Jake's Sports & Spirits: A Neighborhood Bar for Cole, RiNo or Simply the East Side

Since taking over a spacious building on 38th and Walnut Street from Mexican bar Las Potrancas in 2010, Jake's Sports & Spirits has become a steady fixture in a neighborhood that seems to be in perpetual transition. Jake's is run by Andrew Feinstein, a fifth-generation Denver native who is a part of the Exdo Management group, pioneers of the development of the area with other nearby establishments Tracks and the Exdo Event Center. In 2010, there weren't a lot of options in the vicinity when it came to neighborhood bars, so Feinstein seized on the opportunity to open Jake's. There is no actual Jake, by the way; Jake is more of a concept. You know, your theoretical friend named Jake who has a bar. 

Last year, Feinstein changed the name of the bar from Jake's Food & Spirits to Jake's Sports & Spirits. The food is still good, but there's definitely more of an emphasis on drawing a crowd to watch sports these days. I've been to Jake's many times, because it's close to my day job at a youth-mentoring organization. I've often stopped in for business lunches, when it's common to run into various professional acquaintances from Denver's nonprofit world eating, drinking and collaborating. 

I've also found myself at Jake's on awkward dates that have been made more awkward by running into high-school students I work with at my job and their families having dinner. I've been there to watch Broncos games with friends, enjoy happy hour after work, drink mimosas on the patio with my dog, and everything in between. Trivia and rock-and-roll bingo nights, on Thursdays and Wednesdays, respectively, are also a hit with some of my friends who live in the area. 

I was recently at Jake's to grab late lunch on a Saturday with my dog and a friend who lives in the neighborhood. It was a nice day, so we sat on the patio in the special enclosed "dog section," sharing it with a trio of forty-somethings β€” also with pooch in tow β€” finishing up lunch. It was pretty calm that day in general, just prior to the kickoff of college football season. A platter of nachos, most memorable for the size alone, filled me up. Wings are also a tasty go-to β€”and are even better on Wednesdays, when they're just fifty cents each.
I stopped by again to talk with general manager Ben Melius a week or two later on a Saturday, and the scene was much different. The patio was chock-full of various people eating lunch and brunch, including a guy enjoying lunch and drinks while his dog sat on his lap the entire time. A large section of patio real estate was occupied by a mimosa-fueled, ladies-only fortieth-birthday party, with the guest of honor celebrating with a large group of diverse fellow forty-somethings in sundresses. 

Inside, at the bar, the CU-Michigan game was on. Preppy bros sporting Buffs gear were loudly cheering on their team in the booths that line the side of the bar, their eyes glued to huge TVs broadcasting the game. There were also two Latino families spanning multiple generations having lunch together at the large high-top tables that take up the center of the main bar area. Jake's definitely fits the description of places to file under "bars where you can take your kids." 

Next to me at the bar, a group of guys in their twenties who I would consider hipster/hippie/bro hybrids occupied their time, not watching the football game, but smoking cigarettes on the patio, quoting movies, yelling, and making funny faces at each other through the window separating the bar and the patio. The group wore trucker hats, tie-dye tees, hole-riddled shirts and beards of various lengths. On the other side of me was a dude sporting a neck tattoo that read "Maniac." So the crowd was varied, to say the least.
And that's generally the case overall at Jake's: a varied crowd in a varied neighborhood. Melius agrees: "We see a little bit of everything at Jake's β€” from motorcycle crews to business suits, poets to politicians, Deadheads to fitness gurus." 

The neighborhood surrounding the bar still includes residents who have lived here for generations and refer to it as "the east side." Many of the high-school students I work with and their families fall into this category. The bar lies on the edge of what is officially called the Cole neighborhood, a residential area that has traditionally been home to many African-American and Latino families but is gentrifying these days and starting to shift to a whiter demographic.

Just west and north of Jake's is what is now called the River North Arts District, or RiNo for short, which was created as a concept just over ten years ago but took a little time to catch on as an overall neighborhood moniker. Until a few years ago, I used to call that part of town "the warehouses on Brighton Boulevard," or "you know, over by the Stock Show complex." But with the opening of countless breweries, warehouses-turned-artisanal-markets and new upscale lofts, combined with the new light-rail line that passes through the area, the RiNo area has grown exponentially. While Jake's isn't quite a part of that district, the development in RiNo has brought more people to the neighborhood, for sure. And some of the patrons of Jake's are the artists and musicians of the area, something that Melius appreciates. In November, Jake's will introduce a Tuesday night open mic to showcase local talent. 

But the beauty of Jake's, in my eyes, is that everyone is welcome here. It wasn't designed for the new hipsters in the neighborhood, or for the old-timers who have been here since long before the bar opened. It was built for the neighborhood as a whole. So however you describe the surroundings, and whether you live, work, or play here, Jake's is here for you. 
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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.