Any seasoned barfly will tell you that drinking is what you make of it, especially on Colfax. That’s why it can be devastating when your favorite joint changes direction, changes hands or otherwise loses its soul. You put in all those nights, all those hangovers (and how much money, exactly?) for them to just “update” the name or the paint or the price of a PBR?
Longtime drinkers, never fear: There’s a lot to love about the newly renovated Pete’s Satire Lounge, which will celebrate its grand reopening at 1920 East Colfax Avenue on Saturday, April 16. That’s because 24-year-old Alex Barakos, grandson of Satire namesake the late, legendary Denver restaurateur Pete Contos, turned his eye to his family’s nearly sixty-year stewardship of the bar as he plotted out design choices for its future.
Regular patrons will notice that the Satire’s elevated dining section has been leveled, literally. It now sits even with and flows naturally to the bar area. Not that anyone ever drank up there. Gone are the oft-ignored diner booths, which were installed when Contos tried to pivot the Satire from neighborhood watering hole to sit-down restaurant during a 2009 remodel. Barakos replaced them with comfortable, if spartan, high-tops that can fold up into the wall to create a dance floor.
That won’t be the first thing regulars notice, though. That honor goes to the ornate black-and-red paint job that snakes to and through the former dining area. Old Denver acolytes
will love that its design takes inspiration from the Satire’s original wallpaper, which Barakos found after taking sledgehammer to drywall. The original stuff wasn’t in good enough shape to save, but the paint is a clean, thoughtful stand-in — and history buffs can seek out a preserved square of the old wallpaper that Contos had framed by the bar on the Satire’s thirtieth anniversary in 1992.
The black-and-red paint job takes inspiration from the Satire’s original wallpaper.
Walk just past that plaque and under the watchful eye of a framed portrait of Contos and you’ll end up in a game room, formerly the erstwhile Mexican restaurant’s long-abandoned smoking section. No need to worry about any lingering cigarette stench: Barakos accidentally broke through a layer of drywall during the remodel process only to find some massive stone bricks. He chiseled them out from decades of smoke stains, spilled drinks and other sordid history to result in a space that’s as trendy as you’d expect from your standard dive bar fix-and-flip — but with the benefit of decades of Denver history behind it.
In it, you’ll find “something for everybody,” as Barakos puts it, including a Beatles-themed pinball machine (selected because Barakos liked playing the Beatles Rock Band video game as a kid), a dartboard and a shuffleboard table. Future additions might include a foosball table, a chessboard and whatever other “fun, drunk games” make the Satire Lounge feel like, well, a lounge. “The goal is for there to be something fun for anybody when they walk in off the street,” Barakos said.
When you do walk in, it’ll take a moment for your eyes to adjust. The Satire in its 2009-2022 iteration was brighter than a camera flash, a strategic choice Contos made to move the bar away from its hard-drinking reputation — and maybe move some of the hard drinkers out the door. His grandson has moved in a decidedly different direction, with dark black ceilings and perfectly “warm” bulbs, by his telling. “I had to go to ten different Home Depots to find bulbs that met the right specifications,” he said. Good design is invisible, and on a crowded night, you’ll barely notice the bulbs or the haphazard constellations of cords that draw you in circles around the bar’s new open layout.
The “Meet me at the Tire” catchphrase is all Barakos.
Unmissable, however, are the two neon signs Barakos commissioned from Seth Totten of Denver’s Acme Neon, who famously restored the El Chapultepec sign to working order in 2014, among other high-profile projects. In the game room gleams an Instagram-friendly “Meet me at the Tire” sign. That catchphrase is all Barakos; we’ll see if it catches on.
Even if it does, the star of the show will forever and always be the glowing “Plates are hot…have a nice time” sign visible from just about every bar seat, just next to the revamped kitchen. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to the Satire’s food runner and veritable jack of all trades Joey Mestas, who in his fifty years at the joint has uttered that very phrase thousands of times as something of a Denver legend in his own right. Barakos loves the sign. “It’s a little hint at the history of things. When you see it, maybe you know the story, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, you ask...or you just run into Joey.”
Mestas’s take on having his catchphrase all lit up? “Feels pretty good, but I’ve always been up in lights in here. I’ve been up fixing them,” he jokes.
Revelers gather in the new game room at Pete's.
There’s much less to fix now, especially since Barakos updated the ancient back bar coolers with modern versions, much to the relief of longtime bartender Shannon Hollingsworth. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for these? The old ones broke constantly. This is, by far, my favorite part of the remodel,” she says.
She and Mestas seem content with Barakos’s new direction, though they’ve got a few more items on their respective wish lists. Hollingsworth says that she hopes the bar could get back to the way it used to be, many years ago. “It was fun. It was crowded. It was busy. It was awesome,” she remembers.
As for Mestas? “I wish I was rich,” he says. “I’d own ten bars just like this one.”
When rich people buy bars, of course, they tend to replace patina with whatever trends they think will maximize profits. That is assuredly not what is going on here. There’s a certain earnestness to everything that reminds you that the Satire is still very much an authentic family business. In the first place, the remodel isn’t quite finished. Barakos is still waiting on some sliding garage door-style windows that will open to Colfax, for example. Just before service started on a recent Saturday, he was pounding away to flatten nails on the wooden framing that will eventually hold them in place. “This seems like a liability to me,” he said, laughing.
Sit at the bar, gaze up and squint your eyes. You might see very faint lines of shimmering paint that represent Barakos’s attempt to bring back the Satire’s famed glittered ceilings. It didn’t work. “I’ll try that differently once we have some money coming in,” he notes.
And while the kitchen has been cleaned up and is “locked and loaded,” per Barakos, he still needs staff to start putting out Mexican-inspired bar food. “I had a cook that literally moved away,” he says. He hopes food service can begin within the month, even if it won’t be ready to go for the grand reopening.
Pete's is the perfect setting for blurry nights out.
The whole thing feels very human and a touch imperfect, a rarity for many remodels as Denver has grown and found its uneasy footing as a major American city. That’s important: The hospitality business is ultimately the people business. The harder you try to focus-group a place into the “perfect” bar, the more you ward off the regulars who tend to be your lifeblood.
Barakos seems to get that, deep down — a marvel for someone at his age. His vision for the space is to make Colfax drinking accessible for more than just lounge lizards, though there’s certainly a place for them, too. “This Satire is going to be safe, fun, affordable and cozy in ways you’re not going to know until you’ve sat at the bar top for yourself," he explains. "And that bar top is still very much for the regulars. So when you come in for the first time, you’re going to feel comfortable, you’re going to shuffle into one of the other seats, you’re going to explore things a little bit. Then you’re going to keep coming back until you are a regular.”
And on each successive trip, you’ll find Barakos — maybe tending bar, maybe cutting bar fruit, maybe stocking coolers or maybe just sipping beer on a rare day off, admiring his handiwork while thinking everything through.
“This renovation has transformed me, too,” he says. “The other day, I was alone in here, and I got the music going, and I got chills. I looked up at my grandfather and said, ‘Yeah, we did it.’ Everything turned out better than I planned.”
Pete’s Satire Lounge is located at 1920 East Colfax Avenue and is open from 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday. It will celebrate its grand reopening on Saturday, April 16, starting at 5 p.m. For more information, visit petesrestaurants.com/satire-lounge.