I've learned a few bits and pieces of Denver Broncos lore in my time here, despite not being a big football fan and having grown up in the territory of the team's secondary arch-nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens. One thing I've learned over the years has to do with Howard Cosell, the late sportscaster known for the catchphrase, "He could go all the way!" and for ignoring (along with much of the broadcast TV establishment) the Denver Broncos on his Monday Night Football halftime highlight show. Even modern-day Broncos fans have been passed down the knowledge that the Broncos' current status as a football superpower is made sweeter by the fact that arrogant East Coast sportscasters and even TV networks wouldn't give Denver football any credit back in the day.
What does this have to do with J.L.'s Cheers Pub, you ask? Quite a bit. During the 1970s, the bar at 3415 South Monaco Parkway (just north of Hampden Avenue) was known as Sweetwater Pub — not to be confused with the currently operating Sweetwater Bar and Grill in Westminster. The bar made national headlines when then-manager Gerry Brown invented a fun, albeit violent, promotion that capitalized on Broncos fans' anger toward Cosell and his omission of anything Broncos-related in his commentary. Starting in 1972, on Monday nights, during halftime, when Cosell's Monday Night Football highlight show came on, the winner of a nightly raffle got the right to throw a brick through an old black-and-white TV when Cosell's face showed up on the screen. Apparently this tradition was a big hit for a while and really kept business booming at the bar for several years. Of course, Cosell never acknowledged his bias or the general feeling Denver fans had about him personally, but everyone else was talking about it. At the back of J.L's Cheers bar, there are still framed posters of the news articles about this period in the bar's history.
In 1983, the bar became J.L.'s Cheers when a guy with the initials J.L., one Jack Lohman, took over the spot. Nowadays, J.L.'s Cheers is like an old guy who still likes football but has gotten really into poker in his retirement. Poker games are going down almost every day, including on a recent Sunday when a friend and I meandered in to check out the spot. The crowd wasn't huge, and about half of the patrons seemed to be there to watch football, which had been delayed temporarily because of a thunderstorm, and the other half were there specifically for the poker game. A friendly older couple invited us to join in the poker game, but I do not know enough of the game's finer points to avoid getting massively hustled in a situation like that, so I declined. They kept reassuring me that it was a great place to learn and everyone was friendly —- it's true, they did all seem rather friendly —- but it still seemed wiser to save that for another day.
Surveying the folks who weren't playing poker, we noticed that the population of the bar was mostly over forty, but racially diverse and also not just dudes; many women were in the mix as well. The majority were wearing Broncos gear, but some were representing other teams such as the Eagles or Packers in their ensembles. Some were playing pool, some were just drinking at the bar, with their eyes fixed on the various large TVs, waiting for the game to come back on. The older female bartender called me "sweetheart," kept our glasses full of cold Bud Light and recommended places to get food other than the bar's primary options of chips, Slim Jims and frozen pizza. We settled on some bagel sandwiches from the Bagel Deli, an East-coast style deli and restaurant in the random shopping center just adjacent to the bar which also includes a police supply store, a nail and hair salon, and a pet store. The pastrami sandwich did not disappoint.
It also seemed to pair nicely with our cheap beers.
It wasn't happy hour today on football Sunday, but we learned that the weekday happy hour is lengthy at J.L.'s Cheers, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. So file this one under another place for weekday day drinking, with $3 draft beers and $9.25 domestic pitchers on offer during happy hour, which should really be called "happy all day," in my opinion. There are still specials on Sundays, namely on pitchers of beer and Bloody Marys.
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Aside from poker, happy hour and Sunday football crowds, things are pretty standard each week without a lot of bells and whistles. Special-event rentals are available at the bar, which offers different sections that are semi-private and have plenty of space. Coming up, we discovered (based on the marquee outside), is the Thomas Jefferson High School Class of 1967 reunion. I kind of want to figure out how to crash that party.
My friend and I chatted and took a lap to check out the entertainment around the joint, which included three pool tables, a Megatouch game, a Golden Tee golf and Silver Strike bowling game, and a Ripley's Believe It or Not-themed pinball machine. The bar is one of those older places that has clearly done some remodeling to keep things looking a bit nicer, with a fireplace and brick walls near one of the pool tables, and newer-looking tables and booths. But some classic dive-bar staples remain, like an actual working pay phone and a familiar game — this one called "Pot 'O' Silver" — in which patrons try to knock quarters and prizes down by putting in their own quarters, complete with passive/aggressive signage above it that reads "Do Not Bang Pound or Shake the Game!!!!!!" Also placing this spot in the category of small-time neighborhood or dive bars is the lack of a website or Facebook page — or even any presence on Google maps.
J.L.'s is one of those places you just have to drive by to know it's there. Which seems to be the way the neighborhood crowd likes it: small, friendly, never too crowded, and always a great spot to play poker. And maybe — since it's almost Halloween, after all — the ghosts of Denver Broncos fans past might come back to this place to destroy a few more TVs in honor of Howard Cosell and all the other Broncos-haters of yore.