Scruffy Murphy’s

In this space, I've dehumanized Denver's homeless to a disgusting degree (The Ginn Mill, October 4), comparing them to open-sored, echolalic zombies worthy of scorn and contempt. I've also championed our city's homeless (Star Bar, October 11), celebrating one man as a hardworking, down-on-his-luck type of guy worthy of my beer money and home-cooked fare, not to mention sympathy. Does this make me manic, threaten my ethos, straight up make me an asshole? Hell, no. I call it like I see it, and on Larimer Street in the Ballpark neighborhood, what you see depends largely on where, exactly, you're at.

Tonight I'm at Scruffy Murphy's (2030 Larimer), a dark, cozy Irish pub that caters to white-collar families and young professionals. Inside, a quartet made up of acoustic and lap-steel guitars plus a stand-up bass plays polished, art-gallery jazz tunes on a corner stage overlooking the street as pea-coat-and-scarf-wearing patrons drink red wine and draft beer. Outside, however, a socio-economic screaming match is just heating up.

"Panhandling is fucking illegal!" screeches some dude with a shaved head. "Did you know that? Illegal!"

"All right, guy," stutters a timid homeless man before shuffling over to someone else. "I's just an old man fallen on hard times, is all."

"No! Don't bother them, either. These people work hard for their money. They have jobs," the dude indoctrinates to the now-retreating beggar before unleashing his closer — the most tired of anti-homeless rhetoric: "Get a job, you hear me? Get a fucking job!"

Whether Sir Screamsalot is drinking at Murphy's or at the bar next door, I don't know; it doesn't really matter. What's important is that both bars cater to the middle class, and the Larimer Street homeless know as much. Which is why they swarm. But who could expect any different? These three blocks — between 20th Street and Park Avenue — are in the process of gentrifying, which means that pawnshops and rock clubs and dive bars and empty lots share the sidewalks and shadows with high-end markets and upscale public houses. Since all the people who frequent these places have to share at least the same pavement, that space is often a volatile environment.

Back inside, though, everything's great. The band is still playing, the beer is still pouring, and no one's yelling at each other. I'm drinking $4 pints of Smithwick's — easily one of my favorite beers — and I'm surrounded by good company. The bar is filling up by the minute, so we decide to order food. But when our server brings us the menu, we're dismayed to discover that the kitchen is out of four of the five entrees. It's frustrating, considering that we'd called ahead from another bar to make sure Scruffy Murphy's was serving food — but whatever. We settle for chips and queso and just get drunker faster. No real complaints here.

Later, on another smoke break, I'm approached by a short, dark-haired guy with a this-contains-all-my-earthly-possessions pack slung over one shoulder. He sees me wearing an Army-green canvas button-up coat from some department store or other and assumes I'm in the service.

"Hey, man, I can't help but notice your fatigues," he starts in. "I'm an ex-Navy man myself. Think you could help me out?"

But before I can say, "This isn't an Army jacket" or "I've only got plastic," I see the guy with the shaved head approaching, presumably to rip my Navy pal a new one. Me? I hightail it for the door and retreat to the safety of the warm bar and my cold beer.

Starting right now, I'm a pacifist in this war.

To see where Drew Bixby's been drinking, check out this map.

View Larger Map
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Drew Bixby