Walnut Room

Daniel's mad because he can't bring booze into the green room. "I mean, what the fuck?" he whisper-screams into my left ear as local singer-songwriter Ryan.Mad.son channels Howie Day to a half-dozen people standing by the stage of the Walnut Room (3131 Walnut Street). "The whole hallway of rehearsal spaces back there reeks like weed, and we can't bring our drinks?" We're in the live room — a narrow, mostly soundproof space with a capacity of maybe 200 in the back of the Walnut's main bar and restaurant area. Daniel, a friend of mine from high school and musician-for-hire who's currently on tour with Chicago head case Cameron McGill, is holding a whiskey in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. "See for yourself," he insists, pointing at a spray-painted message on the door to the green room/rehearsal-space hallway that reads "No Alcohol Beyond This Point."

"Bummer, dude." I mumble-shout in condescension. "Wanna smoke?"

On our way to the spacious outdoor patio, we must first shimmy, slide and excuse-me our way through the restaurant/bar area, which is completely slammed with twenty- and thirty-somethings eating specialty pies and carrying on at all volumes. I've been here a few times before and never experienced anything like this — but it's Thursday night, and PBRs are just $2.

Outside, we light up and immediately notice that the speakers are pumping Alkaline Trio, and not the Auto-Tuned-to-all-hell brand-new album, either; old songs, back to back, even. I am impressed — but then, not counting pizza, loud rock music is kinda what the Walnut Room does best, on both sides of the live-room door. Mid-smoke, an intensely nervous guy with patches of poorly shaved stubble and a pair of unsettling eyeballs bouncing around like pinballs in his sockets asks me for a light. He looks away — and I mean really looks away, craning his neck and everything — when I hand my lighter to him and when he hands it back. Then he paces a semi-circle around our table, back and forth, until he sucks through his entire butt some ninety seconds later.

"That was weird," I say to no one in particular.

Back inside, Mags and I go to the food window and order an $11, twelve-inch 'za with one topping, then to the bar to request another round of drinks. As we try to cross back over the live-room threshold so that poor Ryan will have more warm bodies to pretend he's not counting, the door guy makes us pour our cocktails into plastic — more despotic booze rules. "Red wine in plastic," Maggie says sardonically. "Gre-e-a-a-t."

When Ryan's set ends and Daniel is backstage doing whatever ironically mustached dudes wearing ten-day-old black dress slacks and lizard-skin boots do to warm up, we both use the bathrooms — bathrooms, by the way, that surely rival any comfort station Jesus might be using to take his Sunday-morning shits in heaven — and hear our pizza order hollered over the P.A. We pick up our feast and proceed to devour it quickly and completely over the course of our third round of firewaters. Then we high-five, because we're that awesome.

Cameron McGill & What Army finally comes on around 9:30 p.m. and plays its first song to enough sets of attentive ears to make the live room feel crowded. Daniel slays entire infantries with his ax (his talent is immense); Cameron breaks enough weeknight hearts to land three doe-eyed girls at my house after the show (those band-aids owe me like ten cans of PBR); and I am so five-beers-and-six-Italian-sausage-slices deep that I accidentally stay up around the fire pit in my back yard with What Army until 4:30 a.m.

Wishing the whole time I had leftover pie.

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Drew Bixby

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