By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
The original Brewery Bar closed right around the time I was born. What information I have about its glory days comes mainly from historical documents, Web archives and the spotty memories of its habitués. It was a beer-soaked neighborhood watering hole that took up residence in the old Tivoli brewery during the Eisenhower administration and left that honored spot while Nixon was still in office, retaining a following so loyal as to border on maniacal and gaining a Roman numeral at the new Brewery Bar II on Kalamath Street. Wayne Newton was a fan of Brew II back when he was still kicking out the jams and collecting panties on coast-to-coast tours. Three decades' worth of sports heroes that I barely recognize have slouched at its longbar.
Tracing the genealogy of this restaurant family is not unlike following the history of any human clan. The Brewery Bar was the hardworking first-generation grandfather, putting down roots in the heart of his city. When his time was drawing to an end, he sent his son -- Brew the Second -- out into the world. Brew II followed the family tradition, working hard in the shadows of the Rio Grande grain elevators, popping caps and churning out Mexican food like it was going out of style -- which, of course, it never did. And eventually, Brew II gave birth to its own offspring, Brew the Third.
Brewery Bar III -- the prettiest, brightest, smart-assed whippersnapper of the bunch -- found a home in Lone Tree, among the SUVs, McMansions and big-box retail stores of suburban sprawl. Now seven months old, Brew III is still trying to define itself, carrying the burden of the family name and fifty years of history, looking beyond the solid, working-class roots of its progenitors. It's like an immigrant story played out with burritos and beer -- an allegorical tale of ethnic exploitation, consumerism run amok, and the crippled sex lives of the modern American sports fan.
150 Kalamath St.
Denver, CO 80223
Region: Southwest Denver
Brewery Bar III
9051 East Maximus Drive, Lone Tree
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Chicken wings: $6.95
Chips and salsa: $1.50
Beef burrito: $2.50-$4.50
Chile rellenos: $4.75-$5.50
Thirty years after it made its debut on Kalamath, Brewery Bar II is now about as close as you can get to honest, unmanufactured perfection in a divey, old-guard neighborhood bar. It's small, cramped and homey and smells alternately wonderful or horrific, depending on how close you end up to the men's room and how ravenously the crowds have been wolfing down the tacos. The walls are covered with the knickknacks and chatchkes of a collective beer-drunk sports culture, the elder valuables taking on a respectable fuzz of dust, the newer additions (say, anything less than ten years old) seeming to glow in the milky light. It's the kind of hole-in-the-wall where you can expect (and deserve) an earful of abuse from the staff if you try to do something like split a check three ways during overtime in a Broncos home stand or demand that the kitchen serve your chile on the side.
Brew II is busy almost all the time, and regulars get preference, but if, regardless of your reproductive equipment, you can just hang like one of the guys -- stroll in the door, find a seat, order your drinks, order your food and settle in with no muss and no fuss -- you'll be right at home among the road crews, union lathe and plaster guys, maudlin-drunk insurance salesmen and local armchair quarterbacks. Once you get into the flow of things (and if you're a memorably good tipper), service works like relay lightning -- fast and with sharp efficiency. I tested it during a Monday lunch, and from the time I was seated until the moment my sweating Corona and plate of Brew II's trademarked Cornitos (corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef, topped with cheese, lettuce and napalm chile) hit the table, only three minutes and ten seconds had passed -- just a little more time than your average ESPN commercial break.
The menu is all "Mexican," with quotes around the word, same as it was at the original Brewery, same as it is at the new place. Everything is greasy, cheesy, hot and sloppy, only recognizable as food by those well-steeped in the gringo-Mestizo gustatory traditions of the American West or well-lubricated by drink. According to this school of cookery, there is no element of Mexican cuisine that cannot be improved by the addition of melted cheese. No ingredient that can't be wrapped in a tortilla or deep-fried, no weakness in flavor or texture that can't be bullied up with a liberal dose of the house's custom chile. In short, the food is exactly what you'd want and exactly what you'd expect if you walked in cold to Brew II tomorrow, knowing nothing about the place's menu or its history.
The chile is a red-and-green blend that's heavy on the pork, so far from the pure heat and flavor of traditional verde that comparison is impossible. It's a good measure of how far I've strayed from my Hatch-purist prejudices that I love this biracial chile without reservation. Sweet, watery, hot without being numbing, it kicks the endorphins into overdrive, then throws in that killer jolt of chile flavor right at the end to make everything it touches taste better.