I have a tendency to go for the old standbys when it comes to neighborhood bars, but I'm willing to give new spots a chance as well, and the Sportsbook Bar & Grill Wash Park definitely deserves a chance. The Sportsbook is just getting its start in an unusual hidden grotto in the Washington Park neighborhood (okay, technically Country Club, but you can hear the sound of Wash Park's volleyball fanatics and dog walkers from here) that was occupied for eight years by the Wash Park Sports Alley.
When I say hidden, I mean it. The bar's entrance can be found in the alley that runs between the back of a strip mall and a greenbelt off South Marion Parkway, where towering conifers block much of the view from the street. Along South Downing Street, you can see a couple of hair salons, a Starbucks, a cleaners and Cafe Marmotte, but to enter the bar you have to go around back, to 266B South Downing Street — or, if you're feeling woodsy, you can park along the greenbelt and walk through the trees to discover the place, right alongside the back yards and garages of neighboring houses. It makes you feel like you've found a secret speakeasy, but not the pretentious, hipster cocktail variety. If you've been in the area long enough, you may remember the
subterranean space as the gay-friendly Garbo's, going back to the 1990s.
Once you find the door, a stairway leads down to a tidy, spacious basement that's surprisingly bright, especially for being a basement. It was also refreshingly cool on a hot Saturday afternoon when my friend and I ventured in. There was a room with a pool table, another with arcade games like Big Buck Hunter and Golden Tee, and yet another room filled with an extreme number of televisions. The linked series of rooms added to the impression of descending deeper and deeper into a cavernous speakeasy filled with mystique (if not for those bright overhead lights). The aesthetic was largely sparse and uncluttered save for several brand-new sports team banners and flags.
We snagged seats at the quiet bar near a smattering of what appeared to be a mix of Wash Park dads and new-to-Denver Wash Park bros. It was happy hour, so all the beers were a dollar off and well drinks were priced at a bargain $3 each. Happy hour here is a daylong affair, from open (2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday) to 7 p.m., so if your weekend goal is maximum day drinking, this just might be your new spot.
We were impressed by the varied and creative menu and in need of a snack, so we ordered up some shrimp tacos and "totchos," a cross between tater tots and nachos, with the tots covered in green chile, sour cream and cheese, and a little bacon thrown in just in case the other ingredients didn't provide enough fat to soak up the booze. The fish tacos came with a good, tangy sauce, and the totchos were as deliciously unhealthy as we had predicted — and big enough that we couldn't finish the plate between the two of us. Since tater tots don't make great leftovers, I recommend bringing at least two eating companions if you want to conquer the plate. Also available at the Sportsbook are cheese curds for our Midwestern friends, salads for healthy people and a wide variety of burgers.
John Porter, one of the owners, explained that the bar opened in February without much in the way of renovations. Porter had been the head bartender at the original Sportsbook location in Greenwood Village, and when the other owners, Jeremy Malone and Jud Dymond, offered him a chance to become an owner for a second location, he jumped at the opportunity. Much of the new location mimics the original, which has been enjoying success since 2012, so the team seems to have gone with a sort of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality.
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Both locations are Iowa Hawkeye bars when it comes to college sports, as well as spots for Colorado State University alumni club members to watch Rams games. Specials and souvenir-cup deals abound for Hawkeye games. For pro football, the Sportsbook caters to Cincinnati Bengals fans, as well as the Broncos (of course). I'm not a big UFC fan, but folks who are pack the place for televised fights because it is one of the few bars in town that doesn't charge a cover. Porter and the crew are trying to figure out how to help fans enjoy the World Cup by picking a certain team to follow through the tournament; Mexico is one of the top contenders. Porter prides himself on showing "any sport you can watch," including hard-to-find events only available through Apple TV.
As my friend and I basked in the cool air with our bellies full of totchos, the crowd grew. A group of dudes came in and started playing the Bonus Hole game. A group of young, blond Wash Park types loudly cheered on the Stanley Cup hockey game. Some guys sitting across from us said they liked the bar because it was low-key and never too crazy.
The volume of the hockey game was just right for the sports fans in the place, but a little loud for my friend and I, so we paid up and ascended back up to the street, where the rest of the neighborhood continued doing what it does (jog, walk dogs, mow lawns), oblivious to our underground adventure in the newest bar in their midst.