Challengers Makes Even Denver Transplants Into Broncos Fans

Challengers Sports Bar and Grill has been a big draw for over ten years at 12161 Iliff Avenue.
Sarah McGill
Challengers Sports Bar and Grill has been a big draw for over ten years at 12161 Iliff Avenue.
For some people, Monday night football is an event to be marked on their calendars — especially when the Broncos are playing. I am not one of those people. My friend, who is also not a football enthusiast, and I were caught off guard by a Monday night Broncos game on our recent trip to Challengers Sports Bar and Grill at 12161 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora. Usually, Mondays are a good day to get a feel for a bar, because only true regulars come out this early in the week. Not so on this particular Monday. But honestly, according to my friend, who frequented the bar with a friend of hers who used to live nearby, there's never really a slow night at Challengers.

The place was jam-packed with folks in Broncos gear loudly cheering on the hometown team when we arrived. The packed interior erupted into boos and cheers, depending on the on-screen action, while a few dissenting Kansas City fans made noise as well — but everyone was in high spirits. Every seating area was full: the little area near the pool tables, the booths along the wall and all sides of the rectangular bar in the center of the large space. More orange could be found in the festive Halloween decorations, along with many ghosts hanging from the ceiling and skeletons perched around the room.

Our only options were to stand in the back by the pinball machines and Golden Tee games or to check the patio, where we managed to find a table despite the crowd — there were two TVs out there, too. In fact, the game was even blaring at full volume on a TV in the women's restroom. So this is an ideal spot if you don't want to miss a second of the action but really need to hit the bathroom after a few drinks.

click to enlarge No need to worry about missing the game in the women's restroom at Challengers. - SARAH MCGILL
No need to worry about missing the game in the women's restroom at Challengers.
Sarah McGill
On the patio, it didn't take us long to start up a conversation with a regular customer and a former Challengers cook, who told us that neighbors come for good food, cheap drinks and a "multicultural atmosphere" where everyone is welcome. That's an accurate description: The crowd was definitely diverse — even if nearly everyone was wearing a Broncos jersey or T-shirt.

Food recommendations from our bar insiders included wings — especially the ones doused in the super-spicy "5/11 Alarm" sauce — along with the ribeye sandwich, pizzas and the Mexican options such as burritos and tacos. Several drinks here are a steal any time of the day, but especially during happy hour, when shots go for $3.50 and domestic pitchers of beer are only $8.50. Happy hour runs twice daily, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 11 p.m. to close.

One of our new friends recommended a "Root Beer Barrel," and even bought me one to try. The rest of the crowd on the patio cheered me on and gave instructions about how to drink the shot-in-a-glass. Everyone agreed that I should just chug it all down without stopping, so I did, and felt like a champ. The drink is apparently a combination of Jägermeister and root beer-flavored schnapps in a shot glass, which is then dropped into a pint glass of beer. That sounds kind of gross, but it actually turned out to be oddly delicious.

We also enjoyed an order of fried pickle spears, which I consider superior to pickle slices (whether fried or not) because frying a whole spear adds more texture and overall enjoyment.

click to enlarge Challengers is in the Halloween spirit! - SARAH MCGILL
Challengers is in the Halloween spirit!
Sarah McGill
The Broncos game was a close one, and although my friend and I are terrible fans, something about the atmosphere and the general camaraderie of the place sucked us in to caring about it. During commercials, we were introduced to the "OG" staff at the bar, Jasmine and Jeremy, and were regaled with various stories of why Challengers is better than other bars in the area. We also learned a bit of history, that owners Jim and Michelle Smith opened the bar ten years ago after working at America's, a now-closed bar once located down the road at Chambers and Iliff.

Even after the games end on TV, late-night happy hour is never slow, with a big service-industry and late-night party crew coming in after 11 p.m. to enjoy the specials. Wednesday night trivia offers a chance to win prizes, and Tuesday nights are pool league nights. And on any night of the week, recreational sports teams of six or more people in uniform get specials on wings and pitchers after their games.

The late turnaround in the football game prompted much yelling, but everyone was a little subdued after the Broncos lost, and the crowd started to thin out. We didn't quite make it to late-night happy hour on our Monday night visit, but my friend, who had enjoyed many a late drink here, assured me that there would be plenty going on at Challengers long after we headed home — which we did, because it was a Monday night and we hadn't put that level of partying, or that amount of football, on our calendars.

Challengers is located at 12161 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora and is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Call 303-750-5558 or visit the Challengers website for more details.