The Hangar Bar is still flying high

It's not easy to belly up to the bar at the Hangar Bar (8001 East Colfax Avenue). The bolted-down stools are positioned so close to the wooden elbow rest/ledge that extends from the chipped, Formica-surfaced bar that you leave with bruises on your sternum and knees if you settle in long enough. Which I do happily on a Saturday-night visit, thanks to a live blues band that's shaking the walls of this tiny, tiki hut-looking tavern from a makeshift stage — and an incredible bar staff that keeps my pints full when I finish them and my ego in check when I'm so drunk I spill them. April, in particular, soaks up the puddles of Bud floating in front of me with the patience of a big sister cleaning up after a seasick younger sibling. She smirks, teases and eventually puts one of the two I topple on her own tab.

Born in 1938 — the same year as the nearby Lowry Air Force Base — the Hangar Bar specialized in stiff drinks and Colorado camaraderie for Air Force pilots and crew until 1994, when the base closed. Owners changed over the years, as did the clientele, but today the Hangar is a no-nonsense dive serving up the same stiff drinks and open-arms attitude. It's aeronautically themed, right down to the U.S. Army Air Corps posters and airplane models resting on the microwave, but the crowning jewel is the Beer Can Bomber, an airplane sculpture suspended from the ceiling that's roughly the size of a MINI Cooper and comprises more than 300 vintage beer cans. Creator Chris Lewis only repeated cans in one case: A handful of identical Coors cans serve as the propellers. (Two modern Bud bottles stand in for missiles.)

When the black-and-orange-checkered floors are shakin' beneath the weight of hot blues and heavy dancing, the only seats to be had at the Hangar are at the bar. Every other night, a few high-tops surround the two pool tables, and an L-shaped booth sits where the band plays. And year-round, there's a fenced-in outdoor patio, past the bathrooms and cigarette machine, with plenty of room for smokers and fresh-air seekers to take a load off. Happy hours run from 4 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, but there's always a $2.50 drink special (just ask if it's not obvious). With its rotating schedule of special events — college nights, ladies' nights, man appreciation nights, karaoke nights and entire days of free pool — there's always a reason to trek east on Colfax and into the Hangar.

The Beer Can Bomber alone is reason to land here.