If you're wishing for a Vegas-style vacation without having to leave metro Denver this summer, look no further than the Mirage Sports Bar in Littleton.
From the outside, the battleship-gray building, bunkered into a hillside parking lot off Coal Mine Road, resembles some sort of older, off-the-strip Las Vegas night club, with curved, mirrored windows on either side of the entrance and a big neon sign proclaiming the name Mirage (which automatically sounds Vegas-like). Inside, though, the place looks like any other neighborhood bar, but with an emphasis on games and gambling. There are Colorado Lottery vending machines, an off-track betting window and several machines for placing bets on horse and dog races any day of the week.
Pick Six Partners, the company that ran betting at Red and Jerry's in Sheridan until it closed down in 2017, are in charge of the wagering operations here. After that iconic emporium closed down, Heather Frayer, the owner of the Mirage, partnered up to bring the betting action to her bar.
I visited on a recent Sunday afternoon, finding the gamblers fewer in number than I expected, but with plenty of other customers scattered throughout the the immense space. A group of older gentlemen played pool on one of the sixteen tables at the far end, darts players toed the line at a few of the nine dart boards lining a wall near the wraparound bar, and clusters of young and old alike shuffled in, sitting at the many tables and sharing nachos, fries and beers. The overall vibe of the crowd is captured in their clothing: NASCAR shirts, Hawaiian shirts, assorted camouflage items, pastel golf polos, and what I sometimes refer to as "Littleton jeans," women's jeans accented by rhinestones on the back pockets. We were in Littleton, after all.
My drinking companion and I managed to snag a couple of spots next to a group of old timers who helped our knowledgeable and efficient bartender fill us in on some of the fun facts and historical tidbits about the bar. Apparently the building was once a church, and there is a nod to that history in a series of stained-glass panels depicting billiard balls hanging from the ceiling. They also told us that at some point in the Mirage's thirty-year history, part of the building burned down and was rebuilt.
Current owner Frayer took over in 2010, so she's no stranger to the spot or the neighborhood. She is also, according to the folks at the bar, the inventor of the "chipparole," one of the more impressive bar appetizers I've had in a while. This delicious concoction is basically a bunch of cheddar and cream cheese studded with with jalapeño and bacon bits, all enclosed in an egg roll wrapper. The kicker is a delicious berry dipping sauce loaded with chile flakes, adding a layer of sweetness and spice that elevates the deep-fried chipparole experience far beyond that of your average jalapeño popper.
Burgers, Mexican dishes and typical bar snacks share space with an odd assortment of Hawaiian specialties, including the Big Hawaiian burger and loco moco made with meatloaf instead of a burger patty.
The drinks were extra-cheap because it was a Monday, and Monday means happy hour all day, with $1 off wells, wines, and domestic beers. Monday offers free billiards, shuffleboard and darts, so we joined the darts players for a round or two. This particular Monday was also the last Monday of the month, and although we weren't able to hang around, it was going to be an open-mic blues jam hosted by Kirby Velarde and Wild Card.
While throwing darts, my friend and I looked over the drinks list and selected a Dragon Candy, which tasted like Starburst candy and is available as a shot or a drink. I looked over the big selection of beers on tap before ordering a strong vodka soda to help my dart skills (and it worked, because I won, which seldom happens).
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Other daily specials and events include weekday happy hours from noon to 7 p.m., free bingo and poker on Tuesdays, and pool leagues every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Hospitality night comes every Sunday, with 10 percent off food and drinks for industry folks. Wednesday is trivia night, Thursday sees more poker, and Friday brings karaoke and dart tournaments. Every Saturday night, a rotating cast of pop, rock and country cover bands keep customers entertained. So no matter what day it is, there's way too much going on at the Mirage for anyone to get bored. There's even a downstairs area available for overflow, private parties and fundraisers.
Other hidden surprises included a cute little patio at the end of the hall by the restrooms, and more games and amenities, such as Big Buck Hunter, Golden Tee, foosball, and an arcade game called Barber Cut, where you win prizes by cutting the string hanging from inside a clear case. (It can't be easy, because the prizes were pricey items like an Amazon Echo and a Broncos jersey.) There's also a vending machine filled with snacks, in case you get the munchies after the kitchen closes. Anything that you need, you can get here, it seems.
Perhaps that's why everyone comes in and stays a while. Sometimes you might see a Mirage in the Colorado desert, but this one is real, and you definitely won't be disappointed if you stop in to quench your thirst.
While you won't find the bright lights and big-money entertainment of Las Vegas, the Mirage holds a myriad of neighborhood-bar wonders for an all-day adventure of games, betting, drinking and snacking in Littleton.