The Squire's Dive Bar Days Are Gone, but the Vibe Is Still Distinctly Colfax
The Squire Lounge welcomes an ever-changing crowd on Colfax.
Everyone knows about the Squire Lounge. It's been a perennial dive bar fixture on the Corner of Colfax and Williams for much of Denver's recent history. But in case you're new here, I'm going to break it down for you so you can seem like a native. That's a large part of the appeal of the Squire: it still feels nostalgic in a way, despite the fact that most of the customers on any given night have moved to Denver within the past three years. When I dipped in for a late-night drink on a Tuesday with a friend who's a Denver native, she accurately described the scene, saying that apart from a few hipster types, "the people in here could pass for old Denver, but they are all actually new Denver."
The same is probably true of the bar itself, which used to be one of the grittier dive bars in town, complete with perhaps the most horrendous bar bathrooms I had ever experienced in my young life when I moved here at the age of 22. It also used to host a clientele that was quintessentially Colfax — that is, a conglomeration of young Capitol Hill kids who had just moved to Denver, older and more jaded industry types who liked to drink, and the avenue's street denizens who called the Squire home more than anyplace else.
On comedy nights, an assortment of Denver's now semi-famous local comedians and their friends filled the joint with laughter. That was one of the great Squire traditions for a long time — twelve years to be exact. Originally hosted by Greg Baumhauer, the open-mic nights were taken over by Sam Tallent until 2016, when Tallent, like many other Denver comics, moved away to get beyond just Denver-famous. The Squire still has an occasional comedy event, but nowadays the small stage in the corner is most likely to host local bands or DJ sets, which makes sense, since there are now so many other comedy showcases around town. But back in the early 2000s, the Squire was practically the only option if you wanted to see live comedy outside of the Comedy Works, and the crusty environment full of weirdos seemed to be just the setting for the most scandalous jokes ever.
After taking over the establishment in 2004, Sudhir Kudva, who also co-owns the Matchbox, and Steven Alix, who co-owns successful Colfax gay hangout X Bar, made the place significantly nicer (if less divey) by remodeling the Squire in 2013. The renovation gave the bar a much less claustrophobic feel by taking out the dropped ceiling, uncovering beautifully ornate millwork from a previous era. Kudva says they also uncovered a historic mural of dancers in the half of the bar that used to be a ballet studio in the 1940s; that mural is now on display on the wall next to the stage on the far side of the bar. The bathrooms at the Squire are now some of the nicer bar bathrooms around following a complete transformation. I have to say, part of me misses the old Squire, but part of me appreciates not feeling like I might get something gross on my clothes by sitting down anywhere in the bar. Kudva says that although the sentiment is shared by most customers, so many others have bemoaned his efforts at sprucing up the bar that he even printed T-shirts that read "New Squire Sucks," complete with a picture of the old bathrooms, to poke fun at their comments.
One thing that hasn't changed much is that Kudva and Alix focus on keeping things cheap and fun at the bar, without a lot of gimmicks. Drinks are cheap all the time, but even more so at happy hour, which runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Entertainment comes in the form of a pretty good lineup of local rock-and-roll bands and DJs, with some funk and comedy thrown in for good measure. The old shuffleboard table remains, as well as a new addition of a photo booth that, according to the booth's digital screen (more evidence of modernization), "will steal your soul." Made in Denver by a company called Photobang, the booth spits out photos and invites guests to leave a memento on the wall next to it. My friend and I decided to keep our photos — and hopefully our souls.
The crowd on our Tuesday visit was mostly in their twenties and thirties, with one random group of guys well past forty wearing camouflage hats. (My friend and I thought they were having some sort of hunting-themed party — more on them later.) A couple dressed in workout clothes stood near the shuffleboard area, having what seemed to be an intense conversation, while others sat outside on the patio facing Williams Street, with views of the brightly lit Taco Bell across the street.
It did seem different from the days when I used to go to the Squire with my old roommate, an awkward, skinny guy with bright red hair who tended to attract the oddest people in any bar. We were AmeriCorps volunteers working with homeless clients at a local health clinic, so he was also adept at chatting with the lonely and marginalized wanderers of Colfax. We often spent evenings playing shuffleboard with people who possibly slept outside in Cheesman Park or in nearby hidden spots.
But on my Tuesday-night stop, we were only approached by the camo-wearing folks who we thought were having a themed bar crawl. They were actually all co-workers from an engineering firm; I guess the choice of camouflage hats and shirts was just coincidental. Two of the older guys in the crew came over to ask if I wanted to talk to their friend, "Hippie Mike," who they assured us was a good guy. I didn't really have a particular desire to find out what "Hippie Mike" wanted to say to me, aside from the fact that he thought I was cute, which is the message his friends relayed. Nonetheless, we talked to the engineers about how, according to them, my friend and I are like soldiers and should be thanked for our service as a speech language pathologist and a social worker.
After a weeknight outing that ran a little too late, we finished our Tecates and decided to head out. The tab was definitely a bargain, and I appreciated the fact that some things at the Squire never change — like the throwback prices. Sure, I have mixed feelings about attempts to "improve" infamous old haunts, but at least the Squire is still a neighborhood bar and not an artisan pet food store or a speakeasy where all the bartenders have extreme mustaches and look like they should be models in some sort of bartender-apron magazine. As it says on one of the fliers for an upcoming dance-party event at the bar, the Squire is still "Keeping It Colfax."
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