Interstate Kitchen & Bar opened its doors back in 2009, in what was then considered a sketchy spot on Tenth Avenue and Santa Fe Drive in Lincoln Park. At that time, there were quite a few empty storefronts, and the art galleries in the area were not nearly as established and popular as they are these days. It was also an affordable neighborhood to live in, mostly home to families and lower-income housing.
Nowadays, if you ask a realtor, this area is referred to as the Art District on Santa Fe. But if you check with the Judgmental Map of Denver, the whole neighborhood is just labeled "Underground King Soopers," named for the King Soopers up the street at 13th Avenue and Speer Boulevard. No matter who you ask, the Santa Fe Drive corridor has definitely changed in recent years. Interstate owner Aaron Lobato has noticed that the customers have morphed from more of a family crowd to primarily young professionals — and Tinder dates.
Lobato says he has definitely seen some of his regular customers come in with a different Tinder date each night of the week. A friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood also favors Interstate for Tinder dates. It has all the ingredients for a successful first date: The food and drinks are reliably good; it's not super loud, so you can talk to your date; and the vibe there is relaxed. The corner bar is also a fun and distinctive local place that makes you seem like you know what you're talking about when choosing date spots for Denver newbies, as many Tinder dates are apt to be. And if you or your date are trying to keep the spending to a minimum because it's just a first date, happy hour offers $2 "barkeep's choice" canned beers and a bevy of food specials.
My aforementioned friend accompanied me to Interstate on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back. The crowd that day included a gaggle of bike-riding hipsters on the patio, a couple of girls in sweatpants drinking Bloody Marys on the upholstered leather chairs in the lounge area, a middle-aged woman working on a laptop at the bar, and some dudes who appeared to be bros from the '90s watching a football game at the bar. Speaking of the '90s, I appreciate that every time I go to Interstate, a rock medley that tends to involve Nirvana and the Stone Temple Pilots is usually blasting in the bar.
You can't really hear the retro jams during First Friday Art Walk nights, though — because you probably can't hear anything but the person right next to you, if you're lucky. On the first Friday of every month, people from all over town descend on Santa Fe Drive to check out the galleries, take up most of the street between Sixth and Tenth avenues, listen to live music, eat, drink, and congest the entire sidewalk on both sides of Santa Fe. Interstate is always packed during Art Walk; even the side room usually reserved for private parties fills up. As one of the few actual bars in an area that is primarily filled with galleries and other small businesses, it's the place to be for any First Friday after-party. And the kitchen stays open until midnight, a good thing after after all that walking around and drinking.
My friend, who is pretty much a regular at Interstate, mentions that she often sees tourists around in the neighborhood, asking for directions to one of the art galleries or stopping in for some food or a drink. Folks staying downtown sometimes make their way down to this part of town to check out art galleries, and Interstate is one of the few restaurants in the area. Sure enough, as we are enjoying our beers, an older couple, easily identifiable, as tourists sit down on the patio and order food.
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SHOW ME HOW
Our bartender introduces us to Lobato, who takes time out from watching the game with some regulars to talk to us about his philosophy in running the place. He grew up in a restaurant-industry family and had worked at bars and restaurants in Boulder and on the East Coast before opening Interstate. The idea at Interstate is to stay away from gimmicks and packing the calendar full of random events in favor of focusing on quality beers, spirits and well-executed Southern-inspired dishes. However, Lobato maintains a few fun and distinctive traditions. One of his favorites is the Haunted Highway Halloween party, which he describes as "debaucherous." Sunday nights are Rock Band night, when patrons can play the interactive video game on the big screen at the bar.
We don't stick around to play Rock Band, but down a few beers and a veggie burger. My companion is a vegetarian, and she claims it's the best veggie burger in Denver; I am inclined to believe her (I don't eat nearly as many as she does). My choice is usually an order of deviled eggs; I can only go to so many family reunions (prime deviled-egg-eating time) in Alabama, and I am far too lazy to make them myself, so Interstate is a go-to in that department.
Whether its a First Friday Art Walk or a Tinder date that draws you to Interstate, you'll find yourself in good company with like-minded souls. Just don't hoard the deviled eggs.