On a lazy Sunday, a friend and I cast around for a new bar (or new to us, at least) nearby to investigate. Nestled between our neighborhoods in a strip mall in Aurora was a watering hole neither of us had ever been to: the Sports Station Bar and Grill
(850 Dayton Street). The Sports Station is located in an odd no-man's-land somewhere between Lowry, East Colfax Avenue and Havana Street, which pretty much encapsulates the vibe of the bar. When we arrived, the parking lot was so full of cars it was tough to find a space. Many of the businesses in the older shopping center were of the weekday variety — a laundromat and an appliance store, for example — so we assumed that most of the cars were there for the bar. When we went inside, it was obvious that we were right.
The main dining area was packed to the gills with people, most of them playing poker, but a few were just sipping their drinks quietly or absently watching a NASCAR race on one of the TVs. The wood-paneled walls and high-top tables showed signs of wear, but that clearly didn't matter to the clientele. There wasn't a single vacant table inside, so for a while my friend and I sat on out on the smoking patio, which was enclosed by tarps.
But it got too smoky once a group of guys lit up their cigarettes, so we went back inside in search of a new location to post up. Beyond the fray of the main poker action, we found a second room in the expansive space, which had a small pass-through window that allowed us to order from the bar. This second room was full of entertainment of all kinds: pool tables, a Playboy pinball machine and arcade games simulating boxing and bowling. We grabbed a rickety table there, even though it wasn't ideal for observing the crowd.
Boxing arcade games aren't something I've seen a lot of in my bar travels.
Another friend, who works at the Veterans Administration hospital, joined us and joked that the Sports Station was what he would imagine it would be like "if the VA had a bar." I can't say for sure if any of the folks in there had served in the military, but gear adorned with American flags was common apparel on the mostly older poker players. Also common were Denver sports-related outfits, which fit in well with the surrounding Broncos memorabilia; according to a guy with gray dreadlocks sitting at the bar, the Sports Station is a Broncos bar "all the way." There was also a preponderance of signs, like at many old-school neighborhood bars, with instructions and slogans. My favorite was "Don't Bullshit a Bullshitter."
Food at the Sports Station comes courtesy of Pit Stop BBQ, which operates inside the same space, serving food from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Chef Donald James brought his barbecue operation to the bar last October from a previous location on East Colfax Avenue; he also does catering and festivals. Our server, Kiwi, told us to look for fifty-cent wings on Wednesdays starting this month, adding that the Pit Stop serves full breakfast every day. I was just looking for a bar snack, choosing chili cheese fries before realizing that a better order would have the brisket fries, the Pit Stop house specialty. But the fries were of a much higher quality than I had expected, so my regrets were quickly put aside. The crispy, housemade fries with chili and beans on top were a surprising treat.
As we demolished the delicious mess, the poker game continued in earnest in the next room, blocking access to the dartboards, Golden Tee game and Wii setup. All the extra chairs in the room, plus a few mobility scooters and even bicycles parked alongside the tables made for a tight squeeze. It turns out that Sunday is the biggest day for poker, but Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday nights also see tournaments, both in the afternoon and at night. Friday is reserved for karaoke.
This is one of the few bars where you'll find three happy hours daily: from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., 5 to 7 p.m., and from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. So if you stick around long enough, you'll probably find yourself a happy hour — and you'll meet new folks coming in with each wave of happy-hour customers.
Our bartender, Kim, has worked at the Sports Station fourteen years, but the place has been a bar for far longer under several different owners. Debra and Brent Dolph, the current owners, have run the place for the past few years but haven't made many changes other than bringing in the Pit Stop, which everyone in the bar seems to love. The building dates back to 1975, and I can imagine that the old cigarette machines and some of the tables are also of that vintage.
My friend and I finished our beers and headed out into the Sunday afternoon sunshine, leaving the poker game and NASCAR race to finish at the Sports Station. The parking lot was still packed, and more people were trickling in and out; poker, cheap drinks and brisket fries make for a pretty good draw in a neighborhood not looking for anything much fancier.