Time waits for no man, but it sure does wonders for a good bar.
The Bull & Bush opened back in 1971 in the heart of Glendale as a cozy-but-campy re-creation of the famed English pub in Hampstead Heath. Thirty years later, the timeworn B&B is one of the metro area's most revered and successful taverns. Thanks to three decades of wear and tear, the once-tacky ambience looks almost genuine these days, blending seamlessly with the pub essentials of dependable food, decent beer and spirits.
Fortunately, the founders -- twin brothers Dean and Dale Peterson -- were publicans of the patient sort. "Every city needs a place that doesn't change," says Dean Peterson. "In the '80s, in the recession, we struggled. Everybody said, 'Why don't you change the place, remodel it?' I told them, 'We're not going to do it.' Now look at us. We've come back; business has doubled in the last five years. That's unheard of in this business."
In its prime, Glendale served as party central for Denverites who wouldn't dream of venturing into the skid-row dives of lower downtown. While that part of Denver is now the ultra-hip LoDo, Glendale's strip of bars long ago morphed into strip clubs, strip malls and strip housing. The Bull is the last of a once-wild Glendale breed.
But like its neighborhood, the Bull & Bush has also matured. Erik and David Peterson, sons of Dale, now run the place; they attribute the second-generation rewards they've reaped to the perseverance of their father and uncle. "I'm starting to get people that come here in their young twenties," Erik says. "They're saying, 'Oh, my parents met back here in the early '70s.' We're getting a whole other generation of Coloradans making this their hangout." And some, he suspects, may be able to trace their origins back to the B&B itself. A few relationships were "possibly consummated in the bar, or at least the bathrooms," he says. "I heard the bathrooms were pretty wacky back in the old days."
"It was the last of the good-time bars," says David Booker, a musician who played the bar in its singles-scene prime. "It was never a bad night there."
The B&B carries on its musical tradition every Sunday, when it hosts one of the longest-running jazz nights in the nation. Fans of the music are as loyal as the bar's regular clientele. "I grew up on jazz; it's part of my life," says Eva Randell, sliding into the booth next to us on a recent Sunday night. Randell has been soaking up the B&B's Sunday jazz sessions since 1972. After her husband died two years ago, she decided to continue coming, but solo. "I'm here every Sunday night," she says. "I'm 81."
As she settles in, more seniors, middle-agers and a few sharply dressed hipsters take their places at tables around the B&B's main room. Many of the older set have grandkids in tow. Visitors file in and greet each other with hugs and knowing nods, adding a family-reunion vibe to the evening. At 6:30 p.m. sharp, Alan Frederickson raises his trombone and leads his seven-piece combo into a rollicking, vintage instrumental rich with the sonic flavors of New Orleans. He and his mates (a khaki-clad group of moonlighting doctors, attorneys, dentists and others) play with head-cutting skill, the clarinet player, coronet player and banjo player stepping closer to a lone microphone to take grade-A solos. Randell rocks gently in her seat, the bangles on her wrists twirling in time with the music.
"Some people try to preserve folk music," says Dale Peterson, "I try to preserve the classic jazz." Dale was a ragtime pianist, and his brother played banjo in the same style. The two launched the B&B as a way to add to their list of eateries while indulging their love of music. (A list of the pair's former restaurants includes Simms Landing, Marina Landing, Off Belleview Grill and the late Ichabod's; they still own and run the Manor House in Ken Caryl Ranch.) Among the classic-jazz heavies who played at the Bull were Al Hirt, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Pete Fountain, Burt Bayles and coronetist Ernie Carson; in the early '80s, the B&B was also a desir-able gig for lesser-known acts such as the Fornicators, who lured beyond-capacity crowds to the establishment. The bar was the first in town to feature darts and satellite-TV programming, as well, Dale says.
For Frederickson and the other acts that play here on Sundays (including Your Father's Mustache and the Queen City Jazz Band), the Bull still plays a valuable role. "It keeps my band together," Frederickson says. "It's the only place in town where there's a collective improvisation that is not so-called modern jazz. This is the old stuff -- but don't call it Dixieland," advises Frederickson, who founded the Queen City group and the Summit Jazz Foundation. "Dixieland has to do with minstrel shows and that sort of thing. That's not what this is. This is collective improvisation, with reverence for the literature of the classic idiom."
Leslie Lewis is one of the B&B's classic customers. "I've been coming here since they opened it," says Lewis, her silver hair neatly coiffed, her comments mixing with a roar of applause for a high-flying clarinet solo. "It was a place where a woman could come alone, sit at the bar, and I'll guarantee you, nobody bothered you. The bartenders wouldn't allow it." (Those polite traditions seem to continue today -- as Lewis talks, a man lowers his straw hat over his heart and politely offers to buy my wife a drink and "socialize a while.")
Lewis, a member of the Denver Jazz Club, keeps coming for the music, the food and the wholesome fellowship the B&B delivers on the Sabbath. "It's a friendly place, and there's all the kids," she says. "There's not a lot of places where you can take your kids anymore."
Or where you can feed them such respectable pub fare. Rigo Maldanado's kitchen turns out everything from well-made half-pound burgers and swollen sandwiches to a Norm-pleasing list of bar nibbles that includes five-star buffalo wings and perfect, crisp-fried pinkie fingers of calamari. The prime rib is a workingman's cut of workingman quality -- a hugely popular entree served as a special three nights a week. Other staples include a shepherd's pie worthy of any English pub, a green-chile-over-mashed-potatoes dish that gives a local twist to the "mashers" concept, a respectable rack of smoked baby-back ribs and a nicely charred (and partially dry-aged) strip steak that benefits from a soak in the house's Stonehenge Stout.
That stout is just one of the in-house beers that add barrels of authenticity to the B&B's British theme. Erik and David Peterson installed the small brewing operation in the mid-'90s, and brewer Gabe Moline's roster of homemade brews rightly earned the Best Beer in a Brewpub award in Westword's Best of Denver 2002. Year-round offerings include the malty Tower ESB that's won two Great American Beer Festival honors and a World Beer Cup gold medal. There's also a syrupy (and decorated) Big Ben brown ale, an exceptional, highly authentic IPA and a delightful Bavarian-style Hefeweisen. (Despite these gems, the B&B crowd still sucks heavily on bottles of Bud.) Stonehenge Stout secures the dark end of the beer list; it's a sweet-style stout that gets a recipe tweaking with each batch. The current version, for example, was brewed with a few pounds of toasted coconut. Ambitious seasonal and cask-conditioned beers flesh out the impressive homebrew list, which gets extra attention during the B&B's monthly "Beer Schools," held the third Thursday of each month.
But it's what you savor between rounds that really makes the place: The B&B gives good bar therapy. "This is what it's all about if you're in the tavern business," Dale Peterson says. "Fresh beer, the music, the camaraderie and friendship. Most restaurants, you might go in there once a year. Here you come in once a month, once a week. We're a neighborhood bar, with excellent food for the money."
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"A lot of people told my dad to get rid of the place and sell it, sell out to the developers," Erik says. "It's cool that they held on and saved it for my brother and me. It's a matter of pride when you're running a family business."
As the band rambles on through a second set of swinging, all-American jazz, Orbie Ware steps outside to light a smoke. "I like this place, man," he says. "I like the people, I like the music, and they serve a good drink and some great food." He swears by the house margaritas, the friendly staff and the hotshots smoking on the stage inside. "I'm really impressed with these guys. You know, this used to be known as a yuppie place. Well, it's changed; it's more down to earth. A lot of people might like this place."
Eva Randell, a couple of O'Doul's under her belt, steps out of the B&B and into a waiting cab, calling it a night. "I had a wonderful time," she says, "but it's better when Your Father's Mustache is here."
"Anyone can open a restaurant for one, two, three, five, seven years," says Dean Peterson, standing outside the restaurant he opened over three decades ago. "The real secret is to try and keep it going for fifteen years. Try twenty, try thirty years. That's the real art of it. And," he notes, pulling back the door of his bar as hearty applause blows past him, "we're still doing the business."