When I started writing about neighborhood bars, I knew I would eventually venture outside Denver city limits in my quest for great watering holes. Admittedly, I can be a little lazy when it comes to driving outside of Denver proper. But clearly I will run out of bars at some point if I never leave my comfortable, gridded, inner-Denver stamping grounds. My first foray out to the ’burbs was to Denver's suburb of choice for raising a family but still working downtown: Wheat Ridge. A friend of mine who lives in the area graciously showed me the sights on the stretch of 38th Avenue between Sheridan and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge, introducing me to Colorado Plus Brew Pub (6995 West 38th Avenue) along the way. At first glance, I would have thought the building was a dispensary — mainly because it has a prominent red plus sign (or red cross) as a part of the logo and is sort of a generic-looking, mostly windowless square building. But the large brick edifice is home to one of Wheat Ridge's favorite local drinking establishments.
Although a few beers are brewed in-house, Colorado Plus is definitely more of a neighborhood beer bar than a brewery. There are a total of 56 beers on tap, all from Colorado, along with a full bar. More than thirty of the featured beers rotate on any given week, so nothing sticks around too long. Owner Eugene Khang, who had the idea to open Colorado Plus after years of working in liquor stores, knows a lot about craft beer. He describes a day in his life as filled with cleaning and sanitizing all the beer lines to ensure the best taste and quality in the beers, so you can tell he loves the stuff.
When my friend and I popped in to the bar for some drinks on a Friday afternoon, we decided to get a beer flight because the crazily large list of brews was boggling our minds and it was too hard to pick just one. We both like lighter types of beer, and there were tons of interesting choices that fell into that category, from saisons to hefeweizens. We also both like fries, so we got some truffle fries with mango-habanero aioli, which really hit the spot.
It was unusually temperate for the season, so there were some people out on the small front patio, but we sat in the sun-drenched section of the bar near the front. The crowd was casual and mostly comprised groups of slightly older patrons. There were also a few couples with kids eating dinner; my friend confirmed that this is a common spot for young families. Khang mentioned that the crowd often spans multiple generations, from college kids to people in their sixties. The decor is ultra-Colorado, with an old street sign marking the cross streets of the bar, 38th and Reed, and so many wall decorations made of wood and metal depicting the flag of the Centennial State that I could barely count them all.
My friend told me the building used to house Valente's Italian Restaurant, owned by Ray Valente, a larger-than-life figure in Wheat Ridge and a friend of the legendary Smaldone family of northwest Denver mafia fame. Khang confirmed that he took over the space after Valente's closed down after 44 years in business. He said that Valente even told him he would come down and greet all of the customers on the first day of business for Colorado Plus.
That first day came in May 2013, after a complete remodel of the space, which had been vacant for four years, and the installation of high-tech draft lines and a brewing system designed by Adam Draeger, who was the head brewer at Yak & Yeti. Valente's old sausage cooler became the keg room, with the meat hooks still intact. Khang just completed the remodel of the upstairs space last year. During the Valente's days, Frank Sinatra impersonators performed ups there regularly, and Khang is excited to use the space to host live music once again, but of a slightly different variety. This month, starting on February 22, he'll kick off a new event called "Prohibition Night." Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, Colorado Plus will host the Jeremy Mohney Trio and Jazz Ram, both local jazz acts, and serve vintage-style beers and cocktails.
Every Thursday night at Colorado Plus is Burger Night, and customers are encouraged to make suggestions for specialty burgers for the following week. Winners get a free burger and have their creations put on the menu. Some of the burger ideas include creative toppings like peanut butter and jelly, fried wedges of macaroni and cheese, chorizo, mozzarella sticks and grilled pineapple (but not all on the same burger — that might be a little too much creativity). Also of note for bargain hunters is the two-for-one house-brewed-beer special every Monday from 3 to 11 p.m.
Annual events at Colorado Plus include a Christmas in July party and the Colorado Medal Winners festival, a shindig in the back parking lot during which up to eighteen award-winning local beers are poured. In case that's not enough for you, Khang and head chef Jan Vonada also put together a quarterly Beer Dinner for you and 44 of your closest beer-nerd and foodie friends. The five-course beer and food tasting event pairs the beers of a selected Colorado brewer with a special seasonal dinner menu. Tickets are on sale now for the next Beer Dinner, on February 23, which will highlight the brews of the Denver Beer Company.
As my friend and I finished up the last of our unique beers and delicious fries on a sunny afternoon, I realized that I should get out to the suburbs more often, if Colorado Plus is any indication of what I'm missing.
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