Campus Lounge 2.0 – A Review

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.”

He’s right.

CL 17 4
The hockey and Bronco memorabilia are gone and replaced with an eclectic mix of art.

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”.

CL 17 3
Yellow neon rings accent the plain horseshoe bar –  a tip of the hat to the neon exterior

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 food menu is ideal for adventurous eaters

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.

CL 17 6
The pool table is gone – relaxed by additional seating

 

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.

 

18 thoughts on “Campus Lounge 2.0 – A Review”

  1. I’ve never been more disappointed than the new campus lounge. As someone who has been a fan for 40 years . I don’t know how many DU
    Hockey games I’ve watched there
    And enjoyed every minute.
    My husband and I went last week and the first thing he comedy on where the TVs as we thought we’d watch some of the World Series . The menu was disappointing as where are the onion rings and grilled cheese sandwiches ?
    They didn’t even have Diet Coke instead some Boulder beverage that was supposed to taste like Diet Coke !
    I know they wanted a new look but for
    Beverages and light dinner our bill $60 .
    I won’t return

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Denver has plenty of hipster eateries like the new Campus Lounge already.

    What Denver lacks is places with an authentic soul. The old Campus Lounge, however dirty it was, at least had that soul.

    From the sounds of things, it looks like they threw that baby out with the bathwater….

    Sic Transit Gloria.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish they would change the name and remove the exterior, its an insult to a legend. The legend is gone, thats OK I guess, time moves on wether we like it or not. But please don’t try to lay claim to anything the real Campus Lounge had (obviously they don’t want any of the old patrons by what has been done to interior). I have nothing against the new owners. I just won’t be stopping by.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i went in for a look – too full to eat or drink. interesting and familiar in an odd way. sadly, it still smells like the old campus lounge as far as i could sense. i didn’t check the bathrooms either – might not be as much of an issue these days if people aren’t going to watch hours of games; i’m ok with no tvs, by the way. i’ll go back and try the food – see what i think. i do love the fish under the old neon and look forward to checking out the art more closely. i was really sad to see The Campus Lounge go the way of the Dodo – change is hard; this is where we are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you wanted a wanted a 60-year old frat or sports neighborhood dive should seek out another beer-soaked 60-year-old dive. I loved the old Campus for the great things it did on its menu and will miss the green chili, cheap steaks and chili rellenos etc. but you have to REALISTICALLY ask yourself what you expect someone buying a venerated neighborhood dive to do. If they wanted to spend a bazillion dollars keeping it like it was to satisfy YOU, why bother dumping a bazillion dollars into it?
      If I want a neighborhood dive like back home in Chicago, I’ll go to the many that are still out there. This isn’t Bonnie Brae neighborhood in 1950. Get over it!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Luckily for the new Campus Lounge, it seems to be located in a area without upscale competition close by. However, It does not sound like a place one would visit often unless the food is special. More moderately priced entrees without fluff could attract people in the area to visit more often. From your reviews, I’m not getting the impression that the CL is a repeat customer destination. No matter, good luck to the new owners.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kubin.
    You are missing the main point. What you are explaining is correct.Therefore the name Campus lounge SHOULD BE ELIMINATED. The upscale new clientel that you accurately describe has nothing to do with what the old Campus lounge.

    The Pioneer on University is now the place for Pioneer fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Chuck-Thanks for telling us where we should or shouldn’t go. We aren’t in Chicago and we don’t have the option of another “dive bar”. Especially one that is steeped in DU hockey tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. People chill out. If people want the old Campus Lounge, then there is no one to “blame” except Mr. Wiste who sold it. But I submit that there is no blame, only happiness or disappointment with the new concept. The market for the new Campus Lounge will show whether there is more happiness or disappointment. I personally hoped that the new place would feel similar to the old place, and not be too antiseptic. If I’m disappointed on that front, then the only thing that will draw me in will be an awesome menu.

    I haven’t been in yet, and I’m hoping that the place isn’t too neat, tidy, or lacking character. And if it is, then I’ll go elsewhere, not going to rant and rave about what a business owner does with a property that the old owner no longer wanted to run. The market will speak, and I’m guessing the market will be critical if the place feels nothing like the old lounge.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It will be hard to forget the 21st birthdays toasted around the old horseshoe bar in my student days. The days of the Wiste Campus and those before are gone. The memories are not.
    To paraphrase[I] You Can’t Go Home Again[/] by Thomas Wolfe, If you try to return to a place you remember from the past it won’t be the same. …

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When you get to be 70 years old, you are entitled to enjoy the fruits of your life’s labors, and unload, if you can, those aspects of life that don’t bring you joy anymore. Jim Wiste did a great job for 40 years running the place – creating a very unique no-frills vibe that stood the test of time, changing tastes and the very definition of a neighborhood bar in a city like Denver.

    When he sold it (and that’s something all bar owners should do if there is no one in the family who wants to take it on), the new owner, Dan Landis, faced choices. He had bought a 60 year-old brand name that he chose to keep. The plus side of that choice is all the goodwill that comes to the new place from the long-standing reputation of the previous place. When you choose to keep the name, conventional wisdom tells you are telling the world that you value what has come before, and that customers should expect at least some of the experience of the old place. From what I can tell, he kept the name, the sign and little else. Perhaps Landis will win out with the new place – it’s certainly an upscale neighborhood and upscale people can afford the duck meatballs and fancy cocktails. I wish them well.

    Bars can go through many iterations in their lifetime. For example, in the 40s and 50s, the Stadium Inn was a DU bar with letter jackets, pennants and fight songs. By the 70s and 80s, it was a biker bar that most DU fans avoided. Today, the bikers are gone and it’s a safer place with cheap drinks and a sticky floor.

    My sense is that DU hockey fans have already lost a favorite watering hole as the new Campus Lounge targets a different crowd. We’ll certainly take our business to other places, but the Campus Lounge we relied on for all of these years is gone.

    And for longtime DU fans, it’s sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Good post. Swami. I agree with your thoughts on Jim Wiste–certainly an understandable decision to leave the old Campus behind. Also sorry to hear your assessment that the new place bears little resemblance to the old. I haven’t looked at their drink menu yet, but I would warn them of a backlash against pricey cocktails. I’ve indulged in my share of 10-15 dollar cocktails over the years, but I’m pretty much “over it” now. No longer impressed with sage and lavender in my drink, and I’m quite tired of racking up 60 bar tabs for a couple rounds of cocktails for two people. I’m guessing others feel the same. So they better have some good deals on their bar menu, and good happy hour specials.

    Honestly, I wonder if the main reason that they kept the Campus Lounge name was because of the backlash they would have received if they removed the neon sign. (And the fact that the neon sign is cool.) Quite possible that the neon sign was only reason they kept the Campus name.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yikes, the place is getting hammered on Yelp…I was one who defended the new owners’ right to do what they want, but it sounds like they made some poor choices, and lost all ambiance. Why did they think that a really bright place with yellow walls was a good idea for the Campus Lounge? I hate to make comments without having gone there, but I am very disappointed about others’ comments on the joint.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am the skeptical dude with the comment directly above. I went to the Campus Lounge tonight.. .and I think it’s really good! I think they got rid of some yellow lighting, and now it has a good ambiance, a reddish glow. Bar area is cool, can’t speak to the separate dining area. The food was really good, esp the sesame cauliflower, which is the bomb. Small but good beer selection. And service at the bar was good and friendly. I expected to be disappointed, but I was impressed. Looking forward to trying other items on the menu, as Landis is known for good eats. Anyway, it’s a lot different, but I like it after first visit. Hope it holds up over time. Check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

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