Next Door Lounge (not to be confused with Next Door American Eatery, which has several locations around town) is a small but mighty bar that you might just miss if you aren't paying attention while driving along East 17th Avenue in Uptown. Sandwiched between sister restaurant Bread-N-Butter and Jack's Uptown Grille, the skinny space is dark, cozy and inviting on a winter's night. As I headed in for a drink after a long work day, I realized that despite having stopped in a handful of times, I had never taken the time to sit back, observe and soak in the ambience.
The theme is an oddly pleasing mix of college frat party, skateboard enthusiast's apartment and artist's loft that doubles as a bar. The frat-party element comes from a permanent beer pong table, Big Buck Hunter video game, Austin Powers pinball machine, dartboards and a shuffleboard table, along with a heavy use of road signs and license plates as decorative elements. The skateboard motif appears in frequent screenings of skateboarding, skiing and surfing videos on the three TVs, as well as in skateboards and skate stickers scattered throughout the place, which I later learned come from owner Larry Lane's love of skateboarding.
The art-loft portion of the mix is found in the rotating art exhibits on the exposed-brick walls, and in the artistic chalkboards with drink lists, happy-hour specials, menus, a "Pay it Forward" list where friends can buy each other drinks, and instructions about how everything should be ordered at the bar.
Mirrors behind the bar and covering an entire wall adjacent to the bar help make the space seem bigger than it is, but according to our bartender, drunk people walk into the mirrors on a regular basis.
The clientele on a recent Monday evening was primarily a youngish mix of service-industry workers, neighborhood regulars and bearded new Denver transplants (some of whom probably fell into all three categories). The bartender told us that the customer base during the week is steady and reliably full of familiar faces, but Friday nights see an influx of young and random newcomers.
The Monday special, $6 for a burger and a beer, had me regretting my decision to eat before I arrived, so I settled for just a beer and cheered myself with the knowledge that the same special is available every day of the week at happy hour, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Other notable happy-hour deals include $2 PBR cans, $3 wells, $4 drafts, $4 Jim Beam and Exotico Silver, $4 vodka and $6 house cocktails — all of which, according to the chalkboard sign, are "plus the tax, man." The rest of the food menu is primarily burgers, wings and fries, which is why it can fit on a chalkboard over the bar.
Other weekly specials abound. Sundays are all about service-industry folks from all over Denver, with $2 off beers and $1 off wells for anyone who works in the industry, no matter what part of town you're from. This special is actually in effect at all times for industry folks from the many restaurants in Uptown along 17th, which makes it a very popular pre- or post-shift spot for drinks.
Every Tuesday, Lane, who opened the lounge seven years ago after the space had morphed a few times from bar to restaurant to bar, runs Crimes Against Bingo night, where the popular and inappropriate card game Cards Against Humanity is played Bingo style, which sounds much better than run-of-the-mill bar trivia.
My companion on this particular visit is often, like me, out and about on Tinder dates, or Coffee Meets Bagel dates, or other dates secured through apps that help people meet other people. Next Door Lounge, we agreed, is a perfect spot for "tester" or "pre-screening" dates: It's cool enough that you seem cool, too, but not so cool that you seem like a hopeless hipster, and near other restaurants and bars if you decide to continue the night and your date is the love of your life. It is also an easy location to Lyft or Uber — or to just walk out of if you need to escape a bad date.
A row of infused-liquor jars, which included things like pineapple-jalapeño tequila and citrus vodka, beckoned to us, so we opted for two shots of pickle vodka. The simultaneous vodka and pickle flavors were strong but enjoyable — but then again, I really like pickles.
As the bar crowd began to thin, my friend and I decided to roll out as well, but we made plans to return soon for burgers on a Wednesday open-mic night (so he could launch his comedy career in a relaxed environment free of hecklers). And both of us are keeping this welcoming little bar wedged into Uptown in our memory banks for our next questionable first dates.
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