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When I discovered Chowhound—back at the turn of the millennium—it was a bare-bones message board for gastronomic misfits who subscribed to the front-page manifesto of its founder, Jim Leff: “Foodies eat where they’re told,” he wrote. “Chowhounds blaze trails.” I was just starting out as a food writer, and it read like a call to arms.
Today, Leff’s scrappy sanctuary for geeks “who know where the good stuff is” has morphed into a slick CBS-run resource for, you guessed it, foodies. And I’ve become all too aware that writers viewed as gastronomic trailblazers from one angle may look like cultural interlopers from another. And yet the Chowhound in me still yanks the leash: I’ll always believe that sniffing out the smallest hole-in-the-wall is a more critical mission than splurging at the latest hot spot. At the very least, I might taste a dish I’ve never tried. At best, I may actually learn something from a new (to me) experience—about the cuisine in question, about the part of the world it comes from, maybe even about myself and my own assumptions, good or bad.
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So come with me on this web series tour of hidden gems in and around Denver. And if you have any favorites off-the-beaten path, please share them with us on Facebook or Twitter.
What defines a true Irish pub? Some cite the bar staff’s ability to pull a proper Guinness; others say the two-part pour is a gimmick. Some might scour the menu for shepherd’s pie, colcannon, and boxty—but good luck finding much of that here in Denver. Even if you do find a few across-the-pond specialties, they’re likely to be sandwiched between wings, burgers, and all of the usual sports-bar suspects. It’s just the American way.
As a former longtime resident of Boston (Ireland’s U.S. capital), I find pub historian Bill Barich’s description (provided in an interview with Bon Appétit) of what makes a true Irish pub rings true—it’s all about atmosphere. First, a pub’s decor doesn’t change much with the times, says Barich: “They’re like museums, [the owners] curate them.” Second, despite their stateside associations with debauchery, “The really good ones…are still kind of quiet. They might have traditional music, guitars and fiddles and all of that, but the conversation has to flow.”
What does this all mean for Denverites? Other than Nallen’s, I can’t think of a local establishment that meets the standard as well as Clancy’s Irish Pub.
Comically, both spots bill themselves as the oldest Irish pub in Denver. Perhaps the conflict is explained by the fact that Clancy’s is actually in Wheat Ridge. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that Clancy’s has weathered two closures in its 44-year history, one due to fire and the other to a move. But on a recent visit, a friend who used to frequent the original location swore it looked nearly identical. Certainly Barich’s reference to a museum echoes throughout the four-room space, with its well-worn wood floors, its scattered antiques—a lamppost here, a wall phone there—and memorabilia covering every available surface, from the ubiquitous beer swag and shamrock decorations to random pictures of groundhogs and framed slogans reading, say, “Take That Yuppie S**t Back to Boulder.” It’s the proper mix of quaint, comfy, and quirky that you look for in a pub.
As for the food and drink, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect this far from Dublin, no more and no less. Of course there’s the requisite Guinness, Jameson, and Tullamore Dew, but there’s also offerings from Upslope Brewing Company, Avery Brewing Company, and Breckenridge Brewery. There’s beef stew and fish and chips, but there’s also a twist on a Cubano sandwich, called the Irish Castro (I wrote about it here), as well as Irish nachos—potato chips smothered in chunks of corned beef, braised lamb, and more—and an unapologetically American appetizer of avocado-and-asparagus fries. Let the purists dismiss them as guilty pleasures—I say they’re just pleasures.
7000 W. 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge, 720-456-7320