By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
What's with cash-only establishments and their insincere apologies? "We don't take credit cards," read the signs. "Sorry for any inconvenience." But is anyone on the other end of the cash register or profit-and-loss statement really sorry? If these places were more honest, wouldn't their signs read: "Welcome to (Name), where we pass the fees on to our customers. We're currently only sorry for not feeling bad"?
Needless to say, my first impression of the Vine Street Pub (1700 Vine Street) is not a good one. Besides the no-plastic policy, the wait, we're told just after 9:30 p.m., is 45 minutes. "Ugh," I exhale audibly, to which the hostess smiles sympathetically, as if to say, "We just opened, and people are excited to be here. Don't be sour." But I am not in the mood to make lemonade. I am in the mood for beer, and I'm just about to suggest that we go find it elsewhere when manna falls from the owner's mouth: "Free beer while you wait, folks. Just see the hostess." And we do: We see her three or four times for eight-ounce glasses of Left Hand Haystack Wheat before we decide to meander over to the bar and start paying for pints.
Unlike the rotating cast of restaurants that have occupied this address, Vine Street is not set up for standing in the bar area (if you can call it that). As a result, we hover between a pillar and a bunch of people sitting on stools and consider our drink options: no liquor, for starters, and despite 21 taps of draft beer, not one macrobrew. Just when we start to seriously wonder what kind of alternate carpeted universe we've wandered into (and again begin to consider wandering out), the hostess comes over and leads us to a corner booth with a perfect view of the entire room. From here we take note of the pub's other quirks: no televisions, touch-screen games or jukebox, and no standardized server sections, either. I knew before coming in that Vine Street is kin to the Mountain Sun and Southern Sun pubs and breweries out of Boulder, which means that servers and line cooks and managers and hosts all trade duties depending on the week. This seemed cool enough in concept, but when our first three drink and food orders are taken by different smiling servers, who then all record the items on a large industry ticket that stays at the end of the table all night, I begin to question whether this open-server system will work.
1700 Vine St.
Denver, CO 80206
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Central Denver
Eventually, however, I stop doubting and just soak in the positive energy of the place. It helps that from 10 p.m. to close everything on draught goes on $2.50 special; that when I accidentally order Dominic a wheat beer (he's allergic) and casually mention it to a server, the drink is not only comped despite our protests ("We'll drink it!" we tell him), but the manager comes by twice to make sure everyone is okay; that the server we see most often is an almost ferociously friendly fellow who chats with us about how inviting the two patios will be all summer and offers to get someone else to help Maggie choose a glass of wine after admitting he's "more of a beer guy." We get so chummy with this dude whose name we never catch that after four or five $2.50 pints, we ask him whether this too-good-to-be-true special will continue forever. He blushes a little: "We've kind of been eating our hat on that one," he says, before conceding that the five Mountain Sun brews — which have names like Colorado Kind Ale and Cleveland Brown Ale — will definitely stay that price, but probably not the guest microbrews. We also ask about the closing time — currently advertised as 1 a.m. — and he tells us that if the patio is packed or the bar is wall-to-wall, it will definitely stay open.
When the dinner rush is well over (the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.), I notice a placard on the hostess counter that says "Please seat yourself at a clean table," and we take this as a cue to grab our ticket and move from our cramped corner booth to a long wooden picnic table in the middle of the room. More friends have arrived, and while employees have been gracious as we've requested more chairs, we need to spread out some. As soon as we're settled, I hit the head — and miss quite a spectacle. While I'm away, all fifteen or twenty Vine Street employees gather behind the bar, throw air cheers with their eight-ounce beers (though some have water), let out an amazing yelp, and chug. When I hear about this, it strikes me as adorable, as does the owner's golden retriever, which attracts quite a crowd of baby-talkers and gawkers when it jumps up from behind the bar and then makes table-to-table rounds.
Much earlier in the night, when Dominic first arrived and couldn't find us, he texted: "You guys here? This doesn't seem like a Bixby-type place." "It's not," I might have responded had he not found us within seconds of sending, citing the easy-listening Stevie Wonder-meets-Michael Jackson-meets-George Michael soundtrack as one reason, the jokey, weed-slang beer titles or the slightly tie-dyed, Colorado-Pass-clipped-to-the-pocket clientele as others. But three hours and somewhere near a dozen high-alcohol-content beers later, I feel nothing but good vibrations about the place.
Even if I have to use the ATM and eat the fees to cover the $100 tab.