Cafe Society

Acting Neighborly

In 1873, a group of Germans built a tavern in the heart of Golden's "Goosetown" community, a neighborhood thick with immigrants who worked at what was then the Golden Brewery--later to become Coors Brewing Company--and spent their wages each night throwing back cold ones. The Goosetown Tavern, as it was known until 1989, is thought to have been the oldest continuously operating bar in the Denver area, and maybe the state. Even after it was sold and renamed Sam's Land, it remained a popular local hangout until the last owner, Sam Whelan, died in 1997 and his son was forced by debts and lack of business to sell the place to Coors.

Which promptly turned it into a parking lot.
Fast-forward to 1998, when the most visible of the founders of the Wynkoop Brewing Company, John Hickenlooper, was looking to open a tavern-type spot on East Colfax. He bought the innards of the old Goosetown Tavern from Coors before the wrecking ball dropped and then used the worn wooden bar, oversized wooden booths and various bits of memorabilia to line the interior of his new space (the former home of the Across the Street Cafe), across from the Bluebird Theater. Hickenlooper's intention was to evoke the ambience of an old neighborhood joint, at the same time giving the thriving area another option for a brewski--many of which are from the Wynkoop, of course--and a bite.

But the only thing this Goosetown Tavern evoked for me was a headache.
The service was poor, even by today's standards. In the ladies' room, the seat for the toilet--kind of a crucial component of the beer-focused tavern experience--was lying on the floor next to it. The deafening volume of the incessantly throbbing music forced customers to speak exceedingly loud. At one point a leather-clad babe came through the front door clutching a cell phone to her head. "Whoa, it's too fucking loud in here!" she roared into some poor person's ear. Amen, sister.

But the worst thing about the Goosetown was its food, a mix of yuppified pub grub and bad Italian that took too long to arrive and gave the impression that no one in the kitchen really cared. The only keeper encountered over two visits: a trio of spreads ($6.50) that included a snappy roasted-red-pepper pesto, a velvety textured and tahini-packed hummus and an olive-dense olivada (an Italian version of tapenade). The spreads came with wedges of the tavern's fresh, spongy focaccia, which was much better than what the menu had promised would be "seasonal veggies" but turned out to be a few wrinkled carrot sticks and some withered broccoli.

If only we'd stopped there. But, no, we had to order a Caesar salad ($4.95), which came with more focaccia and featured a nice-sized pile of brown-edged romaine with enough salty dressing to decoupage one of those wooden booths. We followed that up with a traditional pizza ($5), the base of which tasted suspiciously like focaccia, except that it wasn't dotted with herbs. Instead, it was thickly quilted with cheese and a nebulous red sauce. Even more nebulous was the pizza's size, listed on the menu as ten inches in circumference, but not even close to my hand-span of eight.

Stingier still, the Sicilian Poorboy ($6.95) took more of that focaccia--it seems to come with every Goosetown dish in some form or another--and augmented it with as little cappicola, provolone, mozzarella and the usual trimmings as possible. Something's poor here, all right, but it's not this eatery's food costs. One listed ingredient, the prosciutto, was missing entirely. When we asked our server about its absence, she told us we were mistaken: "Oh, no, the Sicilian doesn't come with prosciutto." We were going to ask her to bring the menu back so that we could prove prosciutto was in fact listed as the poorboy's first ingredient, but since she was the only person working the place, we were afraid there might be repercussions if she left in a huff.

On our second stop, the service was still poor, the toilet seat continued to gaze up at me in defiance from the floor, Pearl Jam jammed so loud I had a concert flashback, and the food was even worse. The Greek salad ($5.25) was another pile of past-their-prime greens wet down with dressing, this time a wonderfully tart, balsamic-laced tomato vinaigrette that would have been better in a much smaller dose. The pomodoro salad ($5.50) came with not-fresh mozzarella of indeterminate origin--the menu said buffalo, but as a cheesehead, I doubt it--that had been layered with crunchy, pinkish, unripe romas, too-thick red onion slices and basil with the blackened edges of age, all of which had been drenched in another vinaigrette, this one mouth-puckeringly balsamic-heavy. But at least both salads came with that fresh focaccia.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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