The Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery, affectionately called "The Bull" by regulars, has definitely attained status as a Denver institution. The English-style pub has been a bar far longer than a brewery, but even the beer-making setup has been turning out suds since 1997, before nearly everyone and their brother started opening breweries in this town. The bar itself was founded more than two decades before that, in 1971 by two brothers, twins Dean and Dale Peterson. The Bull & Bush is now run by Dale's two sons, David and Erik.
I spoke with Erik Peterson about the family and the bar. He was always interested in the family business growing up and became especially passionate about beer while attending the University of Wyoming for a degree in food science, which set him up well to understand beer and food on a molecular level. This passion and knowledge spurred him, in partnership with his brother, to start brewing beer when they took over the Bull and Bush. The first batch of their beer was finished on New Year's Day in 1997, and the rest has been history. Various beers from Bull & Bush have won awards and recognition in competitions near and far.
The Bull & Bush resembles an old English manor house or country cottage. Using my super-sharp investigative-journalism skills, I gleaned from the printed menu that the bar was designed to mimic the original Bull & Bush in Hampstead Heath, outside of London. From the little dartboard cubby to the fireplace with an ornate, gold-lettered beer list over the mantle to the random stained-glass and wooden signs, the place goes full British wherever possible.
I also appreciate the old-school holiday decorations that adorn the place at this time of year. Peterson explains that most of the ornaments are from the ’70s, purchased by his dad and uncle in the early days of the bar. He also points out that he follows the Denver tradition of keeping the decorations up until the end of the National Western Stock Show — a tradition I had never heard of but now plan to popularize among my fellow transplants. Because everyone likes Christmas lights, and we can all be a little lazy when it comes to taking down holiday decorations. Peterson mentions that because the place has been around so long, the crowd tends to span multiple generations, and the holidays are a big time for reconnecting with family at the Bull & Bush over drinks.
My friend and occasional dog sitter (when I'm out of town and my dog needs someone around who loves him) met me for a drink at the Bull & Bush on a recent Sunday. Neither of us are from here, so we forgot that it was a night game for the Broncos. Rookie mistake, I know. We realized something was happening when we had to park on the street because the entire parking lot was full. The place was packed — the tables inside, the bar itself and the large heated patio. It's a big place, and it was doing big business.
No matter: We were able to squeeze in at one of the two-person booths in the main seating area. The big-screen TVs, of course, were all on the game, and we were surrounded by gray-haired couples, families, and packs of aging bros wearing Broncos gear. So we proceeded to talk about holiday plans, politics, my dog, our jobs —the usual things. I tend to talk loudly — I guess it's the East Coaster in me. At a certain point, my loud political ramblings drew stares from the older couple next to us. The look in their eyes told me, kindly but firmly, to tone it down and stop disrupting their Sunday Broncos dinner with my millennial jibber-jabber. So I did.
The food and beers were good, including a delicious Reuben sandwich that distinguished itself from others of its kind with thick bread and a little extra flavor from being simmered in the brewery's Big Ben Brown Ale. There are plenty of tasty house beers on tap, and also a very impressive whiskey selection. So if that's your thing, you should be able to find your favorite brand or something new to sample.
I'm not a regular at Bull & Bush, but a friend who lived nearby in Glendale and considered the pub his local told me about a long-gone tradition called "snack night," where regulars brought snacks to the bar and shared them after 10 p.m., when the kitchen closed. Peterson says that snack night was indeed a common occurrence for a period of time but fizzled out after the chief instigator, a traveling nurse named Bud, moved away. Apparently, it all started when Bud came into the bar after 10 p.m. with some nibbles he'd brought for himself; Peterson asked him, like a teacher would, if he had any to share with the rest of the class. After that, Bud brought food to share — and other regulars followed suit every Tuesday night. During my one snack-night experience several years ago, I was lucky enough to partake in some great brownies brought in by the bar staff.
This holiday season, when you're connecting with friends and family, if it's not already part of your annual tradition, stop in for a pint and a bite at the Bull — not just for the beer and warming ambience, but to support a Denver establishment that has survived the trends and caprices, the booms and busts of this town, and is still going strong. Peterson recalls the wisdom of his uncle Dean, who told him that anybody can open up a pub or restaurant and keep it afloat for a few years, but the challenge is to keep it going for forty or fifty years. And that's just what the second generation of Petersons plans to do.