I've always enjoyed Three Lions
—- officially named Three Lions, A World Football Pub —- even before it was Three Lions. Back in my early days in Denver, I was a fan of the Bank, which was the previous bar housed in the space at 2239 East Colfax Avenue. The Bank had an extreme ladies' night involving lots of two-for-one drink specials, so my friends and I used to frequent it when I first moved to the Cheesman Park neighborhood twelve years ago. Technically, by being located on the north side of Colfax, Three Lions Pub is considered to be part of the City Park West neighborhood, but it is a local watering hole for all the nearby ’hoods practically piled on top of each other, including Capitol Hill, City Park, Cheesman Park and Congress Park. The bar was the Bank for several years; before that it was the York Street Cafe, owned by Scott Diamond, current owner of Pints Pub
. In 2011, local neighborhood-bar group Little Pub Company bought the spot, remodeled it to create a thoroughly executed English pub theme and opened it as Three Lions.
The bar provides an easygoing atmosphere for everyone from couples on dates, to groups of friends, to billiards enthusiasts, to soccer fanatics watching teams from all over the world, at all hours. I've been there on a few dates over the years, and there were probably at least three couples in the house when my friend and I stopped in on a recent weeknight. The various nooks and crannies and booths throughout the cavernous space provide privacy if you want it, while the huge tables and open areas create a place to socialize in large groups. My friend and I chose a seat at the bar, which was relatively empty because everyone else was sitting in the booths being couples or playing pool at the two tables on the far side of the bar's main floor.
We were greeted enthusiastically by the bartender, who told me he knew about my explorations because his other gig is at Jefferson Park Pub, one of my early bar excursions
in northwest Denver. Putting my newfound glimmer of Denver fame aside for a moment, I realized that I still needed to order a beer and act like I put my pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. There were many English beers on the list, so the barkeep offered some advice on choosing a brew, and I went with a Fuller's London Pride Ale, one of a few options from a well-known English brewer. We had already eaten, but folks in the rest of the bar were definitely chowing down on British favorites like fish and chips and curries. Also on the menu: bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, various pasties (a cross between a dumpling and a pot pie) and a full English breakfast. On weekends, and sometimes other days when there's an early international football game, the bar opens at 9 a.m. (and for English Premier League, FA Cup, La Liga and F1 Racing, sometimes as early as 4 a.m.) and serves all kinds of breakfast, English and otherwise.
My friend and I chatted about life and watched an international curling competition on the TV right above our heads. You're never far from televisions in the huge, two-level bar with ultra-high ceilings, showing all manner of sports competitions. But something about curling is oddly soothing to watch, and I am slowly learning to understand the parallels between curling and shuffleboard, a bar game I have gotten to know well during my tavern travels.
From the private area upstairs, you can see the whole bar. The chalkboard football standings and specials are updated weekly using a ladder, a task which, according to general manager Joe Sturges, is one of the trickiest parts of his job.
The bartender had some brief thoughts for us as he jetted among the various customers in the bar that night; we talked about curling, the neighborhood, and the fact that there are a surprising number of soccer fans from different countries living in Denver. A gaggle of couples in their forties joined us on nearby bar stools to thaw out from a trip to Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens, unwrapping themselves from tangles of scarves and hats. A few other stray solo patrons also came in to shake off the cold.
One guy sat alone at one of my favorite spots at Three Lions, the table taps. A few tables throughout the place have beer taps built into them that work by measuring the amount of beer poured out and charging accordingly. Three Lions was a pioneer in this field, one of the first places in town to debut this sort of at-your-table booze-dispensing system. I remember getting really excited when the bar first opened and some friends and I headed in to experiment with self-pouring. I'm not quite sure what is so awesome about the concept, but it seems very American, despite being in an English bar. It's the same idea that makes those touch-screen soda machines so compelling: You can get different kinds of soda, as much of each one as you want, when you want them, and you can even mix them. Not that it seems like a good idea, as a rule, to mix beers, but the idea of pouring your own pint (or just a few ounces) from a robot tap right in front of you is probably where the world is eventually heading anyway. Years from now I will be writing with a sense of nostalgia about classic bars that still employ real bartenders and not just robots.
Your personal beer table robot has got you covered at Three Lions.
Robot takeover of the world notwithstanding, Three Lions isn't just about getting drunk without having to move from your booth. As mentioned before, soccer games of all kinds, at all times, are big. American Football, as they call it in Europe, is also allowed, even encouraged, on Sundays, as well as Formula One racing, which apparently happens early on Sunday mornings since races are nearly always broadcast from several time zones away. Wednesday nights draw the trivia crowd with Geeks Who Drink Trivia, while the upstairs gets rented out regularly for private parties and fundraisers for Denver Street Fraternity (a nearby leadership development and drop-in program for Denver youth) and various East High School sports teams and clubs, especially the rugby team. Also for the teachers and students at East, lunch deals are available every day that school is in session. After school, when the bar is adults-only, the crowd tends to be younger and more international than at many other bars on this stretch of East Colfax, but locals stop in as well for beers and bar food. According to general manager Joe Sturges, the clientele is a mix of "destination" fans in search of their particular soccer game or other rare sport, tourists in this fairly centrally located part of town, and neighborhood regulars.
Around this time of year, Three Lions celebrates by participating as a stop on the annual "Colfax Crawl" benefiting St. Joseph's Food Bank on December 23. The bar closes for Christmas day, the only day all year that the doors are closed. Boxing Day, known to Americans as the day after Christmas, is a big party every year at the pub, with football matches starting well before sunrise.
Although these celebrations will have come and gone by the time you read this, not to worry: There are other good things coming up. New Year's Eve is an all-day affair, with the bar opening early for 5 a.m. English Premier League football and the party going on all night to ring in the New Year. And the remainder of December will still offer the current "football beer special": $6 for a twenty-ounce pour of Karlsberg. For other upcoming events, see the Three Lions website
Clearly there is no shortage of things to do at Three Lions now or in the foreseeable future. So grab a pint and enjoy any sport you want, chat with a new friend at the bar, shoot a little pool, or drink to your heart's content from a table tap. Although this bar pays homage to Europe and many other countries in decor, food and sports choices, you'll know you are on good old Colfax Avenue in the U.S. of A. when you spot a group of Colorado bros getting really excited about their very own table-mounted beer dispenser.