Dixons Downtown Grill

There's something to be said for an almost-empty bar. Actually, there's a lot to be said for it. For me, the benefits begin with being able to belly up, a privilege I enjoy on more than one visit to Dixons Downtown Grill (1610 16th Street). As any barfly will tell you, sitting at the bar is crucial not just because it cuts the server out of the equation and all but guarantees faster refills, but also because it gives the bartender a chance to connect a drink with a face, then a drink with a name, then a drink with a story. In the bartender's eyes, this makes you a real person, not just a lush, and real people sometimes get rounds on the house. With repeat visits, they can also attain the barfly's Holy Grail: face and drink recognition before they even sit down, an honor bestowed upon Sean, a former Dixons regular who turned a casual relationship with a bartender into a close friendship. And a lifetime hookup.

Almost-empty bars are more likely to do you favors, too. Ever tried asking a bartender at a busy bar to call you a cab? Not happening. How about getting some tables clumped together or extra chairs pulled up to a booth? Un-fucking-likely. But at Dixons — where the restaurant portion is often jammed and the bar is often not — I find a bar back willing to push through some much-needed beer-absorbing appetizers just after kitchen close. I also find a bartender who has the time and patience to slow-pour my Guinness. And I find plenty of places to sit, including a large, comfortable booth along the back wall that's more or less within arm's reach of the bar.

But when Sean, Maggie and I come for a late-morning brunch during Denver's first snowfall, there's no room at the hallowed bar, and the rest of the place is wall-to-wall with an after-church crowd of white-bread families. We look a little disheveled and a lot hung over compared to these other customers, but even so, we're seated almost immediately at a table overlooking the snow-covered 16th Street Mall. Hangover remedies are promptly ordered — mimosa for me, Bloody Mary for Sean, hot chocolate for Mags — and when our drinks arrive in pint glasses with straws, we demolish them in a few fell swoops. Before we can crunch ice cubes or make that most disrespectful of straw-slurping noises, our server returns and we order seconds.

Despite the general commotion, our service is impeccable all morning and into the afternoon: Drinks are refilled quickly, food substitutions and special orders are benevolently obliged, and when two more friends show up to sit at a table with room for only one, we're graciously helped through the process of finding a spare chair and acquiring new place settings. For almost two hours, we indulge in eggs Mazatlan, hot turkey sandwiches, Hollandaise sauce and champagne bubbles. As the booze takes over, we recount with increasing amazement and animation the debacle that was the drunken bartendress and scantily clad karaoke MC at another bar the night before. And we wonder aloud why this bar is often empty — but we don't wish it wasn't.

Because while the crowds today don't bother us, there's something to be said for an empty bar.

What's your favorite neighborhood bar? Spill it to Drew Bixby at [email protected], and if he meets you there for a drink, the first round's on him.

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Drew Bixby