During an adventure into what I like to call "Deep Lakewood," I drove with some friends further south on Wadsworth Boulevard than I'd ever been (which, admittedly, wasn't that far south). We happened upon the Bonfire Tavern, and I could immediately tell it was perfect for a neighborhood bar stop. The ’70s-style brick building with a big A-frame peak in the middle and signs for karaoke and specials in the windows called to us from across West Jewell Avenue, so we parked and investigated.
The large gentleman at the door checking IDs beckoned us through, and we filed into a row of seats along the bar. Things weren't too busy when we arrived, but Saturday night's regular entertainment, DJ Richie Rich, was spinning some Drake, FloRida, Notorious B.I.G. and Mace. Between songs, he chatted with my friends and others at the bar over a beer. To get us started, the Saturday special of five mixed shots for $20 somehow seemed like a good idea, or at least a better one than the alternative of $2 mystery shots. Choices included Mexican candy shots (one of my favorites) and pickle shots (perfect for my pickle-addict friend), along with a spicy variation of that one. These kinds of shooters hide their alcohol well, making them a dangerous choice for multiple rounds.
Tattooed and bubbly bartender Tee Morales kept our drinks coming as more and more customers flowed in, most of them a little younger than at neighborhood bars I frequent. There were a couple of old-timers in the back, but the majority of folks looked to be in their twenties and thirties. Since Amanda and Nick Lewis took over the tavern last July, the demographic has changed from what was once primarily bikers, though the joint is still biker-friendly. Amanda, who arrived at the bar shortly after we did, explained that she and Nick have never owned this type of bar but have been in the party limo business and also briefly owned Up in Smoke Hookah Lounge.
The Lewises are slowly renovating the place, with plans to continue upgrading the barroom, revamping the kitchen and adding a wood-burning pizza oven. New wood floors have already replaced sticky carpet, corrugated steel adds accents around the bar, and black-and-white photos of musicians (including Elvis, LL Cool J and Prince) grace the bar and tabletops. It's obvious that there's a concerted effort to spiff up the place; it's just not complete. Some of Amanda's latest touches even seem designed for social media; there's a set of metal letters spelling "Bottoms Up" on the back wall that would make a perfect backdrop for posing with your friends.
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The remodel of the main barroom is mostly complete, though an aquarium against the back wall is a holdover from the previous owner. (The tank could use a little TLC, but I'm glad it's there, since fish tanks are one of my favorite neighborhood bar features.) Two side rooms with lounge furniture and billiards, darts, giant Jenga and a few arcade games — Big Buck Hunter and a boxing game with a real punching bag — add additional seating, along with a patio hidden from street view at the back of the building.
Morales and Lewis filled me in on other weekly happenings, including half-price drinks during "Monday Madness," two-for-one drinks and dollar tacos on Tuesdays, and "Bad Bingo," complete with naughty prizes, on Wednesdays. Thursday is poker night, and DJs come in every Friday and Saturday night spinning old- and new-school hip-hop, plus whatever else makes you want to dance. Sundays are not to be forgotten, with a bottomless-mimosa brunch that serves meats smoked out back. The Lewises also plan to get back into the hookah game with some vapor hookah options (a clean and modern version of the smoky classic).
As this former biker haunt transitions to a cleaner, friendlier spot for both millennials and old-timers, the Bonfire Tavern remains a neighborhood spot to watch in south Lakewood.
The Bonfire Tavern is located at 7576 West Jewell Avenue in Lakewood and is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 303-989-2577 or visit the bar's Facebook page.