Bonnie Brae Tavern

Bonnie Brae Tavern has no windows, which may explain why few modern influences have slipped in over the past seventy-odd years to mess up the place. Instead, four generations of the Dire family -- which opened the onetime roadhouse right across the street from the headquarters of the Denver Temperance League in 1934 -- have slapped down a couple of coats of paint and otherwise left their joint more or less alone, a culinary time capsule under the submarine glow of lights that have been shining down on the same tables, the same turquoise vinyl booths, the same coat hooks, beer signs and aging regulars for better than half a century. The food here is American Classic -- pot roasts and T-bones, mac-n-cheese and burgers-n-fries -- with a twist: Bonnie Brae was one of the first joints in town to offer pizza, back when the dish was still an exotic novelty, not the trite and trivial mainstay it is today. And while Bonnie Brae doesn't have the best pizza in the city (as so many fans claim), the kitchen does turn out a nice pie -- puffy 'round the crust, with a dense, baking-powder texture and speckled with cornmeal, topped with a sweet sauce and mozzarella sliced off the block, as well as a dozen-odd standard and not-so-standard ingredients (whole-leaf spinach, green chile). More than anything, this pizza reminds me of the slices you find at bowling alleys, bars, lunch counters and street festivals back East: a flavor of pure convenience, the kind of thing you ate when what you were really after was a cold beer, a peek at the Yankees on TV, a quick meal outside your own kitchen. It's a taste of history, served in a place that knows the subject well.


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