I made two visits to the “new” Campus Lounge before writing this review. And it takes several visits to clear your memories of the “old” campus lounge to fairly judge the new place.
The unchanged exterior has a fresh coat of pastel paint and conjures up thoughts of a warm gathering place situated in the heart of the Bonnie Brae neighborhood. How would the new horseshoe bar compare to the old one? Would there be DU and Bronco memorabilia on the walls? Or maybe patrons would be stunned to see DU hockey legend Keith Magnuson’s mural carefully preserved for future generations to behold? Was the decor more upscale and urban or was it a neighborhood eatery where everybody knows your name? And the food – what about that? After 14 months of work and delays, this place was certain to dazzle, right?
The proprietor Dan Landis told 9News several days earlier, “”I’m nervous just because I know not everybody is gonna love it.”
First glimpse: It was not the old dingy, beer soaked Campus lounge – o.k., things change. It did not pay homage to sports, the neighborhood’s roots, the University or the city – that’s o.k., too. A ribbon of yellow neon light around the soffit above the simple horseshoe bar cast a pale light over patrons. A random collection of art in various styles, sizes and frames hung from the walls. Walnut sheet paneling lined several walls and the wainscoting along the left wall was made of the same 70’s material. The floors were unchanged and the outline of old bar stool spots still remain. Vinyl booths gave the place a retro vibe. The kitchen is open and stainless with cooks wearing “Campus” t-shirts. New drywall covered the rest of the place. You know the idea, by cleverly putting things together that are not meant to be together, you somehow create perfect disharmony. A recent DU grad told me it was “urban-hipster – without the plaid”.
There were no TV’s in the main dining room but music played softly in the background. The imposing horseshoe bar is gone and a simple, clean pine horseshoe bar sits in its place. This clearly is not a place designed for sports viewing, it is a neighborhood eatery.
Bar Snacks are made from scratch and included some unusual selections to include beet pickled eggs, duck meatballs and Halloum fries (fried cheese sticks). Many of the items such as kej toast and KFC required menu inspection to figure out the ingredients. Not the adventurous type, I ordered the campus burger ($13.00) at the bar. The bartender was very attentive (as were all the other employees I talked to during my two visits). The burger was big, a bit dry and over-cooked but the toppings and french fries (you can order real french fries but I could not find them on the menu) were very good.
There were large plates on the menu to include more customary fare such as steak, fish, shrimp and pork – but they added adult spaghetti O’s for weirdness.
And my Coors Banquet beer was cold.
I do feel that the menu positioned itself perfectly for DU fraternity rush week where pledges would be shuffled to the Campus Lounge and forced to “eat beet pickled eggs, nappa slaw and burger bone marrow within five minutes – and you are in!” (That’s a joke – we don’t want to have another DU fraternity shut down.)
The Campus Lounge offers boutique cocktails in the $10 dollar range along with IPA’s, cider and craft beers ($6/7) and a few domestics to include Coors Banquet and Montucky Cold Snack ($4/3). Wine, mostly California, is $9/12 a glass. Want to go big time? You can order the Robert Foley cabernet for $170/bottle or Andre Jacquart Experience CH, NV for $148. The bottles generally run $50.00 and up for domestic and international wine. The drink menu is multifarious, like the decor. But, hey you can get a big burger and a beer for $20.00 – not a bad deal.
The only TV in the place was an old projection unit stuffed unceremoniously in the back (former) game room along with a juke box , some gaming machines and a photo booth. At the far end of the room is extensive seating for diners surrounded by stark white drywall and a large sound baffling bronze wall design on the south wall.
I always wish new businesses the best – they put their blood, sweat and tears into their enterprise. And, I expect the Campus Lounge will adapt to their neighborhood clientele over time. They did save the iconic neon exterior. The Campus Lounge also purchased a prominent ad on the Magness Arena hockey boards – so they are working to connect with the University community as well.
The bar could use a couple of flat screen TV’s. Denver loves sports and it would likely boost neighborhood visits. Even some of Denver’s most upscale restaurants have TV’s, at least in their bars. And I understand the idea of offering diners a new taste experience but why not also offer some less exotic appetizers for meat-and-potato customers (chicken wings, potato skins, and fried mushrooms). It’s not “selling out” – its just selling.
Still, I would suggest you give it a try and see what you think. And remember, the old Campus Lounge was quirky, weird and unusual, too. It may take several visits to give the place a fair try.
Still, as currently configured it feels more suitable for downtown Seattle – or even Denver Highlands or LoDo. Maybe its best that Keith Magnuson never set his gaze on the new place.