When we arrived on an early Saturday evening, we had just missed happy hour, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Happy-hour deals like $3.25 wells and $3 domestic beers would have been sweet, but pricing was still easy on the wallet for a few beers and shots.
We also wanted to check out some of the Irish-American pub food, and did so by enjoying some crispy fried pickles and Buffalo wings (neither of which were particularly Irish). Our server was quick and friendly; he and one of my companions bonded together over their shared Japanese heritage as he hit us with some fun facts about events, activities and history of the bar.
Open since 1989, Sheabeen claims the title of oldest Irish bar in metro Denver (which is true if you don't count Clancy's Irish Pub, which closed and reopened in a new location), and has had only two owners in its thirty-year lifetime. Tony and Camille McAleavey opened and named the place after the English spelling of the Irish word "sibin," used to describe an illegal underground bar serving alcohol without a liquor license. The McAleaveys added the "a" in Sheabeen as a nod to Camille's maiden name of Shea. The name and concept stayed consistent through the change of ownership in 2004, when Andy and Karen Schmidt took over after the McAleavey family retired.
The Colorado Irish Festival, now held each summer in various parts of town, began in the parking lot outside the bar. St. Patrick's Day, of course, is a huge deal, with music, dancers, food and beer — everything you would expect when celebrating the patron saint of Irish bars (and American drunks). There's even a celebration called Halfway to St. Patrick's Day each year on or around September 17, in case you need another Irish party to tide you over during the fall. This event involves a re-enactment of Finnegans Wake, the epic and epically confusing James Joyce book that I never quite got when I read it in college. Our bartender tells us the party involves someone lying in a coffin and pretending to be Finnegan. Sounds like something to see, and a departure from the usual bar holidays.
Of course, typical bar holidays and events abound here as well. Mardi Gras, Kentucky Derby and Halloween are celebrated with fun, food and drinks, and there are also unique events like a chili cook-off at the end of January and a holiday craft show every November. Live music is a big deal here, including a memorial music jam session for John Lennon that happens on or near December 8, the day of his death.
Fridays and Saturdays are band nights, with karaoke on Sunday nights and open mic on Thursdays. The night we were in, the Dick Frost Band was getting set up, as were the group's fans. We sat at the vast, rectangular bar; to our left were the raised stage and several tables, as well as a couple of pool tables in the far corner. There had been guys over there shooting pool, but the crowd, except for us, was almost entirely migrating to sit on one side of each table with rapt attention to the stage, even before the music began. The crowd comprised several graying men in golf shirts or sweaters, a few younger couples and some scattered twenty-something men and women who seemed to know everyone in the place. They were all clearly fans of the Dick Frost Band, described as a "classic Americana" act. Other bands that take the stage range from country to classic rock to Celtic music, in keeping with the tavern's Irish spirit.
As at many neighborhood bars, creative shots are bigger sellers than "craft cocktails." At Sheabeen, you can order, for example, a Filthy Blond, which contains Tuaca, pineapple juice, peach Schnapps and Red Bull. That sounds gross to me, but my drinking companion loved it. I tried the White Gummy Bear instead, which also had peach liqueur, but this time fortified with raspberry Stoli and sour mix. It was white — hence the name — and sweet. Since we were leaving to meet some other friends at a brewery where there would be no specialty shots, these would have to tide us over. We left — through the regular-sized door — as the music fans began to enjoy the show and neighborhood regulars downed pints of Guinness with their French fries.
Sheabeen Irish Pub is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Call 303-696-6131 or visit the pub's website for more details.