Blocks from the hustle and bustle of the Art District on Santa Fe — and the Sixth Avenue on-ramp to I-25 — lies an unassuming little bar called the Lincoln Park Lounge at 778 Mariposa Street. After a recent revitalization of the former — and rather sketchy — Westside Bar, which lay vacant for years, the Lincoln Park Lounge will celebrate three years in business next month, with a party for regulars and newbies alike coming up on August 21.
A friend of mine who lives nearby graciously gave me a tour of the Lounge and introduced me to owner Jake Lamm, a big, friendly guy who was happy to chat between lightning-fast drink pours and greetings to regulars while he manned the bar. Lamm told me that he opened the bar on a whim with his wife, Tiffany Lamm, after working for the railroad for years and getting sick of that. The spot was new to me, though I remember driving by the Westside Bar on my way to work via the Eighth Avenue bridge, back when I worked on that side of town. It's in sort of an off-the-beaten-track spot, but with the nearby Baker neighborhood booming and the ongoing success of the First Friday Art Walk events just down the road, Lamm sees more new faces coming in every day to mingle with the neighborhood regulars who enjoy the bar already.
The place isn't huge, but everything is clean, bright and freshly painted. Art scattered around the bar, mostly along the wall behind the bar, is marked for sale. The pieces are oddly compelling, and I find myself lingering in front of bold, colorful paintings depicting nautical motifs like sea monsters and pirates. A seat at the bar is the place to be, and that's where most of the regulars hang out, leaving the red booths around the perimeter of the long, rectangular space vacant.
Right next to our seats at the bar, a string connected to the ceiling at one end with a ring on the other hung from a hook protruding from the wall. I discovered it was actually a bar game, which one of the regulars taught me how to play; it involves drawing the string (and ring) back and letting it swing back and forth like a pendulum in an attempt to catch the ring on the hook. Some call it "that ring-and-hook game," while others call it "Bimini," named for its supposed invention by Ernest Hemingway on a fishing expedition in Bimini, an island in the Bahamas. Despite being simple, the game is challenging, to say the least, and I was not even close to successful enough to earn the right to sign my name on the wall near the hook.
Other forms of entertainment to be had at Lincoln Park include a video bowling game, which was being enjoyed by a large group of young Latino guys when we came in. The game must have been pretty competitive, because periodically we could hear cheering or booing from that side of the bar. There's also a pool table in the same small area near the video bowling and a custom beer pong table. For good measure, there is also a giant Jenga set and a Bonus Hole game where patrons can win quarters and other prizes by knocking them off the edges of a platform with quarters of their own. On Wednesdays, if there's a good crowd, Lamm and the staff get a "Bar Olympics" competition started. Beer pong, the ring game, flip cup and Jenga are the main Olympic events in which teams compete for prizes and glory.
The patrons sitting at the bar are mostly in their thirties and forties, primarily white and Latino, which reflects the neighboring blocks. Lamm tells me that the crowd varies; on certain nights he sees an influx of motorcycle enthusiasts, and on First Fridays, a younger, more artsy crowd overflows from the art galleries on Santa Fe.
My friend says he likes the vibe and all the "nice, normal people." Everyone seems friendly and relaxed, but most patrons are intent on their conversations, and Lamm weaves his way around, chatting briefly and bringing out beers and mixed drinks to the thirsty folks. My friend swears by the margarita, a house specialty. I have never really been into margaritas myself, so I stick with a vodka soda, and the third member of our posse gets a beer. The draft beer selection isn't huge — just the usual Coors and PBR, plus a few fancier pours for the hipper customers. When we were in, it was happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m every weekday, and the offer is $1 off wine, well drinks and draft beers. Daily specials also keep things interesting at the Lincoln Park Lounge, ranging from 20 percent off your tab with a medical marijuana card on "Mary Jane Mondays" to all-day happy hour every Saturday.
Whatever you call this game, getting the ring on the hook spells bragging rights in the form of your name on the wall at the Lincoln Park Lounge.
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For food, the Lincoln Park Lounge once had its own food truck, which my friend says served up one of the best burgers he's ever had. Unfortunately, at the moment Lamm and company are in search of a new truck; the building has no kitchen, which limits options. So keep your eyes open for the return of the Lincoln Park Lounge Street Eats truck, which will be parked at the bar on some nights, but Lamm also has plans to do a bit of neighborhood traveling, to places like Renegade Brewing and Black Sky Brewery.
Lamm and his bar exude an optimistic and excited air that goes along with being new, with hopes of continued growth for the neighborhood, which Lamm and many others consider up-and-coming. In my estimation, things are already off to a strong start, with fun bar games, creative and cheap drink specials, and a down-to-earth group of regulars to welcome anyone who happens to find themselves in the neighborhood.