I've been feeling fancy lately, so I've been exploring neighborhood bars in the upscale south Denver suburbs, where I definitely can't afford to live. But that doesn't mean I can't afford a brew or some food down where everyone looks more or less the same when sitting on a bar stool, regardless of income. One of my seasoned bar research friends and I recently ventured down to the neighborhood of Hampden South, which is, you guessed it, south of Hampden Avenue — sometimes referred to as SoHam — to check out the Dam Grille on a Monday night.
The Dam Grille is named for the dam and road that forms the northern edge of the Cherry Creek Reservoir but is located at 8000 East Quincy Avenue — not particularly close to the dam itself, but in the same shopping center as Micro Center, where many nonprofit organizations (like the one I work for at my day job) go to buy discounted computer equipment.
The Dam Grille is welcoming from the outside, with a blazing fire in an outdoor fireplace on the corner of the well-appointed front patio, which is otherwise filled with tables made from liquor barrels. Inside, the place is decorated in a style I like to call "Colorado modern," with corrugated metal wall panels accented with shiny wood bar surfaces and tables and fake stonework. The split-level space has a few pool tables and many large TVs upstairs and a wraparound bar downstairs. Large mirrors on the walls add to the spacious feeling, as do the huge fish tanks lining the back wall behind the bar. I appreciate a good bar fish tank, a rare find in Colorado. The Dam Grille's is one of the largest I've seen, with a whole ecosystem of colorful fish inside.
Also in keeping with the aquatic theme are several massive swordfish and other trophy fish mounted on the walls upstairs (none of which are the type you could pull from Cherry Creek Reservoir). Downstairs there are also a few deer heads displayed on the walls. One of the fish even has a certificate showing that it was caught by the bar's owner, Ed Hahn, which suggests that many of the taxidermied creatures, both land and sea, are likely the result of his hunting and fishing skills. Hahn has owned the bar since 2006; the space previously housed a succession of eateries, including a Mexican restaurant.
After a quick tour of the place, we settled in at the bar, where customers were watching hockey, college basketball and Happy Gilmore. Our bartender noted that during football season, the Dam hosts Broncos fans, just like everywhere else in town, but is also a haven for Minnesota Vikings supporters. There's even a plaque on the wall with the words to some sort of Vikings chant or cheer.
With 24 taps for craft and other beers, including frequent tap takeovers from local breweries, we had plenty of options. High Hops Brewery from Windsor was highlighted this week, so I selected their Habanero Hunny Ale, which had some slowly growing heat to it. To my delight, all the Monday food specials involved blue cheese. I chose a Buffalo blue cheese chicken sandwich, and my friend opted for one of the "Dam Dogs," a chili dog, to be exact. The menu here includes several Mexican options as well as various American bar food staples, with a few salads and fried-fish dishes for variety. We ordered aggressively, adding fried pickles and bacon-wrapped jalapeños, a decadent house specialty filled with molten cheese (though the combination of jalapeños and spicy beer may have been asking for trouble). Despite the miscalculation, we were impressed by the better-than-average bar grub offerings.
Suburban dads, Colorado bros in their twenties and thirties, and after-work groups of guys and gals grazed on appetizers and downed beers and shots. A few folks played pool in the upper level, but most of the patrons were seated at the bar or adjacent tables near us. The bartenders told us about weekly events like weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas, and Wednesday night Ladies' Night, with priced-to-move $2 Bud and Bud Light drafts and Pinnacle vodka drinks, including fancy flavored martinis. Pool is only 25 cents on Tuesdays, and on Sundays during football season, the bar runs fun jersey giveaway raffles.
Life in the south ’burbs didn't seem too bad, based on our brief visit to the Dam Grille. Even if a big house with a big back yard is out of the question, cheap and tasty drinks and bar food are universal — whether you're in north Denver or SoHam.