Interstate Kitchen & Bar might have been designed to invoke a classic roadhouse, but it's a hip — and clean — rendition. Not so Spanky's Roadhouse, a faux roadhouse that opened in the University of Denver neighborhood more than twenty years ago — and has the grime to prove it.
When Spanky's first started flipping burgers, it was a fresh concept and a welcome addition to the area. Today it's part of a group that also owns Reiver's and the Dusty Boot restaurants, and everything it serves seems pretty standard and fairly tired: Coors Light (and, okay, Colorado brews on par with Fat Tire) and cheap wells paired with a mediocre bar menu. Spanky's also offers a Wisconsin-style fish fry every Friday and Saturday and hosts Geeks Who Drink on Wednesdays; I suspect those nights and the drink specials do more to lure people in than does the mediocre food.
I stopped by for lunch last week, plopping down on one of the spinning, padded stools at the bar and easing into a pint of draft Odell's 5 Barrel pale ale. The place was dark, even in the daytime, and the shadows masked the bar-room grit that seems to be etched into every surface at Spanky's. Even in the middle of the day, though, the place had a friendly, neighborly feel, and was half-full of twenty-somethings who were putting their student schedule to good use with a liquid lunch.
The friendly tender sold me on ordering a California club over a burger. That was a mistake: The chicken breast was pounded flat, topped with greasy bacon, congealed pepper Jack cheese and out-of-season avocado, then sandwiched between two thick slices of griddled white bread — which the menu claimed was sourdough, but it could have fooled me — smeared with a thin layer of tangy mayonnaise that quickly made the bread soggy. The fries were better — beer-battered and extra crispy — but they tasted like they'd started frozen.
I wound up abandoning my lunch and ordering another beer. Just as I would probably do at a real roadhouse...if someone else were driving, that is.