The Capitol Hill Tavern is definitely a neighborhood bar, as it is almost hidden in a residential part of Capitol Hill, on a quiet block of Logan Street between 12th and 13th avenues. Despite being in the heart of one of Denver's most popular, classic neighborhoods, it's somehow off the beaten path. A friend of mine who lives in the adjacent Cheesman Park area favors the Cap Hill Tavern for eating pizza and drinking beers without straying far from home. In fact, his exact words were "The pizza is super-bomb." After a recent flight home from India, my friend contacted me because he wanted to stay awake until a semi-normal Denver bedtime and needed some company, so I headed out with him for a drink and a little bar research.
I had only been to the tavern once before, when it was still in partnership with Oblio's Pizzera (a favorite of Park Hill residents) and known as Oblio's Capitol Hill Tavern. (That endeavor opened in 2013, but the partnership between the two locations was dropped, along with the first part of the name, in 2015.) This time around, the space seemed fancier somehow, and friendly bartender Butch Buckley told me that I wasn't seeing things: The owners have recently completed some upscale renovations and restorations throughout the historic space.
The building was originally constructed as a residence back in 1899 and was a flower shop for years before becoming a bar. Buckley pointed out that the huge cabinets above the bathroom mirror used to hold blocks of ice to keep the flowers cold in the days before modern refrigeration. Because I like ghost stories, I wish I could say that there were ghosts of early Denver in the bar, but it actually feels devoid of creepiness. Buckley agrees: He's worked in a few restaurants and bars over the years that have weird occurrences, and this isn't one of them.
However, there is a purportedly haunted house across the street, at 1208 Logan, near the former home of Madge Smiley Reynolds, a poet and philanthropist who lived in Denver in the early 1900s but passed away suddenly in 1908. Although she never lived there, she is said to glide up and down the front steps of the residence in a white dress. So maybe all the ghosts on the block congregate together at that address and stay out of the bar scene.
On our visit to the Cap Hill Tavern, we took a seat on the covered patio, which backs up to the bar. It was pretty quiet aside from some well-heeled families from the neighborhood eating dinner together, a few Gen-Xers having drinks at a booth and a couple of twenty-somethings looking at their phones on the indoor side of the bar. Pearl Jam was playing in the background, which seemed to fit the mood and the crowd. This ’90s musical reference got us into a discussion of the cutoff point between Generation X and the Millennial Generation. It turns out the distinction between generations differs a lot depending on whom you ask, and we asked around at the bar and checked the Internet, ultimately coming up with several differing opinions. I suppose the fact that we looked this up on our phone may validate those in the camp that say people in their early thirties are Millennials.
We ordered some pizza, and I took advantage of the all-day-every-day $5 Tito's and $5 Jameson to get a vodka soda that involved a healthy pour of Tito's for the price. The beer list was fairly extensive, with several local craft beers on tap. We had missed happy hour, but every weekday from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 to 11 p.m., specials abound, with $3 Coors and PBRs, $4 Jagermeister and Fireball shots, $6 wings, and $5 cheesy bread and stromboli. The buffalo wings are considered a house specialty, but we had our hands full with the pizza, so I didn't eat any this go-round.
When we were done catching up over mouthfuls of pizza, my friend and I enjoyed talking to Buckley, a slightly gruff but simultaneously welcoming figure clad in jeans and a T-shirt and sporting a graying beard. He's been around the Denver bar and restaurant scene for a while and was brought in as what he calls a "mercenary consultant" by the owners at Capitol Hill Tavern to work on some general upgrades to the bar two years ago. Buckley apparently also has his own tequila brand, called El Butcho Tequila, that he is going to introduce soon at a big event at the bar, which he says will feature free tequila, an ’80s cover band and portable stripper poles. My friend and I figured that we should come back to witness that experience.
According to my friend and Buckley, happy hours and business lunches are big at the Capitol Hill Tavern. The crowd tends to comprise downtown power-broker types, families and folks of all generations who live within stumbling distance in the various historic and newer box-style apartments, condos and homes nearby. The back room hosts private parties and fundraising events, and sometimes DJs or other entertainment. Weekends are for brunch, and sometimes comedy. Every other Sunday is open-mic comedy in the back room with no cover. Other than that, the team at the tavern seems to keep things pretty simple and focused on creating a nice ambience for your drinking and eating experience.
So if you are willing to venture slightly off Colfax in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Capitol Hill Tavern awaits you. Nestled in among historic homes, this bar is always at the ready for a business lunch or a happy-hour meet-up with friends old and new, from any generation. But probably not ghosts, which is likely for the best.
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