An illuminating evening at the Candlelight

Once a seedy, smoky biker bar where rides (and ride-throughs) were welcome inside, the fifty-year-old Candlelight Tavern (383 South Pearl Street) now rocks higher-watt lightbulbs, stocks higher-shelf booze and attracts a higher-profile clientele — if you can call the swarms of University of Denver kids and alum who flood the two-room neighborhood bar on weekends "higher profile" than bikers. Personally, I try not to judge a barfly by the size of his trust fund, but you get the idea.

Alternately called the Candlefight (partly because of a history that includes door-busting brawls and even deaths) and the Mandlelight (what dive isn't teeming with dudes during the day?), the Candlelight is still plenty rough around the edges, even with a massive flat-screen TV behind the bar, the kind with built-in advertising on the sides. Badly blown speaker boxes pop and hiss with every hip-hop selection on the Internet juke; Air King purifiers collect a scientific amount of dust and debris near the ceiling tiles; the Formica bar top and cabinets conjure discount-bin bowling balls; and the ATM? Imagine a refrigerator-sized version of the IBM 5100 or original Commodore with a 7-Eleven debit-card reader glued to the front. Wicked, um, retro, brah.

Then there's the granular soap in the bathrooms, which I examine in my supple city-boy hands as if gazing upon an endangered species. An ironic throwback? A cheap alternative to bright-pink and orange liquid soap sold by the bucket? More like a holdover from the days when blue-collar hands demanded a little extra grit for all that grease and grime. In any case, it's wonky. As are the very selective kitchen hours, though the six-item menu — two burgers, fries, rings, wings and seasonal chili — more than makes up for that in taste and price.

Darts, billiards, foosball and a shuffleboard table dominate the side room, while wood paneling and trophies dating back more than a decade hold down the decor. The cashews and peanut M&Ms dispensed for a quarter a crank are an added bonus. And the service — Scotty wears a bottle-opener ring, stacks everything served in glasses for easier handling across the bar and keeps credit cards tucked underneath his hat — is efficient, to say nothing of friendly and welcoming.

Tournaments (foosball, darts, rock-paper-scissors) and special events (don't miss the Bar Olympics in October of each year) abound. But if you like it quiet, visit before happy hour ends at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays (well before the door guy shows up to reject fake IDs and enforce fire code), when you can enjoy a $2 PBR and $3 burger in peace.

Contact Drew Bixby at [email protected].

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Drew Bixby