Cafe Society

Spanky's Roadhouse is a grimy good time

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.

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.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk