When the It'll Do Lounge closed its doors last year after 27 years in business, regulars wondered what would happen to the small structure at 2001 West 48th Avenue. Two months ago, JD's Neighborhood Bar happened, and if Deb the bartendress's word is as good as her Bloody Marys, business has been booming. On Halloween night, when Deb was dressed as Anna Nicole Smith, the bar collected $1,800 during her shift alone, and she and her co-worker walked with $450 in tips. Tonight, however, the two Depression-era gentlemen silently nursing Budweiser draws at the end of the bar are more than just a metaphor for the current vibrancy of JD's; they're also two of only six or seven patrons in the entire place.
Dozing old men are a well-worn tavern cliche, and these two, though conscious, do nothing to break the stereotype. They are quite possibly the hoariest, most adorable old fellows I have ever seen in a bar. They speak slowly, drink slowly and hobble to the bathroom slowly. They also flirt: One of them refers to Deb as the "cutie on duty" and pulls her in for an awkward side hug and kiss on the cheek when he leaves.
As the Tecate cans pass, the room picks up a little. Four friends huddled in a booth along the south wall plug a few credits into the Internet juke next to the Colorado Lottery scratch ticket machine, breaking the almost awkward quietude with Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and a couple of upbeat Tejano songs that Deb sings along to. Now that the geezers are gone, most of the clientele is Latino. And though Noel and I are not made to feel unwelcome in any explicit way, we use the smidge of Spanish between us to deduce that the guys shooting stick by the bathrooms are shit-talking the two gringos.
No matter: Shortly after 8 p.m., a tall, full-shouldered man wearing an oversized black "Security" T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up makes his presence known behind the bar. His backup is an LCD panel above the side door feeding footage from four security cameras positioned around the building. He tells us that he hasn't seen much "funny business" since JD's opened, though he did have to toss a few drunks on Halloween for getting belligerent. A pool cue to the back of the head does not make my list of worries tonight.
I am a tad concerned, though, about my empty stomach. A countertop menu offers nachos, breakfast burritos and pizza slices for a few bucks apiece, and a snack/cigarette machine by the door to the smoking patio displays a smattering of cheap snacks and $4 packs of cancer sticks. None of it sounds right. My attention is focused instead on a framed menu above the liquor bottles that advertises burgers and dogs for pennies on the dollar. It's too far away to make out the restaurant name or address, though a man down the bar is convinced, after a minute or two of heavy thinking, that it was a carhop-style diner called the Scotsman where he used to "burn some serious rubber 'round '88 or so."
In between these same liquor bottles and a banner advertising $2 Jell-O shots sits a plastic tub labeled "Cherry Bombs: 4 for $1." Inside, actual cherries soak up Bacardi 151 and well vodka. Noel and I buy some and are relieved to discover that they don't hurt going down. As we're picking cherry pieces from our teeth, the security guard, who asks if we're Broncos fans before revealing that he roots for the Raiders, brings us a paper tray of fresh popcorn. "You fellas need some more Cherry Bombs?" he asks with a laugh.
Nah. This'll do.