’Tis the Season for Colfax at the Satellite Bar

The Satellite Bar on Colfax is a great place to come in from the cold.
The Satellite Bar on Colfax is a great place to come in from the cold. Sarah McGill
As the days get colder, you can count on Colfax Avenue to stay burning bright at all hours, full of places to take refuge from the wind. One place that has become a quietly reliable Colfax fixture over the years, as well as a great place to warm yourself and bask in the glow of neon lights, is Satellite Bar (308 East Colfax Avenue).

On a cold and dark Tuesday night, a friend and I decided to come in from the suddenly chilly night to the Satellite. I pulled up and parked right in front of the bar; after I got out, an older guy smoking outside warned me to be careful when I moved my car. His warning was warranted, as there was a metal gutter cover jutting out from a piece of the sidewalk dangerously close to my tire. How very Colfax. I thanked him and headed inside. As my friend and I entered the bar, the friendly bartender, Evan, was quick with the beers and drinks, and there were only two guys sitting at the bar. My sidewalk-metal guardian angel soon came in to join us.

click to enlarge This bathroom may or may not be haunted, depending on if you believe some random old man who told me that a few years ago. - SARAH MCGILL
This bathroom may or may not be haunted, depending on if you believe some random old man who told me that a few years ago.
Sarah McGill
Everyone at the bar had a lot to say, partly because I got the conversation going by asking them all if they knew the bathrooms were haunted. Allow me to explain. Years back, I was at the Satellite Bar with a group of friends before an event I like to refer to as "Sarah's Ghost Tour," an amateur walking tour of haunted sites in Denver that I do every October for my friends. If you have read my writer bio or about a third of my articles, you will know that I am a ghost nerd. The point of all this is that when I used the Satellite Bar as a ghost-walk meeting place, a man at the bar overheard my friends and I talking about ghosts and told me that in the 1930s, a guy got shot right in front of the women's bathroom and then proceeded to stagger inside and die in there.

Hence the claim that the bathrooms are haunted. I have no factual or historical evidence for this claim, but that doesn't mean anything when it comes to bar ghost lore. Evan joked with us that now he has to worry not only about sketchy people locking themselves in the bathroom at the bar, but also about bathroom ghosts. Smoking sidewalk guy said he heard that some of the now blocked-off tunnels that connect the Capitol and various other buildings in the vicinity used to run to the back room of the Satellite Bar. That kicked off a whole conversation about how those now-closed tunnels and the buildings connected to them are said to be haunted by people who got murdered in them, prostitutes who used them to visit the politicians of the day, and who knows what else. 

A trio of young professional-looking types wearing North Face jackets came in and ordered drinks, and a guy sporting a white ponytail sat down and started talking with the growing crowd of old-timers at the far end of the bar. My friend and I continued talking about the tunnels with our new barstool-neighbor friends, who introduced themselves as Emilio and Goody. We then got on to other equally festive topics, such as the Shanghai tunnels in Portland, where people used to be trapped and pressed into involuntary servitude on ships headed to Asia; the Holocaust; and the passage of the Trump tax bill. Somehow this also led to Netflix recommendations for shows about serial killers, and my own suggestion that everyone watch the fascinating train-wreck documentary called Voyeur, about a man who owned the now-demolished Manor House Motel on East Colfax in Aurora for the express purpose of watching the guests through the ceiling. Emilio said that I should mention that the Satellite Bar is a great place to "talk about dark shit." Clearly it was, at least on this particular night.

I asked everyone about any upcoming events or specials, but the Satellite Bar isn't really that sort of place. There was a party this summer to celebrate the ten-year anniversary, and sometimes there might be a poker night or Broncos potluck, but those things aren't what the place is known for. It's just a straight-ahead bar, where the after-work happy-hour folks, neighbors, service-industry crowd and Colfax oddballs combine in such a way that there's never a dull moment. Specials are also simple, there are a good variety of craft and cheap beers, and things are pretty much just cheap all the time. One special that is always on offer is the "PB&J," a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jameson for $5.

The interior of the bar is nothing fancy, but there's a strangely pleasing mix of ’70s decor and wall art that was clearly done more recently, such as a "Satellite Bar" mural featuring a deer in a space suit; it was made by Jägermeister, which explains why the astronaut in the piece is a deer with antlers.

click to enlarge Satellite Bar + Jagermeister = a really random mural. - SARAH MCGILL
Satellite Bar + Jagermeister = a really random mural.
Sarah McGill
A notable upgrade since I was last here is the installation of glowing green USB charging ports all along the whole bar. Also new is the Skee-Ball machine, which is labeled "Beer Ball." The entertainment here comes in the form of catching up with friends and enjoying bar games. Along with the Skee-Ball, there's a pool table, Golden Tee video golf, Big Buck Hunter, and an Iron Man pinball machine.

click to enlarge The breathalyzer at the Satellite Bar can tell you if you're too drunk, and also benefits the Fallen Firefighters Memorial. - SARAH MCGILL
The breathalyzer at the Satellite Bar can tell you if you're too drunk, and also benefits the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
Sarah McGill
We talked a little more with Evan the bartender, who works for both owner Jake Harrison, who has owned the bar for ten years with his business partner, and Jake's wife, Danielle Harrison, who is general manager at Mezcal, a few minutes east on Colfax. Emilio and Goody recommended some neighborhood bars I should check out, and we discussed the charms of some of the places I had already visited. "They play good music here," Emilio commented with a grin as he went to the jukebox to pick out a few more songs.

Our new friends were getting ready to head out, and so were we — to get food. There isn't any food to be had at the Satellite, save for the bags of potato chips hanging from the ceiling. We took a quick lap before leaving and discovered that there is a coin-operated breathalyzer machine in the back corner, where you can blow into a straw from the dispenser to determine whether or not you should drive home. That was a new one for me; in my bar travels, I have seen a lot of unusual machines dispensing condoms, lube, cigarettes, frozen meals — but none that can tell you whether you should take your car or the 15 bus home. I love the 15; it's another special extension of the Colfax experience, sometimes running late but always gliding slowly along up and down the entire glorious avenue.

My friend and I continued on our way in search of hamburgers and bid adieu to our new friends from the bar. The Colfax night was just as chilly as before, but we took a moment to breathe in the bracing air and admire the lit-up lamp posts and the view down the hill toward the lights of Civic Center Park. There's no place like Colfax for the holidays, and the Satellite Bar is another spot that represents today's "Longest, Wickedest Street in America," as it has been called. It's not quite as sketchy as it used to be, with a few new phone chargers, but the bar hangs on to its roots without giving up the ghost —- literally or figuratively.
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Sarah McGill is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship, and it seems like this one might be for real.