I moved to Denver in 2005, so I never had the privilege of knowing the original Skylark Lounge — the one that lived for sixty years at 58 Broadway, where Barry's on Broadway currently does its damnedest to live up to a legend — but I've always understood that no matter its address, the 'Lark is a Denver institution. It's also the scene of my inaugural book sale as a first-time author, of Denver's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Mile High City.
I'm drinking $2.25 PBR drafts in the upstairs Pair-O-Dice Poolroom with some friends and acquaintances who've asked me to plan a South Broadway bar crawl, showing them a promotional copy of the book that I'd stuffed in my back pocket, when I lean over the wooden bar and ask bartender Tom Ross if he'd be interested in seeing the Skylark's write-up. He smiles, grabs his disposable Walgreens glasses from next to the register, and proceeds to read:
Now comfortably settled into newish digs just three blocks south of its former home, the reincarnated Skylark, though roomier, cleaner and a smidge less rough around the edges, is still so goddamn vintage. Bygone motion-picture posters, some of them for films more than 80 years old — think Hit Parade of 1947, St. Louis Blues (with Bessie Smith), The Bronze Buckaroo and The Outlaw (with Jane Russell), among many, many others — share every inch of wall space with photographs of actors, musicians, politicians and other limelight types. Old-school cash registers, candy machines, spare vinyl-stocked jukeboxes and tabletop bowling games provide the same sort of nostalgia that a trip to the Yankee Trader does, but without all the clutter and dust. And the upstairs Pair-o-Dice Poolroom — which, while shiny and new, has made space for pool and shuffleboard tables, similar checkerboard floors and an even cooler compact-disc jukebox than the one a flight down — features Simpsons and Rocky and Bullwinkle pinball machines from decades past.
Speaking of the jukeboxes: Not only are they stocked with everything from Dwight Yoakam to Elvis Costello to Billie Holiday to the Violent Femmes, but both encourage customers to make suggestions for future inclusions to the barkeep on duty. How cool is that?
Ten beers on tap...He stops reading to tell me I've gotten something wrong. "We've got twenty beers on tap," he says without looking up. What? "You say here the Skylark has ten beers on tap, but we have twenty."
Wow. Um. Shit.
"That's okay," he continues. "People will come in expecting ten and be pleasantly surprised to find twenty."
He's too kind. I'm unbelievably embarrassed and humbled. How could this have happened? What else did I botch while researching and writing about nearly a hundred bars? Tom keeps reading:
Ten Twenty beers on tap and a credit-card terminal have made life on the main floor more luxurious, and the wraparound patio nourishes Denver's obsession with outdoor imbibing, but when a roots, rockabilly or alt-country band hits the small corner stage, the 'Lark's home crowd of scooter-tramp greasers and South Broadway hipsters put on their get-drunk-and-get-down shoes and harken back to the days when seedy and squalid were its most coveted characteristics.
I'm about to convince myself that I'm off to the worst start possible as a new author and self-promoter, when Tom peels the glasses from his face, closes the book and asks, "Can I buy this?"
"Well, yeah," I tell him. "Starting November 1, you can get it from Tattered Cover or Amazon or..."
"No, I mean, can I buy it right now?"
Oh. I guess. Yeah. Fuck, yeah!
While digging in his tip bucket for a ten-spot, Tom asks me to sign it. "To Tom," I scribble, "You just bought the very first copy. No shit." I should have written, "Sorry about the mistake," but I'm too busy reeling from the rush of the unexpected sale, from Tom's enthusiasm and goodwill. I no longer have a promo copy to show friends, 'tenders and random strangers along tonight's crawl, but I don't care. I just sold my first goddamn book, and it feels good.
Celebrate Denver's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Mile High City at a free launch party, 8 p.m. Thursday, November 5, at Club 404, 404 Broadway. For more book-related action, visit http://www.denversbestdives.com/events.html. Contact Drew Bixby at [email protected].