If a neighborhood is classified as a place where people live, then Ballpark is a neighborhood. But that doesn't mean it has a lot of neighborhood bars; watering holes that don't cater primarily to tourists or visitors from the suburbs can be few and far between in this part of Denver. But if you live or work on this side of downtown and just want to relax and have a drink without having to elbow through a sea of bros, Star Bar just might be your neighborhood bar.
Many generations have enjoyed this island of unpretentious drinking; it's been in operation since 1959. Since 2010, Star Bar has been owned by a group of four partners, headed up by operating partner Justin Lloyd. (Before that, the place had become increasingly divey.) For much of the bar's time under new ownership, Brandon Meyer, who I know through a friend who grew up with him in New Jersey, has been a manager here. That friend and I, along with my roommate, stopped in on a recent rainy Wednesday night.
We made a beeline for the busy bar area, complete with its long and varied beer list displayed on two TVs (new since last time I was here). I selected a recently released New Belgium beer I had never heard of, Mural Agua Fresca Ale (not your typical dive bar whistle-wetter). We chatted over our round of beers at a high-top table, since there was no room to sit along the bar itself, which was full of the usual crowd of neighborhood regulars and service-industry workers. A few other couples and small groups occupied the other small tables.
The interior isn't anything fancy, with a dive-bar ambience that includes a slight smell of stale beer, though Star Bar draws a hipper, younger clientele than you would find in a similar-looking bar elsewhere. But the Ballpark neighborhood is a young, hip area, so that's who the neighbors are around here. Star Bar is also a big service-industry hangout, given its location — jammed in among clubs, restaurants and other bars — and fun late-night atmosphere.
There's a small game area, with foosball, Big Buck Hunter, and Skee-Ball (one of my favorite bar games) at the back, but it was mostly vacant on this visit. Behind that, a door leads outside to a small patio and tiny covered bar. There's no kitchen here, so many guests feel free to BYOFood — something management doesn't mind.
Meyer came over to give me the lowdown on the bar's happenings, at one point gesturing so excitedly that he fell off his bar stool. However, I am happy to report that no Star Bar employees were injured during my visit. The biggest news he shared is of a new cocktail menu, as well as the story behind several drink names. He made me a Seashairy Run, named after a local named Sherry, described by Meyer as "terrifying," who can often be found on the streets outside the bar. But the Star Bar turned that terror into respect by naming a drink after her (despite the spelling, the cocktail's name is pronounced "See Sherry Run"). Meyer says the drink is made with "funky rum" and olives, describing it as "weird but good." He was right; the drink was spiced up with just a hint of olive in a drink that highlighted the sweet overtones of the rum.
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Other cocktails derive their names from drinks the staff found in vintage copies of Esquire and that come in fun shark- or alligator-shaped glasses. One drink is named "Life and Associates," a reference to Death and Company, a New York City bar that just opened a Denver branch. (We love you just the way you are, though, Denver.)
Weekends bring live honky-tonk music to Star Bar, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for karaoke; Meyer notes that participants are "a drinking crowd that also likes to sing," instead of the other way around. Surprisingly for this part of town, Star Bar has its own free parking lot (an exciting fact I learned about and took advantage of on this excursion), where you'll find an annual Great American Beer Festival pre-party in the fall, along with celebrations during many other downtown events: Rockies opening day, Collaboration Fest, and St. Patrick's Day. No costumes are allowed, though; on years when GABF coincides with Larimer Street's Oktoberfest, Meyer and his team kick out the lederhosen-wearing revelers in favor of the more serious crowd of craft-beer drinkers. Meyer explains that he prefers a smaller crowd of calmer people who might hang out for a while rather than rowdy bar-hoppers or pedal-bar tours that come and go, leaving a wake of split checks paid by multiple credit cards. But give the proximity to Coors Field and downtown Denver, big crowds are an inevitable consequence during holidays, ballgames and other events.
Neighborhood bars and downtown don't always mix, but when they do, the result is something like Star Bar, where you can get good cocktails and craft beers with a minimal amount of revelers just passing through. And with local brews, local bands and local people, it's refreshingly Denver.
Star Bar is located at 2137 Larimer Street and is open from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily, and also opens two hours before daytime Rockies games. For more information, see the Star Bar website, which states, "We do have a phone, but we don't answer it."