This week marks my thirteen-year anniversary of living in Denver. So it seemed appropriate that almost by coincidence, I found myself at Barricuda's, a neighborhood bar that's been part of the city, unlike so many others, longer than me. When my roomie-to-be at the time and I were first looking for a place to live in Denver, we needed something cheap, so our options were almost exclusively basement apartments. We spent a lot of time attempting to secure one just up the block from Barricuda's, and hung out in the now-closed Whole Foods building just across the street (which was a Sunflower Market at the time) reading over actual print newspaper ads for rentals. We never did manage to find a place in Capitol Hill, instead opting for a cheaper and more spacious basement spot near Cheesman Park. But it was in those early days of my tenure here that I first experienced Barricuda's.
The bar seemed to be nearly the same as I remembered; there was a fresh coat of paint, faux hardwood floors installed a few years ago and some new touchscreen jukeboxes, but otherwise the surroundings were comfortingly familiar. One staff member, who has worked at Barricuda's for a dozen years, joked that his employer "hadn't gone all LoDo," referencing the extreme bar makeover down the street at the Park Tavern.
Sandwiched between Wokano Asian Bistro and a dry cleaner in a small strip mall, Barricuda's doesn't have much space in which to go LoDo, whether that means building a rooftop patio or simply getting too fancy for the regulars. Which is just fine with everyone here, from the eclectic staff to customers like the older blond woman we struck up a conversation with as she polished off a pitcher of beer, an all-day, every-day special for $8, as long as you stick to Bud Light or PBR.
Taking our seats next to the pitcher-drinking patron, my friend and I snagged some beers and well drinks, which went on happy-hour special at 9 p.m., shortly after we arrived. It was the start of the second of two daily happy hours, the first of which begins at 4 p.m. Both last two hours, when you can order any drink for a dollar off and fill your belly with $2 carnitas tacos.
In a back room of the bar, a birthday party, complete with balloons and paper hats, had ended, and three generations of partiers filed out. Our server told us it was common for private parties to take up the back section, while regulars filled bar stools and tables up front. Meanwhile, a couple of gentlemen dressed in excellent Denver Cruiser outfits — the evening's theme was "nighties" — explained that the bike ride had been low in attendance, so they'd returned to their neighborhood haunt early to enjoy some shots with a group of guys and gals playing pool.
Barricuda's is also a notable spot for karaoke, with Spaceman Mike as the host on Friday nights and Sexy Jesus — known by some from previous gigs at Hamburger Mary's and M Uptown — bringing the party on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Not everyone in the bar gets that into it, but our ponytailed server/bar historian likes to keep things rock-and-roll, and so can be found on the mic most nights.
The kitchen at Barricuda's is open for late-night breakfast from midnight until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, well after last call. It's also open early for breakfast on weekends starting at 8 a.m. So no matter what time you're craving food, Barricuda's can probably hook you up. We were in the mood for a snack ourselves, so we tried the "Cuda Sampler," a platter of taquitos, jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks and a quesadilla. The poppers were the highlight; they were crispy and oozing with a generous amount of cheese.
For the first time in my tenure as a bar researcher and ghost hunter, I learned about a resident ghost even before I had a chance to ask. Unprompted, our server told us that there is reportedly a stall in the women's bathroom that gets locked from the inside when no one is there, and sometimes patrons in the bathroom hear noises, or the lights flicker on and off in there. According to the legend, the ghost is that of a woman who died of a drug overdose in the building back when it was an Italian restaurant. Before that the place was purportedly an inn in the early days of Denver (though that would have been before the shopping center was built on the site). The current owner, Jin Lee, whom all the staff call Mr. Lee, will celebrate 25 years as the proprietor next spring.
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As at many neighborhood bars, holidays are a time for food and drink specials and giveaways at Barricuda's, drawing larger crowds from the neighborhood and beyond, but most of the time, it's all about conversation, karaoke and billiards. The two pool tables to the side of the main bar are free on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 p.m. to close.
The menu here comprises mainly standard bar food, but there are also fancier options like New York strip steak and bulgogi, a Korean beef dish not found on your average neighborhood bar menu. Eat24 and GrubHub also deliver Barricuda's food to those who aren't in the mood to walk over to the bar or deal with finding parking in the area, and the kitchen also does catering for events outside of the bar.
Barricuda's has figured out how stay true to Capitol Hill despite flashy, trendy bars opening up in other neighborhoods. By giving regulars what they want — cheap eats and drinks, karaoke jams, quirky and cheerful staff in a relaxing environment (except for the ghost in the women's bathroom) —- this is a joint that can be counted upon to not go LoDo.
Barricuda's is located at 1076 Ogden Street and is open every day from 8 a.m to 2 a.m., staying open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Visit the bar's website for takeout and delivery menus and ordering.