Picture a neighborhood hangout, the place around the corner and down the street where you feel more at home than home. Maybe it exists in your memory, a Cheers-esque den of comfort and familiar characters. Maybe it really is just down your block. Bonnano Concepts, a restaurant group gifted with the ability to conjure fantasy through artful restaurant menus and design, has built Lou's Food Bar to be just this sort of place, a haven for north Denver denizens. To further that goal, Lou's offers two happy hours that take the concept of classic American food with the utmost seriousness.
A big neon arrow draws you off 38th Avenue to Lou's, where you'll find a few-frills interior that's been designed with care to pass off the illusion that it doesn't care. Lou's features a few amenities that I wouldn't expect in this part of Sunnyside — a late-night happy hour, an educated craft tap list, delivery — but just down the street is Gaetano's, which serves specials from 10 p.m. to midnight, and TAG Burger Bar, which serves thoroughly modern and satisfying fare in a casual package. Lou's opened in 2010 with a French bent to its heartland highway cuisine, and it's still here, just minimized in favor of meatloaf, burgers and fried chicken two ways: buttermilk-soaked or Nashville hot.
Happy hour, offered Tuesday through Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to close, holds fast to comfort food. And I'm not talking about pancetta green-chile mac n' cheese or bacon-wrapped, maple-glazed something or other. Nothing here would be out of place at a 24-hour diner or an Applebee's; it's the execution that could carry it from bland to beautiful. Everything is priced well, especially a selection of simple $4 cocktails. You couldn't ask for more from the crisp Moscow Mule I ordered, but a Paloma had too much simple syrup and not enough citrus tang. You can also enjoy $2 off some of the standard beer, wine and cocktail options.
I had hoped that the chicken tenders ($6) would be miniature samplings of Lou's famous fried chicken, but these are true tenders, cutlets with thick, bumpless breading, served with fries, a ramekin of ranch and no trace of irony. It's children's food, but the chicken is fresh and the batter provides the straightforward pleasure of salt and pepper. And the fries alongside are what you always hope fries will taste like when you order them next to the interstate at 1 a.m. In harmony with the theme here, pulled-pork quesadillas ($5) have very little to do with Mexican heritage. They're just rich, sloppy pork and good ol' cheddar, and for this place, that's perfect.
Pigs in a blanket ($3) are a bit lacking in home-style essence. The li'l sausages themselves are delicious —even though Lou's ditched its charcuterie program a while back — but there are only three of them, plated with two different smears of mustard. It's just not the kind of satisfying value I saw everywhere else that evening. And maybe it's a sad statement about the current times, but $7 for a burger and fries seems like a hell of a deal. Lou's Burger is more than worth it: a brioche bun, those tasty fries, optional cheese, bacon or egg toppings — it's everything that makes this country great. I'm getting a little misty just typing this.
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At just over $30 for two meals and drinks, happy hour at Lou's Food Bar comes in at the ideal price point. Last call came early (9 p.m.) on a sleepy Tuesday, but this is a place where you could while away the hours in good company, especially if a warm bed was within walking distance. Lou's acts like it's been here forever, but it has lasted for a commendably long time on 38th, long enough to become a real-life Sunnyside haunt.
Perfect For: Indefatigable weekend brunchers who are just never satisfied, goddamnit. If they're looking for something new, Lou's offers Manhattans for breakfast, tiny beignets stuffed with crème Anglaise, and Bloody Marys garnished with Nashville hot chicken. And that's literally just for starters.
Don't Miss: It's not a secret in this neighborhood, but Tuesday is Fried Chicken Night at Lou's Food Bar. Twenty bucks brings a half a chicken, two sides, a cookie bar and a can of beer.