College was a very intoxicating time for me, as it was for many people I know, especially my brethren who went to Big Ten universities in small, liberal Midwestern towns like Champaign, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Madison, Wisconsin. But my time in Iowa City was different. When I showed up at the University of Iowa as a sober seventeen-year-old, I discovered a world of underage binge drinking that Judd Apatow and the writers for National Lampoon circa 1978 never dreamed of. Within a three-block radius, I found more than a dozen bars that allowed eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds to enter. Sure, there were 21+ bars, too, but that's where graduate students drank. And as far as my perpetually hammered, pubescently hormonal friends and I were concerned, graduate students were assholes.
Now, it's not as if all these minor-friendly bars actually invited us to drink, but they at least let us inside. And once inside (I used an ID from a nineteen-year-old friend), we weren't going to stand around wishing we had drinks, for crissakes — we went and got drinks, by any means necessary. The best underage bars were located on the Pedestrian Mall, an area reminiscent of Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, where let-out was a traffic-free massacre of booty calls, greasy sandwiches, public-intox tickets, screaming, fistfights, puking, pizza slices and general drunken debauchery. But less than two blocks away was the Sports Column, the kind of place where large athletes picked up little girls and bartenders looked the other way when faced with underage stamps. I have an inexplicably vivid memory of what was otherwise a blacked-out night, when I reached over the SpoCo bar just as the last-call lights went up and yoinked an open bottle of wine for the walk home to my dorm. It was that kind of bar, and I was that kind of drunk. Hooray, college!
On my inaugural trip to Denver, one of the first things I learned was that this city has a Sports Column (1930 Blake Street) that is owned and operated by the same guy who owns the one in Iowa City. And while under normal circumstances I'd do everything in my power to avoid such a congested, carnivorous meat market, finding a Sports Column meant I'd found a Hawkeye bar — a place where every Iowa football game is shown on every TV. And that continues to make me happy.
Tonight's trip with Maggie and Brian for Iowa's 35-0 slaughter of Syracuse marks my third appearance at Denver's SpoCo. The first was a heinously hung-over 8 a.m. visit on New Year's Day 2006 to watch our Hawks in the Orange Bowl — a visit that will live forever in my-college-crowd infamy as the time we ordered biscuits and gravy and received overturned hamburger buns because the kitchen was slammed and out of biscuits. Our second trip was late last September, when we watched Iowa lose to number-one Ohio State from the rooftop patio. The place was wall-to-wall with Hawkeye fans who'd had the foresight to show up early, but that didn't stop us from convincing a group of door guys and food runners to climb down to the next roof and hoist up an extra table and chairs. On both those visits the bar was too crowded to be comfortable, but even so, we managed to get plenty fried.
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And the same is true on this third visit, when we arrive after a downtown matinee of Superbad and find no seating available. We split up and case the two rooms, hoping for a miracle, before I finally locate an empty table by the dartboard with no view of the big screens. I half-drag, half-heave the fucking thing through the crowd and muscle it into a spot just enough out of the way to avoid a lecture from the waitress and still ensure regular bar service. Brian and I order pitchers of PBR even though they're more expensive than Miller Lite, and we toast each other, the Hawkeyes and Iowa City with one of those overindulgent gulps that spills down the front of your shirt and into your lap. As far as I'm concerned, we're already winners.
As the game marches on, we notice that the sea of black-and-gold football fans filling the main room of the bar is as protean in nature as the tailgating crowds we used to shotgun beers and grill with when we lived in Iowa City: There are the former sluts and jersey-chasers who drank at Vito's and the Union, still in ass-crack miniskirts and heels even though they're watching football; the muscleheads and white-college-hat-wearing preps who drank at the Fieldhouse, Malone's and One-Eyed Jakes, still toppling whole tables of drinks when they get over-excited; even the potheads and hipsters who drank at the Deadwood, Quinton's and Gabe's, here trying to look disinterested but not immune to jumping up and down or pumping their fists while singing along with the P.A.-pumped fight song after every score. My favorite character is the Deadhead in the tie-dyed T-shirt and ginormous hemp necklace standing near our table who refuses to put his beer down to cheer, opting instead to whack his bulbous beer belly with his free hand in a pitch-perfect clap. It's a display of discipline and dedication worthy of a shot or a hug, though I offer neither.
Instead, I contemplate stealing a bottle of wine and inviting him back to my dorm room for pizza.