26 November 2011

The Lakewood Grill

Some dives are so altogether confused and dismal that they simply throw the kitchen sink at you in the hopes of getting something right.  Such is the case with one little west Colfax beauty, The Lakewood Grill, and its dizzying array of amenities that include a couple of shabby (no doubt) apartments.  To follow is my buddy and dive-kick Matt's investigation.

The combination of the vintage neon sign and Colfax Avenue location drew me in like a mosquito to a bug zapper. Upon closer inspection additional signs advertising karaoke and happy hours (plural) lets you know that this is a place that proudly serves PBR and Rolling Rock.
More than one?  Why not?

Lakewood Grill has the dubious honor of holding the oldest liquor license in Lakewood (1952), so this place has some history. There is something nostalgic about having a drink at a place that cut its teeth when Johnny Cash was releasing his first album “Johnny Cash and His Hot and Blue Guitar”.

Since its start in the 1950’s the grill added a “Sports Annex” to the building which, despite sounding like it might hold a regional NCAA final four match, or a nice squash court at the very least, is only home to a couple obligatory pool tables and a pinball machine. The menu boasts breakfast anytime and the breakfast burrito I had for dinner was tasty and a good value.
If they're going to serve
breakfast anytime, you may as
well have breakfast anytime.
On my way out my interest was piqued by the three upstairs Lakewood Grill apartments. Are these for the bar staff or raffled off to loyal patrons? One is left to wonder. So next time you are on West Colfax and need a beer, breakfast, apartment or just want to practice the Japanese art of karaoke stop by the Lakewood Grill.

The Lakewood Grill's one stop shopping can be found at 8100 West Colfax Avenue in... Lakewood. 

Win Stuff! No One Did

In my world, free stuff is fantastic.  Unfortunately last month a big pile of really nice free stuff went the way of lost socks and Nigerian millions, as the free tickets I had to the tasty food and drink event put on by 5280 magazine went unclaimed.  For my next contest, I am setting the bar higher, and aiming to actually give something away to the winner.

Thank you to Dr. Faustus and liz for the entries, but next time leave me a way to contact you!

07 October 2011

Win Stuff! The First Ever Denver Dives Reader Dive-Off

So I've been offered two tickets to 5280 Dines, an event intended to celebrate the recent publication of 5280's annual 25 Best Restaurants issue.  It looks to be quite fancy - free fancy food, a few drinks (or several), and maybe even be a chance to cuddle with some of Denver's favorite wannabe cheflebrities.  Maybe it's because of my heavy rep in the world of dives that I don't want to sully, maybe it's the fact that I am currently on assignment outside of the country, insert whatever excuse you want here, I cannot attend.  So I figured it was time for another dive-off!  And this time it will be  a very special dive-off, one driven by you, fair reader, and one with prizes.  The rules will be real simple.  Whoever leaves the best comment about their favorite or least favorite (and why!) dive, most dangerous place in Denver, or story about that time your sandwich came with pubes, will win the pair of tickets.  Just make sure to get your comment in by noon on Monday, as the event is on Wednesday night at 6 pm, and that it is about Denver.

Dive away!

31 July 2011

The Mozart Lounge

Ahhh, Mozart.  Is there a more well known classical composer in the world than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?  With the possible exception of that guy Beethoven or Charlie Brown's buddy Schroeder, probably not.  Just saying the name Mozart induces seductive thoughts back to my days spent wandering the streets of Vienna and Salzburg, places where you can almost hear classical music floating through the streets and imagine the residents waltzing during their lunch hour.  Being in Austria makes it easy to buy into the fairy tale, and our man Wolfgang is a big part of the fairy tale.  Mozart is the epitome of the boy prodigy, of classical music, and of.... the dive bar.  

'Preposterous!' you might be saying.  'How dare you compare a legend in music, a titan amongst composers, to The Mozart Lounge'.  Fear not, good readers, for although the towering grandeur of Europe's concert halls, the wig-clad crowds of nobility, and the majesty of Mozart's magical hymns seem to be 250 years and unlimited amounts of class away from a shady lounge sitting just off Colfax and populated by local yokels, by the end of this dive libretto you'll agree (or you won't, more probably) that the relations are there, and that the Mozart Lounge is as prolific amongst Denver's dives as Don Giovanni was with the ladies.  We'll be looking at the Mozarts through the lens of their greatest hits, so roll out your picnic blanket, grab a bottle of cheap wine and a pair of powerful glasses, and get ready for the Overture.

Symphony #1, aptly named because it was Mozart's first symphony, was written by our man at the age of 8 while in London. (I'm pretty sure that when I was 8 the best thing I had going for me was that I could run faster than the girls on the playground.  Alas, my youth was apparently wasted, but that's why one has kids, no?  Both of mine are learning their flats and sharps starting tomorrow).  Mozart the boy prodigy and his art were ageless, as was the maestro of music at the Lounge the night we were in house.  The white guy spinning R&B tunes for those wanting to get down on the dance floor was easily pushing 70, and easily the coolest guy in the place.  Music is a large part of the experience at The Lounge, which is very apropo.

The Magic Flute is one of Mozart's most lasting operatic pieces, and to this day is being reproduced all over the world.  It's about a handsome dude named Tamino who, in the course of running from a scary snake, ends up getting tangled up in a strange quest to find a girl named Pamina because he's been told that she's sexy and available.  It further involves the Queen of the Night and her entourage, a guy named Papageno, who at one point has a padlock keeping his mouth shut, and a slew of magical musical instruments.  The Magic Flute is lovely, but at the same time fairly confusing, which is also happens to be a good description of the beer service situation at The Lounge.  Beer typically comes in a container too big to be a mug, but too small to be a pitcher.  It is a stein almost, only plastic, and it leaves one with the question, do I drink straight out of this, or do I pour into another glass, and would anyone here give a damn either way?  As I said, lovely problem to have, yet a bit curious when it is first presented.  (Hint:  just drink it) 

The Requiem Mass in D Minor, arguably Mozart's greatest work, was unfinished at the time of his passing, oddly fitting and slightly ironic for a piece dedicated to death.  It's ominous and dark, a crescendo leading your decent into the depths, which is similar to the feeling one could get when watching the televisions hanging over the bar at The Lounge.  Not the one showing the Rockies getting stomped again, as that should be accompanied by something very different than a death symphony, more so something akin to 'I Don't Care Anymore' by Phil Collins (back when Phil Collins was semi-respectable).  I am referring to the other tv, where you can watch live security video of your car in the parking lot getting jacked - now that calls for something dark playing in the background.

Mozart died at the age of 35 after being ill with an unknown malady for several months.  It was said that during his illness, some of his moments of greatest solace where when learning of the successes of his last projects like The Magic Flute.  Perhaps wherever he is now, Mozart gets satisfaction from the continued reverence of his works.  While The Mozart Lounge may not be the part of his legacy that Wolfgang's most proud of, I hope at the very least someone up there has made for him a t-shirt emblazoned with 'I wrote over 600 of the greatest classical works ever, and all I've got to show for it is a frickin dive bar'.  Wolfgang my friend, you'll be happy to know that it is a good one.  

The Mozart Lounge is located at 1417 Krameria Street, just off Colfax.  You cannot miss the sign - it's a classic.

Sonsabitches don't realize I've got LoJack

30 April 2011

The Dive Manifesto

Recently I had the unfortunate opportunity to drive across Nebraska with my family.  No disrespect to Nebraska, of course.  Between the country and western on the radio we heard an advertisement for a local bar that proudly listed a $3.50 beer bong as one of its Wednesday night specials.  My wife turned to me and said 'Wow, that place sounds like quite the dive'.  Initially I agreed.  What kind of self respecting awesome establishment outside of Daytona Beach offers up beer bongs?  After pondering this for a bit, though, and I-80 in Nebraska is kind enough to offer lots of opportunity to ponder (State of Nebraska Motto Idea:  Nebraska: Land of Too Much Time on Your Hands), I changed my mind.  Does the sale of beer bongs alone make a place a dive?  What really does constitute a dive?

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a dive is a 'shabby or disreputable establishment (as a bar or nightclub)'.  That leaves quite a lot up to interpretation, and doesn't quite scratch the surface of what can be a complicated categorization.  I've had many a time when someone said to me, 'This place is a pretty good dive', only to have me not agree due to some disqualifying factor.

To follow is a completely unscientific (to be fair, a scientific study of dives would be missing the point completely) review of what many long nights on the backstreets of Denver have taught me about dives, which will hopefully shed some light on a dark topic.  This will be split up into three acts:  Act I - Some things I know to be true; Act II - Some clues to look for; and Act III - The vast gray areas.  Here we go!

Act I.  Some things I know to be true:
1.  Dives are not limited to drinking establishments.  Sorry Merri, it's just not so.  As I have portrayed in my blog, you can find equally diveish environs at a restaurant, or anywhere else (fleabags, no doubt) for that matter.
2.  Serving Pabst Blue Ribbon is not a requirement.  Several sites or blogs online will have you believe that having PBR makes an establishment's case for being a dive.  PBR being the poster beer for Fro-Dives all over this great land disqualifies it completely from having anything to do with real dives.
C.  Just as you cannot open a factory to crank out classic cars or worn out leather sofas that suck you in to their broken-in comfort, a dive cannot be created.  Dives are like luxury goods - the story and the pedigree matters.  Have you heard of Dive on Fifteenth?  Of course you haven't - it was a brand spanking new 'dive' that closed after about 3 months of troubled and confused life.  Serving PBR in a can and providing a foosball table dost not a dive bar make.
4.  If it's got 'dive' in the name, it's not.
5.  If it has won some sort of award for being a great dive, it's probably not.  Real dives don't want awards, much less win them.  Though The PS Lounge is an exception that helps prove the rule.

Dive food doesn't have to be dodgy.  But it should find its way onto yellowing photograph menus.
Act II.  Some things to look for as clues.  Each not enough to make a place a dive on its own, but each certainly helps:
-No credit!  Cash only!
-Trough urinals.
-Bullshit on tv.
-Crappy wood paneling.
-That one odd dude, sitting by himself, getting smashed.
-A wall menu consisting of photographs of the food that someone's uncle took in 1985.  Asian restaurants are the real pioneers in this area.

Act III.  The gray area:
-Bad food.  Pure opinion.  While I may think that the steaks at Elways suck, that doesn't make the place a dive.  Crown Burger is a little dive of a hamburger joint, and it serves up a tasty burger with delicious, yet mysterious, special sauce.
-Good music/jukebox. 
-A little filth.
-Unfriendly:  Could be.  Wolf's Motor Inn was a fairly ominous joint.  Definitely doesn't have to be.  See Mr. A's, Denver's Friendliest Lounge.
-Hipsters.  Hipsters deserve their own discussion, so I won't give a detailed analysis of why they suck and why they are cool.  Just be on the lookout, and don't jump to conclusions.

So what's a dive?  In the end, there isn't really a scorecard you can tally up to qualify a place as a dive or not.  Maybe that's why the term gets bandied about so frivolously as it does.  Hopefully, however, this piece will help give things a little perspective.  Perhaps you can just put dives down as places you go when you want something different;  a different feel, a different time, a different crowd... you name it.

Anything I missed?  Discuss.

24 April 2011

The Best Dive Bar in Denver, According to Someone Else

What does it mean to be the best dive bar?  Does that mean it didn't suck as bad as it could have?  Or maybe that it is so seedy that the bums are looking uncomfortable?  Its like saying 'yeah, that was the best hernia I ever got'.  Even though I was a bit confused, I did take a moment to read the recent online article from Westword, proclaiming the Denver's best dive bar in 2011 to be The Kentucky Inn.  I'd love to be able to lambast Westword about their choice, but have to admit that the Kentucky Inn is not one that I've had the pleasure of enjoying.

It must be dive bar season at Westword, because they followed up with another article about the Five Best Dive Bars in Denver (actually 4 plus the Kentucky; I guess just naming the best one wasn't enough), and this post that attempted to digest the reader comments Westword received from people arguing about why the Westword picks were junk, and what constitutes a dive in the first place.  I am not 100% sure why I am regurgitating all of Westword's work, maybe I am just lazy and feel like posting other peoples crap instead of my own.  Actually I do have a point, which goes back to the Westword comment board: To start a discussion about the age-old question that needs to be answered before anyone can put their claim on knowing what's best:  What is a dive?  Just a joint that could use a good cleaning?  A place in a rough neighborhood?  Is it limited to bars?  And what does PBR have to do with it?  All these questions and more will be answered in my next post - The Dive Manifesto.  Stay tuned. 

19 February 2011

Club 404 Lounge

Club 404

Club 404 Restaurant and Lounge has been shuffling Denver south siders through its doors on South Broadway for ages.  It was SOBO before there was a SOBO.  The sign outside is one of those classic roadside antiquities that you might find in a museum somewhere or in a sign graveyard in the desert outside Las Vegas.  It acts as a perfect dive bar marker:  decrepit enough to make casuals move on by to the fancy Hornets and such down the street, but showing enough dated class to give an inkling that it might be worthwhile stopping.

I am not sure why, but walking into the 404 I felt like I was stepping on board a 1970’s pleasure cruise.  There was entertainment on one side of the boat in the form of some comedian, and I am sure there was a shag-covered keyboard over there somewhere as well; T-bones were on special in the restaurant for the blue hairs, the bar was filled with patrons you could easily characterize as scallywags, and to get to the bathroom you had to walk through the galley.  Bartenders served up on the cheap from behind the sexy vinyl covered bar (And not only the bar is covered in vinyl, the entire ceiling is covered in vinyl.  I imagine that in one of the back rooms they have a massive stash of Liquid Leather, just to keep the place together) that is backed by a glorious ancient wooden back bar that has a patina coming from many a hard voyage.  It provides the perfect spot to kick off your topsiders and get a drink with an umbrella.  Of course if you do show up in topsiders and start ordering PiƱa Coladas, your fellow patrons may choose to pick a fight with you, as they did when I was there (luckily they were arguing with each other and not with me, since even though I may be able to swear like a sailor I cannot fight like one), so keep your wits about you and be ready to disembark at the next port of call if necessary.

The Club 404 Lounge sets sail daily from 404 South Broadway.

Club Four-O-Four on Urbanspoon

11 February 2011

The Sports Station Redux

My relationship with dives is kind of like the relationship I have with my kids.  Having that first breakfast burrito at Charlie's Silver Fox is not entirely unlike the joy of watching my boy ride his bike for the first time.  Sometimes they both can be a source of happy surprises (like getting a free beer at Mr. A's).  Sometimes they give you indigestion (a $1.10 scoop from Little Panda, with aplomb), or worse, just plain make you sick.  Each also can disappoint: this week The Sports Station made me feel like I just found poop on the bathroom floor.  I have visited The Station before, and found it to be an enjoyable stop.  It was a nice mix of worthless barroom banter, crap on tv, and an amenable owner who is more than happy to sit at the bar with you and blow that evening's take on drinks for himself.  So you can imagine my chagrin upon hearing that there was a shooting there recently.  Here's what a semi-reputable news source had to say earlier this week.

This just goes to show that you don't need to hop a plane for some exotic locale or find a lonely stretch of trail up in the mountains in the search for adventure.  Just head down to your local dive and watch what happens.  

08 January 2011

Bar Bar

One of the best dive bars in Denver is happy enough without you.  It can be found surrounded by parking lots on a desolate spit of no mans land, in an area bungled by Broadway shooting straight southward across the jacked up diagonal grid of downtown Denver's streets.  It's not exactly right around the corner from anything, or super convenient to anyone.  The sign hanging over the door simply says 'Bar', giving away nothing and giving you no reason to assume that it is anything out of the ordinary.  You have to want to go to Bar Bar.  And one night we did, and we were not disappointed.

I stole this picture from Westword.
The Carioca Cafe, as Bar Bar is known to the tax collector, accosts you (probably literally, on some nights) with reasons to not bother and move on.  First and foremost is the clientele.  I would put them a step down from the welcome wagon or a friendly neighbor bearing cookies.  You might find, as we did, a gentleman wandering around on the sidewalk, and sometimes in the street, outside the bar between drinks.  His surly looks did not really scream 'welcome!'.

Bar Bar goes one step further to discourage one from spoiling its dive bar riches - it kicks you right out on to the street, as happened to the fellow sitting next to us at the bar.  He must not have appreciated the effort made by Bar Bar to keep the place cool by strategically placing dangerous looking box fans around the room.  Or perhaps he got greedy and tried to grab get an extra cigarette out of the coffee cup where Bar Bar had them on offer 3 for a dollar.  A very nice amenity and fairly priced, by the way, and I don't even smoke.  The poor guy could have tried to pay with a credit card as well, which is disallowed.  A handwritten sign attempted to make it obvious that cash is king at Bar Bar, but the sign obviously failed.  Whatever it was that got him booted (probably the fact that he had a hard time staying upright in his stool and was yelling in the direction of the barman) I felt for the guy.  We were enjoying the hell out of Bar Bar.  Its general disrepair and pictures of people we didn't know that covered every square inch of the dingy walls were somehow comfortable and familiar, and the three beers and three beers only on tap (Bud Light, Bud Heavy, and PBR, in case you were wondering) spare you the trouble of decisions, making it easy to get into a zone and spend some time pondering.  Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got, know what I mean?  Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.  Bar Bar isn't the place where everybody knows your name, though, it's the place where nobody knows your name, no one cares, and sometimes that's a good thing.

On the way back to our car, I noticed that there was graffiti on the side of the building, adjacent to the parking lot.  It was nothing too elaborate, only one word actually: 'Sloshed', which I thought summed up Bar Bar pretty well.

Bar Bar is located at 2060 Champa.  Go find it.