Goosetown Tavern: The Goose, the Hick and East Colfax

In a city searching for authenticity and identity amid the constant barrage of shiny condo buildings springing up out of the skeletons of old hospitals and storefronts, new breweries opening on a seemingly daily basis, and a plethora of hipster restaurants opening in old warehouses, neighborhood bars are comforting reminders of what Denver used to be. Join Sarah McGill in her weekly exploration of the city's neighborhood watering holes.

The Goosetown Tavern used to be my neighborhood bar. I lived in Congress Park, just south of East Colfax Avenue, for five years, in on old mansion converted into apartments. My neighbors and I were all in our twenties, and we frequented local hangouts such as the dearly departed Rockbar, the Bluebird Theater and the Goose, as it is affectionately called by folks in the neighborhood. Goosetown was the place to be on Halloween, because everyone in the area got out their best topical Halloween costumes and hit Colfax, thus allowing you to drink in the company of at least five Sarah Palins or a horde of Michael Jacksons. Goosetown Tavern was also a Denver pioneer with Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap, much to the joy of many of my friends and neighbors. I am not a PBR connoisseur myself, but it was hard for fans to find on draft in Denver in the early-to-mid-2000s, so that added to the charm of the Goose for many. 

It seemed only fitting to take one of my original Congress Park neighbors to visit our old stamping ground around happy hour on a Monday to see how the old watering hole has held up. (She's the one who reminded me of Goosetown's place on the cutting edge of the PBR trend in Denver.) Unsurprisingly, the bar still pours PBR, but it also stocks a good selection of local craft beers — so I ordered a White Rascal instead, a good beer to toast the fact that I've become much more grown up since I used to stumble from bar to bar in this neighborhood.

I was dismayed to discover goat-cheese quesadillas are no longer on the menu; they were a staple of my diet when I lived a few blocks away. Nowadays, the kitchen turns out Buffalo and bleu-cheese pierogi, which sound odd but are delicious. 
Despite my countless trips to the bar, there were a few facts that I didn't know about the place until recently. The modern Goosetown Tavern is named after a bar that was built in 1873 by German immigrants in Golden. The original Goosetown Tavern was the oldest continually licensed bar in Colorado until it closed down in 1998, and was named for the section of Golden where it was located — where German immigrants built ponds to encourage geese to live in their part of town. 

In 1998, when the original Goosetown was set to be demolished, one John Hickenlooper decided to salvage the historic wooden bar and booths and transport them to the new Goosetown Tavern that he planned to open along the then-sketchy East Colfax corridor. At that point, this now fully gentrified (maybe a little too gentrified) strip of Colfax contained only a porn store, the Bluebird and the Longhorn, a gay bar that closed in 2006. The neighborhood has been cleaned up over the years, and waves of hipster T-shirt stores, cannabis "boutiques" and hair salons have transformed this section of Colfax bit by bit. But the Goosetown Tavern has remained fairly unchanged for years. 

The tavern was owned by Hickenlooper — whom many newcomers may know only as the governor of Colorado — and, later, by the Wynkoop/Breckenridge group for more than fifteen years before being sold to current owner Chris Swank. Swank is known for owning most of the Bluebird District already; he's changed a few things since buying the Goosetown. Most notably, he took out the pool table and Big Buck Hunter games in the back room and put in a small stage to host local bands. It also seems that the collection of of taxidermy animals adorning the walls and a huge, real stuffed bear by the door moved in with the new ownership.  
But most of the rest of the bar remains the same, including the regulars. During my visit to Goosetown, I recognized a guy who used to drunkenly flirt with me, despite my clear lack of interest, years before. He seemed either to not remember me or to feel awkward enough not to approach me, so we didn't talk. The regulars at Goosetown are a faithful crew, and the crowd is pretty consistent any night there isn't a show at the Bluebird, across the street. But on those days, all bets are off, and the crowd will reflect the band performing, whether it's a jam band, a punk-rock show, or anything in between.

Most of the time, though, the Goosetown Tavern hosts a crowd that's a mixture of longtime neighborhood residents in their forites and fifties, nondescript white people in their twenties and thirties who aren't quite bros (I would consider myself in this camp), and hipsters. It's also one of the few places in Denver these days where you can smoke on the patio and not get dirty looks. The Goose is like a Denver local that has gotten a few new outfits to keep up with the times but is just rough enough around the edges to remind us that it was here during the grittier days of East Colfax. 
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Sarah McGill is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship, and it seems like this one might be for real.