I just learned today from Google that the neighborhood surrounding Regis University in northwest Denver is actually called Regis. I always thought it was somehow part of nearby Berkeley, but I stand corrected. In this stretch of residential blocks, with a few small businesses here and there along the swath of town north of I-70 but south of 52nd, lies Rocky Top Tavern, at 4907 Lowell Boulevard.
Two friends of mine who live in the Berkeley area met me at the Rocky Top, which was new to me, after choosing to make a daring trip on bikes across Federal Boulevard. I met them after much less bravely driving my car over from my side of town, and as I walked up to the bar, I noted a few things. First, there was a massive construction project going on right next to the bar, which I would later find out is a set of pricey townhouses in progress. Second, there was a crew of what I assumed were Regis college students on the patio having a conversation that seemed to be about the previous weekend's festivities, in which I notably heard one of the guys use the phrase "turnt up." Sounds about right: a college neighborhood complete with a college following at the bar.
Owner Jack McTavish confirmed that Regis University students are a big part of the crowd at Rocky Top, along with older neighbors who have lived in the area for years and newer folks who are coming in as the edges of the Regis neighborhood start to change and gentrify. When McTavish bought the bar — which was the divey Hilltop Tavern for decades — in 2013, he went about doing some renovations to get rid of the drop ceiling, carpet and various other ’70s-era features. He uncovered an exterior brick wall from the building's previous life as a drug store and soda fountain back in the 1920s. The result of the renovation is modern but incorporates the old brick of the building and includes the welcome addition of a kitchen. McTavish named the place not after Rocky Top, Tennessee, as many assume, but for Rocky Mountain Lake Park across the street.
When I headed inside after observing the college bro festivities out on the patio, my friends were already seated at the bar, half-watching the Major League Baseball celebrity all-star softball game. The bartender was super-friendly and quick with the service for everyone, and we all snagged the Monday night special: $2 Tecate cans from 4 to 9 p.m. Things were pretty quiet; a few couples played pool in the next room over or sat at the high-top tables eating dinner. Most of the folks seated at the bar were also watching the softball game, which involved Jamie Foxx and a bunch of people I can only assume were either old baseball players from the ’80s or reality-TV stars.
Eventually, my friends and I decided to pry ourselves away from the TV and take a turn at playing some pool ourselves. We also ordered the food special for the evening, a "loaded quesadilla," which was pretty good, especially for the $3 price. But when it comes to food, McTavish says it's all about wings at Rocky Top. Wing Wednesdays are the biggest night of the week, with $6 all-you-can eat wings on offer from 5 to 11 p.m., including all kinds of flavors, like spicy garlic, dry rub or the more traditional buffalo or barbecue. If wings aren't your thing, Thursdays offer $3 burgers, or you can get $1 street tacos from 5 to 9 p.m. every Friday. Drink specials are also plentiful and varied, with $3 shots on Thursdays, $10 bottomless mimosas on Sundays and $3.50 well cocktails all day, every day.
Half of the building at Rocky Top used to be a drug store, and the original exterior wall was uncovered during renovations.
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There's not a massive schedule of weekly events here, aside from the occasional Thursday night karaoke. However, the Rocky Top stays open 365 days a year and celebrates every holiday. McTavish says staff love connecting with regulars on holidays in their "second home" at the bar and sampling the leftovers from holiday dinners that folks bring in to share. Football Sundays are a huge draw, since the bar is located in what I would call "extreme Bronco country." There's a year-round Sunday mimosa special, but during football season the menu includes $3 breakfast burritos to enjoy during the big game. New traditions are also shaping up; for the first time this year, McTavish and the team are planning an "amateur hour" charity golf tournament, to be held in October.
After a lovely Monday night of beer, billiards and quesadillas, my friends and I headed out. We didn't manage to see who won the celebrity softball game, but I suppose that wasn't really the point, anyway. There were still a handful of guys holding down the fort at the bar and chatting with the bartender, and a few industry folks seemed to be starting to roll in for the night after getting off work. I moved from the warm glow of the bar patio lights out into the moonlight and was struck by the landscape of the neighborhood, a mix of new, boxy-looking buildings in various states of construction and modest, single-family homes with white picket fences and small yards. A very Denver scene, indeed, in a very Denver neighborhood I never even knew had its own name, or its own bar in Rocky Top Tavern.