There are plenty of bars near the University of Denver, but perhaps none that quite so thoroughly embrace the theme of DU Pioneer athletics as the Crimson & Gold Tavern at 2017 South University Boulevard. The entire establishment is covered in crimson and gold paint and sports memorabilia from the college. From murals outside to vintage posters inside to signed jerseys hanging on display, it's pretty much all about college sports, and DU in particular, in this open, inviting space.
I popped in to meet a friend and share some drinks on a Saturday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the bar, which had been a hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean joint called the Pita Jungle when I was a student at DU, though I haven't been back since the change. After the Pita Jungle, it was the short-lived Aroma Cafe, and then got a complete makeover before being opened in 2010 as the Crimson & Gold by the Caldwell family, folks familiar with the DU bar scene and also owners of Brooklyn's downtown. The remodel turned out great; by taking down walls and uncovering brick, the Caldwells created an open layout with lots of windows and light. The addition of the back patio was also welcome.
The tavern is now owned and operated by Chris Potter, but the theme and vibe of the bar have remained the same since he took over. It's a college bar in a college neighborhood, perfect for pre- or post-game snacks and drinks, but also nice enough to attract the middle-aged crowd from the upscale Washington Park and University Park neighborhoods. On this particular Saturday, there were a few college kids watching NCAA football games at the bar, and a healthy smattering of older couples eating appetizers at the booths and tables placed throughout the spacious main room. The back patio was fairly quiet, but a small group of college-aged girls was gradually gaining steam and numbers out there. Nobody was playing any of the bar games, despite the fact that there were two Skee-Ball machines, a Golden Tee game and a nice pool table at the ready.
My friend and I caught up at the bar over a few Denver Beer Co. Princess Yum Yums for me, some mixed drinks for him. We also decided to split a plate of nachos, which came out mountainous and crispy, just what you would look for in sports-bar grub.
There weren't really any specials to speak of (not uncommon for bars on Saturday afternoons), but there are specials aplenty during the week. The place opens at 11 a.m. daily for lunch, with rotating $7 lunch specials such as chicken wraps, quesadillas and the "Freshman Burger," which is a "good old hamburger," according to the menu. The burger selections all have college-themed names, with Freshman through Senior burgers, as well as Graduate, Pioneer, Hangover and Professor versions. The Hangover burger looked pretty tasty, topped with mushrooms, jalapeños and green chiles, plus cheese, bacon, a fried egg and a fried onion ring. If that doesn't take care of a hangover, I don't know what will. Other specials and promotions center around sports, DU and otherwise. Several shot-and-beer specials are available during hockey games, the main sport most Pioneer fans show up for. During all NFL games, fans can get $3 Bud and Bud Light drafts.
Tuesday nights are trivia night, with food and drink specials; Wednesdays are reserved for karaoke. Like many DU-area bars, the Crimson & Gold also runs various specials during graduation, law school graduation, finals week, and other university-specific events. Fundraisers for university-affiliated and other charities are also frequent.
My friend and I continued to talk about the DU neighborhood and people we had dated who lived nearby, none of whom were actually in college. The undergrads seated near us left, and a few more youngish groups of guys and gals came in. We watched out the window as a herd of girls in similar outfits walked down the street, and guessed that their attire had something to do with a sorority event. The bar is situated on a busy stretch of University, sandwiched between various campus buildings, including a center for gifted children whose proximity posed some challenges for the bar when getting its initial liquor license, and a gas station and other small storefronts. But inside, it's oddly tranquil and soothing to watch the traffic go by and feel reassured that you aren't currently in it, but instead drinking a beer and enjoying a game.
When I lived in campus housing for a brief period, this bar would have been within stumbling distance of my apartment, so it would have been a great addition to my DU experience. The Pita Jungle wasn't a bad lunch stop, but the Crimson & Gold is clearly an upgrade.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.