Darren Polak grew up in Denver, and admits to occasionally visited the sagging strip club at 1196 South Santa Fe Drive that started out as the Paper Tiger, then in 2005 became Maxim, when the steak special on the sign out front was replaced by "Girls and Grub" — though the giant Paper Tiger sign remained above the bar. But by the time Polak bellied up to that bar, the Maxim name had disappeared, too, after a trademark tiff, and the venue was operating with no name at all beyond "Show Club."
Polak still thought of it as the Paper Tiger when he first got brave enough to visit the spot with some friends. They'd passed it while heading to Breakfast King after a night of partying, "and it was always a place that we were afraid to go," he confesses. But when a buddy moved into an apartment at Mississippi and Broadway, they realized that Denver's worst strip club was the closest bar.
So they stopped in a few times, and once even tried the burger (no steak) while downing stubby bottles of Coors Banquet and Jim Beam shots. "There were no cocktails to be had there," he recalls.
And Polak knew his cocktails. In March 2018, he left a job bartending at Tooey's Off Colfax and moved to Portland, Oregon, where he wound up bartending at the Tulip Shop Tavern, a watering hole as hip as the Paper Tiger was not. (Unless you were worried about the hips the elderly strippers might break if they gyrated the wrong way.) And as cocktails — particularly canned cocktails — become popular during the pandemic, he began thinking of interesting drinks the bar could make. The inspiration behind one of the most popular?
The Paper Tiger.
"It was like a grimy old man bar that served $2 Coors and had no cover — a rough place," Polak told Willamette Week, the local alt-weekly. "But I always thought that the Paper Tiger was a cool name."
Admittedly, the $11 gin-based cocktail that honors that name seems a little fancy for a down-and-dirty strip club. "After pouring the porcelain-colored liquid over ice at home, a calming herbal aroma fills your nose as you lift the glass," reports Willamette Week. "The bright essence of grapefruit spins alongside lime cordial and a dash of salt, then warming notes of anise and ginger begin to crest courtesy of a somewhat rare spirit native to the Czech Republic called Becherovka."
Becherovka was never big on the Paper Tiger shelves, though that neighborhood is changing so fast, maybe it would have been one day. When Polak visited Denver about a month ago, he was surprised by all the changes around the old Gates plant — "that whole neighborhood is so different," he says — and elsewhere around town. He couldn't drop by Tooey's; that bar had closed in December, a victim of the pandemic that was "such a bummer."
Nor could he stop by the strip club formerly known as the Paper Tiger. It's closed tight, too, and the property is now on the market for an ambitious $1,499,000.
Break out the Becherovka.
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