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Naked Lunch

The dancers aren't the only people who cook at Shotgun Willie's.
Q Crutchfield

Directly in front of our table, a G-stringed blonde was scraping her nipples across what must have been a very cold floor. From behind us came the sounds -- just barely audible over the shriek of Billy Idol covering L.A. Woman -- of someone getting his lap danced upon; to our right, men were lining up to shove their cards into the ATM for some fast cash. Beyond them was a shoeshine stand where nothing could be shined, exactly, but a sweaty fat guy with bad hair was in the process of taking off his socks and putting his pasty-white feet in the capable hands of a gal wearing heels with knee-high laces and a see-through shirt. To our left, a woman was pouring a shot into the gaping mouth of a balding man in thick glasses ­ and then, to help it go down, whacking him in the back of the head with a one-two punch of her enormous, um, melons.

Suddenly I thought, "Dang. I'm getting hungry."

Fortunately, Shotgun Willie's had just what I needed. There's something about watching a leather-clad babe in thigh-high boots trying a twenty-foot brass pole on for size that whets the appetite, and in a place like this, a hunger for food is about the only desire you can bring to its natural conclusion. After adding a kitchen five years ago (the club itself has been open nineteen years), Willie's has been beefing up its menu offerings to accommodate both larger disposable incomes and larger appetites. "We've tried a few different menus over the past couple of years," explains manager George Miller. "Barbecue, just appetizers, you name it. The steaks seem more suited to the clientele, though, so we've stuck with that for a while...When you think about it, it probably isn't healthy for guys to hang around the place for five hours without something to eat."

And chef Billy Marr, who's headed the kitchen for the past year and a half, knows just what soaks up five hours of drunken lust: fried food. The Monster Sampler Platter, for example, brought a number of oddly shaped fried items, all the same color of mud on the outside, each unidentifiable until that first juice-squirting bite through those clean, crispy, faintly greasy brown shells. Hallelujah: At last, a man who knows how to clean a fryer and change the oil! We uncovered tender zucchini, fresh mushrooms and thick-cut onion rings; potato skins filled with cheddar; jalapeño poppers that squirted cream cheese at the slightest provocation; and mozzarella sticks offered in two sizes. All of the offerings featured quality ingredients that had never been frozen and as a result were solid, not squishy. All in all, Marr fried us to the moon.

After that, some of the entrees were a letdown. Not surprisingly, the thin, crispy French fries were fabulous (apparently, anything Marr dunks into hot oil comes out a winner); the sixteen-ounce T-bone was top-notch, too, with lots of flavor brought to the surface by the flame broiler. But the bacon-wrapped filet mignon was a dud -- bland meat, and bacon that was close to raw -- and the strip steak with lobster was another disappointment, with more bland meat and a watery, previously frozen crustacean. The prices were unbeatable, though, and our server, who seemed to beg the question "What's a nice girl like you...?" was as perky as they come.

What with the enthusiastic strippers, the killer fried foods and plenty of sports-relaying televisions, I was ready to join the rest of the, er, businessmen who make Shotgun Willie's a regular stop on their expense account. Hey, the management even labels its receipts "Bavarian Inn" so that your comptroller -- or wife -- simply thinks you've been eating a lot of schnitzel lately.

And you'll want to eat it a lot more after a visit to the nearby PT's Gold, which could be the Howard Johnson's of strip clubs. Since PT's took over the spot from the Mile Hi Saloon a year and a half ago, it's been serving lunch and dinner ­ although at first the food was made by regular cooks. "And then," explains manager John Cape, "we kind of wanted to improve it some more, so we decided to hire a real chef."

That would be Carmone Fuller, who's been cooking in the Denver area for 25 years -- ten of those at Reivers on Old South Gaylord. Although working at PT's has plenty of fringe benefits, he concentrates on the kitchen. "It's a job," he says. "It's a good job." And it's a job preparing dishes that aren't all that different from what's served in other restaurants. "Guys always order steaks, but the girls always want the pasta," he observes.

We wanted both, but we didn't get them for some time, since PT's kitchen is on the slow side. While we waited, I was treated to a mini massage -- "You can get more of that later if you want," cooed the platinum-haired cutie who was smart enough to work me instead of the alternately enthralled and embarrassed guys I was with -- and then we wandered upstairs to the All Nude! room, where a group of badly dressed men had their eyes glued to a woman who was not going to become All Nude! until enough cash was stuffed into her little halter top.

By the time we returned to the table, our salads had arrived. Unlike the woman upstairs, the chopped-to-smithereens lettuce was fully dressed, but the blue-cheese dressing was lousy; it consisted of mayonnaise studded with something that could have been blue cheese -- there was no telling for sure. And who knows what Time-Life book had provided the recipe for the chicken Marsala. The chicken was dry and chewy, drowning in a mysterious white, white sauce that tasted like milky flour. When properly prepared, that sauce is supposed to have a beige-ish hue -- the fortified white wine has an amber color -- not to mention actual flavor.

But men really want meat, remember, and there's plenty of that on PT's menu. Fuller does a nice a ten-ounce filet, as well as a respectable fourteen-ounce New York strip. The ten-ounce prime rib, however, was at once so bland, so strangely fatty and so chewy that it was like eating wet foam rubber. All of the steaks came with that dull salad, as well as a dinner roll, the frozen vegetable of the day, and rice or potatoes served mashed, baked or fried. The mashed were the best spuds option; the veggies were hopeless.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, PT's serves up lunch-buffet deals. Friday's special is prime rib -- and you'd have to pay me to eat that fatty stuff again. But on Tuesday the deal is baby-back ribs, as well as your choice of potato salad, corn on the cob or a regular salad, for five bucks. And PT's ribs were more than respectable, slicked with a decent, not-too-sweet barbecue sauce.

Now if PT's could just put a little more meat on the ribs of its dancers. Although I don't claim to be a connoisseur of strippers, many of them looked really, really skinny, and all of them looked bored. Throw in the Allman Brothers/ Bob Seger/Edgar Winter Group soundtrack and a crowd that seems composed largely of ex-convicts, and it's not the most appetizing setting. On top of that, after 8 p.m. and on weekends, PT's dispenses with the kitchen altogether and simply serves frozen pizzas that even our server couldn't bring herself to recommend.

And that's too bad, because man does not live by breast alone.

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Shotgun Willie's

490 S. Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80246

303-388-9601

www.shotgun-willies.com


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