I seem to keep hearing about Clancy's Irish Pub in Wheat Ridge from a wide variety of people who have ties to the area. My hair stylist, who lives in Golden, told me about it, my friend who lives in the area and is an expert on bars where you can take kids also mentioned it, and a friend who grew up in Wheat Ridge told me about both the "new Clancy's" and the "old Clancy's." The apparently legendary story of Clancy's began in 1973, when a guy named Bob Murray, known to friends and family as "Clancy," decided to open up his own Irish pub over at West 38th Avenue and Kipling Street in Wheat Ridge. Murray and his family ran the business until the late 1990s, when Murray's son passed away and the bar was sold.
Things didn't go so well for Clancy's during that era; there was a suspicious fire that destroyed part of the bar, and the business wasn't exactly thriving after the loss of its namesake. In 2010, Jeff Hurlburt bought the spot and revived the neighborhood joint to its former glory. However, the strip mall where Clancy's was leasing space gradually became abandoned, and in 2014 the owner of the building sold it to make way for a Sprouts and an assisted-living complex.
Without a location, the dream of Clancy's was temporarily on hold. For about a year, Hurlburt looked diligently for a new spot to bring the bar back. When he finally came across the building that formerly housed Mon Petit French Restaurant and The Office bar, the team behind the latest iteration of Clancy's was assembled and got to work. Hurlburt teamed up with former bartender Steve Zielinski and Joe DeMott and Tony Facinelli to bring the amazing historical tchotchkes from the original location out of storage to decorate the new building, staff the bar and get the reborn Clancy's off the ground. Each partner seems to have his own fun fact: Hurlburt is the avid collector of bric-a-brac that brings the bar to life visually; DeMott has plans to run for mayor of Wheat Ridge; and Facinelli was a die-hard regular at the old Clancy's.
I learned all of this from Zielinski when a friend and I stopped in on a Monday night. Things were relatively quiet, and small crowds gathered in different little nooks and crannies of the large building that houses four different full bar areas, several different seating areas, an arcade nook with a foosball table and two pinball machines, and various sectioned-off little seating areas. According to Zielinski, some Irish bar aficionados say the building really reminds them of an actual bar in Ireland, with little hidden areas that evoke the old private "snug" rooms common in historic bars.
After a quick walk through the maze-like area — decorated to the max with everything from standard-issue Irish bar signs related to Guinness to Denver-specific items like a flag commemorating the closure of the old Elitch's — my friend and I went for a booth near what looked to be the main bar. The place seems simultaneously new and clean and homey and well-worn because of all the various knickknacks scattered everywhere. And there is a certain authenticity to the decor that evokes more of a grandmother's house than a Cracker Barrel — and I mean that in the best possible way.
After we ordered our beers, the speedy bartender introduced us to Zielinski, who told us the long but interesting tale of Clancy's history, as well as a bit about the neighborhood. Zielinski fell in love with the original Clancy's as a regular patron and knows plenty about the Wheat Ridge area. He is starting to notice the gradual spread of northwest Denver's prosperity into the neighborhood in the form of new businesses, new homeowners and new money. Now in its third year in this location, the new Clancy's is still building its customer base, but things are definitely looking up.
Customers are starting to get to know the neighborhood spot for tasty Irish and American food: Clancy's has the only kitchen in the sleepy little strip that's open until midnight, or even later if someone's hungry. We had some Irish nachos: homemade potato chips with sour cream, veggies and two kinds of meat. As a connoisseur of Irish nachos, I would rate these as very solid. Other staples like fish and chips, bangers and mash and shepherd's pie are made from scratch as well. There isn't even a microwave in the kitchen (a fact that Zielinski was slightly sad to discover on a day he was trying to heat up a frozen burrito). The other attraction at Clancy's in the new location is live music, especially Celtic acts like Wild Mountain, which Zielinski describes as the best Irish band in town. Blues and classic-rock bands also occasionally take the stage, as do comedy acts.
On this particular evening, like every Monday night, Clancy's is embracing the new trend of playing Cards Against Humanity as a group in the bar. It's a funnier, more welcoming and cheaper alternative to the usual bar trivia. Tuesday night is when the live Celtic music cranks up, and Thursday is karaoke night (which I will have to come check out another time to get a full assessment). Another regular weekly offering is Sunday brunch, with bottomless mimosas and a breakfast buffet to go with the NFL ticket during football season.
We seem to have just missed the Celtic Festival, with two days of festivities including thirteen bands and Irish step dancers. The bar hosted this event for the first time two weeks ago when its previous location in Sloan's Lake fell through this year. According to Zielinski, the festival was a huge success, and plans are already in the works to host it again next year and start an annual tradition. Of course, as at every Irish pub the world over, St. Patrick's Day is a blowout at Clancy's, with more live bands and lots of Irish beer flowing.
We finished our lovely chat with Zielinski and continued to work on our beers and Irish nachos, then took another lap around the twists and turns of the bar. Some older gentlemen occupied one of the hidden bars toward the back, a few couples of thirty-somethings ate in a little dining area near the front entrance, a huge table of about fifteen people wrapped up dinner in another little area, and an assortment of neighborhood patrons sat at the bar or small bar tables under a large mounted head of what I'm pretty sure is an elk covered with Irish adornments. Some guys with instruments who appeared to be in a band that was not playing that particular night sat on the patio, along with a couple or two relaxing with their beers. My companion, who grew up in the area, often runs into people from high school at the bar.
My friend and I debated staying longer to join in the Cards Against Humanity game, which had gotten started a bit earlier around 10 p.m., but decided there was a little too much adulting to do the following day to get involved in something that probably would be going on for quite a while. It was a Monday, after all. With our bellies full of nachos and our brains full of knowledge, we had already had a good night. Not ever having experienced the old Clancy's, I had to give the new Clancy's props for maintaining the feeling of an old-school neighborhood standby, despite only having opened three years ago. I can tell that if Zielinski, Hurlburt and company have anything to do with it, Clancy's will be a neighborhood go-to for many years to come.
Clancy's Irish Pub is located at 7000 West 38th Avenue and is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Call 720-456-7320 or go to the bar's website for more information.
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