Across Eighth Avenue and just down the block, the neon-bright liquor store and a bodega are humming with activity — parked cars with their doors ajar, engines idling, low-end bass rumbling the parking-lot pebbles like un-popped kernels of corn; loiterers and potential customers huddling in circles, laughing loudly, talking shit. Two kids who must be under ten are kicking an empty plastic water bottle down the sidewalk toward me — finger-combing their black, wavy hair, rolling their shoulders, clenching their biceps and generally posturing like they wish they could win a fight. Directly across from me, three guys in dark coats are slowly sauntering — whistling in my direction, flashing plastic Baggies, trying to make a sale. I shake my head, no thanks, and shuffle back inside, away from the hustle and bustle brought on by an unseasonably warm winter evening.
The Westside Bar (778 Mariposa Street) — "Denver's Favorite Sketch-Ass Bar Since 1934," according to T-shirts selling for twenty bucks a pop — has been under new ownership since July 2008 but retains much of its old charm. Tommy, a 44-year-old Latino gentleman with a warm smile and a nervous disposition, rubs his elbows on the well-worn black-and-silver Formica bar top and tells me his dad wore down many of these spots himself when Tommy was just five. He insists that Pat, a graying white guy in a Broncos hat and tapered blue jeans tucked into white tennis shoes, simply came with the place. An employee of some sort, Pat slugs complimentary Coors Light bottles, belches with stentorian force (though he excuses himself) and slow-dances with every lady who comes through the front door. "The former owners just wrote him into the contract, I guess," Tommy offers.
Friendly, welcoming characters from all walks crowd the long, narrow room and spill out both the front and back doors for cigarettes. On another break, I am joined by a woman who introduces herself as SinCity; she thinks she sees an ex-boyfriend loitering in front of the liquor store and wants to hide behind me while attempting to find out. She leans to my side and screams, "Hey, you bitch-ass doughnut!" — but it's not him. Back inside, a man of maybe 300 pounds orders Bud Light bottles, and the bartendress knows to bring him a pint glass of ice with olives, hot peppers and lemon slices on top. He slams 'em like teenage triceps in an unfair arm-wrestling competition and cries out, "I think someone drank my beer!"
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Though the max-capacity sign claims 64, the Westside — with its green-painted wood paneling, two uneven pool tables and mismatched bar stools — could easily pack in a hundred. Probably more. A red-and-gray boombox on a shelf above the front door plays country-music radio (and commercials), though customers occasionally feed the Internet juke. PBR bottles are always $1.50, but happy hour (weekdays, 3 to 6 p.m.) draws the biggest crowds thanks to dollar draws, $3.25 pitchers and two-for-one wells. A sideways piece of wide-rule notebook paper advertises homemade burritos, beef or pork, for $2.
A more fitting slogan for the Westside Bar: A Friendly Neighborhood Spot Serving One of Denver's Most Sketch-Ass Blocks Since 1934. But that probably wouldn't fit onto a T-shirt.