Although it's a little newer to the scene than some, the Federal Bar and Grill has garnered a local following in the Jefferson Park and adjacent Highland neighborhoods over the past four years. After taking over the space that the Micky Manor bar occupied for 79 years, Christopher and Nikki Mohaupt opened the Federal in May 2013. They gutted most of what was the Micky Manor interior, but built a new back bar incorporating parts of the original, keeping the art-deco look.
A friend who works nearby suggested that we stop in to the bar for a drink and meet up with a few other friends on a recent Tuesday night. It was my first visit, and we discovered that Tuesday was trivia night and all-day happy hour, so apparently we picked a good day to come by. The trivia competition was well under way by the time we arrived, so we didn't try to join in. But my friend pointed out that it's never too late for popcorn at the Fed, so we chowed down on some free popcorn from the big machine in the back. I also noted the presence of a ping-pong table in the back, which I appreciated for adding a little variety beyond just the basic pool or shuffleboard.
I was also excited as I watched the bartender pull back a panel of what looked like a countertop next to the ping-pong table, revealing a hidden staircase, where he disappeared into the basement below. Because who doesn't like hidden things? My friends didn't believe that there was a staircase because it was so well-disguised, but bartenders don't just disappear into thin air (though at some bars, it seems as if they do).
That's not the case at the Fed, though, where the bartender and server were friendly and on top of things, even as the crowd continued to grow over the course of the evening. Aside from popcorn, the actual food menu at the Federal offers a good variety of burgers, salads and other bar staples like wings and soft pretzels.
Mohaupt, who previously worked with the Larimer Associates restaurant group at Billy's Inn and the Lowry Beer Garden, prides himself on offering a menu that includes plenty of gluten-free options and local ingredients. He also enjoys creating a beer list that changes every week and finding unique brews to bring in to the Fed. There were definitely a few beers I hadn't seen before, and even my beer-connoisseur friend found some new options to try.
Mohaupt mentions that for beer nerds, he run a "Beer Club" from 6 p.m. to close every Monday, and the whole month of March is dedicated to unique stouts, which sounds like a good way for fans of the February Stout Month at Vine Street Pub to continue their love affair with dark beers for another month.
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The Federal celebrates its anniversary every May, when patrons are invited have fun with the Star Wars "May the Fourth be with you" pun by partying in their best Wookiee and Princess Leia outfits (rest in peace, Carrie Fisher).
As my friends and I watched trivia teams continue a fierce battle, we also observed the crowd, which consisted of several groups of guys and women in their twenties and thirties, and even scattered pockets of members of the forty-and-up age bracket occupied booths and tables throughout the bar. The demographic didn't feel entirely in keeping with the bar's location on Federal Boulevard, but Mohaupt states that the crowd is a neighborhood one that has grown as new apartments and condos have continued to pop up around the area.
Having just returned from a holiday visit to the East Coast, I was struck by the fact that everyone in the place looked very Colorado on this wintry night; guys and girls wore high-performance coats over hoodies and jeans, some with baseball caps representing local breweries or Denver sports teams. It was too cold to be out on the bar's covered patio, but I could imagine this same group drinking outside if it was just a little warmer and the sun was out — warm jackets and cold beers are a typical Colorado equation.
After we finished our beers, it was time to head back out into the frigid night to go home. I was definitely a little reluctant to leave behind the warm glow of the Federal at the end of the evening. But I resolved to come back and play some ping-pong, and maybe sit on the patio to see how much Colorado I could handle.