Because stained glass is classy, that’s why.
My perception of Nob Hill Inn is admittedly colored by a particularly eventful New Year’s Eve family excursion to Denver’s Colfax Avenue, a stretch of road adjacent to Denver’s downtown area among the most diverse in the country. Though the slow creep of gentrification is slowly transforming what was once known as “the bad part of town,” the wave hasn’t yet hit Nob Hill Inn, preserving the ability for Colfax’s oldest dive bar to create New Year’s Eve memories that both start and end with stumbling into, around and out of the bar flanked by a cast of characters it’s hard to imagine existing anywhere else.
Because Nob Hill Inn sits just a couple of blocks away from Denver’s Capitol, the nerve center of the kind of “official” part of Denver’s downtown area, there is no end to the stream of actors that stagger onto the stage at Nob Hill (figuratively). On one recent daytime visit, that meant a scattered group of day drinkers huddled over High Life’s watching a Rockies game and intermittently yelling at the screen, at the bartender, at each other. This is a bar for regulars if there ever was one, daily drinkers mixing with whatever the sign can attract off of Colfax.
A casual review of Yelp, Google and various news stories written about the bar uncovers all manner of tall tale and with the benefit of having visited Nob Hill a handful of times, really anything sounds plausible given the atmosphere, the location and the beer pricing. And though there are of course stories that involve bar fights and the like, it cannot be stressed enough that the vibe inside of Nob Hill is casual and friendly, a stark contrast from decades past where Colfax and Nob Hill’s surrounding area infused a little more danger in the drinking.
Unsurprisingly given its location and the long storied history of Colfax Avenue itself, Nob Hill Inn’s history stretches a considerable distance, tracing its roots to a bar opening in the same space in 1937 before changing the name to Nob Hill Inn in 1954. Though no doubt improvements have taken place since the 1950s, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the entire interior is original, from the stained glass windows that filter in the Colfax Avenue sunshine to the red, cushioned booths that line the exterior walls.
In the middle of the space sits the simplest of horsehoe bars, an oasis in the middle of the tiny room that creates the community vibe so often cited as the reason regulars keep coming back. Dark wood paneling, supported by the stained glass windows throughout, makes for a dim, low light ambiance at pretty much all hours of the day, again underscoring that this is the kind of dive bar that could rightfully call itself a ‘lounge’ more than anything else. Dim lighting, old fixtures, the warm glow of the windows, the clutch of regulars in a circle in the middle of the room, it’s a picture that’s easy to paint.
Of course, what would a dive bar be without a little questionable artwork and Nob Hill Inn is no exception, a series of 1970s-era paintings still visible in pockets, including one particularly attractive depiction of a clown and assembled crowd. A patio out back offers the chance to escape the subdued lighting for a bit, but the Nob Hill Inn interior is the star here, and rightfully so.
Denver is the kind of town that embodies a sense of romanticism just by nature of where it sits and how its story unfolded. Colfax Avenue provides that very same feeling, a corridor that over the years has wavered from downright dangerous to something a little less intimidating today. But the history and diversity in color is still very much alive and Nob Hill Inn is a perfect manifestation of all of those forces in the form a neighborhood dive bar. Dark room, round bar, cheap drinks, regular locals, Nob Hill Inn is not just a dive bar but rather a slice of what Denver and Colfax Avenue were built upon.