Marion Street Tavern Feels Like a Neighborhood Haunt in Cap Hill

Marion Street Tavern Feels Like a Neighborhood Haunt in Cap Hill
Tony White
After a suggestion from a friend, I realized that I hadn't visited the Marion Street Tavern at 1223 East 13th Avenue since it opened in 2016, four years after Gabor's closed in the same spot.

As a fan of all things old Denver, I, of course, was fond of Gabor's and its diner-like environs and the jukebox everyone loved, which was sometimes free when management would load it up with credits for the night. It was a very Capitol Hill type of place, with a mix of young and old, hipsters and the not-so-hip, regulars and scene-hoppers.

The Marion Street Tavern made substantial changes before reopening the space. After Gabor's closed, it was bought and renovated by Sam Root of the Providence Tavern over the course of four years. The interior is beautiful, with dark wood furnishings, antique tin ceiling tiles, exposed brick and vintage photos on the walls.

A friend who works near the bar wanted to see if the place would make a worthy happy-hour location, so she and I visited on a Sunday. The answer was a definite "yes," since happy hour runs every day from 3 to 7 p.m., including on weekends, with several appetizers on offer for $3 and various specials on beers, wines and wells.

Marion Street Tavern is all decked out, European-style, after an extensive remodel that started in 2012. - SARAH JAMES
Marion Street Tavern is all decked out, European-style, after an extensive remodel that started in 2012.
Sarah James
Things were quiet in the bar on a sad post-Broncos-game Sunday, with only a couple of groups of youngish guys in the house, along with a middle-aged dude drinking a beer and watching videos on his phone with earbuds. Every so often, the video-watching guy would burst out into loud laughter, but otherwise it was a somber atmosphere. We struck up a conversation about ghosts in the Oxford Hotel with the bartender, who worked there previously and was new to the Marion Street Tavern. He hadn't seen any ghosts yet at his new place of employment, but I'll bet the old brick building might be home to a spirit or two — other than vodka and whiskey (or at least that's what my pre-Halloween anticipation wanted me to believe).

Indeed, there are many spirits of the alcoholic variety, and a whole slew of beer options, with taps artfully displayed atop a huge vintage pipe that runs the length of the bar. We chose a new Ratio beer (for me) and one of the many Alaskan beers on tap (for my friend). The menu was enticing, too, so we ordered a bacon grilled cheese sandwich with fries and some jalapeño "snake bites," which were just fancy jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon with mango sauce on top. As it turned out, the tavern has a way with bacon — though bacon is something you can seldom go wrong with.

Another thing you can't go wrong with, in my Maryland-born opinion, is Old Bay seasoning, a product of my home state. Old Bay is made for spicing up crab but is also delicious on fries, something very few Colorado bars and restaurants have caught on to. The salty blend of paprika, bay leaves, ground mustard and other spices makes good fries even better, and the kitchen here also shakes it onto the jalapeño poppers, with similar results. The menu also includes various burger, taco and salad options.

click to enlarge The many beer options at Marion Street Tavern, from local to international. - SARAH JAMES
The many beer options at Marion Street Tavern, from local to international.
Sarah James
While we ate, a few trios and twosomes came and went in and out of the three doors opening out onto 13th Avenue, which face another old-Denver-turned-new-Denver situation. Across the street, a newish Asian restaurant called Little Gingko takes up the former home of Gypsy House Cafe, which was a go-to for hippies, coffee and tarot cards, and which is currently raising funds to reopen in a new location.

Our bartender told us that at Marion Street, things get busy during happy hour, then slow down again while people go downtown or to other parts of the city. To finish the night, the bar gets extra-busy again around midnight and stays that way until last call, full of young regulars who live in the area and want to be able to walk home.

During the week, DJ Rockstar Aaron brings the crowds on Monday nights with his trademark Forbidden Bingo, where prizes include your usual drinks and comedy or concert tickets, but also sexual cupcakes and vibrators and such. There's also Thursday night trivia at the bar, but that's the more standard bar trivia. Not every night can be all about naughty jokes and prizes, after all. Brunch is served on the weekends, and there are TVs for watching sports, but it's not really a sports-bar atmosphere here. It's more of a relaxing, talking, drinking, watching-videos-on-your-phone-with-no-one-judging-you (except maybe me) vibe.

My friend and I considered ordering more Old Bay-spiked food and more cold craft beers, but another friend was beckoning us to go watch Hocus Pocus — because it's nearly Halloween (and we are basic). My memories of Gabor's still persist, but the Marion Street Tavern has done a good job of dispelling old ghosts.
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Sarah McGill is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship, and it seems like this one might be for real.