Take a Vacation Just Outside Denver at the Morrison Holiday Bar

Sarah McGill
The Morrison Holiday Bar occupies a historic building in the foothills.
On a recent Saturday, after a hike on Kenosha Pass, a couple of friends and I decided to stop for a drink in Morrison, an odd mix of small town and bustling pre-party location for Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The main drag of Morrison — or at least the only part of the town outside of Red Rocks that your average Denverite has ever seen — is located along Bear Creek Avenue, which winds, logically enough, along the edge of Bear Creek. With various stores, diners and restaurants, it's a walkable if slightly touristy little area. Morrison's main street always feels far removed from the big city, despite the fact that it's only twenty minutes from downtown Denver if you don't hit too much traffic.

As we made our way down the street past souvenir shops and busy restaurants, the sun was shining on a warm day that hinted of impending spring. We were swept into the Morrison Holiday Bar (403 Bear Creek Avenue) along with a crowd of bikers who had just parked their gleaming motorcycles in front of the bar. Once inside, the sheer number of bike enthusiasts in the place was even more evident. Large quantities of graying bikers in leather jackets lined up at the bar or sat at tables throughout the expansive main room. A few kids in soccer uniforms ran around and played near the empty stage. Other customers — fellow hikers, by the looks of them — were dressed like us, sporting outfits clearly purchased from REI in various hues of what's known among outdoor enthusiasts as "technical fabrics." Scattered throughout the bar were locals who knew the names of all the bartenders, and vice versa.

We managed to snag stools at the busy bar — a good spot, it turned out, to experience the Holiday Bar, allowing me to make small talk with customers coming up to order drinks. A few of the older bikers requested my help in reading the numbers on their credit card receipts, cursing the fact that they needed to get reading glasses. I obliged, and they told me about all the bars they like to stop by on their rides up and down Highway 285. One woman told me she came to the Holiday Bar for the first time the day she turned 21. Another biker (in with a large crew) told me he lives in downtown Littleton, and that I should check out the nightlife down there.
click to enlarge Morrison residents and visitors alike call the Holiday Bar "the Local Cure." - SARAH MCGILL
Morrison residents and visitors alike call the Holiday Bar "the Local Cure."
Sarah McGill
When I asked the busy but efficient bartender if anyone was around who could speak to the history of the bar and upcoming events there, she told me the owner was out of the country, but that "Tom is the next best thing." The "Tom" in question — Tom Smith, a Holiday Bar longtime employee — came over to talk with me about the bar. It's true, he said, that the owner, Dave Killingsworth, was currently in Indonesia. Killingsworth definitely isn't the first owner; he bought the bar eleven years ago, but it's been around for at least thirty years, and the building it's in dates back to the early twentieth century. The other side of the old building, which houses Mill Street Eats, has an antique bank safe with an engraving noting the year 1917. The ceiling fans, which turn using a visible pulley-and-belt system, are fascinating to watch and seem quite old-timey, but they're actually recent installations.

Mill Street Eats is a separate business, but you can order food while at the Holiday Bar. We tried to do that, but the kitchen was overwhelmed by the crowd and told us they weren't able to take any more orders at the time. According to Smith, Mill Street has the best burgers in town,and they were a little too in-demand that day. The menu, when available, consists of all sorts of bar-food classics: wings, nachos, burgers, sandwiches and also ice cream. 

Smith also pointed out that the bar is adding a rooftop patio, with an estimated completion date of sometime in May. There's already a smallish patio out back, but it was full of smokers, so we stayed indoors. Weekends are always busy here, and even more so before and after Red Rocks shows. Along with the fans, musicians come in to eat, drink and sometimes even play on the stage. Nathaniel Rateliff had been in recently, according to Smith. Other well-known locals like Pete Coors frequent the place, which was was named a "Best Banquet Bar" in 2013 by Coors for being a loyal market for the brewery's products. Coors is flowing all the time, with $4 Coors drafts all day on Mondays. Also on offer every day are shots from the "World Famous $2 Shot Shelf."

click to enlarge The pool room sees plenty of action on a Saturday afternoon. - SARAH MCGILL
The pool room sees plenty of action on a Saturday afternoon.
Sarah McGill
There's some form of live entertainment every night, with a mix of karaoke and open-mic nights as well as bands on the weekends, with two shows daily on Saturdays (and no cover!). There's also a large side room with arcade games, pool tables, darts and a popcorn machine.

Duck races are a big deal at the Holiday Bar. On every major holiday from Memorial Day to Labor Day (and sometimes later, weather permitting), rubber ducks are distributed in the bar and floated down Bear Creek. When it's too cold for outdoor duck festivities, holidays are celebrated with free food for patrons, with Thanksgiving and Veteran's Day being particularly well attended. According to Smith, Killingsworth is a Navy veteran who was inside the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, so Veterans Day is an important observation here.

Dogs are welcome on the patio at the Holiday Bar, and according to Smith, they're eligible for a free hot dog when they come to visit. My little food-obsessed dog would be greatly excited by this opportunity, so he's coming along next time.

While the Holiday Bar isn't a destination in and of itself, each visit feels like a mini-vacation, whether you stop in after a concert, a motorcycle rally or a hike. Next time you need an escape, bring your dog or your posse and take a little holiday from the city.