If you’re a recent transplant, you’re probably tired of longer-time Denver denizens remarking with wide-eyed wonder at the changes this city has undergone in the last decade. But forgive us the earnest indulgence, because whether we were born and raised here or just moved here ten years ago, we still can’t quite believe that RiNo is anything other than forlorn warehouses, that Union Station is home to fine dining and a farmers' market, that once-sleepy Tennyson Street is a hotbed of drinking and dining. (If we’ve been around longer, we’re probably still rambling on about LoDo’s reinvention from a crime-ridden wasteland, or LoHi’s emergence as a thing — or how much we hate the modern monikers.)
You can still make out old Denver in some places, though it might take a little squinting. Try a time-forgotten drive on the wild and weird and defiantly ungentrifiable Colfax, where salty old barflies still gather for their daily constitutional and a little banter. Or hole up in spots like My Brother’s Bar, where the walls exude history and bartenders still whisper of a beatnik past.
If you want a glimpse of old-money Denver — if a frontier town like Denver can have an old money set — head to Angelo’s Taverna, the Italian haunt at 620 East Sixth Avenue that’s been serving neighborhoods near the Denver Country Club since the Nixon administration.
The original Angelo’s (there’s now a sibling with an attached winery in Littleton) got an interior and menu update in 2013 when Craig Jones and Eric Hyatt took over as owners, but it’s still all dark woods and stained-glass windows, with the kind of labyrinthine floor plan that suggests the restaurant was built before breezy, cavernous dining rooms became the norm. A retirement-age crowd tends to fill the bar — the very same people who, if prompted, might have a lot to say about Denver's evolution. Their familiarity with each other and with the staff creates a social-club vibe.
Even if you think that’s not your scene, don’t write this place off yet: In a city that’s become seriously low on red-sauce Italian, Angelo’s makes a compelling gastronomic offer that transcends any misgivings you might have about the crowd — and during happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and then again from 9 p.m. to midnight daily, you can access that food for less.
Anchoring the happy-hour menu — and much of this spot's history, for it bills itself as Denver's original pizza and oyster bar — are the oysters, on offer for $1 on the half-shell, and $2 chargrilled. We're half-shell people, and if you are, too, you should not miss your chance to eat at least a dozen of the plump mollusks, served cold and clear on a bed of ice with horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce, red-wine mignonette, and a scattering of lemon wedges.
That special alone would be enough to recommend the place, but it also leads to our one gripe: There’s really nothing to pair, wine-wise, with your shellfish. Angelo’s discounts its tap and Carboy-brand wines by $2 during these hours, and while that’s a diverse list of reds and whites, nothing on offer is the crisp, bracing white you’d want to drink with oysters. Go off the happy-hour list, and pickings are still slim. If you want a classic pairing, it’s better to veer toward an on-tap stout, which, as with all draft beers, you’ll get for $1 less than normal.
Angelo’s wine list pairs better with its other bites, which skew toward red-sauce-based snacks hefty enough to build a meal. Toasted ravioli are particularly pleasurable drinking fare: the soft, whipped-ricotta-stuffed ravioli shells are deep-fried until crispy and served with a dish of tangy marinara ideal for dipping. More dinner-like sustenance can be found in the three varieties of sliders — our pick is the marinara-and-mozzarella-spackled sausage, made from an original Angelo’s recipe — and the eight-inch one-topping pizza, which can be yours for a measly $6. Round out your meal with a discounted Caesar salad, and order another pour to toast the future — while paying prices from the past.
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