Tooey's Off Colfax Offers an Offbeat Slice of Denver's Most Famous Street

Sarah McGill
Tooey's Off Colfax is indeed just off Colfax Avenue, at 1521 Marion Street.
Tooey's Off Colfax has its own thing going on. From punk rockers hanging out before or after a show at the Ogden Theatre, to the industry crowd grabbing happy hour on their day off, to a healthy group of soul fans dancing on "Soul Night" on the fourth Saturday of every month, the clientele is a mixed bag. When the establishment first opened at 1521 Marion Street in 2008, it was a sort of "secret" bar because of the lack of signage and a location slightly off the main drag, but the secret (and sign) have been out for a long time now. It's never quite the same vibe at Tooey's, and it's never unfriendly, despite having a very specific decor somewhere between heavy metal and religious iconography — plus animal skulls — that might put off people who are bothered by those sorts of things.

I hadn't been to the bar in a while, so I invited a friend to join me in checking out what I had been missing. We stopped in on a Monday night, which turned out to be the tail end of all-day happy hour, and took full advantage of the $3 wells, $1 off craft beers (of which there are many) and $2 PBR tallboys. On days other than Mondays, happy hour is 2 to 6 p.m., and there are also special "Power Hours" late night on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 11 p.m. to midnight, with $1 cheap beers like Hamm's, Olympia, Old Style and Colt 45, and $2 Espolon tequila and Jameson shots for industry patrons and any other late-night Colfax party people.

click to enlarge An Addams Family pinball machine adds to the scene at Tooey's. - SARAH MCGILL
An Addams Family pinball machine adds to the scene at Tooey's.
Sarah McGill
Aside from the option of getting drunk on the cheap, my friend and I noted the many other charming elements of the bar. The evening was quiet, with just a gaggle of regulars clinking rounds of shots at the bar and a few dudes with ear gauges of various sizes shooting pool. We had a nice chat with bartender Sunshine Volz, a lovely woman with an above-average number of tattoos who told us she comes from "rodeo people" who named her after John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders." Volz and I traded stories about our dogs; she had adopted a Chihuahua that was found under a dumpster by a fellow Tooey's bartender. She also told me about her creative "Yacht Rock" event, where crustless cucumber sandwiches and white wine spritzers are served and easy listening music is played. This soirée happens on the second Saturday afternoon of every month; you can bet that I'll be there on August 12.

My friend and I surveyed the various nooks and crannies of the bar, noticing a photo booth topped with creepy ceramic animals and empty liquor bottles, a vending machine full of snacks (the bar doesn't serve food), an Addams Family pinball machine, a shelf packed with board games and an art installation of various animal skulls lit by electric candles spaced out along the wall next to the stage. There's a visual feast to be had in this bar, and the artistic and offbeat environment is also a great place for local artists to show off their skills, so a wall next to the pool table generally showcases art for sale. On this particular week it was a series of oil paintings.

Outside it was still warm after a brutally hot day, so we lingered in the cool, dark interior. But the bar also has a little front patio good for drinking, smoking and observing Colfax. Tooey's is indeed "off Colfax" — but just barely. The location used to be Club Boca, some sort of goth club, according to Volz, and way back in the day it was an auto garage. You can imagine the auto shop when you notice the brick archways high enough for cars to drive through; still visible in the exposed brick, they've since been filled in with more bricks to create a solid wall.

Owners Alissa and Zach Anderson got into the bar business when they opened Tooey's back in 2008 on Halloween after a quick renovation. This October marks nine years in business, which will be punctuated with a big bash. Volz tells me that folks "go hard on Halloween around here," and I don't doubt it. Tooey's is the sort of place where people can go hard on any given day of the week — or keep things calm and play a little pool or relax in a secluded booth, or anything in between — and not be judged for their choices.

Bands of all sorts and DJs are often in the house, as well as the aforementioned art shows, magazine releases, tattoo expos or fundraisers such as a recent "Face/Off "-themed night for a friend of the bar who had to get emergency surgery on his face after an injury. So there's plenty going on to keep things interesting at Tooey's, in case cheap drinks and traditional activities like talking to people and playing bar games aren't enough for you.

click to enlarge A menagerie of ceramic figurines decorates the top of the photo booth. - SARAH MCGILL
A menagerie of ceramic figurines decorates the top of the photo booth.
Sarah McGill
Although my friend and I were enjoying our rounds of affordably priced drinks and our chat with Volz, we were starting to feel our empty stomachs pulling us to the taco place immediately next door. (Incidentally, said taco place, Las Margs, was doing a $2 taco night, and the tacos were delicious.) So if you want to treat yourself to a budget-friendly bunch of Monday night drinks and maybe some food afterward, take it off Colfax to Tooey's. You really can't go wrong there any night of the week; the establishment is Colfax enough to be interesting, but welcoming enough to be your neighborhood bar.