Kiva Restaurant

It was everywhere, the puppy piss — puddling up on the concrete beneath our chairs, flowing toward the unaware flip-flops and purses underneath the crowded patio tables. Try as we might to soak it up with napkins, the current of devastation could not be abated. So we left, but not before the manager (who'd brought a water bowl for our twelve-week-old boxer) and the bartender (who'd repeatedly refilled said bowl with tap water) apologized to us because things didn't work out.

We should have known better, Maggie and I, but we were rookies. We knew that a helpless puppy leashed to a patio chair needed plenty of cold water on a hot day. We knew he needed shade to retreat to and a chew toy to keep him occupied. But for whatever reason — I blame the margaritas y cervezas — we were oblivious to his inevitable need to eliminate. So he did what nature told him to. Again and again and again.

The fine folks at Kiva Restaurant (3090 Downing Street) should have known better, too. They should have known when they gave us permission to bring our pup on the patio that I'd attempt to open the wooden door onto the street where he was waiting and trigger one of the most horrifyingly piercing emergency-exit alarms ever installed. They also should have known that dogs on patios — especially patios with no easy exit to the outside, thanks to a horrifyingly piercing exit alarm — are a recipe for disaster. But this was a year ago April, and they were rookies, too. Eager to please. Desperate for acceptance.

Since the Doggie Debacle of '07, we've returned to Kiva — which took over the space where La (and then Tosh's) Hacienda used to reside — many times, and have always found the staff gracious and accommodating. At first this had a lot to do with the fact that the place was almost always empty, and every customer through the door was another set of hands to bucket water from the leaky lifeboat. But these days, business looks steady and the staff seems less concerned that their paychecks might bounce. This is certainly a good thing, especially for Whittier/Five Points dwellers who can't afford to lose a neighborhood bar.

When I arrive just before 5 p.m. Monday, however, I am just short of shocked at how busy the cantina/bar area is. It's been a minute or two since I've wandered in for one of the city's best happy hours, but crowded? I never thunk it possible. I quickly grab a chair at the twelve-seat, rounded L-shape bar while the grabbin's good and order a Tecate can. Instantaneously, I am approached by a food runner, who asks if I'd like complimentary chips and salsa, which I would. As I sip and savor Kiva's 4 to 7 p.m., $2 justabouteverything flavor, I don't see the once-iconic (and Best of Denver-winning) free taco bar. So I ask: "Happy-hour buffet got the kibosh, eh?"

"Oh, no," the bartendress replies. "You can ask for it and have as much as you want. We just thought this would be better than everyone putting their hands in it." And so it goes. For two hours, my late-arriving friends and I drink Tecates and Pacíficos and house margaritas for $2 each. We order spread after spread of no-cost taco platters (mini hard shells, beef or beans, lettuce, cheese and sour cream). We get cocktails for free when the tender makes too many, and we pay happy-hour price for beers well after happy hour ends. All the while, we watch the staff create a quality experience: When a tank-top model of a man with a five o'clock shadow and a faux-hawk asks if his girlfriend can have a side of margarita salt for her chips and salsa, the bartendress laughs and obliges. When a server second-guesses whether the round of drinks he just mixed is perfect, he takes a sip from one of the straws, smiles in satisfaction, replaces the straw and saunters off. And when we finally decide to leave — belching Rose's Lime and hallucinating from the tequila — we are thanked for coming in by three different employees. "Come again," says the hostess as we slowly descend the stairs. We will.

The very next time we're eager to be pleased.

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Drew Bixby