I've noticed the awning and sign for W.T. Shorty's Sports Grill (990 South Oneida Street) a few times over the years, tucked back in a strip mall off of Leetsdale Drive in Virginia Vale among establishments with names like the Gift Card Shop and David's Kebab House. It always looked like the sort of place I needed to check out —- a neighborhood bar not that far from my neighborhood, just south of my place in Mayfair. My roommate agreed and was considering joining me on a recent Wednesday night; the deal was sealed when we discovered that Wednesday is karaoke night at W.T. Shorty's, according to the bar's website. Actually, maybe it was sealed when we read the tagline on the website: "You can't spell Shorty's without S-H-O-T-S." Whoever came up with that is clearly a marketing genius and deserves our business.
Upon entering the bar, I realized that I had actually been there before, on a terrible date with a guy I had met via Match.com circa 2010. Maybe "terrible" is too strong a word; the guy was just way too into it on our first date and was talking about how he was looking for a wife and regaling me with tales of his sketchy business trading in high-end cars. There is a slightly secluded room of pool tables in an area that's half a level upstairs, and that was where this dude wanted to have dramatic conversations, over a game of eight-ball, about his desire to get married.
At any rate, I spent a little time reintroducing myself to the place, which is filled with wood paneling and mirrors from top to bottom. I re-examined the different little rooms separated by half-floors, the enclosed smoking patio, the various sections filled with booths, bar games and large TVs. I noticed a little alcove that was closed off and full of boxes that appeared to contain new big-screen TVs. It was right after the infamous Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days, so we guessed that the folks at Shorty's had taken advantage of some deals to get new electronics. We decided to pick a table in the cluster of high-tops to the side of the bar, especially after our energetic waitress told us that karaoke would be going down in that general area.
The specials for the evening were $3.50 Smithworks vodka, $10 Denver Beer Co. and 90 Shilling pitchers and $6 burgers. A vodka soda was in order for me, and my roommate got a grilled cheese sandwich, which she gave her stamp of approval. I stole a couple of fries, which had solid seasoning and texture. The menu is mostly taken up by various burger and pizza options, along with a breakfast section. You can order breakfast anytime, but the bar opens at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and at 11 a.m. every other day.
My roommate and I took in the scene, which was pretty happening when we arrived around 7:30 p.m. Lots of groups of mostly younger guys and girls filled the tables near us, a few bros were smoking out on the patio, and a couple of older guys were sitting over on the other side of the bar. No one was playing pool on the many pool tables; also vacant were the Skee-ball, Big Buck Hunter and Golden Tee games. However, a small group of guys and girls were playing Bonus Hole, one of my bar favorites, and a few folks challenged one another to Megatouch electronic games on the side of the bar. An odd mix of music, from Evanescence to classic-rock jams, could be heard coming from the TouchTunes jukebox right next to our seats.
Prominently displayed in our section were posters describing the plethora of weekly specials. Poker Taco Tuesdays are a highlight, with many specials related to Altos tequila and Pacifico beer; $1 or $2 tacos, depending on the type of filling; and Texas Hold ’Em poker at 7 p.m. Poker happens again on Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m., along with college basketball, $15 bottomless mimosas, a Bloody Mary bar and $8 Shock Top pitchers, among other specials. Sundays are all about football, as well — NFL football this time. Free breakfast is available with a two-drink minimum, and the previously described breakfast-drink options are back again on Sundays. The bar is mostly about the hometown Broncos, but is also described as "Steeler- and Packer-friendly." But people come in from all over town, and even tourists passing through come to check out the games they want to watch. With the huge strips of TVs lining the top of almost every section, there are plenty to go around.
Our waitress brought owner Joe Conway over to talk to us. Standing over six feet tall and sporting a beard, Joe jokes that people ask him "Who's Shorty?" or jokingly call him Shorty (or sometimes just "Big Joe"). There is no "W.T. Shorty," by the way. He's a fictional character that Conway's partner, Lindsey Cardiff, and her father created when they opened the place; W.T. Shorty seemed like the sort of random person that would be the namesake of a bar.
Conway told us about the previous bars that had occupied the space, all with golf-related names such as Jackson's Hole, Old Hole and The Hole, because there used to be a twilight golf course next door back in the heyday of the neighborhood's nightlife scene. Conway has only lived in Denver for six years, but he remembers coming to this area back when it was packed to the gills with nightclubs and bars. During those years, the bar used to get packed and even have lines outside to watch games. It was one of the first places in town that had all the sports channels via satellite dish (if anyone remembers what a satellite dish is). But as is the case for many of the bar holdouts in this part of town, the place is now surrounded by stores and fast-food restaurants as the area has evolved away from the club scene. New within the past year or two in the shopping center are a hookah bar and a dispensary. Conway says those businesses have brought in a new crowd that he and his team have welcomed to join the existing neighborhood regulars.
The holidays are coming up, a favorite time of year for the patrons and staff at Shorty's. Regulars and staff hang their stockings on the bar with care, and Cardiff and Conway fill them with candy and other surprises. The bar gets decorated, and there is an annual holiday celebration for the whole crew on December 20. New Year's Eve is also a big event, with a black-tie evening of dancing and drinks, including a free champagne toast and no cover charge at the door.
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After our friendly chat with "Big Joe," he headed off to joke around with the regulars and attend to things in the back. The karaoke lady had arrived and was wheeling in her table and portable karaoke setup: Uncle Dutchie's karaoke, it was called. I later asked the karaoke lady who Uncle Dutchie was, and she responded that — unlike the fictional W.T. Shorty — he is actually her uncle. I suppose I should have figured that at least one offbeat name I heard that night would be real.
There were a few technical glitches in setting up the karaoke apparatus, but the moment my roommate and I were waiting for finally arrived. An older guy with gray dreadlocks and a hat who announced himself as "Dr. Kush" got things started on the stage, which was just a microphone sitting among the tables in our section. The crowd was small, mostly consisting of a guy and a girl sitting at Dr. Kush's table and my roommate and I, because everyone else in the place was seemingly hiding from the karaoke goings-on on the other side of the bar or out on the smoking patio. I was next, and had decided on Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time." The small group remaining seemed to enjoy it, and my roommate (who is also named Sarah) and her rendition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," by Pat Benatar, were also well received. A young bro-ish-looking dude appeared out of nowhere to perform the "Humpty Dance," and then I decided to get up one more time before leaving. Everyone seemed impressed by my ability to successfully spit all rhymes in Lauryn Hill's "Doo-Wop (That Thing)." I was impressed as well, because those vodka sodas were going down smooth and my roommate was our designated driver, so I wasn't entirely sober. After that performance, though,we decided to hit the road. We joked about the fact that although I am by far the oldest person living in my house, my twenty-something roommates both consistently go to bed before eleven, so I figured that we two "granny house" residents needed to get back home for bedtime.
The small karaoke posse seemed dismayed that the "Sarah table," as we had become known in our short tenure, was leaving. As we put on our coats to head home, Dr. Kush was getting on the mic. "Tell your friends about Shorty's. Tell them you met a really fine guy there named Dr. Kush!" he hollered out to us as we walked toward the exit. "And I'm single as hell!"
If including your statements in an article is the same as telling my friends, which it kind of is, consider it done, Dr. Kush. See you next time at W.T. Shorty's — I have a feeling we'll be back soon.