The glowing neon sign of the Campus Lounge is lit once again at 701 South University Boulevard, and right under the neon, there's a smaller marquee that should give comfort and assurance to neighbors: "Sports Bar and Grill," it reads.
The new owners, father-and-son team Dan and Jeff Nickless and a third partner, purchased the Campus Lounge in August and added their own touches before reopening the place — for the second time in a year — on Sunday, October 21. As at the original, there are plenty of TVs, and nearly every blank space on the walls is filled with sports memorabilia, especially hockey jerseys — fitting for a bar that was owned and operated by former University of Denver hockey player and graduate Jim Wiste from 1976 to 2016.
Wiste, who passed away in January this year, sold his bar to restaurateur Dan Landes and real estate developer Charlie Woolley just over two years ago. Landes (who founded WaterCourse Foods and City, O' City) and Woolley spent a small fortune updating and refurbishing the interior of the eighty-year-old building, reopening it exactly a year ago. But the neighborhood didn't take to the new version of the Campus Lounge, which was now empty of TVs, hockey gear and other clutter that had accumulated over the decades, and which served an updated menu of eclectic dishes intended to appeal to modern diners. Landes and Woolley had kept the name and iconic sign, though, and even did a major repair job on that.
But regulars didn't appreciate the changes (especially the lack of TVs), and the updated Campus Lounge closed after only five months. "I take responsibility, I really do," Landes told us after closing up shop last March. "I put myself in the fall-guy position. The person who comes in after is the hero."
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If heroism means putting chili cheese fries at the top of the batting order on the Campus Lounge's menu, the neighborhood has its new champs. Also to be found: ultimate nachos, a Pueblo-style slopper (that's an open-face cheeseburger smothered in chile), a big burrito, hot dog sliders and a Philly cheesesteak. But the slate is not without its contemporary touches, including blistered shishito peppers, kofta kebab sliders, homemade tomato bisque and a "Slammin' Superfood" salad.
The bar and dining room are a little more colorful, a little more crowded than under the first modern reincarnation. Changes over the past two years are not the first for the bar, however. Originally opened as the Bel-Aire in 1946, the spot took on its current name three years later; the Campus Lounge was already old when Wiste bought it from Bill and Joe White more than thirty years later. But under Wiste, it became a hangout not just for the neighborhood, but sports lovers around the city.
While closing hours have not been entirely set, the latest incarnation of the Washington Park favorite won't likely stay open until last call. Instead, expect more family-friendly hours of 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. And speaking of friendly: The new owners have worked out a deal with the Ink! coffee shop just to the south, and Campus customers can now park there from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m., when any cars will be subject to towing. (The more things change...)
Call 720-920-9356 or visit the Campus Lounge website for more details.