Cafe Society

Bonnie Brae Tavern still kicking (and cooking) at eighty!

The Bonnie Brae Tavern looks pretty good for turning eighty this Friday, and not much different than the day it opened. The roadside eatery will celebrate eighty years of family operation on June 6 with 80 cent draught beers, $1.80 orders of burgers and fries and spaghetti and meatballs, and "Denver's Best Pizza" -- a title awarded by Westword years ago, as well as customers themselves -- for just $8.

See also: Happy 75th, Bonnie Brae Tavern

Michael Dire, the current manager and a member of the third generation of Dires to run the restaurant on South University Boulevard, says the only thing that has changed in his lifetime was a kitchen expansion to keep up with demand -- unless you count the "new" management starting in 1983.

"I always knew I would carry on the legacy eventually," Dire says.

The teal-and-brown color scheme is familiar whether you've been to the Tavern once or a thousand times. So is the banter over baseball between the bartender and the men sitting at the counter.

Carl Dire opened the Bonnie Brae Tavern in 1934 when University Boulevard was no more than a dusty road. Two generations later, the tavern is a main feature of the Bonnie Brae strip.

Photos of the Dire family are plastered across one wall, with a spot for pictures of all of the family members. The other walls are covered in awards and pictures of the neighborhood before it became the Bonnie Brae we know today.

The customer base seems to grow up right alongside the Dires. "We have people whose parents brought them when they were kids and they come with their kids now," Dire said.

Jeff Shoemaker is one of those customers whose family has a long history with the Dires. The Dires supported his father during his time in the Colorado Legislature, and the family's ongoing role in the city prompted Shoemaker and Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown to write up a proclamation celebrating the Dires and the Bonnie Brae Tavern. They presented it to Denver City Council on Monday night, recognizing the success of the establishment.

"The Bonnie Brae Tavern's patrons are an eclectic group encompassing local neighbors as well as large extended families from throughout the Mile High City, priests from the parish down the street, business sector millionaires, lawyers on a lunch hour, politicians both present and past, hard-working everyday men and women, youth soccer clubs and University of Denver students," the proclamation reads.

Shoemaker attributes that tavern's success to good eats and the family's attention to their customers.

"It's a modest place," Shoemaker says. "They work hard to make it look the same. These are people who work hard to remember people.The restaurant business is a people business."

And the people will be out in force to celebrate this milestone. "It's going to be a nuthouse," Shoemaker predicts. "People don't want to miss this day and they don't want to miss their five seconds with the family."