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Atomic Cowboy

Back in the saddle again.

During the two-plus years I've lived in Denver, I've watched the menu at Atomic Cowboy (3237 East Colfax Avenue) transform from a one-page leaflet offering mini-corn-dog nugs and potent garlic fries to an impressive array of American-meets-Southwestern options (including some of the richest mac-and-cheese in town); I've watched Tuesday nights go from a thirty-person-deep wait list of Denver Poker Tour junkies to a sparsely populated bingo night; and I've watched the stacks of donated Connect Four, Guess Who?, Monopoly and Yahtzee games ebb and flow with varying levels of functional pieces and adequate accessories. I've received perfect service on nights when Natalie was the only waitress working, and I've been unable to get a drink on nights when servers seemed to outnumber customers. I've heard employee iPods and satellite radio stations play music for the masses, and I've been driven across the street by an onslaught of punk, hardcore and noise bands blaring from the jukebox. So, yeah, I've been to the Cowboy a few times, and I've always had mixed feelings about the bar.

Tonight is no exception. It's both my birthday and the Saturday before Halloween, which means I'm hoping to make some beautiful memories that I may not have any recollection of tomorrow morning. It also means I'm not the only asshole in a costume looking to have a good time. Not by a long shot. When my friends and I arrive, around 6 p.m., the bar is quiet. But about halfway through the baseball game, the bullshit begins when a white guy wearing all-Rockies gear starts spitting racial slurs at the flat-screen television above our booth.

"Ohhh...Kawasaki!" he screams at Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, timing it so that his ignorance hits everyone's ears as the ball hits the catcher's mitt. "Teriyaki! Teriyaki! Teriyaki!" he chants at the Japanese ace as the next batter steps to the plate. "Chop suey, kung fuey!" he squawks in his best derogatory accent. "Come on, Sushi Man!" Now, it's entirely possible that this clown — who never seems to consider the Rockies' Japanese second baseman during his little routine — is simply Colorado's most bigoted baseball fan. But I'd hate for that to be the case, so I just assume that his jersey, hat and armbands are a costume.

Once the game ends, the bar quickly fills and all hell breaks loose. Our plan has been to leave the Cowboy at some point and spend the rest of the night bouncing around the Bluebird District, but after a run through the obstacle course to the front door for a smoke and a glance at the one-in-one-out line stretching down Colfax, we realize we have a good thing going with our booth. We also have an attentive waitress who knows our drink orders. So we stay.

Running the bathroom gauntlet presents the largest problem in this crowd of oversized costumes and overserved egos. By 11 p.m., I've been pounding $3 pints of Easy Street Wheat for almost five hours, with another two hours (and a handful of shots) to go, so I'm not very polite as I weave my way across the room. But neither is anyone else. I can't count the number of sexy-angel wings that whip across my neck or the number of dicks-in-a-box I take to the groin. It's pretty much a demolition derby of cardboard and wigs and plastic props of all varieties every time we leave the immediate area of our booth. But we make do, because we have to.

As the night wears on, more friends arrive to find a massive line outside that isn't moving. Via text message, I instruct each of them to follow the wraparound patio to the Adams Street side and hop the railing, a move that works flawlessly. Once they're inside, I continue to text-guide them along the path of least resistance — veering them left past the girl dressed as a gigantic salad bar, weaving them right through Team Zissou and the building-climbing monsters from Rampage, and finally sending them around the back of the bar, between the two pool tables and directly to our booth. At least I think that's what happens; so many ounces of unfiltered wheat beer have been consumed by the time we leave the bar for good around 1:30 a.m. that I have trouble following the action. I also have a lot of mixed feelings.

But this time, they're not just about the bar.

 
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