. If there isn't some stripping, gambling, or some other questionable pursuit going on, what's the use? It was $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon/Miller High Life night, and I enjoy a High Life every now and again. I have no specific beef against PBR, though I usually tend to shy away considering its recent rise to popularity amongst the college set and the posh kids who like to feel like they are slumming it. That's enough for me to boot it off my list of bad beers. The juke box kicked out some lazy Pink Floyd toons, and the couple of tvs over the bar were showing round 35 of NBA playoff basketball and another Rockies baseball loss. Neither very interesting, but decent enough diversions. Apparently food was served, as a makeshift menu populated the wall across from us over the bar, though for $8 I wasn't about to order up some chicken fingers.

About two beers in, the scene at Bruno's began to change. One of the tvs was changed from basketball to wrestling, which turned out to be a fantastic choice. The feature match included an amazingly huge fella with a greasy mullet who didn't move too well, but did a wonderful job at giving his opponents an evil stare that sent them quivering. Doing the quivering were three much smaller amateurish guys who decided for some reason to bring their sister along to the match with them. Their sister just so happened to be in a wheelchair, and the three amigos thought for some reason that the best place for their sister to watch the match from was in the ring. Watching her gamely get out of her wheelchair and climb into the ring, only to be helped back into the wheelchair sitting in one corner was a piece of brilliance you can only hope to find on professional wrestling. As enthralling as wrestling was, watching the big guy chase the girl in the wheelchair around the ring, I couldn't help but notice the music in Bruno's begin to get amped up. Pink Floyd was replaced with some heavy metal, of a variety that well surpassed my limited knowledge (Ozzie Osbourne and one song by Motorhead) of the genre. The card game had broken up, and all the players gathered near the bar, clearly enjoying the change in ambiance. The icing on the cake was the appearance of a real live heavy metal chick, who came from somewhere in the woodwork. The music had her fired up, head banging, hair flailing. From the side and back, she was quite attractive, with her appropriately big blond hair. Upon further inspection, though, her missing front tooth, while a pleasant surprise, was a definite turnoff. She could definitely rock, though.

About that time, an old woman pushing a walker entered the bar. She chatted up the bartender and the people at the other end of the bar like a regular. We watched as she made her way around the bar and over to us. Attached to her walker was a large bag, and she pulled out a small vial from the bag and offered it to Jeff. Cologne of some variety. Looked to be homemade. The stuff couldn't be any worse than a dose of Brut, but we both declined nonetheless. Not wanting to leave her empty handed, I offered to buy her a beer. She shook her head.
'Don't need no beer, but I'll take the money.' Well played, I conceded. Good thing it was dollar draft night.

Our evening was over at that point, and the tab came. 8 bucks. Nine if you count my donation to the panhandler. Bruno's Saloon won't be tops on my list of bars to return to in the near future, but for a full evening of drinking and entertainment to boot, eight dollars is going to be hard to beat.

If you prefer shopping for your cheap cologne while rocking, or you still pine for that chick from the Whitesnake videos, check out Bruno's Saloon. Bruno's has a website!
Bruno's is located at 8501 E. Colfax in Denver. Keep your eyes peeled if you go at night.

24 May 2008

Charlie's Silver Fox

Charlie's Silver Fox Restaurant & Lounge & Mexican-Italian Food (etc, etc.) has dive written all over it. Located on a dark corner next to the Interstate and a vacant lot, one would assume that the inside would be similar: dingy, cold, and filled with up-to-no-good characters that you would assume you'd find hanging out next to the interstate and a vacant lot. The exterior of the building further fails at inspiring much confidence. It looks like a used car lot. Indeed, the first time I went, my neighbor Bryan about decided to stay in the car, but the dark parking lot of The Fox proved to be a less inviting alternative.

I was mildly shocked upon stepping inside. The well lit space was anything but menacing. Booths lined the two exterior walls, the bar was opposite the door, and tables filled the space in between. At the far end of the building was a pool table and a couple of video games. Kitch decorated the walls - old Coca Cola signs, signs for Texaco gas, and those advertising bread for 10 cents or moon pies for a nickel. It was the kind of bland, empty nostalgia you'd find decorating my mother-in-law's house. Only my mother-in-law doesn't have an inflatable Miller Light stock car hanging from the ceiling (I wish she did, it'd make being there much more palatable). The Silver Fox was looking more like grandma's garage than bad guy hideout. The crowd was fairly subdued, other than the guy who was arguing the finer points of Sake with the bartender who looked to be from somewhere in the far east, and thus was obviously an expert about such things. We bellied up to the bar and were given large mugs of draft beer for a couple bucks. After that first sip of beer, I think I overheard Bryan breathing a sigh of relief. I was maybe a bit relieved too, but also perhaps a bit disappointed.

It was only when I returned one morning for food did The Silver Fox make its mark as a notable establishment. The Fox serves Mexican and Italian food, and I typically shy away from bipartisan restaurants like this. There is a Mexican-Italian restaurant by where I used to work called Piccolo's, and the fact they would set out a basket of chips and a basket of rolls for you to munch on while waiting for your food only succeeded in leaving me confused. But for some reason I was curious about The Fox, and had to make a return for breakfast. It was only 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but it turns out that I was already late for the party. The tables were full of patrons and full of empty or partially full mugs of drink. This wasn't the 'feeling a bit naughty having a bloody mary with breaakfast' crowd, this was the 'If I am lucky, I won't pass out on the railroad tracks with my pants around my ankles, let's do another shot' crowd. There was definitely a festive air to the place, with loud conversations, music and pool games going on. A tired looking woman gave me an uncomfortable stare through glassy eyes as I moved to an empty booth. As I sat watching the scene, the waitress brought out more rounds and shots. A jukebox pumped out country and western favorites. I checked my watch. Yep, still 9 am. The waitress interrupted my pondering having a beer with breakfast instead of coffee. I asked her for some guidance. Night shift workers, she told me, from the warehouses, UPS, and US Postal facilities that were nearby. This was Friday after work for these people. Why wouldn't they? I ordered a breakfast burrito smothered in green chili, of the sausage/egg/potato variety, and a coffee. The coffee came out first and was absolute rubbish. Not even worthy calling itself coffee, despite the fact that it was a dark, hot, and liquid. The burrito came out shortly after, filling up what looked like a serving platter. I eagerly dug in. A good breakfast burrito is like the perfect storm. A combination of different parts and pieces that alone are nothing exceptional, but together create something worthy of awe. This burrito was the perfect storm. Green chili with flavor that is neither too hot nor too weak. Just the right amounts of sausage, egg, and potato so as not to overpower one or the other. Enough cheese to be lovely, but not so much as to make you want to dip chips. And a tortilla that held everything together, but other than that was only a spectator. Even the coffee became passable for a short time while I reveled. I've had breakfast burritos at fancier restaurants, at restaurants well known for their mexican cuisine, and at places all over the southwest, and The Fox's burrito remains my favorite.

To be sure, Charlie's Silver Fox can just barely be considered a dive. It's not that dirty, it is well lit, and both the finishes and waitstaff have both been updated since the 80's. That's the thing about dives. Often times there are only one or two things that really make a place an exceptionally seedy experience, and often times they are not readily apparent, like that first night at The Fox. It took a 9 a.m. drink fest, a world-class breakfast burrito, and a second visit for Charlie's Silver Fox to make my list of favorite dives.

The Fox's breakfast burrito can be had for a couple bucks. The place is closed on Sunday, so don't bother.

Silver Fox Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

03 May 2008

Denver's Friendliest Lounge

Matt is my usual wing man for excursions to questionable establishments. He possesses an even temper, can drink extraordinary amounts of beer, is a strong hand at foosball and shuffleboard, and is not afraid to wear shorts in the middle of January. He's also about twice my size and has no hair, both characteristics that might come in handy in a pinch. So Matt was an obvious choice to join me in my visit to 'Denver's Friendliest Lounge'.

I first noticed Mr. A's Lounge one day while driving home the back way from a trip to the rock climbing gym. Truth be told I was lost, down in the flats just east of the big Purina dog food plant that sits along the side of I-70. I could not help but notice a bar with a huge sign that says 'Mr. A's Lounge', and just below that 'The Friendliest Lounge in Denver!'. All I could muster was a 'wow', and made immediate plans to return.

A couple of weeks passed, and Matt and I broke free from our usual rigors for a brief night on the town. First stop: Mr. A's. You don't get much sense of security heading down to Mr. A's. It's located down a dodgy side street off Colorado Boulevard near the interstate, an area populated by warehouses, factories, rail yards, and chop shops. Not exactly Cherry Creek. Fortunately we were not deterred, as past experience told us that many of the best dives are located on the wrong side of the tracks. As we approached the door, another sign presented itself, one that I unfortunately did not see that first day when I was enamored by a place calling itself The Friendliest Lounge in Denver. This sign noted very politely that no one wearing their colors would be allowed inside. Interesting. Matt and I certainly weren't sporting our colors on this night, on the contrary, we weren't even members of any gangs that we knew of, other than maybe the Associated General Contractors of America. If that counts. We paused a beat, pondering perhaps a hasty retreat to Matt's truck, and a quick getaway to the nearest Chili's for a margarita. Our good senses prevailed however, and we stepped inside.

If you've ever seen the movie Animal House, you probably remember the scene where the boys from the Delta House end up at The Dexter Lake Club, looking for Otis Day and the Knights. That's us walking in to busy Mr. A's, though thankfully the music didn't stop. We quickly made a beeline to a corner near the bar. The place was very full this Saturday night, most people gathered around the bar that runs the length of the left side of the establishment, or sitting at tables scattered throughout. The standout feature, though, was the dance floor, situated right in the center of the action, with a small DJ booth at the far end. Around the booth gathered small group of females, jamming to the tunes.

Matt and I ordered two Coors Lights, but were told by the barmaid that they did not serve that and were given Coors heavy, in cans no less. We found a table near a rail that separated the dance floor from the seating, and occupied ourselves with some sports they were showing on a couple of crappy televisions. Before too long, we were approached by a large man that I had noticed earlier up by the bar. We were either about to be thrown out, or he was going to ask if he could dance with my date.
'Did you gentlemen order a couple Coors Lights?' He asked. We nodded, though letting him know that we were perfectly happy with our cans of Coors heavy. He set down two cans of Coors Light.
'Here you go then. Sorry about the confusion,' he said, and left us. A very nice gesture. Friendly even. Matt and I toasted our good fortune, and went back to watching crappy sports.

A short while later, we were approached by a few more of the friendly regulars, this time it was a couple of the ladies from the dance floor. They slid up next to the rail silently, like cougars. Next thing I know, Matt is headed for the dance floor. I marveled at his courage, while at the same time ruing him for leaving me alone. A second dancer leaned in close, too close. She had done herself up crazy for the evening (who wouldn't for a night out at Mr. A's?) but through all the renovations I could still make out a couple missing teeth, some serious mileage, not to mention a pretty obvious lack of sobriety. And she was probably old enough to be my mother.
'You gonna dance with me, honey?' Needless to say it didn't take me long to consider my options.
'Nah, I should really keep an eye on our table.' I responded. Didn't want to give up such prime real estate.
'Come on,' she gushed, flashing an impressive smile. 'Your friend is out dancin.'
'Thanks for the offer, but I tweaked my knee earlier today.' She sneered at me and went back to jiving with the DJ. Meanwhile, Matt was still doing his best to impersonate someone who knew how to dance. The song ended and he attempted to bail out, only to get pulled back on by his partner.

Mr. A's Lounge taught me that there sometimes is truth in advertising. All preconceived notions pointed to Mr. A's being someplace not worth venturing into, in search of dives or not. The sign out front, though told the tale, and by the time we left the bar that night, both Matt and I were sold on the fact that Mr. A's is indeed the Friendliest Lounge in Denver.

Mr. A's Lounge is located at the corner of 40th and Steele in east Denver. They serve cold beer in cans.

25 April 2008

Head Tacos

Last weekend I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico where my little brother currently resides. He took me to a restaurant called simply El Taco. It was a dumpy little joint, occupying something that looked like a run down IHOP, and populated with funny looking picnic tables. For a dollar, you could score a taco of several different varieties, one being Cabesa. I have avoided the head taco on previous occasions, but El Taco was nice enough to translate on their sign, Cabesa being translated as Beef Cheek. While that still qualifies as head, I have heard from others about beef cheek being quite nice. So I ordered one. The folks at El Taco have boiled their tacos down to the simplest form, meat and tortilla, so what I got was some shredded beef on a corn tortilla. Jazzed up with lots of gear from the well stocked salsa bar (couple varieties of green salsa, red salsa, onions and cilantro, and some tasty baked jalapenos that set my gullet on fire for the next several hours) and the head taco was not half bad. An oily meat with more flavor than plain old beef. Head on!

16 April 2008

The Acapulco

I've never actually been to Acapulco. When I picture it in my head, I think of an early 80s cruise ship port that The Love Boat stopped at in seemingly every episode. A place where B-list celebrities like Dick Van Patten and Charo roamed lines of shady t-shirt hawkers and other miscellaneous travel junk shops while sporting floral prints. I just watched because I secretly had the hots for Julie the cruise director, but that's not what's important here.

You might think that the Acapulco Restaurant is completely unrelated to any tropical island towns or The Love Boat, but you'd be wrong there. It's one of those places that you could drive past 100 times and not notice. Sitting inconspicuously on an East Colfax street corner across from an auto parts store (I realize this description could be anywhere on Colfax), you can't help but feel transported to some dirty far away port town while navigating past the guy pawning off-brand hispanic music CDs in the parking lot. That feeling continues inside, with the 12" TV hanging from the ceiling spitting out fuzzy Spanish Language programs , the counter girls that are pretty rough with their english, and the menu that is fully in Spanish. The whole place seats about six people at the countertop facing Colfax, and between the people waiting to take away their food and those sitting and eating, you'll be lucky to score a chair. I've not been in there when it wasn't crowded. There's overflow seating outside, but there's not as much ambiance.

Luckily you don't have to be a Spanish major to figure out the menu. Tortas (sandwiches) and burritos are on the menu, along with the Acapulco's shout out to its Carribean roots, the cocktail de camarones (shrimp cocktail). I once ate a fish sandwich from a street vendor in Istanbul, and my bowels were in turmoil for weeks. Since then I have sworn off shellfish and/or other fish products from disreputable sources, and a shack on East Colfax falls into that category. Most anywhere on East Colfax, for that matter.

There are only two other items on the menu, and those are the only two that you need to concern yourself with: Tacos and pupusas. In fact, Tacos y Pupusas is written rather prominently on both sides of the building, and anymore that's what I call the place. The tacos come in four varieties, azada, carnitas, lengua, and cabeza. Along with the shrimp cocktail, I also tend to steer clear of the organ meats, so the tongue (lengua) and head (cabeza) tacos are out. The azada and carnitas tacos, however, are bundles of joy. They are stuffed full of meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and come with limes, radishes, and a cup of spicy green sauce on the side. Simple and wholesome, like a good taco should be. Pupusas are equally brilliant. A pupusa is basically a flat quesadilla/pancake made of corn meal, stuffed with things like beans and cheese, and grilled up hot. They come with red sauce and a ziplock bag full of some shredded roughage reminiscent of cole slaw, only not sloppy creamy and it has some zip to it.

The last time I was in The Acapulco, the ladies in the kitchen were all wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase 'Got Pupusa?'. If you haven't, you need to. The only thing that would make The Acapulco better would be if Charo was in the back grilling up your pupusas herself.
The Acapulco is located on the corner of Yosemite and East Colfax, and is open until who knows when, as the hours aren't posted. I drove by at 11 pm the other night, and it was still cranking out food. You can score a taco for $1.75, and a Pupusa for $2.75.

Tacos Acapulco on Urbanspoon