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I'm locking my scooter to a street sign outside Rosa Mia Inn (4395 Yates Street) when the tiny tavern's only patron pops out for a smoke. "You don't need to do that," she informs me. "Everyone in this neighborhood knows each other; no one's going to take it." She proceeds to tell stories of bicycles left leaning against the bar's brick wall and various other vehicles unlocked for hours at a time while the owners were inside. I believe her, but my last ride was ripped off in broad daylight downtown, so I'm not taking any chances.
Opened in 1966 as an Italian hangout for the West Highland and Berkeley neighborhoods, Rosa Mia originally catered to employees of both Lakeside Amusement Park and the original Elitch Gardens. But with Elitch's now in the Platte Valley and Lakeside only open in the summer (and run predominantly by teenagers), business on the corner of 44th and Yates just isn't the same. Still, if you visit in the morning — doors open at 8 a.m. every day — you'll be served by 91-year-old Julie, who has operated the joint for all of its forty-plus years (she owned it with her sister, who has passed away). If you visit on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday, Julie will be joined by 88-year-old Kathy, both of them sitting at the far end of the bar, "both of 'em still feisty," according to tonight's bartendress, Sher. As proof, Sher points to a large brown jug on the back counter with a yellow plastic funnel duct-taped to the top, colorful Mardi Gras beads draped all around. "That's Julie's Cuss Bucket," I'm told: Foul mouths pay fifty cents or find somewhere else to drink.
Mounted on the wall to the left of the Cuss Bucket is a pastel-green rotary phone; directly above is a massive vintage Budweiser Clydesdale wagon scene encased in wood and glass. Photographs dating back to the turn of the last century are taped and lacquered to beveled squares of wood hanging on either side of the Clydesdales. On the counter sit a box of Inglenook red wine; an assortment of handles of booze, each with a neon sticker bearing the price per drink; various snack-sized bags of chips, nuts and over-the-counter medications; and an old-school Menumaster Micro-Popper, which doles out popcorn for $1.25. Coffee's on in the corner. My favorite quirk — besides, maybe, the buck's head between the bathrooms or the single sink and mirror in the main room — has to be the Rosa Mia Open plaque that stops with the 2006 winners, despite the annual golf tournament's continuance. When I wrongly assume the Open is closed, Sher tells me that the guy who did the engraving is in a spat with Julie and refuses to come in or update it.
Rosa Mia's most welcoming quality remains the warm lighting and family-room atmosphere — I'd guess the entire place at maybe 800 square feet, give or take a hundred. The ancient yet classic Megatouch XL Platinum, Four Play and Double Up gaming machines ("for amusement only," says a handwritten message) are a fun touch, as are $2 mugs of Bud and Bud Light (the only brews on tap). And while the Internet jukebox steals quarters and the volume is difficult to manage, a few extra decibels aren't necessarily a bad thing, considering how quiet it's been around here.