Through a Glass, Darkly

A special soused report

This is where Frankie and Dino would drink, where Capote did, where Bukowski might have if only he'd had the bus fare. For going on fifty years, Bastien's has been a bastion of old-time swank; the beautiful, terrible orange carpet with its patterns like amoebas humping kept fresh, the steel and high-grade formica polished daily by a staff like tireless docents in a museum of forgotten cool. Since the day it opened on January 1, 1959, Bastien's has celebrated one era -- the golden age of the cocktail -- and one cuisine. For all these years, Bastien's has been waiting. So where have you been? -- Jason Sheehan

PS Lounge, 3416 East Colfax Avenue

The story of the PS Lounge is one of roses and Alabama Slammers. That's because Pete, just Pete, the owner for 24 years, keeps plenty of both around, doling out a flower to every lady who comes in, and trays full of the orange-tinted shots whenever he's feeling generous. Such gratuities are only part of the charm of this East Colfax staple, which has been referred to as both the crown jewel of the Colfax pub crawl and the gold standard of dive bars.

Toast of the town: Modern Drunkard's Frank 
Rich is on the job...always.
Mark Manger
Toast of the town: Modern Drunkard's Frank Rich is on the job...always.

"We're a neighborhood bar," corrects longtime manager Patrick Bevis, gesturing with his chin to the hundreds of photos pinned behind Plexiglas. They're photographs of people aged 21 to 81, Cap Hill hipsters lounging in leather booths, grisly regulars teetering on bar stools in the smoky haze, friends at the pool table in back. There's even a shot of the 1994-'95 Denver Grizzlies celebrating with the IHL Turner Cup beneath posters of Elvis and the Rat Pack.

"You know what the 'PS' stands for, right?" Patrick asks. "The Perfect Spot." -- Adam Cayton-Holland

Duffy's Shamrock, 1635 Court Place

Duffy's is there for you, morning, noon and night. It's one of the few places where you can start your day with a splash of whiskey in your morning coffee and end it with a big steak at 1 a.m.

Jay Vanausdall, a downtown waiter, considers Duffy's his "after-work bar," a place where he can make new friends, catch up with old ones or simply sit on a barstool and watch the bricks chip off the wall near the TV. "You ask any waiter, any dishwasher, any bartender in Denver, they'll tell you a story about Duffy's," he says.

Stew Ault, another downtown waiter, considers Duffy's more of a place to "meet and go." What Jay calls the two-fer (two-for-one happy hour, for the first round from 3 to 6:30 p.m. for the general public and again after 10 p.m. for the service industry), Stew calls a "sixer," because drinks are cheap even without the special.

Duffy's roots run deep. A chunk of Denver's sex history unfolded between these walls, which held a brothel and, later, a porn palace before Duffy's moved in about thirty years ago. Today the most off-color activity might be a bartender's joke or a patron like Jay calling blowout football games for what they are: "good, old-fashioned ass-whuppings." -- Luke Turf

The Cruise Room, 1600 17th Street

While club owners compete to woo fickle crowds with the most modern creature comforts and novelties (fancy an oxygen facial while lounging on an inflatable bean bag?), the Cruise Room remains Denver's most stylish house of spirits. Renovated as part of an overhaul of the Oxford Hotel -- which by the early '80s had degenerated from a turn-of-the-century luxury hotel into a veritable flophouse -- the Cruise Room is famous for lending a touch of big-city sophistication to cocktail hour. Bathed in an almost supernatural orange light, the Room's well-coiffed bartenders serve up perfect martinis, gimlets and highballs. On the jukebox, the sound is decidedly vintage, drawn from an era when Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong were the biggest names in dance music. But the place is no antique: The drinks are strong, the crowds are beautiful, and on Friday and Saturday nights, the place is packed but not obnoxious. -- Laura Bond

The Denver Detour, 551 East Colfax Avenue

The place looks like somebody's dad's den -- maybe the Brady Bunch's, or the MIA father of the Partridge Family. Dark wood-paneled walls are armored with vintage license plates, neon beer signs and mirrors; faux-stained-glass swag lamps, the bastard children of Tiffany and Miller High Life, dip drunkenly among the wobbly brass fans, dusty amateur sports trophies and dart boards.

But the Denver Detour isn't your basic shit-kickin', good-ol' boy waterin' hole. Sheila Keathley bought the bar two decades ago and transformed it from a blue-collar neighborhood country bar into a blue-collar neighborhood lesbian bar. While other Colfax taverns have gone upscale, the Detour remains an old-style saloon for longnecks, shots and bargain-priced, industrial-sized servings of bar chow.

It's also a choice spot for people-watching. While the bar faces the colorful Colfax corridor, the entrance is tucked securely out of sight, enabling patrons to get stupidly drunk and taunt blasted passersby through the window without fear of violent reprisal. -- Debra A. Myers

My Brother's Bar, 2376 15th Street

There hasn't been a sign outside My Brother's Bar since the Karagas brothers bought the joint in 1969, back when this spot was an oasis in the wilderness of the Platte Valley. It didn't need one then, and it doesn't need one now; somehow, people keep finding their way to the watering hole. In fact, drinkers have been wetting their whistles here since at least 1873, when the building first appeared in a city directory as the Highland House. That makes this Denver's oldest continually operating bar, says historian Tom Noel, and that alone is reason to drink to My Brother's Bar. But there's also the fact that Neal Cassady hung out here and that a mystery staircase still leads up to a second floor that disappeared decades ago. More substantial are My Brother's culinary offerings: those great, waxed-paper-wrapped burgers that the kitchen cooks up until after 1 a.m.; the Girl Scout cookies that are sold throughout the year. And most evenings, a genuine brother -- Jim Karagas -- is on hand to welcome you to a truly great saloon, 131 years in the making. -- Patricia Calhoun

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