After school, my friends and I used to run to the convenience store for the candy and sodas we were denied at home. When the lunch bell rang, we'd pile into a friend's SUV and try to get a few Double Stacks before class started up again. A plea to the students of East High School: Don't be like we were. Walk across the street to Bar Max for sweets and a dose of caffeine, and you'll feel all worldly and grown-up. But Bar Max's happy hour is definitely for grownups, with beer and cocktail specials alongside the regular menu of snacks, sandwiches and espresso.
A soggy, overcast weekday evening hadn't tarnished Bar Max's charms, and the spot's recent conversion from Cafe Max hasn't changed the bar's mission much. It's still a coffee shop with a prominent bar program, and a modest kitchen with breakfast, sandwiches, plates and salads. In a former hair salon next to the Bonfils-Lowenstein complex, Bar Max is well appointed in the least-crunchy part of crunchy Colfax. The dominant tones are white and glossy silver, with tchotchkes such as vintage cameras and worn pocketbooks serving as decoration. With a 44-person capacity, it's a tight fit for a boisterous group, but also quite suited to a solo study session or a catch-up before digging into the bins at nearby Twist & Shout.
Happy hour is on from 4 to 7 p.m. daily, but there's also a lunchtime special from noon to 2 p.m., the better to facilitate the misunderstood art of day drinking. In the afternoon you can enjoy a few selections from the bottled- and canned-beer list for $3.50 a pop, all local standards like Mama's L'il Yellow Pils from Oskar Blues and 90 Shilling from Odell. There's a daily wine special weighing in at $6 and glasses of sangria for $5. It's not what most folks have in mind when they talk about juicing, just a nice $5 tipple that actually tastes like wine and a prettily cheap waft of strawberry. It's a shame that nothing edible gets a discount at happy hour, but these snacks are pretty affordable nonetheless. Not lunch-money affordable, but you can get a simple grilled cheese for $6, and there isn't much that runs more than a Hamilton (that's a ten-dollar bill, in case you slept through history class).
Everything is prepared at the short stations behind the counter, so simplicity is the word. BLTs with maple bacon and sriracha mayo or some tomato soup both sounded delicious, but the day's Italian sausage special ($9) won my attention — just a big ol' link on a bed of arugula, lightly dusted with paprika and paired with mustard, fig jam and sriracha. Diced up, plopped on some warm bread and tended to with one of these spreads, this is a pretty good sausage, one that works especially well with jam or the hot sauce for a bastardized currywurst. In execution and presentation, it's of a piece with other Bar Max dishes, though I wish I had gone with one of the more standard but interesting panini.
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I closed out the evening with an ebaki (half steamed milk, half espresso), served fluffy and rich in a cool metal vessel, plus a couple of alfajores ($3), one of the desserts and pastries that are shipped in from local bakers. From pulled shots to poured shots, Bar Max is doing a lot of things and doing them pretty well; they won't register if you're not pulled in by the vibe here, but if you are, happy hour helps the experience come together. The bell just rang again, kids. Make your choice.
Perfect for: There's a not-so-secret secret basement underneath Bar Max that's a bit cozier than the upstairs, and you're encouraged to work down there if you're lugging a laptop around. The bar also hosts some special events that make use of the space from time to time, like film screenings and ad hoc concerts.
Don't Miss: Opening at 10 a.m., Bar Max doesn't advertise itself as a breakfast joint. But the pear French toast ($10) is served all day and all night, with a rasher of Max's maple bacon on the side.