The Park Tavern and Restaurant (931 East 11th Avenue) was one of the first bars I ever visited when I moved to Denver. In fact, a Ouija board once predicted that I was going there with friends. Seriously. As Halloween approaches, it seems only appropriate to share that I was once at a friend's house nearby on Tenth and Washington pre-gaming, as my cheap friends and I used to do in those days. Her apartment in a slightly run-down historic mansion was old and creepy, and I think it was also in the fall, so we decided to fire up the mystical ghost-oracle board (or party trick, depending on your perspective). The women in the group were into it, while my friend's boyfriend and some other male friends of his were loudly complaining about how this was stupid and we should just go to the bar already — the Park Tavern, specifically. After asking some general questions about who the identity of the spirit coming through the Ouija board was, we asked where we were planning to go that night. P-A-R-K, the board spelled out as the answer. The guys in the group fell silent, and their eyes belied the fact that they were completely freaking out. It was decided that we were leaving NOW. The rest of the night was uneventful, but my friend maintained that there was indeed a ghost in her house, and she moved when the lease was up.
That's my most seasonally appropriate tale of a night at the Park, but going to this particular bar was a common occurrence in my early Denver-transplant days. For a bright-eyed 23-year-old trying to make friends in the big city with limited funds, the old-school Captiol Hill bar seemed to be the perfect fit. The two-for-one drink tokens, which still exist today, helped me afford a night out on my shoestring budget. The weekly trivia night was a simple way to mix and mingle with other twenty-somethings, and the homey leather booths and dark nooks and crannies were ideal locations to talk with friends or make out with dudes. And the variety of bar-food options and a kitchen serving food late were also ideal for late-night munchies. Although the place has changed over the years, there's a lot that remains the same.
The original Park Tavern opened at 931 11th Avenue in 1996, in a 1970s-era building with low ceilings, minimal natural light and lots of laminate trying to look like wood. Owner Louie Belegratis went big on upgrades over the past year, redoing the bar, dining and games areas and adding a rooftop patio in phases, culminating over the summer with a grand-opening event on July 18 after the work was all done. It was out with the green awning, leather booths and ’70s-seafood-restaurant barstools, and in with a sleek, modern wood-and-stainless-steel theme from top to bottom. There are still pool tables, but they're brand-new. There are still many TVs, but now they're large, high-definition flat-screens. Huge windows let in plenty of light and a view of the Whole Foods across the street. The transformation is beautiful in a way, but still a bit sad somehow. I suppose what would be sadder, though, is if the whole philosophy of the Park Tavern had changed, which is definitely not the case.
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The specials are still a great deal, the service is still friendly, and the varied crowd of Capitol Hill denizens, from hipsters to old men, seems fairly similar to the way I remember it. It was calm on the rainy day when I came in for early drinks with a friend —- because sometimes 4 p.m. is the right time for a drink —- but there were plenty of regulars in the house. General Manager Robbie Secrist says that he has noticed an uptick in female clientele and folks with more money to spend, and wonders if some portion of the old guard are scared to come in after the extreme-level cosmetic changes. Which is really their loss, in my opinion. Why not be in a nice environment while enjoying $2 you-call-its and Taco Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to close? Or watch large, fancy TVs while still taking advantage of three happy hours with those two-fer domestic drafts, well drinks and house wine from 9 to 11 a.m., 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., AND 9 p.m. to midnight every weekday but Tuesday?
Trivia is also still a thing on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m., as is free pool in the back every weekday from 4 to 7 p.m. The food menu has changed, for sure, in the sense that it's gone more upscale, offering things like Brussels sprouts and bread pudding, and brunch is now an option at the Park Tavern on weekends. The kitchen, thankfully, is still open late, until midnight. There are also more beers on tap, and nicer taps, these days. Ladies' Night is a new addition on Saturday nights, with $3 specials on select beers, shots and cocktails for women from 7 to 9 p.m. So the opportunity for a cheap night out remains, which my younger self would have appreciated. My older self does, as well.
So despite — or because of, depending on your viewpoint — the latest upscale remodel, the Park is still a great spot for a relaxing and affordable night or happy hour with friends. As the dramatically different space finds its niche in terms of clientele, new and old, the bar still offers the same sense of fun, the same cheap drinks, and the same random Capitol Hill shenanigans as always. Maybe a Ouija board will tell you to go there, or maybe you can manage to stop in without the involvement of a ghost. Either way, this new version of an old favorite is worth a visit.