When I go to the Hornet, it usually involves one of two things: Either I am there on a Tinder date, or I run into one of my friends who lives in the neighborhood. Or, actually, three things, if I include summertime visits for a show during the Underground Music Showcase. I think there may have even been one occasion where I accomplished the trifecta by going to a UMS show with a Tinder date and running into my ubiquitous Baker-dwelling friend.
The Hornet is a good place for a first date; it's not intimidatingly hipster like some nearby Baker establishments, but is just a little bit cool with its slightly upscale food menu and wide array of craft beers. There's also a pool table and an awesome secluded patio, either of which could come in handy, depending on the company. Also, it's close to tons of other bars and restaurants, so you can continue the evening if your date is going well. If it's not going well, you can make some excuse about your meter running out (because all the meters on Broadway have two-hour limits).
My most recent trip to the Hornet was with a couple of friends, both Denver natives, one of whom used to live in the area. We stopped in for drinks on a late Saturday afternoon, and things were pretty relaxed at the bar — which isn't always the case. Sometimes it's bumping with a variety of dudes who look like they like soccer (or possibly actually like soccer), couples, and (of course) people on first dates.
We selected our beers from the bar's large list; I tried a couple craft beers I'd never tasted from the exotic locales of Portland and New Hampshire. One of my friends ordered the popcorn-chicken appetizer, a basic but enjoyable snack, as I discovered after snagging a couple of bites. I tend to favor the Hornet's various Mexican and Latin American menu items, such as fish tacos and pupusas. I also enjoy brunch there, served until 3 p.m. on weekends, for those days when you sleep in too late for brunch elsewhere.
The calm before the storm on a Saturday evening at the Hornet.
We chatted a bit with bar manager Laura Benning, who told us that the place has been the Hornet since 1995, and that the current owner, Sean Wakeman, has been affiliated with the bar for the past thirteen years. Which, as establishments in the much-gentrified Baker neighborhood go, is a pretty lengthy tenure. Prior to becoming the Hornet, the space housed a restaurant that bore the amazing name of Old Man's Spaghetti and Hot Dogs. My friends recalled the existence of this eatery, but, sadly, had never been there.
Benning, who lives in the neighborhood herself, has noticed the rise of the "LoDo on Broadway" phenomenon that many area residents lament. In any neighborhood bar in the vicinity, the locals notice a weekend influx of what some might call LoDo bros, who tend to be a bit louder, drunker and less respectful than the everyday crowd. Some blame this on the crowds that come and go from Punch Bowl Social across the street, a much larger venue with lots of space for indoor games (like a less-corporate version of Dave & Busters), but there are plenty of other recent arrivals that make the neighborhood a prime destination for bar-hopping. Regardless of the cause, business is booming in the area. Benning has noticed the shifts in demographics but feels like the Hornet still maintains a neighborhood, non-LoDo vibe. I agree, and it's one of the reasons the Hornet makes such a good meeting place for dates: You can actually hear yourself think and hear your companion talk.
Although patio season is over until next year, the secret back patio at the Hornet is an intimate, secluded spot away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway.
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Benning also tells us about a new open-mic night the Hornet is starting on the first Tuesday of every month called "Camp Broadway." The idea is to showcase the talent in the neighborhood, from bands to poets, and to take advantage of the bar's cabaret license and back room that doubles as a stage. The cabaret license also allows the Hornet to host live music periodically, including the aforementioned Underground Music Showcase, a four-day live-music extravaganza on Broadway with tons of local and touring indie bands. Other big events are St. Patrick's Day and an annual New Year's Eve dance party, with drink specials and champagne toasts, that benefits Doctors Without Borders. The folks at the Hornet are big on giving back to the community, quick to host events and donate for charity auctions.
After the popcorn chicken and beers were gone, we were out and on to our next destination. That's how it usually goes for me: The Hornet is one stop on my journey to somewhere else — but it's not a bad spot to stay for a while, as the past twenty years have proven.