Downtown's last true dive
The bummer about Bar Bar (officially the Carioca Cafe, at 2060 Champa Street) is not that the bathrooms are glacial, grimy, graffiti-covered dungeons. It's not that the volatile mix of white, black, brown and out-of-town patrons are wont to drink until an altercation seems like a good idea. It's not even that the torn booth padding and worn-down-to-the-wood stools are uninviting and sad. The bummer is that within the next seven years — what's left on a ten-year lease — Bar Bar will likely be gone.
Downtown Denver will eventually be as Starbucked and condo-fucked as Seattle, only with more sunshine. But times, thank God, are tough. If you're Tim Fink, who's been part owner of Bar Bar for the past six years and continues to tend bar here despite having only five fingers, this country's current state of economic ruin means two separate but equally promising things: The landlords won't be dozing the block's only remaining edifice to build big-ticket residences anytime soon, and Bar Bar business — thanks to bargain-basement booze prices — should be booming.
Pabst drafts at Bar Bar are always $2; buckets of four mix-and-match domestic bottles are $10. From 7 a.m. until noon, ten-ounce Pabst draws are a buck, Eye Openers (any draw and a three-quarters shot) ring in at $2.25, and tall Bloody Marys feel exorbitant at $3. Three daily happy hours — 7 to 9 a.m., 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight — offer first-drink twofers on everything except pitchers. Tipplers who only feel like one can let someone else cash in their wooden nickel (a tiny plastic shot cup) or put their name on the saved-drink list tacked to the office door — any name with two or more tallies carries over indefinitely (single savers disappear every seven days).
Crazy-cheap suds aren't the only reason to celebrate one of downtown's few remaining dives. In fact, for visitors willing to put up with (or better, embrace) the occasional slurred advance or screaming match, Bar Bar has something for almost everyone. The music spectrum ranges from open-floor (there's no stage) blues jams on Monday nights to live bands (though they occasionally don't show) on weekends and one of Denver's better compact-disc jukes all the time. In the back, a cork dartboard adjacent to the women's bathroom keeps the rare female on her toes (of the predominantly male demographic, Fink says, "This is mostly a guy bar, but it ain't a gay bar!"); Ms. Pac Man, Galaga and Indianapolis 500 pinball machines offer nostalgia for spare change; and a perpetually breaking air hockey table and a pool table are just a service window away from refills. Unlike many a neighborhood joint in this town, Bar Bar hasn't replaced its fat-back televisions with flatter, more highly defined screens, but the local games are always on, and classic Westerns often play during off-hours.
And then there's Bar Bar's decor: Hundreds and hundreds of color three-by-fives Scotch-taped to every which wall show patrons smiling, shouting and sleeping; the south wall above the booths displays an impressive array of beer (Heineken, Stroh's, Miller Reserve) and booze (Cuervo, Beefeater, Glenfiddich) mirrors; and the ledge above the bar flaunts an unparalleled collection of kitsch and assorted other crap — flags, a wooden Nutcracker, sports cards, a Cat in the Hat lunchbox, a Betty Boop doll, mannequin heads — all coated in a thick level of dust and debris.
If it seems totally fucked that Bar Bar may perish at the first sign of an economic upswing — and that high-rise lobbies and fitness rooms will soon outnumber saloons here on the far edge of downtown — that's because it is. Maybe Fink can somehow outsmart this paradox and emerge with his tavern intact. If not?
Well, here's to being broke but drunk right now.
2060 Champa St.
Denver, CO 80202
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.