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Lately, whenever I get an invite to the opening of a new bar, I tend to expect the worst. (Another day, another theme bar.) That way, if the results are disappointing, I won’t feel cheated. And if by chance the place is actually cool, I end up pleasantly surprised.

I was definitely a bit surprised on Friday at the opening of Spy Bar at the Denver Pavilions. I had expected either another overdone theme bar, or a not-quite-done-enough mall version of a Lodo lounge. But what I found was a snazzy little bar that managed to feel fresh and stylish without being overly contrived.

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Let’s start with the invitation.

A box arrives in the mail, marked “Top Secret” and “Confidential.” Open it up, and I find a teeny tiny little invite. I can’t read the writing because it’s so small, so the sender has kindly included a handy magnifying glass – a la Sherlock Holmes and company – along with a small brass key, which will serve as my entry to the preview party. Pretty cool, I’m thinking.

Friday night, I roll down to meet up with a gal pal and case the joint. Outside, it’s not promising. The bouncers have the dreaded velvet rope up (there’s no freakin’ need for that, seriously guys) but there is no line. I take a deep breath and walk on in.

Inside, it’s packed with looky-loos but I can still get a feel for the space. It’s smallish and narrow, with one long bar to the left and a bank of VIP booths up a step or two on the right. Each VIP area sports a computer monitor of the sort that you might find in the security room of some intelligence agency (or a really paranoid billionaire) and sure enough, you can click around and spy on the bathroom, the entrance, the bar, the dancers, or the much-brighter exterior of the club. Good stuff if you’re being stalked, avoiding annoying friends/exes/enemies, or simply lazy but still want to see what’s up in the rest of the bar.

The big shadow screen at the rear of the lounge draws the attention of everyone — especially the guys — who watch a rotating group of lithe girlies shake their money makers behind the screen. The silhouettes are rather youngish and tentative in my opinion. Show me some bold Bond babes or some sassy Charlie’s Angels silhouettes instead. Where’s Sydney Bristow when you need her? This is the Spy Bar, right?

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Still. It’s different at least, and not too cheesy. I head to the bar, wait patiently for a bartender, and try the Violet Femme martini ($7), a blend of Stoli and Parfait Amour (which lends it a pale violet tint), and a sugared rose petal for garnish. Mission accomplished. So far, so good.

The bathrooms are unisex, making it basically just another lounge area but with sinks and mirrors (all stalls are floor-to-ceiling for privacy) and that’s pretty much the extent of the space. We settle in for a chat, and eventually head back to the bar for a second round. This is where the fun ends. It’s gotten busier inside now, and the staff isn’t up to the task. Despite the many cool features of the Spy Bar, we can’t for the life of us get a bartender to pay attention and take our drink order. Obviously the drinks should be a major attraction at any bar, no matter how sweet the eye candy. Many other thirsty and irritated folks are clustering around, and soon the bad vibes are on my nerves and we decide to make our escape before we hit complete buzzkill. We sneak out quietly.

Across the way at Marlowe’s, we walk right in, grab a bar stool, and immediately get a drink from the cute and friendly bartender. Guess there’s a lot to be said for a straight-up, theme free bar.

Then again, next time I’m out on the town but trying to keep undercover, I might just park it right next to those nifty monitors. You never know when you may need to hide.

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