Ling & Louie’s

Although last week's melt helped, the overall number of traffic lanes in Denver is down about half from what it was in the summer. Many of the lanes carved out by cars/trucks are now fortified by ice, and driving outside the icy ruts is like taking a train off its rails -- only less predictable. And the city apparently has been banking on global warming or El Niño to reopen ambulance access to local hospitals.

Although you'd need a pretty good reason to risk your neck on the roads during the next blizzard, I have that reason: beer. When we ran out of the vital substance a few weeks ago, we braved the streets to meet up with the Mormon Representative to the Institute of Drinking Studies and his wife, who'd taken their three-year-old daughter to a local sporting-goods store to check out the stuffed elk -- her favorite form of entertainment, even over Blue's Clues. So they met us at the nearby Ling & Louie's (8354 East 49th Avenue) for a late lunch.

Since most of Denver was still hiding from the strange white stuff falling from the sky -- an obvious harbinger of the Apocalypse -- we had the place almost to ourselves. And it's a great place. The big-screen plasmas are set on swivel brackets hanging from the ceiling so that you can turn a TV directly toward a family-friendly table in the back corner; for added entertainment, Ling & Louie's has a water wall that invites kids of all ages to stick their hands in to see if they can break the waterfall (they can, and it makes a hell of a mess). But no place is great without a great bar, and Ling & Louie's does well there, too. The full-service bar has a large seating area, more TVs and a good selection of booze, including what looked like a pretty good wine list with reasonable prices.

The menu complements the bar's offerings, and it has an unusual offer: If you try something new and don't like it, your server will take it back and give you your "usual." The Mormon and I felt that this should apply to the drink list as well. Honestly, that's the only way anyone will ever get me to spend money on sake. But in order to insure L&L's solvency, there would have to be specific ground rules. For example, when is a drink sufficiently sampled? Our group would no doubt try to game the system by getting down to the last inch of beer and then demanding a new one because of a sinister "backwash" taste that we'd blame on how the glasses are washed.

While we were most interested in drinking matters (we are professionals), we couldn't help but notice what a good restaurant this is for kids. In addition to the water wall, there are several large nooks where you can turn toddlers loose with minimal damage, and a fire alarm guarding the back door will let you know if they've escaped -- though you may lose them in the resulting Chinese fire drill. The waitstaff is also kid-friendly. One waitress volunteered babysitting services, and we almost took her up on the offer so the Mormon could enjoy his beer more effectively.

All in all, we've found few places better suited to provide shelter from the storm. Hunker down in the back corner, turn a TV your way, grab a few of the airport-bar-sized Tsingtao beers and order up some Firecracker chicken, the Oriental version of Buffalo wings. Now you have everything you need to survive until the plows dig you out -- or the summer solstice, whichever comes first.

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Patrick Osborn