Besides the rock, the Rockaway Tavern is an excellent place to just get drunk and hang out

I'm sure the six-week-old Rockaway Tavern — part 15th Street Tavern museum, part club of its own — is a great place to see live rock and roll. When I visit twice over the span of four days, however, I don't experience any. Which is fine, because thanks to the inherited framework and layout of the bygone Denver Triangle, the joint functions as more than just a jet-black cavern of amplifier feedback and earplug-defying distortion. Dualistically — and unlike the majority of Denver venues — the Rockaway is also an excellent place to just get drunk and hang out.

Around the island-style bar separating the compact-disc jukebox — the one featuring only scraps of lined paper scribbled with band names, as opposed to actual album liners — and a pool table from the live room (reminiscent, this separation, of the old 15th Street space), past the elevated DJ booth and stage, hides not only an expansive three- (possibly four-) season tiki-bar room with a separate juke, pinball machines, a second pool table and salvaged maroon booths, but also an awesome back patio. Though the built-in wooden benches along the perimeter of the raised patio platform and hanging hot-rod hoods contribute to the greatness, it's the private tree — a goddamn tree! in the concrete jungle of downtown Broadway! — that seals the deal.

On my first visit, a Saturday afternoon so lazy that no one has yet helped themselves to the complimentary Crock-Pot of hot dogs on the corner of the bar, four of us drink a dozen $1.50 cans of Schlitz and sit around a resin table on the back-patio platform. Wobbling around in half-broken matching chairs, taking up the entire space in doing so, we wonder what purpose the area is supposed to serve. With a few narrow steps leading the way and a plywood railing all around, it feels essentially like a punk-rock VIP section. Maybe on nights with no DJs (we eventually realize that it's probably another DJ booth), the owners could raffle off the privilege of occupying the bizarro balcony, complete with forty-ounce "bottle service" and Burger King crowns. Maybe they could install a plastic slide that leads to a swimming pool of cheap beer and shaving cream foam. Maybe trampolines could play a role.

Probably, though, they'll just let it remain a strange spot — for sitting and smoking some of the time, and for DJ tables and PA speakers the rest of the time. On my second visit, a slightly more populated Wednesday evening — the tiki bar justifiably in service and the pinball machines packed — the DJ scenario materializes before our eyes as we slurp $2 cans of Olympia. Inside, Rockaway's unique take on rock-and-roll karaoke carries on at a questionable volume (when I ask the bartendress if what's happening on stage qualifies as karaoke, she responds, "Technically, but I'm not promising anything!"), but gathered around our personal tree, we're insulated from the insanity. Only when a trip to the bathroom -- which still carries ghosts of the venue's gay-bar past -- becomes necessary am I forced to acknowledge the on-stage, off-pitch squealing.

So maybe I did experience some live rock and roll. Technically. I guess I was too busy enjoying myself out back to really care.

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Drew Bixby

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