Along the ever-changing artery of Denver known as Colfax Avenue, some bars change and adapt with the times and the trends, or are bought and sold more times than you can count. In contrast, a few throwbacks like the PS Lounge bravely and defiantly stick to their guns and their traditions, no matter what's going on outside the bar's walls. The PS Lounge is appreciated by many for being an old favorite that provides consistency and a sort of independent spirit, if a bar can have a spirit. When I was a new arrival along the Colfax corridor in the early 2000s, the PS Lounge was one of my first stops with my older, wiser neighbors who knew the ropes in this part of town.
The charm of the PS Lounge stood out to me from the start, when I entered and got the traditional free house shot and single rose that every lady gets upon entering. If that's not hospitality, I don't know what is. The shot is called an Alabama Slammer, and I can't tell what's actually in it by taste alone (although it's been previously documented as a slurry of Southern Comfort, sloe gin and orange juice). However, it reminds me of the juice known as "orange drink" popular with children born before people cared about things like high fructose corn syrup. You might think that I mean that in a bad way, but in fact the house shots are nostalgic in the best way possible. When I was younger and came into the bar, I was usually in a horde of twenty-somethings on a stop along the way to another location, so I never spent much time or effort fully absorbing the environment. It was a novelty, and something I enjoyed, but it wasn't until later that I learned to appreciate the calm vibe of the bar, the funky decor and the weird but friendly regulars.
The bartenders are mostly female, kind but no-nonsense types who know by name the older folks who frequent the bar. The group gathered inside can include anyone from twenty-somethings who work downtown catching up over cheap drinks, hipsters awaiting a show at the Bluebird Theater across the street, clusters of middle-aged dudes playing pool, or old, slightly battle-worn gentlemen who linger at the bar most nights of the week. When I popped in on a recent Tuesday night, a small entourage of young, professional-looking folks was ordering rounds of beers, while a couple sat quietly with mixed drinks at one of the ’70s-era leather booths and a group of girls with multi-colored hair attempted to get a game of pool started.
Not long after my friend and I sat down with our roses and shots, another fixture at the bar just happened to take a seat next to us. It was none other than owner Pete Siahamis, an older Greek fellow who spoke in an animated and friendly way and had just enough of an accent that catching his full meaning required a little concentration. He bought our round of mixed drinks — a common occurrence if Pete is in the house, for regulars and newcomers alike. Siahamis told us stories about the bar, which he opened in 1981, and said it hasn't changed at all since opening. The shots for everyone and flowers for the ladies were his idea, a tradition that hasn't wavered in the intervening decades. He said he likes to think of it as a "girls' bar," which I think is why he hires so many female bartenders and gives female patrons roses. He also said he understands that it's more of a calm, relaxed bar and not a "fired up" bar like some downtown counterparts, and that's okay with him.
The decorations, from the Greek statues behind the bar to the old-school NFL football helmet plaques, which include several teams that no longer exist, have also remained the same, which is something that clearly gives Siahamis a sense of pride. Also adorning the bar are many mementos of both the owner's life and the life of the bar. Photos of all kinds of celebrities, regulars, staff and others adorn the walls. A row of framed stars with names in the center, in the style of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, line the wall above the booths, and each star represents a longtime employee.
Siahamis pointed to a picture of John Wayne and told us about the time he met the Duke when he first came to the U.S. in the 1970s and worked at the Brown Palace. He said that John Wayne looked just like he did in pictures, dressed like a cowboy, and was a big man who stood out in a crowd even when surrounded by an entourage.
After working in various hotels around town, Siahamis began to appreciate classic Denver bars like the Ship Tavern at the Brown Palace, which is why he decided to try his hand at opening his own establishment. We continued to chat about decidedly "old Denver" topics, such as the long-gone Rocky Mountain News; a "Top of the Rocky" award still graces one wall of the bar, along with several awards from various news and ranking outfits. Honors hanging in various parts of the bar include a CitySearch award for Best Jukebox and a Westword Best of Denver award for Best Dive Bar.
It isn't new territory to praise the PS Lounge and the comforting dive-bar experience it provides, but it never hurts to show a Denver institution some love. And for every person who jumps on the PS Lounge bandwagon because they think it's a cool trend, there are two old-timers sitting at the bar cracking jokes to balance things out, so there's no real danger of the place becoming tragically hip any time soon.
As the final strains of Prince's "Purple Rain" played through the jukebox speakers, my friend and I realized that we should probably call it a night if we wanted to make it to our day jobs in the morning. Pete walked us out and gave us a sort of group hug, making a joke about whether or not it's legal to marry two women in Denver. We thanked him for the drinks and the night and the hospitality. I can't help but admire this man and his bar that have remained so much the same over the years. Whether the lounge stubbornly clings to the past or cleverly provides a nostalgic experience, I don't really know, but I don't care, either. It's true that the PS Lounge isn't much of a new discovery, but as a perennial favorite, that doesn't mean it's not worth a visit, whether for the first time, or the first time in a while, or the first time this week.
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