The Welcome Inn was one of those places I'd always been meaning to go to but had never managed to check out until recently. It's on the edge of what many now call RiNo, but is still known by longtime regulars as the east side, and it's a friendly and casual spot where you immediately feel right at home.
As I walked in with a friend from work on Labor Day, we were quickly hooked up with a round of beers by a woman who works in our office building and lives in the neighborhood. She told us that she presides over the pool tables at the bar by day and plays tunes under the name "DJ Lady O" by night on the weekends and at private parties; the best things about the Welcome Inn are the pool tables and the fact that customers are respectful and keep things peaceful, she added. On this particular day, she was just there to catch up with friends and play pool, so the speakers were blaring music from the jukebox, with tracks by various artists ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Notorious B.I.G.
The place was packed, with several folks by the two pool tables, a small crew out on the back patio, tables of friends and couples everywhere, and a pretty full complement of regulars filling the long bar top, where my friend and I squeezed in. The crowd skewed toward the older side, with ladies and gents that I would guess to be in their fifties, sixties and seventies, and was mostly white and Latino, which somewhat reflects the neighborhood itself. Or at least reflects the historical demographics of the area before RiNo became a thing and brought with it breweries and condos and a new infusion of transplants.
The atmosphere was cheerful and loud, as was the decor. The entire space overflowed with knickknacks and pictures plastered over wood paneling, with neon signs everywhere. Adding to the noise and light, the arcade area was crowded with an old cigarette machine, a Family Guy pinball machine and a punching-bag game called "Dragon Punch."
We chatted with Rose, the bartender, who was only too happy to give us a few stories and a little info about the bar as she poured massive mugs of beer, micheladas and mixed drinks while periodically cracking open some Tecate cans that she garnished with limes. Everything is super-cheap all the time at the Welcome Inn, without much in the way of specials or gimmicks, and it's one of the dying breed of cash-only establishments. But you'll only need enough cash for booze, since there's no food, unless you count bags of chips or the limes in your drinks.
As we sat at the bar, I quickly discovered two things. First, the guy next to me who I thought was talking to someone on the phone was definitely just talking to himself, or possibly to the TV playing the Rockies game, loudly. Everyone else seemed unfazed by this situation, so I went with it. Second, as we introduced ourselves to our barstool neighbor on the opposite side, I discovered that I already knew this gentlemen from my visit to Phil's Place, just a few minutes down the road. He had given me some history about the neighborhood and Phil's Place, and seemed to know just about everyone at the Welcome Inn, too. We talked about the neighborhood and he told us about all the things that various lofts and breweries used to be, then speculated about how much longer the Welcome Inn would be able to stick around in this location. The place earned our Best Endangered Dive Bar award this year, for good reason.
As I'd walked in, I couldn't help but notice the commercial real estate sign in the parking lot, with the words "Go home yuppie scum!" scrawled across it in permanent marker. Rose suggested I call the bar's owner, Angie Tegarden, to see if the rumors were true that the place was for sale. Tegarden confirmed that the property is indeed for sale: Sadly, the previous landlord, who she said was "the best landlord ever," got too old to manage things and had to sell the building a few years ago. Now the current landlord has put the property on the market. Tegarden says she hopes it takes as long as possible to sell, but the deal is likely to happen this year or next. The day the property is sold, she adds, she will probably move out of state.
The Welcome Inn has been in Tegarden's family for three generations; her grandfather and father, Bud and John Friedrich, bought it in 1988. Her mother, Paulette Friedrich, owned it after her father passed away, and now Tegarden herself is in charge — after working in the bar since she turned eighteen. She had hoped to pass the bar on to her children, but it seems the booming real estate market in Denver has other plans.
This sad story makes me wish that real life was more like in the movies, where the crew at the Welcome Inn would be the scrappy group of underdogs that hosts a big party to raise money to save the bar from being taken over by evil corporate suits from out of town (or something like that). But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that life isn't like the movies. (If it were, I would probably not be on Tinder right now.)
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Imaginary scenarios aside, Tegarden filled me in on a bit more of the real history of the Welcome Inn. An older customer told her he remembered the bar in the 1940s, when it was a drive-in burger place. The building became the Welcome Inn in 1977, at which point the pool room was added. And the drinks have been flowing for friends, co-workers and families in this neighborhood dive ever since.
So next time you are checking out the newest combination kombucha brewery/art gallery/T-shirt store or what have you in RiNo, stop in and experience this tried-and-true spot while you still can. The Welcome Inn's days might be numbered, but Tegarden, the bartenders and the regulars aren't ready to stop the party just yet.
The Welcome Inn is at 3759 Chestnut Place; find out more at 303-296-7229 or on the Welcome Inn Facebook page.