I've always liked the Cap City Tavern (1247 Bannock Street), but the location on the edge of downtown feels somehow far away from where I live in east Denver, even though the bar is no farther away than some of my usual haunts. So it had been a few years when I stopped in on a recent cloudy weeknight.
One of the Golden Triangle's neighborhood watering holes, the Cap City Tavern still holds the comfortable and shiny leather booths I remembered, as well as the covered back patio. I also recalled a menu of tasty burgers and appetizers, to which calzones, pizza and salads have been added since my last visit (or at least I never noticed those items, as I was content to stick with the better-than-average options I had come to enjoy over the years).
I beat my friend to the bar, so I snagged a spot at the extra-high bar top, soon learning that the guys who built the bar eighteen years ago were really tall ( 6'9" was the number that kept getting thrown around), and they apparently built the bar to their own height specifications, not those of the average bar-goer. Being 6'2" myself, I appreciated the result — and no one else seemed to care too much. And my friend, who is "vertically challenged" (as one of my nerdy teachers used to say), noticed this detail immediately.
My drink of choice for the evening was Princess Yum Yum from Denver Beer Co., because I like to say it and I like how it tastes. The beer was also $1 off the regular price, since we had arrived during happy hour. We had a harder time deciding on food, because of the long menu and our bartender's many recommendations, which included the calzones, the Diablo turkey sandwich (a bestseller warmed up with chipotle mayo and peppers), the shrimp-and-bacon sandwich, and the Old Fashioned burger, topped with Thousand Island dressing. My choice was the fried-shrimp-and-bacon sandwich, an unusual combo that came with a side of fries, while my friend opted for the Truffled Shroom-n-Swiss burger. We also powered through some fried pickles; clearly, we were hungry. While it wasn't the cheapest bar food ever, with most options starting around $13 and going up to $20 for fancier fare like steak or prime rib, my tastebuds were definitely into it, and there were plenty of leftover fries and fried pickles for later.
Joining us at the bar was an iron worker who told me I should write a story about people in his profession. A crew of young, hip-looking regulars from the neighborhood with haircuts cooler than mine also joined us on the high stools. A guy in a sideways baseball cap on the far end of the bar (by the Megatouch machine) plowed through a burger and fries at an impressive rate of speed. The back patio was filled with a couple of groups that had the vibe of "power business dinner."
The tavern hasn't changed much since my previous trips; it's still relaxed and neighborhoody, despite food and atmosphere more upscale than that of your average neighborhood spot, and despite a location that lends itself to tourists and businessmen, two factors that could easily ruin a good hangout. The interior is tastefully designed, with exposed brick set off by red and black walls with cool picture frames and mirrors. Before Cap City opened in 2000, the bar's interior was redone by owner Dino McTaggart. Prior to that, the building, constructed in the 1970s, is rumored to have been a jail or drunk tank at one time. The staff also said that perhaps because of the building's colorful history, neighbors up late have sometimes seen silhouettes in the windows that disappear with a second look, or witnessed all the lights inexplicably going out. These stories seemed to fit the atmosphere, as the sky had just opened up and we could hear the pouring rain drumming on the roof. A guy came in from the street to take shelter from the rain but didn't stay long before plunging back out into the storm.
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We learned other fun facts about the family-owned bar as we stuck around, avoiding the rain. McTaggart was described as "very debonair" by his staff, in part because his wife used to perform on Broadway (New York City's, not Denver's) before moving to Colorado. He also recently bought the Bannock Street Garage, a punk-rock joint just two blocks down Bannock from Cap City.
Weekly specials at the bar include half-price wine bottles on Wednesdays and the Sunday dinner deal of two draft beers, two salads and a pizza for $25. Mystery shots are poured for $3 every day but Wednesday, and on Mondays, all local beers and spirits are $1 off. Happy hour runs every day from 4 to 7 p.m., with $1 off draft beers and well drinks. The bar doesn't do many events each week, but the pool tables are always free. Cap City is a Minnesota Vikings bar for pro-football fans, and a Nebraska bar for college sports. With private spaces on the patio and in one side room, it's also common to see private parties going on here.
The Golden Triangle is one of Denver's priciest rental markets, but the neighborhood grows quiet at night. Residents don't seem to come out to the bars and restaurants musch, but Cap City is an exception, a low-key but fun and friendly island in a sea of expensive apartments and condos.
Cap City Tavern is open from 11 a.m. to midnight on Sunday and Monday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 720-931-8888 or visit the tavern's website for more details.