Out in Denver for a trade show last fall in the Denver Tech Center area, some of my colleagues and I were looking for a place close by to have dinner one evening. We didn't want anything fancy, we definitely wanted a place that had a good selection of beer, and we wanted some place that would be comfortable and laid back. Someone suggested the Tavern Tech Center, which was less than a five minute drive from our hotel. Four of us took off for dinner at the Tavern.
The Tavern in the Denver Tech Center is one of six Tavern restaurants in the Denver area and are part of the the Tavern Hospitality Group which also oversees four other bars/restaurants including The Soiled Dove Underground (which evolved from the original Soiled Dove, a dueling piano bar that eventually became a live music venue for bands and musical artists).
Frank Schultz was a Denver native living in Philadelphia working for a metal salvage company and for an auto-towing company his father owned. His mother, Terry Papay, was looking to open a unique style of bar/tavern and Frank decided he'd move back to Denver to help her out. A year after moving back, Schultz - who had no background in running a bar or restaurant - helped his mother open The Soiled Dove dueling piano bar. It was the second dueling piano bar in Denver opened weeks after Sing Sing (which closed a little over five years ago). The Soiled Dove was located in an old warehouse that had supposedly been the site of a brothel one hundred years before and it took its name from an early 20th century Old West term for a prostitute.
Schultz decided to try some other live music one time and he brought in a band to play at The Soiled Dove. He soon found that the nights he had bands were more popular than the dueling pianos. He chucked the dueling piano concept in 1999 and went to live music only. It wasn't long that The Soiled Dove gained a national reputation for having some of the best up and coming and nationally-known artists playing on their stage. The Soiled Dove hosted the likes of John Mayer, Bruce Hornsby, Susan Tedeschi, The Indigo Girls and Blues Traveler in their first year.
Looking to get into the restaurant/bar business, Papay and Schultz opened the first Tavern in Denver's Uptown neighborhood in 2002. While the concept was popular, Schultz soon found that having just a regular bar menu of wings, burgers and fried foods was boring to his customers. He got rid of the original menu and instituted a more upscale menu consisting of pan-roasted salmon, grilled-fish tacos, and roasted beer can chicken.
The Tavern became even more of a hit and they decided to open a second location in 2006 and they picked the Soiled Dove location near Coors Field for the new Tavern Downtown. With a large roof top bar, the Tavern Downtown became one of the top places in downtown Denver to go to. They opened a third location - Tavern Lowry - the same year in the Lowry neighborhood of Denver and moved the Soiled Dove into the basement of that location, renaming it the Soiled Dove Underground.
Two years later, Papay and Schultz opened the Denver Tech Center Tavern location, then opened the Tavern Wash Park the historic Old South Gaylord district near Washington Park. A fifth Tavern opened in Littleton, CO in 2011, and a sixth location along S. Pearl Street in Platt Park opened in early 2016. There are also Tavern outlets at Coors Field and at Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High. (The Tavern Hospitality Group also oversees a popular country rock bar - Cowboy Lounge - located in downtown Denver; along with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a whiskey-centric bar in the renovated Union Station, as well as Chopper's Sports Grill in the Cherry Creek area of Denver.
The Tavern Tech Center is located in a strip of restaurants and stores between Denver Tech Center Boulevard and S. Park Terrace Ave. (see map) There was plenty of parking out front when we pulled in around 8 p.m.
Inside the restaurant, the Tavern looks like an upscale sports bar. There's a large bar area with a number of flat screen televisions hanging on mounts around the bar and on the walls. The bar area was lively and loud. There's also a roof top bar area at the Tavern, but they had it closed off on what was a cool and somewhat drizzly evening.
There is a dining area at the Tavern that is decidedly more low-key than the bar. It featured high-backed booths, an array of Edison lights hanging from the ceiling, and a more quiet atmosphere than the bar.
Unfortunately, they weren't seating people any longer in the dining area and we were shown to a corner booth in the bar area. Menus were dropped off and it wasn't long before our server - a young lady who went by the name of Jazz - came over to take our drink orders. I got a can of the Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale to start out. (I had a couple of the Dale's Pale Ale, but when I went to order a third one for my dinner, Jazz told me that they had run out. I ended up getting an Alaskan Amber instead.)
It had been awhile since we had eaten lunch and a couple of our guys were very hungry. They had some interesting appetizers on the menu like the crispy pork shanks with a smoky chipotle glaze; Asian chicken lettuce wraps; and seasoned fries smothered in a white cheese sauce and topped with chopped bacon, chopped green onions and gorgonzola cheese.
I was sort of lobbying for the smothered fries, but a couple of the guys out-voted me to go more healthy and we ended up getting the hummus with grilled naan bread, fresh sliced red and yellow peppers, broccoli, and celery. I will say the peppers were fresh, cool, crisp and very tasty.
For my main meal that night, I really didn't know what I wanted. I had a burger earlier in the day and I knew I didn't want that. They had a meatloaf entree on the menu, but I sort of talked myself out of that. They had grilled cod tacos on the menu and I usually get the grilled fish tacos if they're on the menu. But for some reason, I didn't pull the trigger on them this particular evening. They had a turkey and ham croissant club sandwich that was about the only thing that appealed to me on the sandwich part of the menu. I was perplexed as to what to get when Jazz came back to take our orders.
I ended up getting a calzone - sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. The calzone was more thin than most calzones I've had, which was perfectly fine with me. It came with a small bowl of a marinara sauce with melted cheese on top. The calzone was crispy on the outside with plenty of the three ingredients inside. Mozzarella cheese oozed from the sides of the calzone. The marinara sauce was a little sweet and spicy, and it went very well with the calzone. I wasn't expecting much from the calzone at the Tavern, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with what I ordered. At the end of the meal I wasn't full, but I certainly wasn't hungry.
A couple of my colleagues went with the fish and chips, a traditional beer-battered deep-fried North Atlantic cod served with the seasoned Tavern fries and coleslaw, and served with both cocktail and tartar sauces. The two cod pieces were large cup and the beer-batter on the fish was light and fluffy and it looked tasty. And the guys said that it was tasty.
My other colleague went with the grilled flank steak with Tavern fries and the vegetable of the day, which were green beans. It was a large chunk of flank steak with a lot of fries and green beans on the plate. It came with a sherry peppercorn sauce. The steak looked good and my colleague said that it was very good. It would have been perfect to throw some strips of the flank steak into some taco shells, add some grilled onions and peppers, and top it off with some guacamole and pico de gallo.
Not exactly knowing what we were getting into when we went to the Tavern in the Tech Center area of Denver, I'd have to say that each of us were more than happy with our meals. The menu has a wide array of foods to choose from and they're all upscale from just regular sports bar foods. We were also happy with the service we had that evening - Jazz kept checking back on beers and drinks for us in a timely fashion. I'm guessing that each of the Tavern locations around Denver are similar as far as atmosphere and the quality of the food. If they're all like the one in the Tech Center, I don't think you'll be disappointed. (Photo courtesy Lovely Denver.)