Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the steps of my favorite Denverite

"Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!' - Jack Kerouac, "On the Road"

I have this obsession with Neal Cassady. A rather large one. To the extent that John Leland once told me to be careful about it. The obsession has settled down quite a bit since my early 20s but I still have this unnatural affection for Neal and the places in Denver where he used to hang out. My favorite of all these places, surpassing Charlie Browns or even my own high school (I think he attended it for two years; he obviously didn’t graduate), is My Brother’s Bar.

It’s been nearly a year since my last visit. It’s a difficult for me to go there after giving up meat; kind of like spending time on an awesome smoking patio after recently giving up smoking – too much temptation. I miss the Ralphie Johnny burger, I’ll admit it. If I ever start eating meat again, that will probably be where it starts. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been there in so long.

This particular night I had already eaten a ridiculous amount of Vietnamese appetizers, so when my friend suggested burgers and beer, I decided it was time to return to My Brother’s Bar.

The bar can be described in four words: old, dark, wooden and classical music. Okay, five words. The classical music is an important feature though. For one, the music softly escaping the speakers outside the entrance is one of the only ways to verify that the bar is open without actually checking the door. From the outside, it never looks open. But the music also defines the bar. What other burger joints do you know play Beethoven?

By the time I arrived, Liz had already made friends with the bartenders. So I plopped down in the barstool next to her and handed her new friend my ID.

Of all my visits to this place, this one made me feel closest to my favorite Beat. Before this, I had never sat at the bar before. It’s a whole different experience. I can’t imagine the bar itself has changed much since Neal’s day. The cash register is one of those old school machines with the nickel-sized buttons that resembles Denver’s most famous sky scraper. The kind that take as much time to process one entry that a modern day machine takes to total an entire order.

It’s easy to imagine the laid-back bar staff allowing a remarkably charming, broke man to run up quite a tab here back in the day. They chatted with us quite a bit and even made jokes when I started taking photos of the bar. I’ve never had problems with the service here, but sitting at the bar there’s a new level of friendliness – like what you’ll find at a touristy bar, without the we’re-trying-to-prove-how-awesome-our-city-is element.

When one of the bartenders started putting a cocktail together for someone else Liz asked what he was making. I’m certain that our expressions showed familiarity with the drink when he responded “lemondrop martini.” Even then, he poured us small servings of the drink, claiming he made too much. Maybe I’ve been visiting the wrong bars, but this has only happened to me in Denver when I’ve already made friends with the bartenders.

My intention was to talk extensively about IPAs, focusing on O’dell’s, the beer I was drinking that night, but I got caught up talking about the bar. But this visit changed my perspective of the restaurant – now I can see it as just a bar, and a bar worth visiting.

And if I get hungry, the jalapeno poppers are still damn good.

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