At Star Bar 2.0, you can't buy your booze with change

"I just need something strong in my veins," she says, tapping the underside of her forearm with two fingers. "What's homemade? What can I get a taste of?"

She's dressed in jean shorts and a simple black blouse, with a black leather purse slung over her right shoulder; her brown hair looks clean, recently styled. She has a cell phone, and fidgets with it no more than an average teenager would. Which is to say she doesn't appear extraordinary in any way. But she's clearly strange, talking to herself, making odd requests.

The bartendress at Star Bar — reopened under new ownership in early April after a liquor-code violation proved insurmountable for the previous owner, who'd run the dive for fifty years — is patient and kind, doing her best to accommodate the peculiar patron, but visibly puzzled. She eventually pours the woman a draft of some double IPA with 8 percent ABV, which the woman slams in three swallows before leaving in haste. The bartendress and I make eyes: "What was that?" we say without saying a word.

That was some riffraff.

Not five minutes prior, this bartendress had been telling me that, in addition to new tables and booths, a swimming-pool-themed back patio, updated bar games and a killer offering of classic cocktails and canned microbrews, one of the major changes at Star Bar 2.0 is not allowing paying-with-change, previous-incarnation holdovers to come in and camp out at the bar as they used to. "We don't want any riffraff scaring away the new clientele," she'd said, adding, "Someone like you doesn't want to come in and deal with that."

Initially, I was amused: Someone like me? Honey, I recently wrote a book on Denver's best dive bars and included Star Bar 1.0 as a personal favorite; I am not the new clientele you're hoping to protect. I also wrote a 2007 Drunk of the Week on the (admittedly sleazy) spot, in which I described hanging out with a whole bunch of riffraff — one-legged baseball fans and sweatpants-wearing solicitors among them, though most notably a homeless man named Terry, with whom I shared a home-cooked meal and many pleasantries.

Two minutes or so after she scurried out, the riffraff is back, once again bellied up directly across from the Wall of Bad Decisions, a back-bar cabinet with a running tally of the times that customers have played Journey on the jukebox or sung it during karaoke (44 times so far). She orders Frangelico neat, pounds it, then orders another, all the while murmuring to herself and wiping her nose with the back of her hand. After the second pour is slammed, she orders a double. While working her way through her fourth (and fifth) drink in fifteen minutes, she takes a phone call.

"Where?" she shrieks. "Chambers and Mississippi? Okay, I'm on my way." Which is frightening — the idea of this woman transporting herself to Aurora in her current condition. Out front, she walks up Larimer for half a block before turning around in a daze and shuffling down Larimer. I say a silent prayer to the universe that she's headed for a bus stop and not a parked car.

Back inside, I switch from $3 cans of Hazed & Infused (happy-hour prices all night on Sundays) to $6 Dark and Stormys, expertly made with Gosling's Black Seal rum, ginger beer and fresh-squeezed lime. After two of these, I switch back to Hazed & Infused, then to $2 Coors Light draws. I'm tempted by the (always) $3 bump shots (1 ounce) and the $5 happy meal (Coors can plus a shot of Beam in the month of August), but I decide to behave myself instead.

Toward the end of the night, after many games of digital lawn darts (on the Target Toss Pro machine) and even more smokes on the empty back patio, I ask the bartendress about the single sink and vanity that used to be in the bar area instead of inside the men's room (where the hand-carved graffiti remains intact on the wood paneling above the urinal). She laughs, says they decided to put the sink in its proper home, then tells me she heard a rumor that the reason Star Bar 1.0 had the sink just a few paces off the dance floor was because both men and women used to pee in it. Having (shamefully?) used a sink or two in my boozy past for other than its intended purpose, I have a difficult time feeling nonplussed about this explanation. In fact, I'm once again amused and realize:

I really like the new Star Bar, but I kind of miss the riffraff.

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Drew Bixby

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