Whether or not you’ve read “On the Road,” you’re probably aware that Jack Kerouac et. al. spent some time in the Queen City of the Plains. And that means they spent a lot of time in the city’s bars.
And that means you’re likely to hear about it when you visit or read about any of Denver’s oldest watering holes. Even when the bars themselves don’t advertise it, historians, fans and my fellow journalists rarely miss a chance to mention that Kerouac, Neal Cassady or Allen Ginsberg drank there.
People really love the Beats, man.
So, here’s a list of Denver’s oldest bars and the 411 on whether or not the Beats drank there.
715 E. 26th Ave.
The 715 Club sat closed and crumbling for a long time, but in honor of its long history and recent re-opening, we’re counting it.
As is the case with some other bars on this list, there doesn’t seem to be any proof that the Beats hung out here, but it’s a pretty safe assumption. It was open for business in Five Points when Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg were spending a lot of time there.
1000 Osage St.
The bar and restaurant that boasts the state’s first liquor license has bigger fish to fry/brag about than Jack Kerouac.
In addition to serving “cattlemen, miners, railroad builders, silver barons, Indian chiefs, roustabouts, gamblers, businessmen,” as the website puts it, it’s served presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
2637 Welton St.
Opened: 1930s, as the Casino Cabaret
Yes, we’re fudging this one a little bit. But since Cervantes has picked up the mantle of live music in the building that once housed the Casino Cabaret, we figure it should count.
There’s no proof that Kerouac and Cassady ever went there, but everyone from Visit Denver to 5280 to the Jack Was Here Tumblr says it’s a very safe bet, and they’re not wrong.
Among notable (and confirmable) famous names to grace the Casino Cabaret: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, James Brown, BB King and Ray Charles.
980 Grant St.
Before she married Neal, Carolyn Cassady (née Robinson) was a University of Denver student living at the Colburn Hotel. She met Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg while living there and, according to her biography, she would meet them at the bar downstairs.
No word on whether or not they were prone to sing-alongs around the piano.
Oxford Hotel, 659 Wazee St.
The Cruise Room’s claim to fame: It opened the day after Prohibition was repealed. It also serves great martinis and was modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary.
It underwent some restoration efforts in 2012, but nothing was changed.
723 E. Sixth Ave.
I really enjoy the brazen, nearly evidence-free speculation on this one.
Don’s homepage says, “While no photographic evidence exists, it is a virtual certainty that Jack Kerouac threw back drinks at Don’s during one of his noteworthy Denver stretches.”
They’re probably not wrong.
Also, the first words of that same advertisement are “hot chicks,” which is so disappointing.
I love you, Don’s. Why do you try me?
1330 Glenarm Place
Not only is this one of Denver oldest bars, it’s also the oldest continuously operating press club in the country.
The Denver Press Club — as in the group, not the building — first came together in 1867. After decades in bars and other spaces around the city, the board of directors turned a boarding-house investment property into the bar that stands today.
As far as I can tell, the Beats weren’t hanging around the club.
1962 Market St.
Now, here’s one we’re sure about, though there aren’t any photos. Jerry Krantz, late owner of the Pec, has recalled Kerouac and co. drinking there.
According to a 2014 Huffington Post piece about the bar:
Jerry never charged a cover. You could come at any time and simply sit and listen to good music. You didn’t even have to buy anything.
This was why Jack Kerouac and his crew spent so much time here in 1952. According to Jerry, they’d get high out in the parking lot and then slump in a booth (first one to your right when you enter) and listen to jazz. They didn’t have to buy drinks to sit and listen — Jerry tolerated them for free.
2376 15th St.
Opened: 1873 as Highland House
Denver’s oldest bar has had a handful of names in its lifetime, but not much else has changed.
Back when it was called Paul’s Place, Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg were there often. You’ll find a photo of Kerouac and Cassady outside the bathroom along with a letter Cassady wrote from the Colorado State Reformatory asking a friend to pay off his tab there:
“At the corner of 15th & Platte streets there’s a café called Paul’s Place, where my brother Jack used to be bartender before he joined the army, because of this I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?
The Karagas family, longtime owners of the bar, recently sold to one of their waitresses, Paul Newman, and her son, Danny.
420 E. Colfax Ave.
Because it’s one of Denver’s oldest dives, people generally assume Kerouac and co. would have drank here. Fair enough.
The more commonly touted celebrity visitor, though, is Bob Dylan.
Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th St.
As you surely already know, it’s very, very fancy inside the Brown Palace and its bar, the Ship Tavern. The Beats probably never made an appearance.
But the hotel has frequently housed presidents and other VIPs and is the kind of place you should bring your grandparents for a drink. Especially if they like looking at model wooden ships.
5130 W. Alameda Ave.
The sign says White Horse Bar. The Facebook page says White Horse Saloon. Google says White Horse Lounge. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been around for a long time.
It’s hard to pin down the exact year of its opening, but according to Westword, it’s had the same owner since 1974. And, yes, it is a “genuine dive.”