Neighborhood Bars: The Skinny on Uptown's Thin Man

Thirsty Denverites mingle under the glow of artfully strung red lights.EXPAND
Thirsty Denverites mingle under the glow of artfully strung red lights.
Sarah McGill

I love the Thin Man. It was one of the coolest places around when I moved to Denver in 2005; it was hipster before hipster was a thing. The strings of red lighting, the artfully displayed infused-vodka collection, and the copious amount of religious imagery hanging everywhere combined to suggest a Renaissance-era Italian church full of people drinking. Shortly after arriving in Colorado, I would take dates to the long, narrow joint to show off how much I clearly knew the places to go to find the best nightlife in Denver. Also, notably, one of my old neighbors fell in love with a dude who used to regularly sit in the Thin Man reading Victorian literature, probably as a mechanism to meet women. It definitely worked on her. The bar's name is inspired by Dashiell Hammett's 1930s detective novel, so I guess it's not a bad place to use a book to find your next partner.

Nowadays, not much has changed: The Thin Man still packs in the crowds, still serves tasty infused vodka, and still has that very specific ambience that people know and love. It doesn't seem quite so cutting-edge anymore, probably because the new, cool trends in bars no longer include the whole scene that the Thin Man has going. But I will say that the Thin Man was ahead of the curve on one modern bar design element: the now-ubiquitous "garage door wall" feature that allows for indoor-outdoor drinking, depending on the weather. In my book, it's not a bad thing that the Thin Man hasn't moved to RiNo or tried to become a brewery or something to fit in with modern trends. Sticking with what works looks good on the place. Owner Eric Alstad says he was never trying to be cool in designing the bar, or even in opening a bar; he just kind of stumbled upon the right circumstances and things took shape.

If the Thin Man were actually a church, this would be the altar.EXPAND
If the Thin Man were actually a church, this would be the altar.
Sarah McGill

The right circumstances arose in 2001, when a bakery vacated the space next to St. Mark's Coffeehouse, which Alstad and his wife had already owned for years. He had been tossing around the idea of opening a bar for a bit, but his wife hadn't been too enthused. One day, he found himself at a now-defunct junkyard that he says reminded him of the old TV show Sanford and Son. The proprietors of the junkyard offered him a great deal on some big slabs of marble that had once been restroom partitions in a bank downtown. He asked his wife if he could buy the marble for a bar top, and she said yes. That's when Alstad knew he was opening a bar. He built the bar — and pretty much everything else inside the space — from reclaimed materials. Those materials, Alstad says, really determined the look of the bar, rather than some grand design plan.

One nice add-on that has been opened and reopened a few times over the years is the subterranean Ubisububi Room. The name is a Latin pun about underwear (I never took Latin so I'll just have to take Alstad's word for it). After several attempts, Alstad recently landed a cabaret license and some help from brothers Greg and Garrett Hilpipre, who book local acts for intimate shows down below. The basement is also rented out for events and used as overflow space for the bar crowd when Alstad and the crew throw big parties. And what parties those are.

The White Trash Bash, an annual summer shindig, was a draw for years, but last summer marked the last bash due to safety concerns over the 25-foot-long teeter-totter that was a feature of the event. Alstad is cooking up some ideas for a fun summer party to replace the bash. Another big deal at the Thin Man is New Year's Eve. Each year there's a differently themed NYE party; this year's is Psychedelia. The Badda Boom Brass Band, the house band at the Thin Man, will be playing some New Orelans-style tunes to go along with the dancing, drinking and getting psychedelic that is sure to ensue. So if you haven't finalized your weekend plans, the party at the Thin Man is always a solid bet.

The walls at the Thin Man showcase an assortment of local beers on tap and a collection of religious iconography.EXPAND
The walls at the Thin Man showcase an assortment of local beers on tap and a collection of religious iconography.
Sarah McGill

It was just a normal day at the Thin Man when I met some friends there on a recent Thursday night. The crowd was sparse when we arrived around 7 p.m., but various reasonably attractive guests in their twenties and thirties wearing peacoats and Patagonia jackets popped up in groups to fill the rather small bar as the night got into full swing. I myself was probably wearing a peacoat, and I am in my thirties, so clearly I belonged. Couples and groups of bros and girls sat at tables along the wall, or at the bar, which are pretty much the only two places to sit. My friends and I selected drinks from the specials list, getting a round of pineapple presses that were a bargain at $5. The infused vodka made them super-pineapple-y but still refreshing. I've never really been a regular at the Thin Man, but I've frequented the place enough to know that the staff behind the bar has been there for years. The bartender's friendly but swift service is the mark of someone who has been doing this for a while and isn't perturbed by a big crowd. I also ordered a panini. The sandwiches and snacks are generally basic but appetizing.

According to Alstad, the only thing that changes about the customers at his watering hole is that they keep getting younger. That statement did seem to hold true on this particular evening. Especially as it got later, the crowd seemed to creep down into the mid- to young-twenties. After all, the older types like my friends and I have to work early in the morning and actually allow that fact to impact our bedtime. One of my companions with a particularly early work schedule was the first to go, but I stayed on with one of my oldest Denver friends — someone who might be considered a regular at the Thin Man. She used to work up the block at Milagro Taco Bar, which has long since ceased to exist. The building that housed Milagro has been Vine Street Pub for quite a while. We spent many a night at the Thin Man back in the day, playing board games, going to various themed parties and generally losing track of time. That's what the Thin Man evokes for me: an old friend who still lives in the same little place in Uptown and is always happy to see you, even if you've forgotten to call for a while.

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The Thin Man

2015 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80206

303-320-7814

www.thinmantavern.com


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