A few weeks ago, I met up with my tour guide to the joys of the Horseshoe Lounge, my old roommate, who lives blocks from the bar these days. She told me that once her power went out during a Broncos game and she stood outside"the ’Shoe," as she would later call it as a regular, watching the game from the street. She eventually went in and met a crew of new friends, and like many regulars, whether or not they live nearby, she always makes it back. We got rock-star treatment from Melanie Unruh, one of the owners, who goes by "Mel" and can generally be found slinging drinks, smiles and trash talk from behind the bar. On other occasions I have also felt like a celebrity in the bar because the regulars and staff love my roommate so much that I get to feel special by association.
As we sat at the bar, the place filled up with an eclectic crowd of after-work folks in various levels of business attire, and probably some people who are retired. My friend and I drank our strong cocktails and ate a delicious Chicago dog, which, according to Unruh, is the most authentic Chicago-style hot dog in Denver. I don't really know much about all that, having never managed to make it to Chicago myself, but it definitely tasted good. While all this was going on, I pieced together the story on the Horseshoe with insight from my friend, her compatriots at the bar, and Unruh and the other friendly staff.
Gary Lee's Motor Club and Grub. Before opening his own spot, Bomar worked at the Horseshoe; Unruh points out the spot on the bar, tiled with more than 24,000 dice and sealed with clear epoxy, where Bomar, who passed away in 2015, left a permanent mark. As Unruh tells it, Bomar was messing around trying to pick a dollar up off the bar with a huge kitchen knife; he ended up smashing part of the epoxy. Before fixing the damage, he wrote in tiny letters on one of the dice "God Damn Gary Lee." The writing is still visible, sealed under new epoxy, at the end of the bar nearest the door, and serves as a sort of memorial to a man that the Denver bar and music scene misses dearly.
Other than whiskey, main draws include Throwback Saturdays (the third weekend of every month), a dance party pumped up with Motown hits and ’90s hip-hop jams. And Unruh livens up the weekly trivia night with "box o' crap" prizes — packages of random items such as candy, lottery scratch tickets, shoelaces and dollar-store pregnancy tests. Once a quarter, the top trivia teams from the Horseshoe league face off in a Tournament of Champions to win bigger prizes like distillery and brewery tours.
Cheap canned beers like Olympia and Hamm's, labeled on the menu as "Shitty Cans of Beer," are favorites at the bar, along with along with inexpensive well liquors and the classic brown-bag mystery shots (a tradition at dive bars around town). Happy hour gives even more bang for your buck from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, with $3 wells, $4 house wines and $1 off all draft beers.
Despite the Vegas lounge vibe, there's no single customer type here. You'll see business suits, cowboys and college kids among the regulars and newcomers. They're all here for the same reason: cheap drinks, friendly service and familiar faces.