I have known quite a few people who have lived in the apartment/townhome/gated community megaplex formerly known as the Breakers, which was recently rebranded under new management to a name somehow even more ridiculous and more reminiscent of a Florida resort: TAVA Waters. Just beyond the perimeter of the sprawling property, in the little-known Windsor neighborhood, Mugsy's Bar (7950 East Mississippi Avenue) serves cheap drinks to neighbors from Windsor and those who choose to venture outside the TAVA Waters enclave.
The bunker-like concrete building that Mugsy's calls home takes up the prime corner strip-mall real estate alongside a pawn shop, Russian market, liquor store and a few other small businesses. The bar has been in existence in some form, off and on, since the 1970s, and was once called City Limits because of the location right near the border of Denver, Aurora, and unincorporated Arapahoe County (Mugsy's technically lies in this no-man's land that's not Denver County but still maintains a Denver mailing address).
A couple of friends and I arrived to take in the scene at Mugsy's on a Monday night, following a recommendation from some folks we met down the road at Sam's Bar and Lounge. We grabbed a few seats at the mostly full bar and were greeted by Laura, our fun, approachable bartender. She filled us in on the specials, namely that every Monday is Ladies Night, so all Svedka flavored vodkas were $3. Clementine vodka sounded like a good idea, but Laura was sad to point out that there wasn't a whole shot left in the bottle. But there was enough vanilla vodka to approximate a Creamsicle flavor, which was an even better idea. Problem solved.
Laura and her fellow bartender, Deb, tended to a clientele of mostly older guys that gave way to a few younger folks from the area as the hour grew later. The bar was bright and clean, with the usual sports memorabilia, beer signs and also several mafia-related movie posters to go with the name Mugsy's. The smallish space was mostly taken up by the bar, but two pool tables, a Bonus Hole game and a No Fear pinball game were also squeezed in. Apparently, in 1995, the No Fear clothing line, which inexplicably still exists and also still sells rollerblades, licensed a pinball machine, but my friends who accompanied me were too young recognize the brand or to have worn No Fear T-shirts in middle school (like I did).
Between drink orders, Laura filled us in on the history of Mugsy's. The bar is named for owner Todd Landow's dog, a puggle whose photograph is over the bar, and who is also featured wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar on the bar's business cards. (Laura says that Mugsy never comes into his namesake bar, though.) Some people also call co-owner and Landow's father-in-law Sherwin Turner by the nickname Mugsy because they think the place is named after him.
Turner and Landow have owned Mugsy's since 2011, and celebrate anniversaries with a big shindig every February, since the bar opened on Valentine's Day. The family has been in the bar business in town for more than fifty years; Turner's cousin was the late Jerry Morris, who owned the Dirty Duck Bar, just about ten minutes southwest of Mugsy's. Turner himself will soon turn 80, which will occasion another celebration.
Laura and Landow explain that their goal is not to serve fancy craft cocktails but to provide value and a friendly spot for the primarily blue-collar regulars, many of whom walk over from the countless nearby apartments and condo complexes.
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Nightly attractions include the popular $5 pitchers and free pool all day on Tuesdays; Bingo at 1 p.m. on Saturdays with $3 craft beers all day; and $3 Jim Beam, $5 Jack Daniels and $5 pizzas on Thursdays. Happy hour is lengthy, running from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day. There isn't a full kitchen at Mugsy's, but frozen pizzas, tamales and White Castle mini-burgers are available for purchase, along with bags of chips and nuts. Holidays and football games are celebrated with hot dogs and baked-potato bars.
Someone put Tom Petty's "Yer So Bad" on the jukebox and a few people sang along (including me). A young guy pulling a skateboard on a string came in and made a beeline for the Bonus Hole (which allows you to win quarters by putting in more quarters), but soon set off the game's alarm, triggered by hitting or bumping it too much, so he left quickly after that.
Alongside the standard Jagermeister and Fireball chilled-shot dispensers on the bar, a far more unusual Agwa de Bolivia liqueur machine caught our attention. Laura told us that Landow is proud of that machine because it's a pretty rare find for a bar, and that Mugsy's has a cult following of Aqwa fans. She gave us a sample, which tasted like a sweeter, more herbal version of Fireball. I might be joining the small American fan base of this random liqueur, which is made with coca leaves, green tea, ginseng and guarana (and is actually distilled in Amsterdam, not Bolivia). It sounds healthy, so it must be a good idea.
After Agwa samples and the Tom Petty sing-along, we moved on to our next destination as a few more younger folks trickled in. Mugsy's may be a neighborhood bar for an enormous apartment complex with a ridiculous name and a Denver neighborhood that most other Denverites don't even know exists, but now there's at least one more person in town who will find her way back to this friendly watering hole.