In Aurora's Mission Viejo neighborhood, if you look hard enough in the back corner of a nondescript shopping center off South Chambers Road and East Hampden Avenue (across the street from the Jumpoline Family Fun Center), you just might find the hidden gem that is G'Ducks Bar. The sign for the unpretentious little spot is reasonably visible, just enough to indicate that the battered wooden door underneath must be the entry to the bar. Although the outside doesn't look very fancy and there aren't any windows, the interior of the bar has been remodeled nicely, with light wood paneling on the walls, new dartboards, and a wooden bar top with two-dollar bills, playing cards and the bar's duck logo visible beneath the shiny coating of varnish. I arrived a couple of minutes before my research companion and took a seat at the end of the sunken bar.
A large group of middle-aged folks sat at a table, talking and drinking beers and several bottles of Twisted Tea. Twisted Tea isn't a drink choice I see very often, but these ladies seemed into it. The first person who approached me was a small child, maybe around five years old, who asked me my name. When I told him my name was Sarah, he said there was a Sarah at his school and maybe I was the same Sarah. (I'm pretty sure I'm not, though.) My friend arrived, interrupting our conversation, and the little boy went back to playing on the floor by the two pool tables on the far side of the place.
At the bar, there were several beer options of the canned variety, as well as a few craft brews on tap and the standard Budweiser and Coors handles. I decided to pretend it was still summer by getting a can of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy, and my friend went with a bottle of Shock Top. An older truck driver named Tom reclaimed his seat next to us and told us about the namesake of the bar, which is a much weirder and more interesting story than I anticipated. Tom told us that the bar is named after the geoduck (pronounced "gooey duck"), a huge, phallic-looking clam that is a delicacy found only in the Pacific Northwest. My drinking companion promptly conjured a YouTube video about geoducks, which stated that they can stretch up to seven feet long when fully grown. How did I, an avid collector of knowledge of weird things, not know about this weird thing until now?
After our lesson about the simultaneously fascinating and disgusting geoduck, Tom told us that the bar's founders, George and Dee Settelmeyer, came up with the name "G'Ducks" because it had a "G" for George, a "D" for Dee, and George (who passed away several years ago) liked geoducks because he used to dig them up at low tide on the beaches of Oregon before moving to Colorado. Tom explained that a local artist had made a clay version of a geoduck to sit behind the bar, but our view of this artifact was mostly obscured by the Bloody Mary fixings sitting on the counter for the Sunday Bloody Mary and Screwdriver special.
Between good-natured trash-talking related to the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars football game that was playing on several TVs (Tom is from New York and a fan of the Bills, and everyone else in the bar was apparently not), Tom, a younger guy named Thomas and our friendly and attentive bartender (who was wearing a hat that said "Mama Bear" and jeans with rhinestones on the pockets) told us more fun facts about G'Ducks. The location has been a bar ever since the shopping center opened in the 1970s, when the Mission Viejo planned community was built. It was originally Cactus Kelly's, a bar and restaurant that closed a few years before G'Ducks was opened in 2004 after an extensive interior overhaul.
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I was hungry, so I inquired about the pimiento cheese bites listed on the chalkboard wall. I had just been in the South visiting family and eating this Southern cheese spread associated with the Masters' Golf Tournament, but it's not the sort of thing you run into while touring Denver's neighborhood bars, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, the pimiento cheese supplies were out, but other menu options included pizza, hot dogs, quesadillas and taquitos, so I went with the chicken taquitos. To tide me over until the taquitos got nice and crispy in the toaster oven (there isn't a full kitchen at G'Ducks), my friend and I helped ourselves to the impressive popcorn machine, which was not only full of popcorn, but was also accompanied by all kinds of accoutrements on the counter: salt and cheese shakers and butter and who knows what else. We poured some Parmesan cheese and garlic onto our cup of popcorn and dug in. All of the food was incredibly cheap (thankfully, considering what you actually get), with most items costing just $1, and the drinks were mostly in the $4-$5 range. All that, and free popcorn? File this one under another bar I wish I had known about during my broke college years.
We continued to chat with Tom, who told us that G'Duck's opens at 7:30 a.m. daily and that the morning "bar maid" (as he liked to call the female bartenders) gets to pick the $3 "mystery shot" special every Monday. Big days, everyone agreed, are Tuesdays and Thursdays, because of the great specials — namely, free pool all day, two-for-one Buds, Bud Lights, and Stella drafts and wines and wells. The Broncos are definitely the team to root for here, and bringing in food for halftime and touchdown Jell-O shots are part of the fun on game days. Potluck events are held to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving, or for the occasional bunco night.
If you don't know what bunco is, you're probably younger than I am. It's a dice game that, according to the World Bunco Association official website, originated in 18th-century England. I've always thought it was a Midwestern thing, but all you really need to know is that you can find out more by playing bunco at G'Ducks on the third Saturday of the month. The bar is definitely a community-oriented spot, with a bulletin board covered in posters for upcoming neighborhood events, and the place often hosts fundraisers like a recent event for Children's Hospital. Live music is also an occasional feature, whether it's a band, karaoke or the bi-monthly open-mic night.
After the football game ended, someone started up the digital jukebox. The sound of "Can't Feel My Face," by the Weeknd, seemed out of place for the mostly older crowd, but not entirely. A Latina women with feathered hair, truck drivers in jean jackets, younger guys in T-shirts, and a few dudes with dreadlocks playing pool couldn't really be defined in any one box. It's an "any-collar bar" at G'Ducks, according to Tom, which seems apt. Sometimes there are guys in suits, sometimes it's more blue-collar, but everyone just comes on in if they're in the neighborhood. You should, too, if you want to learn what a geoduck is, talk to some friendly folks, play bunco, enjoy cheap drinks or have some next-level free popcorn.