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The trick to making any mechanical bull your bitch is to choke up on the saddle with your knees and thighs tight against the frame, lean loosely over the rope so that your center of gravity points toward the sky when it bucks, and hold on with one hand while waving your free arm (in slap-that-ass motions) for balance. Then again, I'm wearing New Balances and a hooded sweatshirt, have toppled eight or nine MGD longnecks in just under two hours, and don't know shit about shit (I've never done this before). It shows: Though I bounce and sway for a few moderate twists and turns, I'm eventually reduced to gripping the rope with both hands and then tumbling to the air-cushioned floor like a small child being tossed from a teeter-totter. And while the growing crowd of onlookers claps and cheers politely — one guy who rides the thing for minutes at a time even gives me a high-five — I surrender my five bucks sheepishly and hobble back to my half-full beer, shamed into watching from here on.
5450 N. Valley Highway
Denver, CO 80216
Region: North Denver
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The Grizzly Rose (5450 North Valley Highway), a 40,000-square-foot saloon and dance hall with an incredible, 5,000-square-foot floating hardwood dance floor and massive live-music stage, is one of America's last true honky-tonks. Though it is as authentic as a weathered ranch hand brandishing a cattle prod and a week's worth of Western Slope dirt underneath his fingernails, at times I feel like I'm lost in the Western section of a Six Flags theme park. Maybe it's the matching wooden signs for "Outhouses" (cowboys to the left, cowgirls to the right), "Grub" (the Chuck Wagon Grill), the "Shine Parlor" (where dozens of signed glossies of everyone from John Michael Montgomery to Bucky Covington personally thank Nancy for the $5 shine) and "General Store." Maybe it's the large glass display cases featuring mannequins in Grizzly garb posing in desert landscapes, the arcade games and Toy Box machine offering chances at stuffed animals for fifty cents, the recessed, covered alleys all along the outer edge. Probably, though, it's simply the Grizzly's size. The place is immense, and utterly packed.
To truly get a feel for the people, imagine loading a ship full of pickup-drivin', square-dancin' country-Western fans, sailing it across a sea of cowboy hats and steel-tipped boots and crashing it onto the rocks of tapered, creased-down-the-middle Wrangler blue jeans. Imagine employees in Confederate-flag tank tops slinging $3 bottles from beer tubs and security guards with gigantic belt buckles and jangly keys policing the sweaty, drunken masses like sheriffs from the Wild West. Black cowboys? I see one in a span of four hours. Latinos? Plenty. Everyone seems amiable and happy, though most of the strangers I meet are behind the bar (one tender in particular remembers my tab after the first order) and in the bathroom ("Don't drink the Patrón, man: It tastes good going down, but hurts like a motherfucker in your belly!").
I don't mind country music and line dancing, though neither are my favorite, so when I'm not watching tie-down roping or poker on the flat-screens, I escape into the Tobacco Shop, a well-ventilated, closed-door area where I can both purchase and partake in my addiction. On one such visit (the band's on a break and the speakers in the main room are blaring Confederate Railroad's "Trashy Women"), I chat with a bald gentleman named Dan who couldn't be more pleased with the way his boots look after a quick shine; on another, I watch a young woman in a tattered recliner fall asleep with a lit cigarette resting on her left leg. When she finally wakes and leaves, a guard follows close behind to ensure that she makes for the exit instead of another drink. (While I witness no other security-related drama on this particular Saturday night, the recent shooting death of guard Timothy Minnick — the result of a parking-lot altercation between security and three men wearing hooded sweatshirts and bandannas over their faces — reminds me that the Grizzly is not, in fact, a theme park, and that the West can still be wild.)
The Grizzly is famous for live music six nights a week and its mechanical bull (which you can ride until you pass out for a cool $20), but roping contests on Thursdays (you can bring your own rope), Texas Hold 'Em tournaments on Tuesdays (when you can also drink unlimited draft beer from 8 to 11 p.m. for $7) and dance lessons on many other nights (everything from line to swing to two-step) keep the place teeming with folks who'd rather shoot themselves in the feet than set foot inside Coyote Ugly or Cowboy Lounge. And though I would typically rather tip my beers back in a bar that plays more than one kind of music, I will definitely be back at the Grizzly.
If only to one day make that bull my bitch.
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