The Bar Car Is an Oasis for Locals on Colorado Boulevard

On a strip of Colorado Boulevard across from the Trader Joe's, if you look hard enough, you'll find the Bar Car, an unassuming little local spot in a sea of strip-mall neon signs. A step into the Bar Car reveals a classic neighborhood bar decked out as a fancy railroad car, a relaxing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the traffic just outside.

The Bar Car isn't far from my house, so I've stopped in once or twice, but it's one of those places that I just don't think of when making plans. On a recent visit with a friend, though, I realized that it's definitely a bar worth remembering. On a Monday night, the place was surprisingly full; customers were smoking outside on the tiny front patio, and thirsty patrons sat all along the mirror-backed bar, which takes up most of the real estate in the small establishment. Because of the number of times I have coerced her into joining me on bar fact-finding missions, my companion is quickly becoming an expert bar researcher. We took a seat at a two-top near the bar to observe the scene.

The crowd seemed to contain equal parts middle-aged hipster types, generic older white people, and kids wearing Patagonia jackets who must have been 21 but made us feel old because of how young they looked — which is actually an accurate reflection of the demographics of the neighborhood. To the west of the Bar Car, there are blocks and blocks of nice old Congress Park homes owned mostly by folks over forty, mostly because of the price of real estate there. To the east, there are a variety of old and new, large and small apartment and condo complexes lining East Eighth Avenue and Hale Parkway, perfect for young Denver babies just landing here from their place of origin. Regulars attest to the fact that it's a safe and friendly spot for single women. The women of the Bar Car "braintrust," as proprietor Jeremy Matzke affectionately calls the regulars, look out for female bar-goers, old and new.

Service is friendly and the atmosphere relaxed, full of people eating dinner and catching up over drinks. My friend and I got beers from a healthy selection of local taps, which Matzke later told me is a point of pride for him. The only beer on draft at the Bar Car that isn't local is PBR. Bars have to stock PBR these days, after all.

Despite the sad fact that Jonesy's EatBar in Uptown no longer exists, we were excited to find Jonesy's famous truffle fries — just like the ones we enjoyed for so many years — on the menu. Each delicious bite was reminiscent of reconnecting with an old friend we forgot we we even missed.
The connection to Jonesy's was explained to me by Matzke. In 2010, the bar, which was then called the Recovery Room because it was across the street from the now-demolished University of Colorado hospital campus, was on the market. It was purchased by Leigh Jones and Margaret Moore, owners of Jonesy's and the Horseshoe Lounge. They redecorated the place in what I would describe as "hipster girls with good taste" style, which can also be seen at the Horseshoe. Heavy on chandeliers and vintage touches with dark-red walls, the small bar feels cozy rather than claustrophobic. After all the decorating was done, Matzke bought in to the venture in 2011 and brought in another partner, Victor Muniz. They stay connected to Jones and Moore by reciprocally owning 5 percent of each venture in the bar family, which includes the Bar Car, the Horseshoe, and also Inga's Alpine Lounge in Glendale. Matzke also shared that he recently got a glimpse of the bar's history from the ’70s, when he was contacted by the granddaughter of a 101-year-old woman who used to bartend there back when the space was called the Boulevard Inn. She sent some pictures of regulars during her grandmother's tenure, and they are throwing her 102nd birthday party at the bar in a few weeks.
Aside from the truffle fries and other tasty fry options, the Bar Car features a barbecue menu from the Swine Emporium, a new addition that came in last summer to replace Denver Deep Dish, which moved out into a standalone location. Other than food, worth noting are the unique events the Bar Car offers. There's a Monday night Bingo/Family Feud hybrid night, as well as both Thursday night and Saturday night karaoke hosted by resident drag queen Gabby. Matzke loves dressing up as Bad Santa for the yearly holiday party, collecting toys to donate to local charities and giving out bar swag and other random gifts to the regulars. This year the Christmas party falls on December 14 and will include the Dave Arthur Trio playing Sinatra covers and festive holiday tunes. Other once-a-year parties worth checking out are the huge Kentucky Derby soiree benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and annual celebrations of the birthdays of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. In 2017 the Bar Car crew will be toasting the King on January 6 and the Man in Black on February 24.

So if you're ready to meet new friends on Colorado Boulevard, eat some long-lost fries, sing karaoke twice a week with a drag queen, or join in offbeat celebrations of major and minor holidays, hop in the Bar Car. It will take you where you want to go.
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Sarah McGill is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship, and it seems like this one might be for real.