One of the scummiest dives I ever drank in was the Mars Bar, just around the corner from the now-defunct CBGB on New York's Lower East Side. It was a tiny, filthy, narrow joint with maybe a dozen stools at the bar and a motley crew of regulars, everyone from junkie punkers to mind-crazed nut jobs. When I was living in the city, I made it a point to visit the Mars Bar at least once a month, just so I could get completely freaked out.
One of the bar's fixtures was a guy named Felix, who'd pick up empty bottles and glasses. He was about four and a half feet tall and had some kind of skeletal defect so that he couldn't stand up straight and always leaned to the right. I'm pretty sure he was mute, too, and these high-pitched chirps would fly out of his mouth to accompany the hand movements that might have been his own slang version of sign language. But what really creeped me out was how much the dude looked like Carlos Santana.
I had a flashback of Felix when I visited the Cheeky Monk (534 East Colfax Avenue), where a guy sitting at the bar looked almost exactly like him (and Carlos Santana, of course). Turns out that this guy was mute, too. "He'll probably try to show you his turtle," the bartender said to me with a smile. The mute waved at me a few times and I waved back, but I never got to see his turtle. He didn't seem like a bad fellow, but the bartender eventually kicked him out after he went around to a few tables and waved at other customers.
Turtle guy aside, the Cheeky Monk is a far cry from the Mars Bar, and a very welcome addition along one of Colfax's sketchier stretches. Since the place specializes in Belgian beer, I started off with a Westmalle Triple, a Trappist Monk-brewed ale that's 9.5 percent alcohol by volume. Before I'd even finished it, I was feeling warm and fuzzy, with a wine-like buzz, so I followed it with a Leffe Blond, which has less alcohol. Still, after finishing just two glasses of ale, I was feeling like I'd drunk a six-pack of Bud — but that six-pack wouldn't have cost $15.
The Cheeky Monk is owned by the same folks who run the Royal Hilltop (18581 East Hampden Avenue in Aurora), which is a cool, English-style pub lined with a ton of British soccer flags, memorabilia and whatnot. And right next door to the Royal Hilltop is the Movie Tavern (18605 East Hampden Avenue), which boasts a full bar and full menu in addition to first-run flicks.
But this night was about Colfax, and after hitting the brand-new Monk, I wanted to compare it to some old-school Denver. So I walked a few blocks west to the Nob Hill Inn (420 East Colfax). As I opened the door to one of our city's legendary dives, I heard Patsy Cline on the jukebox and saw a cast of characters who would've been ideal in a film collaboration from Federico Fellini, David Lynch and Charles Bukowski. I sat at the bar, ordered a Bud draft and listened to a gal in her forties wearing a tie-dye T-shirt joke with the bartender about how she wanted to wrestle with him. "I want to turn off the cameras, get naked and wrestle in a bunch of pudding," she said. "But not chocolate pudding. I hate the stuff."
Then Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" came on the jukebox, and a woman next to me said that she used to listen to it all the time when she was fifteen. Since that song was released in 1990, that made her about 32 years old — but she, too, looked like she was in her mid-forties. Maybe drinking at the Nob Hill will do that to you.
Club scout: On Saturday, October 13, the Loft (821 22nd Street) will bring in three masters of Chicago house music: DJ Nique and Dino G, both residents at the Windy City's famed Spy Bar, and Sean Biddle. Also on Saturday, the nearby Club Feel (2151 Lawrence Street) will throw an old-school-vibe party called FRESH, for which folks are encouraged to throw on their finest '80s hip-hop gear. We're talking back in the days of Run DMC and LL Cool J: Adidas shell-toes, track suits, furry Kangol hats and the like. DJs Chonz and Mu$a will be at the decks, and ManeLine will be shooting a video for his cut "Footwork."