There aren't a whole lot of bars left on West Colfax Avenue, but those that haven't been knocked down in favor of luxury apartments or otherwise overtaken are sanctuaries for neighborhood folks. The Viking is one such bar.
The building the Viking occupies dates back to the 1930s and was once called the Tap, a 3.2 bar opened after Prohibition holdover rules created the low-alcohol beer phenomenon in Denver. There have been quite a few owners over the years, and the current proprietors, Bryan and Jolene Knight, have carried on the legacy (other than the 3.2 part) and made a few upgrades to spiff things up a bit.
The small interior is cleaner and brighter than it used to be, the patio sports bright umbrellas and planters, and overall things look more welcoming, according to my bar companion, who had been here years back on a West Colfax bar crawl (when there were more bars over here to crawl between). Keeping it old-school, however, is the fact that it's a cash-only establishment. There's an ATM in the corner by the jukebox and pool tables, so thirsty patrons who run out of cash need not fear anything other than some banking fees.
We visited on a Wednesday afternoon after work, and there was already a healthy crowd on the patio and inside. The bar opens at 7 a.m., when its first happy hour runs until 11 a.m. weekdays, so some of these folks could have been here for quite a while. My friend and I were greeted by two friendly bartenders, "Peppermint Patty" and Amber. Amber listed off the specials and bar activities quickly and loudly, including the current special of $3 bottled domestic beers. Drinks are buy-one-get-one-free on Fridays, Thursday night is Ladies' Night, and DJs come in to spice up the party on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Ladies' Night and other special occasions also involve free food — often barbecue made on the grill out back. But the Viking doesn't have a full kitchen, so any other food is brought in. Wednesday nights, as well as Saturdays and Sundays during the day, are for card sharps, with Texas Hold ’Em and other games going on.
We snagged a few rounds of Buds and went about catching up on life at the bar. Periodically, the place would break out in a cacophony of good-natured but rather loud yelling. My friend joked that we needed to practice using our "outside voices" so we could hear each other, despite being seated side by side at the bar. For reasons too convoluted to go into here, my friend had brought me a gift of sorts — a clay candle holder depicting several figures embracing in a circle. The bartenders pointed out that the figures looked like sloths, (which they did) and we all started joking and yelling about the "Sloth Unity Candle."
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The raucous crowd was obviously having fun, and so were we. Mostly older folks, the crowd was otherwise diverse. Fashion statements included combos of leopard print and big hair, or casual T-shirts and shorts; it was clear folks felt comfortable to come as they were. The regulars didn't even give us too much side-eye for looking like neighborhood newcomers.
Everyone was clearly trying to avoid committing the sins indicated on the "You Need to Get the Hell Out of Here When:" sign to the right of the bar, sins which includes asking for free drinks and not tipping, cursing at the bartenders in different languages, fighting, implying that you are the sole financial supporter of the bar, and other expletive-filled suggestions that, we were told, date back to the 3.2 bar days of the Tap.
We didn't want to leave the Viking but needed sustenance beyond the snacks available, so we picked up our Sloth Unity Candle and got the hell out (even though we had broken none of the rules). Driving eastward along Colfax, past the many new apartments and construction projects, I made a plan to return to the Viking soon for some unpretentious drinking and yelling in a part of town that's changing quickly.
The Viking is located at 4888 West Colfax Avenue and is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. For more information, call 303-623-3256 or visit the bar's Facebook page.