Bars

You Should Be Drinking at These Two New Women-Owned Bars

The Dew Drop Inn opened in May 2021.
The Dew Drop Inn opened in May 2021. Molly Martin
Margaret Moore, Leigh Jones, Mel Unruh and Kiendl Smith all have deep roots in the Denver bar scene — which explains why they're so good at opening places that feel as safe and friendly as they are fun. "You don't want to be exclusive...I kind of want to appeal to the masses," notes Moore. 

She and Jones met while working together at what was then the Painted Bench in Uptown. In 2006, the two bought the space next door at 414 East 20th Avenue and, along with Unruh, opened their first bar together, the Horseshoe Lounge.

At around the same time, Jones bought the Painted Bench, reopening it in 2007 as Dish Bistro and later rebranding it as Jonesy's EatBar. After one final name change to the Centennial Tavern, it closed in 2015; today it's Coperta.

But while the restaurant next door was going through many changes, the ’Shoe was becoming a reliable neighborhood staple — the kind of place where you can run into old friends and make new ones, all while lounging in vintage chairs and drinking at a bar covered with 26,800 dice. From there, Jones and Moore went on to add Inga's Alpine Lounge and the Bar Car to their family of drinking establishments — though neither remains an owner of those spots. Jones, however, is currently a partner in the Crow Bar and the Owl Saloon.
click to enlarge Bar-goers get comfy in the living room-esque part of the Horseshoe Lounge. - SARAH MCGILL
Bar-goers get comfy in the living room-esque part of the Horseshoe Lounge.
Sarah McGill
In 2018, Jones and Moore took on another change, transforming the former home of Phil's Place, at 3463 Larimer Street, into the Embassy Tavern and maintaining its divey appeal despite its prime RiNo location. In the wrong hands, it could easily have become just another trendy cocktail bar.

But instead, it landed in the right hands. Despite not officially operating under one hospitality group umbrella, Jones and Moore, along with sometime business partners Unruh and Smith, are tied together by a motto that drives everything they do: Make regulars.

Now, they're doing just that at two new bars: the Dew Drop Inn, at 1033 East 17th Avenue, and Pairadice, at 2209 Welton Street.

Opening a new bar under tough current conditions — with COVID continuing to spread, supply-chain issues causing a spike in prices and industry-wide staffing shortages — wasn't exactly the plan. But the pandemic has had some surprising financial upsides. "Being so small," Moore notes, bars "are a really hard business to get loans in" — especially for women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. But going through the Small Business Administration process for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program "did open some doors for us," she says.

So when Tim Doherty, the owner of the Syrup breakfast restaurants, decided to sell the Shanty, his  Midwest-style supper club on 17th, Moore and her partners were able to take advantage of the situation. "It was tough opening this place," Moore admits. "But when opportunities are there, you need to jump. But trying to open something in the pandemic, especially with supply-chain issues, it is like banging your head against a wall."

Despite the challenges, the Dew Drop opened in May 2021. "This place has always been a restaurant...but we were like, 'This neighborhood needs a bar,'" says co-owner Smith, who met Moore while working at Goosetown Tavern and is heading up operations at the Dew Drop.
click to enlarge Embassy Tavern is a casual place to grab a drink in RiNo. - SCOTT LENTZ
Embassy Tavern is a casual place to grab a drink in RiNo.
Scott Lentz
Unlike their other bars, the Dew Drop is more of a gastropub, thanks in large part to one key hire: a man who goes simply by "Fush" — a name that may be familiar to anyone who enjoyed drinking at now-closed iconic beer bar Falling Rock Tap House.

Fush worked at Falling Rock for 22 years, doing a bit of everything — from cooking beer dinners in the early days to bartending and working the floor. Smith happened to visit before Falling Rock closed last summer and ran into Fush. She recalls: "He was like, 'I heard through the grapevine that you bought a place. Do you need hands?' And I said, 'I need somebody to run my kitchen.'"

"Working for three brothers was great; now working for three women is...probably a little better," Fush adds with a laugh. "I couldn't have asked for a better place to land."

"It's been nice to be able to give him a platform to be creative back there and just do what he wants to do and bang out amazing food," Smith says. The Dew Drop menu will change seasonally, and currently includes options like French onion soup, poutine with house-smoked pork, and a "big bowl of mussels" available in four styles. "He's just taken the kitchen to the next level."

While the Dew Drop is slightly more upscale than the Horseshoe, with its extensive food offerings and seasonal cocktails alongside classics, it maintains the same low-key, welcoming vibe. "I think we really design and build to be warm and inviting," Moore explains of the ethos behind all of the "make regulars" bars. "Everything we build, we try to be cozy with our music and our lights — and our staff is easily the biggest part of that."
click to enlarge Like the Horseshoe, the bar at Pairadice is covered in dice. - MOLLY MARTIN
Like the Horseshoe, the bar at Pairadice is covered in dice.
Molly Martin
Over on Welton Street, Unruh is heading up day-to-day operations at the team's most recent addition: Pairadice. As at the Horseshoe, the bar here is covered with thousands of dice (though these are bright red). As with the Dew Drop, this opportunity came thanks to another spot's closure. Owner Rita Price had run Rita's Law for just over two years, but was struggling because of several problems in the neighborhood, including street construction and an increase in homelessness. "She had a beautiful concept," Moore says.  "I think there were a lot of reasons it didn't work out for her, but we were able to help her out, and she was ready to go."

Pairadice opened in early January with a menu that's heavy on sparkling cocktails and canned beer. Hinman hand pies and what Moore calls "adult Lunchables" (aka light charcuterie plates) are available for snacking, and tables are set with baskets of puzzles and games. "We had so many dice leftover, we decided to put Yahtzee out everywhere," Unruh notes. The space also has a large patio out back that is sure to be a prime seating option once the weather warms up.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the bar was quiet, but two older men sat sipping beers and chatting with Unruh as she did exactly what this group of women set out to do: Make regulars.

"It's just about being friendly and open-minded to everyone who walks in the door, whether they're 21 or 80 or 101," Moore concludes. "It's treating everyone like they're a good human."

The Dew Drop Inn is located at 1033 East 17th Avenue and is open daily from 3 p.m. to close. Learn more at dewdropinndenver.com. Pairadice is located at 2209 Welton Street and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to close. Learn more at dicebardenver.com.
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin