Depending on which digital map service you ask or what address you read, Monaghan's Bar and Grill is either located in Denver or in the tiny municipality of Sheridan. The bar owners seem to identify it as part of Sheridan, so I think I should respect the self-determination of this little bar with a lot of history.
Adjacent to the old Fort Logan military base, Monaghan's opened in 1892, serving military folks and civilians alike. Although Fort Logan closed after World War II, the bar has stood the test of time (and Prohibition) and retains relics of its storied past. The building itself has been kept up well and refurbished quite a few times over the years, but the antique tin ceiling remains, with a few bullet holes rumored to have come from the original owner's — and the bar's namesake — tradition of shooting at the ceiling to get patrons to pipe down when things got too rowdy. And while My Brother's Bar might have been pouring longer than Monaghan's, it's gone through many name changes; Monaghan's has remained Monaghan's for 128 years.
Current owner Bryan Dunaway keeps the bar true to its roots, but not quite that true. During the glory days of Fort Logan, the bar was known to cater primarily to officers, and there are still tunnels leading from the bar to several nearby building that were part of the old military base. The folks who built things in old Denver sure loved sketchy tunnels; add these to the list that includes bootlegging tunnels running between the north side and downtown, and tunnels going from the Capitol to various hotels and bars in Cap Hill that were used to transport coal, politicians' mistresses and who knows what else.
There were once trolley tracks along Mansfield Avenue, right in front of Monaghan's, so customers would hop off the train to grab a drink and some food. Nowadays you have to settle for driving around the neighborhood to find the bar, or perhaps catching the bus that runs along nearby South Lowell Boulevard. The bar looks directly across the street onto a park and elementary school that seem much closer than current regulations would allow, but the families playing with their kids in the park don't appear to mind. Perhaps it's because Monaghan's is a tame and friendly place, where families and old-timers keep things from getting too out of hand.
My friend and I ventured to this slightly off-the-beaten-track gem on a Saturday afternoon for some suds and grub — and a whole lot of stories. The bar exterior is stucco these days, and the interior is brighter than your average bar, with clean, well-maintained booths and high-top tables, a pool table and several large TVs.
Throughout our time there, the place stayed packed with a rotating cast of characters — all regulars, most over fifty. Many of the folks in the bar who were drinking beers, eating burgers and cracking each other up have been coming here since they were kids, as their parents did before them. People would cheer and hug as each longtime friend entered the bar, and loud talk and laughter echoed off the tile floors and tin ceilings. Sometimes the jukebox would stop playing, and the lack of music amplified the volume of the conversations. On Fridays, the music keeps playing when patrons hit the karaoke stage, and Mondays are Texas Hold ’Em poker nights. Other than that, things are pretty straight-ahead at Monaghan's, with drinks, eats and conversation.
Our server worked hard to keep up with the crowd but seemed unfazed by this clearly typical Saturday. She told us about the ghost stories of the bar, because of course there are ghosts here. She's heard moaning sounds late at night, and some of the guys who work the often-calm day shift have seen people walking back and forth in the empty bar. Monaghan's opens early for the daytime crowd, pouring drinks from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Breakfast is served all day, every day, and happy hour here is generous, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Monday, when happy hour lasts all day.
It was happy hour when my friend and I wandered in, so we took advantage of buy-one-get-one-free domestic drafts, wines and wells. We were also ready to try out some food. My friend opted for breakfast, and I had to try the green chile (famous in this part of town), so I ordered a smothered burrito. The menu here has a wide selection of American and Mexican bar food staples along with all those breakfast dishes. The green chile lived up to the hype, mainly because the cook here isn't afraid of heat, so the chile was both flavorful and spicy, which I appreciated.
It was a shame the weather was cold, because we discovered a surprisingly spacious patio with lots of seating and a view of the old satellite dish on the roof that's lit up to serve as an extra sign. Also not getting much use at the moment was the party room, just a step down from the main bar area, with additional TVs, some dart boards and plenty of seating. You can rent the space for free for a private party if you pay for a catered taco bar to go with it, which doesn't seem like a bad deal at all. But then, everything here is a surprisingly good deal. The BOGO beer I selected, Coors Light, was only $2.75, so I actually got two pints for that price.
After we finished our food and beers, we gleaned a few last historical tidbits from the staff and regulars. For example, the bar's current liquor license has been active since the day Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Also, legend has it that Alfred Packer frequented the bar when he lived nearby (that would have been well after that little cannibalism incident in the San Juan Mountains and Packer's subsequent prison stint). Perhaps his ghost is one of those that haunts the place. But most of what haunts this place are friends and neighbors, cheap beers and tasty hamburgers and green chile. You really can't go wrong with that in a bar that has been pouring drinks since the days of the Wild West.
Monaghan's Bar and Grill is located at 3889 South King Street in Sheridan. For more information, call 303-789-7208 or visit the bar's Facebook page.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.