A Federal Case

Cruising down the boulevard, Denverís avenue of schemes and dreams.

"What can we do to earn your business today?" Mike asks.

I tell him I'm not ready to buy. We head back to the sales office, where a vast sea of picnic tables loaded with crayons and coloring books -- Shagtoons, featuring Shagman and helpful advice for kids -- await the harried families with leg-clinging tykes who are just starting to filter in. I get a free hat and one more invitation to think it over from a friendly sales manager. If the Accord doesn't cut it, he says, how about a Saab? Volvo? Nissan? You name it, we got it.

For a moment, I feel like haggling. Something in me wants to snarl, "Fifty bucks never killed anyone." But for all the folksiness and inventory at Rocky's, and the absence of the dread and brain damage you can suffer at the high-pressure dealerships, I don't think I've found my ride and price quite yet. I take Mike's card and promise to return.

Strip mall: Federal is laid bare at Saturday Night Live.
Anthony Camera
Strip mall: Federal is laid bare at Saturday Night Live.
Last call: The Toad Tavern is near the end of the line.
Anthony Camera
Last call: The Toad Tavern is near the end of the line.

I get in my old car, put on the gimme hat and check the mirror.

Shagman stares back. -- Alan Prendergast

Angel's Sports Bar
1630 Federal
12:05 p.m.

"Ready for the shot?" Johnny Blaze says to Chief. Chief nods his shaved, goateed head, and the shot glasses are raised and emptied, a mixture of Tuaca and Red Bull sliding down the two buddies' throats. Blaze shifts his attention to the female bartender in the tight shirt, chatting her up in Spanish, while Chief returns to the sketchbook lying on the bar in front of him, his colored pencils shaping crowns and racing flags and flaming skulls, his mind formulating new designs for his tattoo side business.

"Damn!" exclaims Chief, looking up at the television above the bar, where the Jets and Giants are engaged in a pre-season grapple. It's the only television turned on in the cavernous establishment. All the others -- the big-screens in the adjoining Mexican restaurant, the wall of TVs stacked like bricks in the corner, the projectors aimed at white screens on the walls -- are silent and blank, since there's no one else to watch them, no one sitting in the long rows of blue vinyl booths or leaning against the pool tables or shuffling around the dance floor.

Blaze gestures toward the huge glass windows lining the back of the bar, each framing an unparalleled vista of Invesco Field at Mile High, its undulating upper bowl like a gaping mouth ready to swallow the big blue sky. He was there about a year ago, Blaze says, for the first Broncos game of the season. Great seats, too. "Dude, the cheerleaders were right there, man!" he exclaims, his voiced raised over the sound of Vicente Fernandez crooning "Mujeres Divinas" on the jukebox.

Both Blaze and Chief have the day off from their surgical-tech jobs at Saint Joseph Hospital. They may play some poker later, but they probably won't return to Angel's tonight, when the numerous screens will be blazing with the Broncos facing the Cardinals in their final pre-season game. "The bar is not cheap," says Blaze, before taking a swig from his gargantuan mug of beer. Chief concurs. "I guess I'm not a sports guy," he adds.

In the back room, Angel's co-owner Elvira Gutierrez hopes they'll reconsider. Times have been tough since she and her sister tore out the brown carpets and installed the neon Budweiser signs seven months ago, exorcising all remnants of the establishment's former life as a private club. But aside from the occasional wedding reception or quinceañera party, most of the plastic-lined tables in Angel's, which is a Mexican restaurant as well as a sports bar, have remained free of enchiladas and chiles rellenos and fajita plates, and even the Friday Old-School House Parties with DJ Big Moe have failed to draw a crowd.

And then there was that problem this summer, when Gutierrez and her sister, Maria, traced a funny smell around the back of the bar and down into a basement apartment, where they found a squatter doing meth. "He was one of those guys -- long hair, skinny, with a Metallica shirt," she says. He took off on a bicycle, leaving in his wake a basement that's still cordoned off with plastic tarps, orange tape and severe warning signs from the Denver Department of Environmental Health, plus a bar that had to close its doors for a month while the authorities determined there was no trace of contamination.

"Can you believe that happened here, across the street from Invesco Field?" asks Gutierrez. "We had to throw away all the food and everything. Staying home for a month, it was something else."

Angel's reopened two weeks ago, and she figures it's just in time, what with the Broncos kicking off their season on September 10. She fondly remembers the only game that Angel's was open for last season, the AFC Championship match against the Steelers. The contest proved to be heartbreaking for Broncos fans, but not for Gutierrez. "Oh, my God!" she says, her palm raised in emphasis. "I've never seen so many people! We were going crazy when the Broncos lost. Everyone had sad faces. But it was beautiful."

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