With all the new bars and restaurants popping up around Denver, many of them taking the place of our old favorite — or not-so-favorite — locales (RIP Tandem Bar), it can feel comforting to tuck into a happy hour at an established joint. The Avenue Grill, for instance, has been serving from its vintage bar for more than thirty years, so I figure it must be doing something right.
The Grill is delightfully unhip, right down to the elementary school-style bathrooms, a "facsimile" number listed on its website, and walls hung with photos of people I don’t know (but probably should). If you’re like me and miss the days when people would refer to you as a young’un, the restaurant's dining room, at about 6 p.m. on a Friday, is the right place for you. Feeling a bit more spry? Cozy up to the bar. A bit more awkward? Join my crew at the high-tops flanking the hallway. Regardless, this institution has managed to hold on to its clientele over the decades — and perhaps sucked up a few from ye olde Strings (another RIP), as well.
But the starched napkins, clunky wooden chairs and wall-mounted coat hooks all serve to maintain that old-school Avenue Grill charm. Not to mention, happy hour here lasts until 7 p.m., so you needn't hurry from work to procure a martini, complete with sidecar, for $6. The only downside, if you can call it one, to drink service like this is that the melting ice in the accompanying pint glass compels you to drink said martini at a clip, as you continuously top off your wee wide-mouthed glass with the delicious but ever-more-diluted shaken cocktail.
Both the happy hour lemon drop and the mellower orange drop arrive with the same sidecar, and while I’m not a cloyingly sweet sorta beverage girl, I found myself licking the sugared rim until the last lemon drop. The Cosmopolitan looked a bit wan compared to my vague Sex and the City memories, but my drinking companion gave them a passing review. Meanwhile, the server could not recall the five $5 beers on tap, none of which felt like a real happy hour deal. This, however, did not seem to matter much to the silver-haired patrons, who all appeared satisfied with their $6 glasses of house red.
Perhaps this wizened clientele helps explains the somewhat dated but intriguing array of happy hour offerings, including bison carpaccio ($12), a solo vegetable egg roll ($5), green curry mussels, BLTA flatbread ($6) and togarashi calamari ($6). The happy hour carpaccio was priced no differently than its dinner menu counterpart, but we decided it was the most interesting item and went for it. The thin slices, though a bit cold, melted as they draped over our tongues, just as carpaccio should. Starting off with this luxury probably did the BLTA flatbread no favors. The dish looked and tasted like the results of a latchkey teenager trying to fashion a pizza in the microwave utilizing leftover pita, American cheese and a squirt bottle of mayo.
While the calamari tasted slightly less cobbled together, it was served lukewarm and crusty, as if it had sat under a heat lamp for an hour after being fried. The mussels were plump and juicier than many I’ve had lately, but as at Humboldt down the street, they were piled so high in the small bowl that it took rearranging to get down into the fragrant broth.
No, the Avenue Grill isn’t exactly a food destination during happy hour (nor a place where you'd want to see the carpeted floors with all the lights on), but it is a comfortable respite from the nearby downtown hustle and bustle. If, like me, you're among the last generation to watch Cheers on TV, you'll still feel like a young’un here.
Pro tip: Don’t care about happy hour deals? The Avenue Grill made me one of the best Aperol spritzes in town.
The Avenue Grill is located at 630 East 17th Avenue and serves happy hour every day from 3 to 7 in the bar and lounge, or 3 to 6 p.m. in the dining room. Call 303-861-2820 or visit the restaurant's website for more information.
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