When I was in school at the University of Denver, Hanson's Grill & Tavern was one of the main spots around for patio drinking, eating appetizers, playing pool or going to graduation parties. I've always found it to be more comfortable, at least to me, than other establishments on South Pearl Street in Platt Park. I don't really hang out in the neighborhood that much anymore, but when I do, I sometimes have the vague notion that I am not fancy enough to be a customer of the place in which I'm dining or drinking. But that hasn't been the case at Hanson's.
A friend and I decided to check on the place and see what was going on there these days; neither of us had been to Hanson's in quite some time. On a wintry Thursday evening, we came down for a late dinner and drinks. Since it was far from patio weather, we had to settle for indoor seating in the bar area, which is unfortunate, because my favorite spot there is the hidden, enclosed little outdoor area in the back. We ordered some salads from the menu, which did seem like it had changed since my last time in. Namely, the food selection seemed more upscale and, correspondingly, a little pricier than I remembered. The beer options were varied and included several Colorado rotating taps, so we snagged pints of beers that fit our tastes of the moment.
The first floor of the large space was filled with a scattering of older couples finishing up their dinners, a group of loud gentlemen clad in business suits drinking at one of the bar tables, and a random assortment of patrons sitting at the bar with beers. As we ate, a younger group of guys and girls who looked like they lived in the neighborhood and were probably just out of college filled up one of the large booths next to us.
Our friendly server introduced us to the bar manager, Ryan Fincham. Fincham has worked at Hanson's for four years; he filled us in on the history of the place, both recent and a little less so. The location, he says, was originally an apartment building and then was the Oak Alley Inn for years, back before Platt Park and nearby Washington Park were the million-dollar real-estate locations they are today and were more blue-collar. In the 1980s, the building housed the Margarita Bay Company, a Mexican restaurant. In 2001 it became Hanson's, named for Lorry Hanson, one of the owners at the time. Although the bar retains the same name, it was recently bought by a bar regular named Red Nikkel. Nikkel, according to Fincham, loves the place and endeavors to keep much of the bar's charm untouched. I would just like to say that Red Nikkel is an amazing name. If Nikkel wants to get out of the bar business someday, it seems to me that he could easily become a sheriff, or maybe a cowboy or country singer, by virtue of his name alone.
Fincham notes that the main changes since Nikkel took over at the start of the new year are a little tweaking of the menu, some light remodeling, and a new monthly tap-takeover event that will be starting in April with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Each month, the upstairs bar at Hanson's will host beers from a particular brewer; this extravaganza will include a night of merchandise giveaways on the first Friday of the month and a keg party on the last Saturday of the month.
Speaking of the upstairs bar, after we finished eating, my friend and I headed upstairs to check out the scene up there. The game room was filled with young Wash Park bros playing pool and a quieter group of patrons who appeared to be couples sitting and chatting with the bartender. No one was lounging in the living-room-esque section filled with couches and upholstered chairs. The upstairs area also works great for private parties and is rented out frequently; I found myself there several times for various graduations and other parties during my DU years.
According to Fincham, we had arrived after the main dinner rush but before the service-industry crowd rolls in. After the first happy hour, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Hanson's has a second happy hour from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. specifically for the industry crowd. There are tons of restaurants on Pearl Street, after all, and Fincham says the crew at Hanson's prides itself on providing a great place to go after closing time for the hardworking restaurant folks in the neighborhood.
So on any given day at Hanson's, you can find business power-lunchers, older neighbors eating dinner, college kids bro-ing out, or after-work industry folks. Fincham notes that on St. Patrick's Day, everyone in the neighborhood comes to Hanson's to celebrate America's favorite drinking holiday. Various specials are featured, and Jameson Irish Whiskey is sold in record quantities. In fact, Hanson's was awarded a Jameson barrel to recognize its impressive sales of the Irish whiskey overall compared to other bars around town.
After sufficiently poking around upstairs, my friend and I decided that it might take a while to get in on a game of pool and headed out instead. We were pleased that going to Hanson's was still a reliably good idea. Because after all, some days that's just what you need — an old faithful neighborhood bar to come back to.
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