30 April 2010

Fleabag of the Week: Motel 9

Before I-70 came steaming through Denver in the 60's, Colfax was the main east-west thoroughfare through town, and as such many ancient road side motels can be found along the route.  I find these relics of Colfax's past life to be extremely interesting, with their unique neon signs that - when working - light up the blackness of Colfax, and with names like the Sand and Sage and Circle-K, the motels of Colfax have got charm beyond the fact that most have deteriorated to the point where they have qualified for inclusion on a blog about Denver's dives.  They provide a glimpse at what Denver and Colfax once were, and probably never will be again.  To commemorate these bastions of Colfax ambiance, I present a new segment of the Denver Dives blog that will run from time to time that I am calling Fleabag of the Week. It'll be more of a photo montage, to the best of my limited photographic ability, than the usual dive chronicles, but will definitely include bits of useless snarky commentary.                      
First edition: Motel 9.

I always go for a motel room with the mirco and frig included.

The Russian style N is key.


Maybe they should try something like 'Motel 9: We're better by 3 than Motel 6'
Lots of signage at the Motel 9.  Someone want to run by there at 10 pm tonight to check if the gate is closed?

The area between the back of the motel and the fence has been designated a drugs free zone.

Convenience is, being able to throw stuff that you don't want outside the door.

23 April 2010

Hangar Bar

Several years back, I was on a European vacation that included 12 hours in Paris.  We attempted to go to the Louvre, but the line to get in was too long so we waffled and moved on to score a croissant filled with horse meat.  Like most people, we were going to the Louvre for one reason, other than to be able to say that we'd been to the Louvre:  to see Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.  Sure, the Louvre has heaps of other stuff, and surely some fabulous art by one of the other Ninja Turtles, but I challenge you to name something you are jazzed up to go see at the Louvre.  It's just a fact that there are places that you go to for one thing and one thing only.  The Hangar Bar is one of those places.

Despite the marketing, you don't go to the Hangar Bar looking to score.

Neither do you go to the Hangar Bar for the music on Saturday nights, though you probably could.  Hangar Bar regularly has live blues and no cover on Saturday nights, and in my experience the music is pretty solid and brings out a decent crowd.

You also don't go to the Hangar Bar for the great food.  They do have food, but it is the type of fare that doesn't become remotely interesting until about 12:30 a.m. after a few cans of whatever.  Think back to stuff you might eat while sitting around your dorm room drinking Mad Dog 20/20 and watching Jeopardy (those were better days, simpler times, weren't they?).  Bag of chips?  You bet.  Meat stick?  A taste sensation.  Hot dog warmed up in the micro on white bread?  I'll take two, with mustard please.

You go to The Hangar Bar strictly for the decor, and one single piece of decor to be specific: The Beer Can Bomber.  You heard me right.  The Beer Can Bomber, an airplane made of beer cans.  

And not just any beer cans.  It's a veritable wrecking crew, an all star lineup of low grade beers represented, in the original vintage cans.  You've got those beers that are still hanging around like Blatz, Schmidt, PBR, and Hamm's, and other older hall of fame options like Rainier, Special Export, and Schafer.  

The aerodynamic aluminum pull tabbed beauty hangs over the bar as if it were coming in for a landing on top of one of the pool tables.  It dominates the landscape such that regardless of anything else that is going on in the bar, my eyes never stray very far from the lightly swaying beer cans, always making possible a comment along the lines of 'Holy crap, is that a can of Billy Beer?'     

Maybe someday I'll make it back to the City of Lights and gaze into the eyes of the Mona Lisa.  Until then, I'll make due with the City of Dives and its own artistic treasures like airplanes made of beer cans.  The best part?  I won't have to stand in line.

The Hangar Bar is located at 8001 E. Colfax, and has a website which lists its specials.  If you can't get to the Louvre any time soon either, settle for the Beer Can Bomber... you'll be happy you did.

This one is like Where's Waldo, only fun and it involves beer instead of a dude in a red shirt.

Hop'n Gator? I'll bet it's fantastic with a steamin bowl of gumbo.

Everyone is welcome at this club.

15 April 2010

Little Panda Chinese Food


There is something not right about food by the scoop.  Food by the pound like you’d get at some salad bar joints doesn’t bother me, but food by the scoop is odd.  I feed my dog a couple scoops of food each day and she doesn’t seem to mind it, so maybe I shouldn’t either.  On the other hand, I once caught her getting after one of my son’s pooped up diapers, so using her as an example might be the wrong choice.  Whatever your opinion of food by the scoop, be ready for it and some other interesting bits if you are willing to venture into the Little Panda. 

The restaurant itself has a lot of character, mainly because it has no character.   The most defining characteristic is the $1 scoop sign outside featuring the namesake little panda looking happy enough despite being exploited in the name of a greasy restaurant with lousy food.  

Poor sucker.

A coat of paint would help out on the outside, but would do nothing to draw attention away from the drive through window that is currently boarded up.  Inside, crappy wood paneling (a dive staple) adorns the non-descript interior that is little more than the buffet of food and a bunch of tables.  There wasn’t even a menu with questionable pictures of food on it, which was a big let down.  I did notice two security cameras, one pointing at the food, that were ensuring the security of who knows what.  Maybe ensuring you didn’t plate an extra $1 scoop when the scoop lady wasn’t looking?  The window next to my table had what appeared to be a bullet hole and some greasy hand/face prints – always a nice touch and something to ponder while choking down some fried rice.  And as for the bathrooms, don't be fooled by the three containers of bleach (sitting on top of a pile of miscellaneous restaurant related debris) in the dark hallway leading up to them.  Hold it if possible.

From what I could tell, the Little Panda is a two-person operation:  one guy in the kitchen schlepping the food, and the scoop lady tending the buffet and taking your cash.  The buffet contained all of the Chinese classics we Americans know and love - sweet and sour stuff, egg rolls, beef and broccoli, fried rice, etc. – and some we don’t – ie. the ominous looking whole fried fishes.  I am not sure how you'd manage a scoop of whole fried fish anyways.  I decided on the fried rice, sesame chicken, and some beef and broccoli.  Total price for a debilitatingly large container of food = $3.57.

Let’s consider the scoop pricing arrangement for a second.  While at first glance the sign along the road draws you in with the $1 scoops, a sign on the door told a different tale: ‘Due to the rising cost of water, heat, gas, electricity, food, and cleaning products, food will now be priced at $1.10 a scoop’ (ok, I added the bit about the cleaning products).  Greed knows no boundaries, apparently.  My three-course extravaganza ran $3.57, so in actuality we are talking about $1.19 per scoop.  Stay with me.  Watching the scoop lady running the line, quite efficiently I might add, I noted that with each food selection I received three scoops, for a total of nine.  This brings the per scoop price to somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 cents each.  What does all this mean?  Absolutely nothing, other than the fact that this is some cheap shit.  

And apparently cheap food is a draw of intercontinental proportions.  At 2:30 in the afternoon on a Monday, Little Panda enthusiasts were lined up to the door awaiting their scoops of joy.  Those in line were a pretty extraordinary cross section of society: young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, hip-hoppers playing loud music on their cell phones, and dudes dressed all in black and sporting exciting tattoos.  A smorgasbord at the smorgasbord, if you will.  I challenge Colt & Gray to bring this kind of crowd in with their pomp and circumstance.  Hopefully they weren’t all getting the beef and broccoli, though.  The broccoli was fine, actually surprisingly well cooked, but the beef was mysterious.  I don’t think it was actually beef, but I did not venture to ask.  The fried rice was lifeless.  It was certainly cooked rice, but aside from the pea and carrot mixture the chef threw in there it could just have easily been greasy plain white.  Even my mundane glass of water had to be set aside due to the fact that it was shimmering like an oil slick.  The sesame chicken, however, saved my $3.57 from being a complete loss.  It was true to cheap Chinese food form, one of those chewy breaded little morsels of meat covered in glistening sauce that tastes just about right, and what you would expect - a bit gingery, a little garlicky, and just a kiss of the MSG.  Not too shabby at all.

The Little Panda is lousy on almost all counts, a dive of epic proportions that serves epic portions.  Take it for what it's worth though.  If you're in the mood for heaps of low-grade Chinese food for uber-cheap, with some interesting people watching thrown in, this place is for you.  Just don't touch anything. 

The Little Panda Express is located at 523 Havana in Aurora.  You wouldn't know it flying by on Havana, but the Panda doesn't lie about the scoop pricing.

Little Panda Express on Urbanspoon