A friend of mine just moved to Sunnyside, where Ernie's Bar and Pizza at 2915 West 44th Avenue quickly became her neighborhood watering hole, so I had to come check it out with a small posse for happy hour. I arrived before my friends and had a seat at the bar after surveying the place, inside and out. Outside, the stucco building with orange awnings advertising things like "Beer" and "Pizza" welcomed me in. Inside, the decor was centered on the history of the area and the bar. Some antique furniture, black-and-white photographs and a painting of Ernie Capillupo, the man behind the original Ernie's, set the tone.
The place was pretty quiet because it was on the earlier side of happy hour. I slid into a seat at the large, mirrored bar and took a look at the slightly overwhelming beer list —- Ernie's has an expansive selection of basic and rare beers, from Colorado brewers as well as farther afield. I chose Los Locos from Epic brewing here in town, a beer I'm obsessed with in the summer because it's like a Corona with salt and lime already in it, but better. On the subject of beer, one upcoming special event for beer fans at Ernie's is Sour Beer Month. Throughout the month of July, the taps at Ernie's will pour a variety of sour beers, from the sort-of-tart to the extremely acidic beers that are becoming more and more of a thing lately. Aside from the many brews, whiskey is Ernie's other specialty, including house-infused cherry and peach whiskey cocktails.
I also took a look at the menu, which included the history of the establishment. In 1943, Ernie Capillupo, or Ernie C., as he was known to friends, opened Ernie's Restaurant and Lounge and operated the place until 1986 when he was 73 years old. For many years, especially in the '70s, Ernie's served as a go-to watering hole for Denver's political crowd, with the likes of Governor Dick Lamm and Representative Pat Schroeder frequenting the bar. Ernie sold the bar and it became Three Sons Restaurant and Lounge until 2009. At that point, Larimer Associates, a real estate company with an interest in historic restaurants, bought the location and decided to re-establish the Ernie's name and theme in the spot.
The menu was originally created by one of Denver's culinary pioneers, Sean Kelly, who currently runs SK Provisions in RiNo's Denver Central Market and Desmond Bar and Grill in Park Hill. The roster boasts kinds of Italian-American fare — sandwiches, pizzas, pastas — with a focus on local and fresh ingredients. It's the kind of menu that will satisfy everyone from your aunt that doesn't eat anything but spaghetti with red sauce to your hipster friend that likes things to have arugula in them if at all possible. The pies at Ernie's won Westword's Best New York Style Pizza award in 2015, and the slices are known for being large and laden with traditional toppings. My friends and I got a couple of appetizers and entrees between us, and the highlight was a toss-up between the bruschetta appetizer and the ravioli filled with goat cheese and bathed in buttery sauce, all of which melts in your mouth.
Budget-wise, the way to go for food at Ernie's is to come in for lunch, for an $8.99 pizza slice special. Either that or try the "Happy Sack," which is available any time and consists of a slice of cheese pizza, any draft or canned beer and any well shot for $10.99. Happy hour also includes some food deals, specifically $2 off appetizers, and runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. Other happy hour deals are $1 off most craft beers, $1 off wells, and half price bottles of wine. We happened to show up on Wings and Whiskey Wednesday, so we took advantage of the $5 whiskey drink special, but we didn't leave room for wings. Also good for the wallet, Ernie's offers free birthday tabs up to $20, which would make a great starting place to begin a Sunnyside or Berkeley birthday bar crawl.
The crew at Ernie's is big on giving back to the community, especially to neighborhood schools. This includes providing food for EdFest, benefiting Edison Elementary School, and also supporting events for other nearby schools such as Brown International Academy and Academia Ana Marie Sandoval Elementary School.
We chatted a while longer as the after-work crowd rolled in; several people who were getting dinner and drinks with co-workers bore the distinct look of IT employees, while families with kids spread out in booths and the usual solo middle-aged dudes watched sports games over beers at the bar. The space is large and includes an enclosed patio with open windows, so the crowd was dispersed and seemed thin, even though there were a considerable number of drinkers and diners.
Over to the side of the bar, the lights of two Skee-ball machines caught my eye, but we decided not to disturb the quietness of the place with our minimally skilled but enthusiastic Skee-ball moves. I settled for checking out the old pictures of the neighborhood and the patrons from the original Ernie's on the walls throughout the bar before heading out to our next destination. Ernie's Bar and Pizza, with pleasantly surprising food and beer options to suit all tastes, is definitely worth a visit in Sunnyside for a little history and lots of whiskey and beer.