From open to close at one of Denver's best dives: The Nob Hill

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The doors of the Nob Hill Inn open at 8 a.m., "so you start off fresh," says John Plessinger, whose father bought the bar at 420 East Colfax Avenue in 1969 and put it in his then-21-year-old son's name. Forty years later, by 8 a.m. the owner's already been at the Nob for four hours, fixing anything that might have gotten broken before last call just a few hours earlier, looking over the stock, ordering supplies, letting in Marie, who used to live on the streets just outside and now cleans the place. Seven days a week, year after year, Plessinger comes in at 4 a.m., "but by 7:30 or 8, I'm done," he points out. "The bar's given me the freedom to paint all day."

Those are his paintings of Capitol Hill on the walls of the bar. He did them back in 1983, when he got his bachelor of fine arts at the University of Colorado at Denver and may have been the only student to own a saloon on Colfax. Although he'd grown up in bars — his father also owned John W's Taproom in Englewood, as well as the Fox on the Hill and Mr. Von's Alamo — and even worked as a bartender at the Taproom, after he got a degree in advertising from the University of Oklahoma, he sold real estate for ten years. (He got that job from a Nob Hill regular.) He didn't take over the bar until after his father passed away, in 1977.

By then, this spot on Colfax had been in business for over forty years, although it wasn't known as the Nob Hill until '54. Before that, it was a restaurant of some renown, with a bartender who was working his way through law school and later become governor. Those booths in the corner? At one point there was a phone there, so that legislators who were drinking in the bar knew to hightail it down the hill to the Capitol for a vote. And the Nob continued to attract lawmakers and lobbyists for years. "When Father first bought the bar," Plessinger remembers, "people would come here in coats and ties."


Nob Hill Inn

The crowd outside the bar went downhill a lot faster than the crowd inside. The neighborhood hit bottom in 1991, "when drug dealers and prostitutes came in from California," Plessinger recalls. "Ever since, I've been combating them. Every day, they take the bus in from Aurora, and spend all day, all night here, then go home. It's a vicious cycle."

He's seen it all. He's painted some of it. "This is the most Democratic bar there is," he says. The ne'er-do-well son of one prominent family (his father's name is on a local theater) would sit at the bar every day from 8 to 5, like it was his job, and cash a hundred-dollar check. Bob Dylan has partied here. But mostly, the Nob attracts a loyal crew of regulars, regulars who come here not for the food — which today consists of only Tombstone pizzas — but the camaraderie. The staff and the customers are family.

Still, there are limits to family love. Dora, who's been a Nob Hill bartender for sixteen years and "grew up in Five Points and has seen everything," finally got fed up with the dealer repeatedly walking through the bar. "If I lose my good help, I lose my business," Plessinger says. "Being a bartender is the hardest job on earth. You have to deal with the public, and then you have to deal with the public that's been drinking – and it doesn't get harder than that."

Except, of course, when you have to deal with the dope dealers and crackheads outside after handling the drunks inside.

But for the first time in a long time, things are looking up. The building that houses the Nob — which at one point in the early '70s was owned by the State of Colorado, which considered putting the new judicial center here, then went through a series of slumlords — finally is in the hands of Ringsby Realty, a longtime Denver business that has fixed up the second floor (no tenants yet), put on a new roof, added solar and landscaping. And for the past month, the stretch of Colfax outside the bar has looked better than Plessinger remembers it looking in years. He credits this to a September 30 meeting organized by Deb Palmieri, who runs the Russian Consulate around the corner on Pennsylvania, a meeting attended by activist neighbors and cops and even a few members of Denver City Council. Plessinger talked to the group, sharing four decades of history and his hopes that, one day, the vicious circle might finally be broken.

"It will be a miracle, but it's possible," Plessinger says. "This is as clean as I've seen it."

At any time of day. — Patricia Calhoun

10 a.m.-noon

It's the lean last week of the month, an uneasy time of thirst and empty wallets and sharp anticipation of the Social Security or disability or paycheck that comes on the First of Never. But even an advanced case of bankroll evaporation cannot stay the late-morning regulars at the Nob from their appointed rounds.

And nobody is more regular than Herbie.

The others drift in one or two at a time, in search of a red beer or some conversation and coffee, or to cadge a Coke, or just to gaze silently, as if in prayer, at the contestants jumping up and down excitedly on The Price Is Right. Grinning beneath his jaunty tartan cap, Herbie greets them all and inquires about the missing. He turned 75 last Friday and seems mildly surprised to be here himself. Then he orders a Smirnoff-and-Clamato, while grousing that the price is not right.

"Three dollars," he mutters, deadpan. "You're trying to break me?"

You might think Herbie is close with a buck, but that's not the case. An old acquaintance, a mysterious woman in Holly Golightly shades, asks him to spot her a shot of bourbon, and he readily agrees. It's just that the price of a drink is something to bitch about, an occasion for verbal sparring with bartender Manuel and other customers. Somebody mentions a fancy-pants bar in Birmingham, Alabama, where a screwdriver costs $8.50. Herbie thinks this is pure lunacy and that there must be a lot of suckers in Alabama.

Herbie has been coming to the Nob since 1967, when a decent drink could be had for 75 cents. The demise of the six-bit cocktail is but one of many blows suffered by the patrons of Capitol Hill's taverns and groggeries over the years. A boulevardier of vast acquaintance with the passing parade, Herbie can recite a funereal list of lost delights up and down Colfax and beyond: The soup and the rabbit at the Heidelberg. The Chinese food and gin rummy games at Charlie Brown's. Steaks and martinis and crisp salads smothered in Thousand Island dressing at the Golden Ox. The Scotch and Sirloin. The Sportsman in its prime. Pete Contos in his prime, arm-wrestling with Denver Broncos Dave Costa and Pete Duranko. A lady bartender at the Congress who poured the stiffest drinks in town. And the Nob. There was a time when people stood three-deep at the bar and a wit like Herbie didn't have to compete with the drone of the TV. The ranks of the convivial regulars and well-known characters at neighborhood watering holes like this one have thinned considerably. Blame the smoking ban, old age, shifting notions of social networking. Blame Facebook if you want.

Yet the Nob abides. Other dives have gone belly-up, surrendered to the crackheads or wooed a younger crowd with fancy-pants drinks and loud music, but not the Nob. It's clean, Herbie points out, and the regulars still look out for each other.

"How's Everett?" demands a woman across the bar. "Anyone heard from him?""He's an alarmist," replies Holly Golightly.

"I heard he had a heart attack yesterday."

"No, he didn't. It was just stress."

Herbie decides on one more drink. Then it's time to head home for lunch with the wife.

"It's good to have a little fun," he says. "I don't go out at night anymore, and I don't drink like I used to." — Alan Prendergast

Noon-2 p.m.

William Lang's story ended 112 years ago on a set of railroad tracks in eastern Illinois. But his tale would fit in well among the drunken histories and rags-to-riches-to-rags lessons tossed around every day inside the Nob Hill. Lang's successes and his failures would mesh with those of the Nob Hill regulars in the same way that the dozens of buildings he designed within blocks of this bar fit in with the chaos of Capitol Hill.

And Lang's life story is well known inside the bar, where the midday crowd is mostly drinking their lunch — bourbon, beer and vodka — as they swap other stories.

An Ohio native and Civil War veteran, Lang moved around the country with his family more than a dozen times, landing in Nebraska in the late 1870s, where he became a grocer. But over the next few years, Lang, who'd spent most of his life as a tradesman, turned himself into an architect. In 1885, he moved to Denver, the Queen City of the Plains, whose riches were fueled by gold and silver mines that had lifted nearly everyone's fortunes. Mansions had sprung up along Colfax and Grant and Pennsylvania streets. Lang became an instant success here, creating more than 250 buildings in fewer than ten years. Dozens of these structures still stand within blocks of the Nob, including the one Lang lived in; some, like the Molly Brown House and the Castle Marne, have become famous landmarks.

But Lang's career collided with the Silver Crash of 1893, which plunged him into economic ruin, depression and despair. He was eventually diagnosed with dementia and discharged from St. Luke's Hospital into the care of his brother, who lived in Illinois. Just four years later, Lang disappeared from his brother's house. Weeks later, he was found dead on the train tracks. Police described him as a tramp and a vagrant.

Anyone can rise and anyone can fall, though, and the family of drinkers at the Nob know all about the highs and lows of life.

Joe Wilson picks up the story of Capitol Hill just four decades later. Born at the same St. Luke's where Lang spent time, he grew up in his grandmother's home, just across the alley from the Molly Brown House. His first jobs were selling newspapers and shining shoes on Colfax, running five-dollar bills for bookies and bootlegging for the soldiers who'd take the trolley car in from Lowry Field. "It was a pretty good hub in those days," says Wilson, who gave up drinking a while back. "And there was no better place to get drunk and get laid than the Nob Hill!"

Like Lang, Wilson bounced around. He took his first job at the Pink Elephant in the late 1940s, across the street from what would become the Nob. He worked as a bouncer and busboy, a painter and a waiter. For a time, he tended bar at the Brown Palace with a young Pete Contos — who now runs an empire of clubs and restaurants based on Colfax. "The Hill has changed a lot since then, and not for the better," says Wilson, who lives on Washington Street, just three blocks from where he was born. But a lot of its history is still standing, including the Lang-designed rowhomes where Wilson used to go trick-or-treating ("Boy, you'd get a sackful on Halloween!" he remembers) and the nunnery where he'd take out the trash.

Wilson doesn't hit the Nob much these days. "It's just too dangerous for me," he says, "because I'd love to be in there getting drunk with them and telling stories with a big ol' jug of beer in front of me. Those stories change every time you tell them."

But the Nob Hill remains a constant. — Jonathan Shikes

2-4 p.m.

It's the storm before the calm.

In a couple of hours, when the drinks at the nearby Roslyn Grill turn two-for-one, at least some of these merry day drinkers will amble down Colfax, their loyalty briefly set aside to sedate their groaning livers. The Nob should settle down some then, giving Manuel Martinez, the bartender, a chance to clean a few glasses and restock whatever's low before the inevitable night rush. The quiet, like any regular, will be welcome.

But now: chaos.

It's relative chaos, sure, nothing Manuel can't handle. But in day-shift terms, this is hectic. The horseshoe bar is full, the stomachs are stretched, the orders are flying. Manuel moves from customer to customer, the mallet in a game of Whack-a-Drunk, while the drinkers focus on the Important Issue of the Moment: the jukebox. A glass full of dollars makes its way around the bar, and regulars call out the names of the songs they want to hear: 2670, 3240.

Dale shows up; that causes a stir. He's been off in South Dakota, visiting family, and everyone's glad to have him back. Betsy the Alleged Hippie is especially buoyed by his arrival. She unchains herself from her stool and walks over to greet him, bathing him in back slaps and "fucks."

"How the fuck was South Dakota, maaaaaan?" she asks, and then comes the lecture: "Your family's on the streets, maaaaaan. Family's got nothing to do with fucking blood." She doesn't seem to like South Dakota.

It's then that Betsy notices a "yuppie motherfucker" — that would be me — who "stands out like a flicking neon sign." Betsy has bleached-blond hair, sunglasses the size of a car windshield and a penchant for reapplying something glossy to her lips — sure signs of a yuppie, if there is such a thing. But she seems convinced that she's some sort of hippie. She can't stop talking about the '70s, and her sentences have more F-bombs per ounce than a gangster rapper's.

"You don't come down to Colfax at the end of the fucking month," she says now, shifting the focus of her lecture to the yuppie motherfucker next to Dale. "You come at the beginning, when everyone just got paid and does their shit." She's slapping me now, as she eventually will slap half the bar.

So, yeah, it's a little chaotic. Manuel doesn't appear to mind, but he probably does. He likes his quiet. He used to drive trucks, hauling loads all over the Mountain West — just him and his CB, which he ignored as much as possible. "I was so used to being left alone," he says between pours, his neat khakis and button-down belying the grime of the gig. "I didn't have to carry on a conversation."

But then, about six months ago, the Nob Hill got him. He's been coming around since he was nine, when his mom was a bartender here. "I'd come in, hit her up for money and run," he says. Places like this are hard to kick, so 41 years later, the Nob was still where he did his drinking. When he got popped for a DUI earlier this year, it was on his way home from the bar.

That killed his trucking career. He tried construction, too, "but the banks stopped lending money." Manuel was out of work. Again. So here he is, manning the Tuesday day shift at the Nob Hill. He made almost $50,000 as a trucker; at $3.50 a bottle, he won't sniff that here.

"I'd rather go back to trucking," he says.

It's obvious why: Some guys down the bar want to know who the best actor out there is ("Hard to say"); a regular's daughter calls the Nob Hill's unlisted number to report on her whereabouts; Betsy's yelling some shit about developers and neophytes; and there's a yuppie motherfucker nursing his beer like a neophyte and pestering Manuel for his life story. The CB's crackling, and unless the bar empties at 4 p.m., there's no shutting it off.

Manuel keeps pouring, keeps smiling. If he wants it to thin out, he's not showing it. "It's two-for-one down there," he says of the Roslyn's upcoming happy hour, "but they don't pour their drinks like we do."

You get the feeling that Manuel knows the quiet may never come today. Hurricane Betsy is still blowing full force. — Joe Tone

4-6 p.m.

No matter the subject, Ernie has a few thoughts about it. More than a few, really — a whole gang of thoughts that come jumping out of his mouth and onto the bar. (Just watch the glass there, buddy, that beer has to last him until 5:30.) And when the subject is dive bars, well, what can't Ernie say? Like, you know a really great one? The Star Bar. It's over on Larimer Street. Larry-merrrrr. Know it? Larimer and, uh, he can't say the cross street. He knows it; he just can't get it from his head out through his mouth. An old brain injury, he says, circling his finger around his head like a halo. Apologies if you can't understand what he's saying; sometimes people have a hard time, so he's sorry.

But the Star Bar, he's there all the time. He likes it because it's clean. An upscale dive! A good place to spend an afternoon. Or a morning. Larry-merr. And then there's that other place. He can't remember what it's called — yeah, the Carioca! That's a good place. A lot of day people there. Not quite so clean, though. He's never been there at night. Ernie never goes to bars at night; he just goes home and stays in. Same with weekends. He gets himself a twelve-pack in the morning and stays inside his house in south Denver. He's married, but he and the wife are separated. You know how it goes.

See the woman sitting on the stool next to him? That's Mom. Not his mom; she's everybody's mom. Everyone in this place, that's what they call her. Say "Hi, mom!" He and Mom used to go to the Roslyn all the time, then they got 86'd. Fighting. Once that happens, the guy they have working the door there, he won't let you back in for anything. The bouncer. It's okay; he likes the Nob Hill. There are always people to talk to and always things to talk about. What was he going to say? Yeah, the Arabian Bar over there on the north side, the lady who owns that place is named Maria. Mar-eeeee-ahhhh. She used to own the Westside Bar over there off Eighth Avenue, the neighborhood where he grew up. It's right across from that little liquor store. You know it? Ernie used to work there. Yeah, these Koreans owned it — no, not the same ones who own it now — and he worked for them full-time. Register, restocking, ordering, everything. The neighborhood kids used to hang out in front and he'd give them sodas, buy them little candies from the convenience store next door. The Koreans were going to help him buy his own liquor store; they had the place picked out and everything.

Mar-eee-ah. Man, she's a lady that you don't want to get on the bad side of. Ouch, I'm telling you, ouch. Ernie hasn't been to the Westside in years. Or that liquor store. He got robbed there one time. A guy came in, a Chicano guy from the neighborhood, and asked a question about something. When Ernie turned to point to the back cooler — wham! — the guy whacked him across the head with the butt of a pistol. They caught the guy. When the police came, the neighborhood kids were like, "Over there! He lives in that house over there!" He used to come in to the store all the time, then one day just decided to do what he did.

Ernie spent over a month in the hospital. When he got out, the liquor store the Koreans were going to help him buy had already been sold. It didn't matter anyway: He could barely talk, let alone run his own store. That was in 1999. He likes this place, the Nob Hill. It's clean. Not as clean as the Star Bar, but still a great place. Because of the head injury, he's on disability. He can't work. He wishes he could. It's the depression, man. It's hard. And the doctors, all they want to do is give him the drugs, piles of those pills. He doesn't want no fucking drugs, man! He knows he doesn't seem like he has the depression, but some days it's really hard, it's too much. Sometimes he just thinks, "It's time to go, I just want to go." But he doesn't. He thinks about his son, who's thirteen, and he keeps his face in his mind.

But all that is the subject for another day. It's just after 5:30, and Ernie has to go. He finishes off the last of the beer he has been nursing all afternoon, says see-ya-later to Mom and everyone else and heads home. — Jared Jacang Maher

6-8 p.m.

Outside the Nob Hill Inn, the snow is really starting to come down. I stand, pinned up against the bricks, phone to my ear, saying nothing but "Yeah," and "Sure," and "Twenty minutes, maybe." Nodding like an idiot. The #15 bus has just let off on the corner, and everyone is scurrying for cover, pulling coats tight around themselves, moving as though stunned by the sudden cold and snow.

The guy who approaches me is friendly enough. He comes up while I'm still talking, huddling next to me under the lee of the wall, and I have my hand up to stop him before the first words are even out of his mouth — palm out like playing red light/green light, then pointing to the phone. He nods and smiles, digs hands into his pockets and waits, steaming, beside me.

"Wife?" he asks when I finally stab the END CALL button on my cell.

"How'd you guess?"

"Yeah, I've got one, too."

I light a cigarette, say nothing. There is a beer waiting for me inside. Not my first, not my last. I'm missing it already.

"Just came up from New Mexico, you know?" says the man, brushing the melting snow off the hood of his gray sweatshirt.

"Really?" I ask. "I did my time in New Mexico. I was in Albuquerque. You?"

"Albuquerque," he says, nodding. "West side." He pulls his hood down and scrubs his fingers across his stubbled scalp, criss-crossed with scratches. "Here now, though, right? Made it out?"

He says it like we've escaped something. Survived something. Like that gives the two of us — strangers on the street, snowbound on Colfax, refugees from high deserts and strange latitudes — some kind of camaraderie. He leans in closer, tilting his head. "Hey, I got some oxy..."

I say no, but thanks. "I'm good with the beer I've got inside, man."

I toss away my cigarette and go through the Nob Hill's heavy door, stepping into a dozen loud conversations and the warmth of a closely packed bar.

"Wife?" asks Charles. The first question he'd asked me, five minutes after I'd met him, was, "Is murder still illegal?" Two stools down, his own wife is drinking wine — little rose splits poured into a wine glass, the empties lined up in front of her on the bar. And I say, to no one in particular and everyone at once, "God, I love this town." — Jason Sheehan

8-10 p.m.

The music piped outside the Nob Hill Inn right now isn't the usual opera or classical used to thwart off the crackheads, but a big-band tune. Spike Jones. Inside, someone plays a set of classic country songs. Jamie, who's been coming to the Nob for sixteen years and is married to Randy, the weekend bartender, says she first heard David Allan Coe's "The Devil Went Down to Jamaica" here.

Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" is playing; it might as well be the Nob's theme song, since about 90 percent of the people who come here are regulars. "It's like a huge family," Randy says. One member of the family chooses a block of Patsy Cline's more popular tunes: "Walking After Midnight," "Sweet Dreams," "Crazy."

John Miller, the night bartender, made the Nob Hill Classics mix CDs that are mixed in with Creedence Clearwater Revival, George Thorogood, John Mellencamp, ZZ Top, Harley-Davidson Road Songs compilations and Bob Dylan, who had a few drinks at the Nob after a show at the Fillmore a few years ago. A sampling from one Nob Hill Classic: Dave Clark's "Because," the Isley Brothers' "That Lady," Cher's "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves" and Frankie Avalon's "Venus."

John is also a big blues fan, he says, as a cut from a Jimmy Rogers All-Stars album comes on, followed by a tune from Austin-based Marcia Ball.

While the Eagles' "Desperado" plays, weekend bartender Randy says he was at the Nob Hill the day in 1996 when lightning struck the spire of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception across the street. "I thought we were under attack," he says.

After CCR's cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins hit "I Put a Spell on You," for a few moment all you can hear is the sound of the people around the bar talking. John keeps the volume of the jukebox low, and even when a guy puts on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?," it's hard to hear.

But then, when Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" starts up, the guy with the long gray beard who's sitting directly in front of the jukebox yells to John, "Turn it up!" After some cajoling, John obliges. And for the first time this night, the music crowds out the crowd. — Jon Solomon

10 p.m.-midnight

The snow is coming down hard, forcing the crackheads off the streets. Which is nice for Walter Anderson, officially the Nob Hill barback and unofficially its bouncer, because that's normally his job.

On some nights, all he has to do is turn up the music outside to keep the sidewalk clear. Other times he takes a more direct approach. The best way to handle the dealers is to keep it civil. "Look, I know what you're up to," he'll say. "Just don't do it here."

Most of the drug traffic came to this part of Colfax after the 7-Eleven down on 13th closed a few years back. It gets so bad that on some summer nights, Walter will walk with patrons to Logan Street, less than a block away, to make sure they get through the pack of pushers crowded at the bus stop.

But tonight it's quiet. Before he takes a lap around the block at 11:30 p.m., Walter stops at the Roslyn. Laura, the bartender, is missing a tooth from the time she refused to give a crackhead a cigarette outside her bar and he hit her in the head. She gets Walter his shot — Rumple Minze and Jägermeister, which he calls a "black hole." "That'll keep us warm for a few minutes, anyway," he says. He's wearing shorts.

Down on 14th, there's a man standing under the awning of an apartment building. "He isn't just there for the ambience," says Walter. Around the corner on Logan, two men stand in a brick alcove, hands in the pockets of heavy winter coats. They watch as Walter walks by. He explains how the system works, how dealers bring the drugs to the street from back here.

It's cold and dark and quiet on Colfax. Inside the Nob, it's exactly the opposite. "We can go drink anywhere," says Monty, who's been a regular for fifteen years. "We come here because it's working-class, no pretensions." He's sitting at the bar with Sin, who's been coming here for five years. Rita figures she's been coming about ten years, and Tom, twelve. There's Paul, thirty years, and Ron, another thirty years. Buster, ten years, is sitting with Rick, six or seven years. "I'm the newest kid on the block," says Rick, laughing. Except for Scott, who's new in town and at the Nob for only his third or fourth time. And then there's Walter and John, who's been tending this bar for thirty years.

Spend a couple of hours inside, and you'll know all their names. — Kiernan Maletsky

Midnight-2 a.m.

By midnight on a Tuesday, most dives and neighborhood joints have been asleep for hours — lights and neon beer signs switched off, glasses and rails wiped clean, doors locked tight. Not the Nob. Outside, fat flakes of snow are falling at a rate fast enough to cancel Denver Public Schools and college classes on Wednesday; inside, the action's just picking up.

Sitting in the middle of the bar's west side, Ron's rattling on and on about how beautiful my wife, Maggie, is — like he's never seen a good-looking brunette before. And like she's not in the room. He's standing on the legs of his stool, leaning halfway over the bar, looking left and right, talking to no one in particular. "Damn!" he's saying over and over. "She's a looker!" He eventually works up the courage to approach her, to tell her if he had any money he'd play her a song on the jukebox. Then John pitches in a buck from the register, and Ron plays "Maggie's Farm," by Bob Dylan. He returns not long after the tune ends to gift Maggie with a pile of Halloween candy: some Lemonheads, a fun-size Hershey's bar, a single Rolo and a caramel.

On the north edge of the bar, Rita's all smiles and preoccupied silence. Her companion in the black beret is telling her, "I can't drive. I'm a little bit loaded. I'm sorry," but she pays him little mind. Instead, she wanders over to my perch on the east edge, grinning like a shot fox, and asks if she can touch my beard. I say okay, turn to face her and sit patiently as she pets, tugs, jiggles and runs her fingers through about eight weeks' worth of growth. "It's so beautiful," she says — like she's never seen a full beard before. And like I'm not in the room. Later, with absolutely no indication as to her motives or intentions, she stretches out her arms in Tom's direction, closes her eyes, wiggles her fingers and puts a curse on him. Walter will insist it's a Nob Hill first. Tom won't even notice.

Because he's asleep. Dozing, mostly, on the corner of the bar that connects the north and east edges. For about an hour, he'd been singing along with every goddamn song on the juke. Now he just needs some time to himself before heading home, or so he mutters. But Walter isn't buying it. "No more shots for Tom," Walter says to the crown of Tom's stock-still cranium. "You're on beer only." Still not a twitch. "I love you, but I'm not carrying you home tonight." At this, Tom lifts his heavy head, shrugs his shoulders and returns to his reverie.

Walter, or Uncle Wally, as he often refers to himself, is the Nob Hill's patron saint of protection. He smokes his cloves in the back alley when we smoke, to make sure we're safe. He checks the IDs of everyone he hasn't met before, to make sure the bar's safe. When a friend starts commiserating about romantic troubles and other stresses, and it's obvious the whole bar is listening, Walter pipes in from the dartboard. "It's called Nob Hill Therapy. You tell everyone your problems and they go away." When there's a lull in the conversation, he threads a black plastic drinking straw in one nostril and out the other. Just for fun. And when last call's been called, he plays the "greatest song on any jukebox in Denver," which turns out to be David Allan Coe's "Fuckin in the Butt" (though the juke listing calls it "Dedication to the Mickey Mouse Club"). The chorus goes, "I'd like to fuck the shit out of you." Four times. Twice during the song. Walter sings every line.

John, the ringleader of the Greatest Show on Colfax and the gatekeeper to euphoric glee, is everywhere at once. Just after 1:30 a.m., he's standing in the back doorway sucking on the end of a loosely rolled cigar, explaining that John Arthur Love, governor of Colorado from 1963-'73, put himself through law school bartending at the Nob; that Dylan and Motörhead hang out here when they're in town; that the bar's go-to cabbie once held sixteen consecutive power-lifting world championships.

We're talking about the whole "dive" dilemma — not all barkeeps and proprietors appreciate the term, although a banner over the Nob Hill's entrance notes that Westword has named it "Best Dive Bar" — when Laura, the bartendress at the Roslyn, comes up the back steps and, with no knowledge of our current conversation topic, offers, "I don't like this whole 'dive bar' thing, you know. I think 'neighborhood bar' is a lot better."

John and I make eye contact/Decide to leave it alone. Wish Laura a safe trip home. Pick up where we left off.

What's in a name? That which we call a dive, by any other name, is still a damn dive. Long live the Nob Hill Inn. — Drew Bixby

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