Barry Zadikoff's family has been in the bar business in the Mile High City since the 1950s. His parents and grandparents owned bars, and he followed in their footsteps. Zadikoff himself has owned quite a few watering holes over the years, but lately he's been focused on the one that bears his name: Barry's on Broadway (58 Broadway). I've been in the bar various times for happy hour or as a stop on a trip down this bar-and-restaurant-heavy main drag, but I decided to drop in on a Sunday with some friends and enjoy the casual atmosphere, replete with Skee-Ball and budget-friendly drinks.
We took advantage of the Sunday special — $5.50 for a domestic canned beer and a shot — and then settled in at the back, past the long, narrow galley of the bar and behind the Skee-Ball machine, to shoot a little pool. Over billiards, my friend recalled that Barry's was one of the first bars she ever visited in Denver, on a night that also included the Lancer Lounge (before it became the Vesper Lounge) and waking up in a stranger's apartment in Capitol Hill — which is not surprising, given that Barry's and the Lancer were prime places to get drunk on the cheap in Denver, and Barry's still is.
Pool tables can be found at almost any bar, but here the main attraction is Skee-Ball, so we plied the bartender for quarters and loaded up the machine, playing a few amateur-level games that weren't even close to the high score needed to win a free shot. Back at the bar, the bartender gave us more backstory about Barry's, pointing out that Zadikoff himself was sitting not too far from us. "That's Barry?" I asked. "The one and only!" he replied.
After I introduced myself and explained my mission, Zadikoff told me he liked my style of writing about neighborhood bars without using the term "dive bar" (since defining the subtle differences between a dive bar and a neighborhood bar can lead down rabbit holes from which we might never emerge). Barry's is definitely a neighborhood bar for evolving Baker to the west and lesser-known Speer to the east, and has been for fifteen years, ever since Zadikoff bought the joint, sight unseen, after reading an ad in the Rocky Mountain News. The location became vacant when the Skylark Lounge moved a few blocks down the street to its current home at 140 South Broadway, leaving little other than the very bar we were sitting at. The owner also pointed out that you can tell the bar stools used to be bolted down, because there are specific spots where the laminate bar top has been worn down from patrons' elbows rubbing on them for years.
Zadikoff, a student of Denver history, likes little details like this. He remembers when Broadway used to be known as the Miracle Mile and was the main shopping area of the region, full of department stores, car dealerships and theaters. There are several pictures from this era on the wall by the booths — his personal collection of historic photos, he says. He reminisces about Denver from the days when it truly was a cowtown, when Monaco Parkway was a dirt road and life was a bit simpler.
Zadikoff has weathered the ups and downs of Denver's economy and says bars can stay afloat even during tough times, because no matter what's going on in the world, "people still drink." Sometimes the best way to survive in the bar business, in his opinion, is to focus on the booze and not really emphasize food. This is how it is at Barry's, which has no kitchen. This wisdom was passed down to him by late bar legend Jerry Feld of Club 404 (which is now Rory's Tavern), who went to high school with Zadikoff's father. Feld eventually gave in and served food at the 404, but he told Zadikoff that his best years financially were before that happened.
On busy weekends, which Zadikoff describes as being in a state of "controlled chaos," he mans the door and hardly sees Colorado IDs anymore — evidence of how much Denver is changing. Everyone is from Illinois, Florida, Ohio or California, he points out, an accurate reflection of how the neighborhood has become trendy for transplants in the past few years.
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Barry's location in the midst of the Broadway action makes it the sort of place that drinkers go for happy hour or to "pre-game" before heading to other bars or to a concert at one of the many venues nearby. One of my drinking companions returned from the bathroom with a photo of the trough in the men's bathroom, a rarity these days (and something I've never witnessed personally), but one that some male customers appreciate for its expediency on busy nights.
As for the rest of the bar, Zadikoff says the theme is that "we have no theme." The photos on the wall, the beer signs and a crystal chandelier alongside one of the only functioning Budweiser Clydesdale wagon-team lamps I have ever seen all contribute to a charming mishmash of styles from different eras. Barry's brings to mind other old-school Denver bars like the Lakeview Lounge and the Welcome Inn, the only other bars I can recall that have the same Clydesdale lamps, with their tiny horse teams pulling what I presume are wagons full of beer. But the one at Barry's still works; the light inside emits a glow that illuminates the Clydesdale team as it moves in a circle around a central column.
I pried my eyes away from the rotating scene so I could say goodbye to Zadikoff and his bartender. For some of us at the bar, Sunday means getting ready for the week ahead with the usual adult things, but Barry's at least gave a brief respite from responsibility, offering instead a chance to win shots while playing Skee-Ball, the opportunity to pee in a trough (for some of us, at least), and the pleasure of a quiet day at a neighborhood bar that's usually packed with new neighbors.