I've driven by Rome's Saloon on West Mississippi Avenue several times in the past few years, and the parking lot has always been full. It was no different when I ventured in on a Friday around happy hour; in fact, I had to park down the street.
The place was packed, mostly with dudes (but not entirely) wearing suits or sports gear. I quickly discovered that part of the draw at Rome's is the hot lady bartenders wearing lingerie and spandex. The concept is similar to that of a Hooters or Titled Kilt, but Rome's is locally owned, distinctly less sad, and more welcoming to patrons who aren't bros. The women working the bar all seemed to enjoy their jobs, and the place felt more inclusive of women who are beautiful in various sizes and ages; I appreciated the fact that fake boobs are not required to work here.
As I sat — solo — at the bar, I struck up a conversation with a few older regulars and a guy who sells beer to the bar for Breckenridge Brewing. They were less sketchy than I anticipated, perhaps because they seem to have known the motherly bartender, Ray Ray Santiago, for a long time, and she was keeping them in line. Santiago joked with a guy with a large beard sitting next to me, calling him Santa Claus and ZZ Top.
Santiago told me all the important things to know about Rome's, and that she herself had been recognized as best bartender in Denver a few times by Westword back in the ’90s, though not since she started working at Rome's about ten years ago. Despite the less trendy location in the blue-collar Athmar Park neighborhood, she says she loves working here because the bar is always busy and employees receive medical benefits. It might not be the most feminist place in town, but I'm not going to judge a woman on her hustle, especially since she's earning benefits and tons of tips.
Rome's has been around since 1993 and was a Denver pioneer of the "breastaurant" model. It's also one of the few liquor licenses in this corridor of southwest Denver, and brings in neighborhood folks, workers from the surrounding warehouses, and guys that come to the bar as a destination for bachelor parties and after-work male bonding.
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Between telling me this information and rapidly pouring drinks, Santiago showed off pictures of her "mom bike," which is basically just a wider-than-average motorcycle with rhinestones on it instead of skulls or flames. Bikers and bikes are a big deal here, as are classic cars. The folks at Rome's celebrate their love of loud motors every July with a car show; this year's actually just happened on July 27. The bar also hosts a charity golf tournament every year.
I stuck with regular-sized beers, but the bar also serves massive beer steins for $6.25 each during happy hour. The tap selection was varied, and there was also an extensive list of specialty shots.
Rome's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, since the place opens at 7 a.m. every day but Sunday, when the staff gets to sleep in for an 8 a.m opening time. The kitchen serves up burgers, wings, Mexican food, salads and sandwiches. Weekly specials on food and drinks offer good deals, with sixty-cent wings on Mondays, $1 tacos on Tuesdays and $5 burgers on Wednesdays. For drinks, it's $3 Colorado craft beers on Fridays, $3.25 wells on Saturdays,and $3 specials on various industrial lagers each day of the week. There are also often shot girls selling specialty shots (of course). Customers who aren't flirting with the servers and bartenders spend time watching (and loudly cheering on) hometown sports, playing shuffleboard or shooting pool.
The jukebox began blaring "Africa" by Toto, so Santiago and my compatriots at the bar began to sing along. I joined in as well, because it seemed like the thing to do at this friendly, somewhat inclusive (as these kind of places go) neighborhood version of the hot-lady-sports-bar concept.
Rome's Saloon is located at 785 West Mississippi Avenue and is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. For more information, call 303-788-9976 or visit the bar's website.