There are dive bars and then there are neighborhood bars. What's the difference? Sometimes it's difficult to explain.
But we knew that the Kentucky Inn had moved from a dive to something a little more genteel after the South Pearl Street watering hole was purchased by Dave Bryan and Lisa Bryan, the owners of the Candlelight Tavern just up the road. Our Best Dive Bar award went to the Kentucky Inn in 2011, but even then it was wishful thinking. And neither the Candlelight nor the Kentucky make our regularly updated list of the ten best dive bars in Denver anymore, owing as much to a younger, tidier clientele as to the spiffing up that the two spots have received over the past few years. Call it reverse entropy: The Kentucky Inn has resisted slow decay, and a changing neighborhood demographic means you're far more likely to see toddlers playing on the floor than drunks passed out there.
The reversal of entropy requires the addition of energy, which was initially provided by the Bryans. And it continues with longtime Denver restaurateur Richard Salturelli, who just bought the Kentucky Inn and has already made a few upgrades. While the Bryans gradually improved the place from dingy dive to a respectable Washington Park establishment, Salturelli (in partnership with Jim Armstrong, Fred Cooke and Denise Dillinger) is ushering the joint from a simple drinking stop to a full-blown sports bar with multiple flat-screens showing NFL ticket, Center Ice, Pack 12 and Big 10 packages. A full kitchen will serve burgers, Mexican dishes and other pub grub, and the bar will pour twenty beers on tap, most of which will be craft brews.
Fans of CityPub & Burger will know Salturelli's work; he's been a part of the bar and restaurant scene for years, with the likes of the defunct Bay Wolf and Manhattan Grill, and the very much alive Blake Street Tavern and CityGrille (which he sold in 2012) on his resume. He was also a partner in the Cherry Cricket from 1976 to the early '90s, and so has a remarkable track record serving top-notch burgers around town.
That will continue at the Kentucky Inn; "Great burgers, craft beer, award-winning green chile — that's what we're aiming for," Salturelli explains.
The changes will come in phases, with the new tap system expected in about six weeks and a new kitchen setup that Salturelli hopes will be built out next February. The space currently has a kitchen, but a hood, grill and other basic equipment will need to be added, so the owner says he will probably need to close for two weeks or so during construction.
So while Washington Park West has slowly lost the come-as-you-are, dive-bar grit of the original Kentucky Inn, a new destination will soon be fully formed, bringing a taste of Salturelli's classic neighborhood eateries to the neighborhood.