As the Baker neighborhood has grown over the years, few things have stayed the same in the area. In fact, Dougherty's owner Wes Ingram counts 22 new bars and restaurants that have opened in the immediate vicinity of his own establishment (technically on the West Washington Park side of the line) since he opened the doors nine years ago. From bars and restaurants to music venues and breweries, the South Broadway commercial zone is constantly in flux and full of new spots. Dougherty's is a relative old-timer in the area, and Ingram has watched the neighborhood change. As a real-estate broker with a finger on the pulse of Denver, he actually predicted it.
But the bar has kept it simple, and Ingram says he and his staff do things "old-school" and focus on quality. He learned to run a business in the industry the right way by working for Mel Master, a well-known pioneer in the Denver food-and-wine scene. And he claims that he and his employees behind the bar at Dougherty's have more than 100 years of experience among them. He also recently brought on chef George Warner, who once worked at gone-but-not-forgotten Uptown institution Strings to really up the food game. Some of the proof is in Warner's excellent Reuben sandwich, and Ingram swears by the shepherd's pie.
On my most recent visit, the place wasn't packed, but there was a decent crowd — a mix of regulars, old-timers, middle-aged professional types, some vaguely hipster-y looking couples and a table of bros in baseball hats. The bartender was friendly and said he's known Ingram for years; they're both Deadheads who collect and trade Grateful Dead memorabilia, which is evident when you take a cursory glance around the bar and see framed concert tickets and paintings of Jerry Garcia. Ingram seems to know everyone in the place on the weekdays, but he says regulars are sometimes bummed out by the "younger, crazier" weekend crowd that has taken over Baker in general, and, by extension, Dougherty's, in the last few years. But he's far from sad that business is booming.
Many of the experiences I've had at Dougherty's involve a friend who used to live a couple blocks from the bar. Most of them also involve hammerschlagen, which, if you've never seen it and don't know what it is, get ready to have your mind blown. Not really: It's actually just a tree stump that players sit around with a hammer and nails. But it's an addictive and slightly dangerous game. Hard-core hammerschlagen players flip the hammer before their turn, but my hammerschlagen skills have never evolved despite many games because of my lack of hand-eye coordination, especially when enjoying a few drinks. Ingram tells me he honed his hammerschlagen skills abroad, when he was in the military, playing with his German and Irish friends. He promised himself when he got his own bar, hammerschlagen would be a part of the fun. But Dougherty's also has a pool table for those who prefer a more typical bar game.
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Like every other Irish bar in town, Dougherty's hosts St. Patrick's Day festivities, with Irish dancers and music, but Ingram skips the less-than-fun features so common at other pubs on Saint Paddy's day: cover charges and price-gouging.
And since we're all still coming down from our Halloween sugar high, I can't help but mention ghosts. Ingram cryptically told me that there are definitely ghosts in the building, but states that he "can't even talk about it" when I press him for more details. He did reveal that the radio changes stations by itself multiple times a day, and that he found a wad of newspaper from 1943 in the wall when he was renovating the building. Before it was Dougherty's, the space housed Capone's Hideaway, a dark and divey bar with wall-to-wall carpet, which Ingram and his friends wisely removed when they got their hands on the place. Inspired by the old newspaper in the wall, they even created their own time capsule of sorts by toasting the new bar with a bottle of Jameson, then sealing the bottle inside the wall, along with a dollar bill signed with the names of the folks involved in the renovation for future owners to find. But it might be a while before that happens, because Dougherty's has cemented its status as a friendly neighborhood bar for the residents of Baker, new and old.