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.