Through a Glass, Darkly

Page 10 of 12

Another round, bartender!

Last Call

Given the recent news that Don's Club Tavern, an alcoholic institution on Sixth Avenue for over five decades, could close before month's end, there's no time like the present to celebrate this city's great saloons. Here are ten of the area's best:

Kazmo's, 1381 Kalamath Street

Enough? No such thing. When the bar reopens at 7 a.m. and the DJ pumps up the volume to nuclear-detonation levels, a dozen bold survivors of Saturday night's festivities are primed to re-engage. By 9:15, you can't find a spot at the bar, the pool table is under mass assault, and the blissed-out dreamer who had the dance floor all to herself just a minute ago has been joined by others: singles, trios, entire ad hoc committees. Too strenuous a thought for this tender hour? Then grab another five-buck pitcher of Bud, chill on the couch, and contemplate the music of the spheres.

This is Sunday morning in a windowless refuge called Kazmo's, where strategically pierced and tirelessly inspired creatures of the Denver night convene to punch what's left of their fun tickets. It has been like this for six months now, ever since proprietor Victor Gomez opened his doors to the dawn and let word of mouth build. Now, it seems, the Dominican-born saloon keeper has a full-tilt phenomenon on his hands: Kazmo's on Sunday morning looks like New Year's Eve at Hipster Central. So what's next? "We're doing all right," the young owner allows, "but I'm allergic to drama." -- Sonny Bamboo

Cherry Cricket, 2641 East Second Avenue

"I feel a shift in momentum here," he says, reaching into the small pile of dollar bills heaped like dried leaves between the salt and pepper shakers. He folds the bill he's selected in half, then folds it again and underlines the serial number with his thumb. "Three 3s," he calls out. There are five men around the table; the one wearing a polo shirt looks down from the football game, lifts his reading glasses, then says, "Four 3s." In the circular booth behind them, some University of Denver students are scraping the change out of their pockets for another pitcher of Newcastle; at the bar, a punk-rocker strikes his thumb six times across his lighter before cigarette smoke billows from his face. Rob, a tattooed guy with a crewcut, stops by the table and asks if the men want another round of Bud. The guy in the blue fleece nods. "Four 9s," he says. In Liar's Poker, the cards are also the pot: Whoever gets called out the least on his bluffs wins the hand and the bills. "Four 9s, you say?" one man smirks. "Five 7s." The guy at the end of the table scans the number on his bill: L 09117131 I. George Washington eyes him suspiciously. "Five 9s," he says. Heads around the table lift in unison: "Call." -- Jared Jacang Maher

The Little Bear, 27895 Colorado 74/Main Street, Evergreen

When -- and why -- women first started flinging bras up to the rafters of the Little Bear is lost in the haze of smoke, time and grizzled rock that has flowed through this hallowed site for 35 years. These days, female undergarments aren't hurled very often, but that doesn't seem to matter: The timeless vibe of what's billed as a Western saloon remains. Except for a fire that damaged the kitchen a few months ago, little changes at the Bear -- although enough new folks seem to discover the place to keep it from becoming a geriatric ward. Walls are covered with artifacts from the past -- an Illinois license plate that reads "Broncos 1," pictures of a silver-maned Leon Russell at the Bear a decade ago -- but the place keeps on trucking. Bands like Opie Gone Bad still take the tiny stage, and dancers bump on the even tinier wooden dance floor whenever the mood strikes. It's guaranteed you won't hear a Russell cover, because Russell himself is bound to come back. And so will the raucous revelers. -- Ernie Tucker

Gabor's, 1223 East 13th Avenue

You might not notice her slumping among the leathery regulars, but there's a guardian angel lurking at Gabor's.

"We met here on a Sunday. We were both alone at the bar and kind of tipsy," remembers Erik, who's sitting at one of the bar's caved-in, red-pleather booths with his girlfriend, Angie. "Then this really obnoxious drunk woman sat down and started talking to us. She looked at Angie and said, 'You're cute,' and then she looked at me and said, 'You're cute.You guys should get together.'" And they did.

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