By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The inebriated Young Republican smooths his bar-tousled head. Pointing woozily at one of the photos, he says, "Look! Andy Griffith and Opie! Did they come in here?"
Scotty, the bartender, grins: "As long as he don't leave Opie's side -- that's the law in here." Scotty's wearing a red Polo ballcap and the tightest jeans this side of the border, and it's easy to see why he's popular with the customers. Several gaze longingly at him, their eyes following every step as he dances back and forth behind the bar, pouring drinks, cracking jokes and flirting, never once losing his endearingly boyish perma-grin.
In fact, the Barker was decorated not by gay men, but by a straight woman, Sherrie Long, who took over the former Club Stud, cleaned up the run-down male-stripper bar and rechristened it On Broadway. A year ago she sold the spot to Patrick Vigil and Laurence Sermo, life and business partners of 23 years standing. They brought their own personal touch to the place, adding kitschy treasures from the Cluttered Closet, their vintage-furniture shop in Congress Park: classic Schwinn bicycles, Vigil's collection of 8-track tapes, his father's electric guitar. They traded the flimsy plastic patio chairs for wrought-iron furniture, installed a fountain and pond featuring live goldfish (the hardy Colorado variety, since they swim perkily in thirty-degree weather), added a deck, canopies and a grill. And then there are the dogs. Stuffed dogs, ceramic dogs, plastic dogs, wooden dogs -- dogs of every shape, size and breed that crowd the shelves behind the bar and ostensibly embody the bar's new name.
"The official story," Sermo explains, "is that it's named after our three dogs. The unofficial story is that men are dogs, you know? So years ago, when my friend Bobette and I were driving around, we'd woof out the window at cute guys. If they were good-looking, we'd say they were a 'barker.' If they were really good-looking, we'd say they were a 'barker-lounger,' because you just wanted to lounge all over them! So when we had our grand opening, people asked what the name of the bar was. It had to be the Barker Lounge." And not just a Barker, but a "stray" bar. "It's a comfortable place to come and chat," says Sermo. "The clientele shifts. During the day it's mostly gay, but at night it's a mix -- everything from realtors to cross-dressers to engaged couples."
The star of the Barker is a six-inch-tall plastic dog named Butch that the couple picked up at a dollar store. One day Butch mysteriously disappeared; a Barker regular later told Sermo he'd spotted the pooch at a bar down the street. Butch eventually found his way back home, but he was a changed dog, now sporting a Mohawk, tattoos and a pierced nose. He brought with him a souvenir of his time away: a photo album filled with pictures and poems illustrating his tour of the Denver GLBT bar scene. The last entries show Butch at the Compound with an affectionate new friend, alongside this caption: "I heard they called this place the Dogpound, so I had to check it out. I was the only dog there, so what was that all about? I had a few beers and a cigarette or two -- I hung out in the restroom 'cause they said that was the thing to do. When I came out, I met this really nice guy, who shared with me a beer and was not very shy. I thought I was ready for my first one-night stand, but we knew it wouldn't work because he was a man. So back to my bitches, that's what I enjoy the most, and back to the Barker Lounge and returned to my post."
Welcome home, Butch. Now go, and stray no more. -- Debra A. Myers
9 p.m.: Gunslingers Saloon, 6 East 70th Avenue
Sean and two gal pals sit underneath a stained-glass light fixture that bears the Michelob logo. Tonight the three are celebrating their single status. To mark the occasion, Sean has ordered up another Coors Light for himself and three shots of Patron -- not exactly a blend of tequila you'd expect to find at a neighborhood joint like this.
Seated just a few tables away is a group of well-groomed office workers, laughing and carrying on. If Patron seems out of place here, this white-collar bunch sticks out like Shaquille O'Neal at a Tokyo swap meet. Gunslingers, nestled just below Mickey's Top Sirloin, is blue-collar to the bone. If there's any doubt, one look at the "Proud to Be Union" stickers hanging on the wall next to the American flag tells you that these folks work for their money.
A cluster of old-timers perched on stools chat among themselves, creating an unspoken boozer hierarchy. An older lady tending bar pulls singles out of a primitive-looking cash register and slides someone's change across the polished oak.
In a dimly lit room on the other side of the bar, an older man and woman in hospital scrubs carry on a heated discussions under the low-hanging, popcorn-textured ceiling. This space is cozy, with the look and feel of a bar in somebody's basement. The green walls are matched by an industrial-grade carpet; the neon beer signs in the windows are obscured by curtains with a wilderness pattern lifted straight from the pages of a Cabela's catalogue.