That Sunday was a beautiful day for a patio drink with a view, and the Lakeview Lounge does indeed have a wonderful view of Sloan's Lake and the Denver skyline. The bar even won ourBest Dive Bar With a View
award this year (though the competition is not exactly fierce). I beat my friend by a few minutes and had a seat at the bar, which was fairly full of older gentlemen. Most of the guys had baseball caps, and some sported mullets; there was also a slightly younger guy sipping a beer while wearing a huge pair of headphones. A guy at the end of the bar saw me looking around and asked me if my friends were here yet; I suppose he could tell I wasn't one of the usual crowd. When I told him no, he told me that maybe I would make some new friends at the bar. His demeanor was good-natured and friendly rather than creepy, which I appreciated. I told him I wanted to write a profile on the bar, and he texted the owner, Jack Simon, who was en route.
The friendly blond woman behind the bar got me a bottle of Bud Light, which was on special for $2.50. The Lakeview is a cash-only establishment. Luckily, I had a little cash on me — but there's an ATM just in case you show up with empty pockets. When my friend arrived, we sat and chatted a little more with our new friend at the bar and caught up a bit while taking in the scene: the leather booths, pool table, Simpson's pinball machine and a classic jukebox that all seemed to have been around for quite some time. Decorating the area behind the bar were several signs about not talking politics, not leaving children unattended and other kitschy decorations with drinking-related jokes and slogans. A decades-old Budweiser light fixture, complete with a tiny diorama of a Clydesdale team pulling a wagon inside the plastic fishbowl-like casing of the lamp, cast a soft glow from the ceiling. There were also several signs advertising pizza slices, which we later discovered were the DiGiorno variety, since there isn't a kitchen anymore. Trophies were strewn throughout the space, representing winning pool, dodgeball and softball teams that the bar has sponsored over the years.
Soon enough, Jack Simon arrived and invited us to have a seat outside. He regaled us with stories and tidbits spanning the entire history of the Lakeview Lounge and the neighborhood. An athletic-looking older fellow wearing a golf shirt and shorts, Simon grew up just down the street from the Lakeview. His historical knowledge of the bar began with childhood memories and has been augmented over the years with tales from regulars and other neighborhood historians.
We learned that the building dates back to the 1940s and was a creamery until the early 1950s, when it became a hamburger joint called the Circle Drive-In. In 1957, the location became a bar called the High Skipper, and then, during Simon's childhood in the early ’60s, it became Sloopy's. Toward the end of that decade, the bar changed hands — and names — again, to Cindy's, before finally becoming the Lakeview Lounge in 1975. It was during the 1980s that Simon started working there as a bartender and really got to know the Lakeview. He knew the previous owner, Jerry Golden; they were neighbors when Simon was growing up. Simon was a natural at bartending and quickly became a manager. After leaving for several years in 2001, he recalls, he got "sucked back in" to the Lakeview after a call from Golden and started bartending a couple of nights a week. A couple nights grew to seven nights a week, and before long he was basically running the place. When Golden retired in 2010 after owning the lounge for 35 years, it was only natural for Simon to step in and take over.
Simon has kept with tradition in his eight-year tenure as owner of the lounge. The cash-only model keeps his prices down, which he is proud to say haven't gone up in five years. That's pretty impressive considering the growth and changes on the west side of town and throughout Denver. "It was never my objective to be a millionaire," he states.
The bar's appearance has stayed fairly constant over the years, as well. Our friend at the bar, who Simon says is named Bill, had been making jokes about the fact that we should check out the "Pine-Sol remodel" that had just been completed. Simon says that the lack of remodeling is intentional: When he fixes things, he tries to keep it incognito so that people don't get upset and claim he's ruining the authenticity. His philosophy is not to focus on aesthetics anyway, but on people and creating a welcoming atmosphere.
The dive-bar staple of brown-bag mystery shots, which Simon says is one of his most popular items, is another longstanding tradition. The business hours haven't changed, either: The bar opens at 7 a.m. every day. This schedule originated when St. Anthony's Hospital was located down the street and medical staff used to stop in before or after work for a drink, but Simon says people still come in for coffee or drinks early in the morning. After all, the patio is a great place to watch the sunrise, or the full moon, and it's not uncommon for people to come in early or stay late to see whatever's going on in the sky. It's also happy hour on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., so my friend and I missed out on an early-morning bargain drink that day by a few hours. But happy hours abound; from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to close on weekdays, there's a 25-cent discount on the already-cheap mugs of beer and 50 cents off everything else.
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Our conversation wandered to the booms and busts of Denver itself, the way the Lakeview Lounge and the rest of Denver survived the oil collapse in the '80s, and all the new condos going up in and around Edgewater. We talked about the crowd, which on this particular day was a mix of young couples with their dogs on the patio and older men of varying ages — some who parked their motorcycles outside, and others who similarly parked their mobility scooters. According to Simon, late nights are big for the industry crowd from downtown and elsewhere. Folks also come in from Joyride Brewing up the street, because the brewery closes at 10 p.m. People in their twenties and thirties tend to come in late, and retirees and older folks come in early. According to Simon, his night bartenders say the Lakeview is even attracting its first hipsters, a term he can't quite define (but, really, who can?). Simon says that many of the regular patrons are Midwesterners and say the bar reminds them of home. I can see that; everyone I spoke to was extra-nice, and Simon says he and his staff are committed to asking people to leave if they can't handle themselves.
After some additional pleasant, meandering conversation, Simon told us he needed to head up to the roof to get the swamp cooler going on this warm day — but not before bringing us some samples of frozen margaritas that used to be seasonal but are now served year-round because of popular demand. They did taste pretty good on the hot patio, and my friend and I slurped them down appreciatively. We stuck around for a while, catching up about life, and our new friend Bill from the bar left, reminding me to make sure I write about the "Pine-Sol remodel" as he passed. As we continued chatting, Simon walked by again, pipe wrench in hand, and told us that he wants to make sure that he's giving credit where credit is due to his longtime staff. Nearly everyone who works there has been around for five years or more, and one bartender in particular, Jane, has been employed for more than 33 years at the Lakeview, since long before Simon owned the place. He wanted to make sure we know that the staff are the ones who make this place the way it is, friendly and welcoming. He thanked us again and turned the corner to get to work on that swamp cooler. There was something so endearing about this gesture, and the overall sense of kindness and humility that Simon has about him, that I couldn't help but smile.
As we headed out, leaving the shade and lakeside view of the patio for our hot cars, my friend vowed to return soon with as many of his neighbors as he could round up. I, too, made a mental note to be sure to catch a sunrise happy hour at the Lakeview Lounge, a place I can't believe it's taken me this long to discover.