Saturday, November 7, 2009

Setting the bar for Denver's dives

When was the last time you went drinking like it was your job? Well, Drew Bixby has been doing just that throughout Denver for some time now, and as it turns out, it actually has been his job. His new book, Denver's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Mile High City, was recently released by Ig Publishing, in conjunction with Westword, following a series that has already covered Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. How did Bixby end up getting called upon to do this job instead of say, you or me or one of the other 2.5 million people in the metro area? Well, I honestly have no idea, and I don't think he wants to let his secret out either.

You might know Bixby as the author of Westword's weekly "Drunk of the Week" column, covering his experiences at various bars across town, an assignment which no doubt provided him ample opportunity to research the book and maybe have a couple of beers on the company card as well. The book provides a short commentary on each bar, weaving relevant details (opening time, payment options, happy hours) into various anecdotes from at least the more memorable stops. Additionally, each bar is ranked on a scale from one beer bottle ("Your mother would be proud") to five beer bottles ("Your mother might be propositioned by a meth head"), indicating that if your favorite dive bar gets only one beer bottle, you probably also think the bar at Applebee's is worthy of dive status. A second scale, represented by between one and three ironic mustaches, indicates the likelihood of a hipster presence at the bar - quite an important factor to consider given that hipsters love the idea of hanging out with good old working class folk, but can subsequently destroy the ambiance they so crave when they show up in large numbers. While those with differing definitions of dive bars might disagree, it would seem that a rating of five beer bottles and one ironic mustache would indicate the most "divey" of dive bars. These are the type of bars where an "outsider" is anyone who shows up after 2 p.m. (and completely misses morning happy hour).

I am by no means an expert on Denver's dive bars, primarily because most of my excursions to the city involve music venues, which are largely excluded from the book. Nonetheless, Bixby does well to cover the large geographic area of Denver metro, sampling bars of all smells and sizes, from the mammoth honky-tonk Grizzly Rose to the hole-in-the-wall Lion's Lair. It would seem from the book's Web site/blog that Bixby will continue to chronicle new dive bars as he comes upon them, ideally with subsequent editions of the book to follow.

Toward the end of the book, it is quite surprising to find that a section was reserved for a number of Boulder dive bars, especially given the dirty looks one gets in Denver when you mention you live in Boulder. However, I expect this decision likely came down to economics and the publisher's desire to sell a few books in Boulder. None of the Boulder dives rate particularly high on the overall scale, but our most divey bar by a far stretch, the Outback, is still quite tame and in an entirely unseedy area. (It's in Boulder after all). However, it nonetheless gets credit for being the most un-Boulder of all the dive bars covered, which no doubt serves as its claim to fame. All in all, the descriptions are pretty spot-on, and the book maintains the proper "Boulder is too overrun with yuppies and trust fund hippies to be cool" attitude that any self respecting Denverite should espouse. In discussing Catacombs Bar's scrapping of its idea to change to an upscale martini bar, and rather just adding paint and raising prices, Bixby notes that the decision "rules and sucks simultaneously. Like Boulder." Can't argue with you there Drew.

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