While Denver’s throngs of imbibers certainly appreciate a good neighborhood bar, the culture has never developed around them in nearly the same way as it did in the Midwest. From Milwaukee to Chicago to Duluth, that close-to-home bar is a revered third space, often met with more veneration than the more traditional houses of worship. For Sean Hathaway-Casey and Aubrey Rager — transplants of both the region and culture — the absence of such a spot was so critically lacking they decided to open their own. Enter Dirty Laundry — an intimate room in the Central Park neighborhood specializing in hard-to-find cans and taps from Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, thoughtfully crafted cocktails and a robust whiskey collection. The place — which has been open since January 2021 — decidedly avoids anything resembling the precious, opting in favor of a watering hole for grown folks who want to let their hair down undisturbed by frills.
That isn’t to say that the place lacks sophistication. The cocktails betray a savvy that can only come with years spent behind the bar. “We want to make sure that what’s in the glass is carrying its weight before we start to dress it up,” said Hathaway-Casey, who was largely responsible for the rotating list. Classics like the Green Room Gimlet ($10) — with gin, cilantro, turbinado and lime — are joined by more left-field originals including the Sundance Kid ($12) — that combines Singani 63, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, Suze, pineapple and lime for a deceptively boozy porch pounder. But it’s the Fighting Words ($11) — with Los Vecinso Mezcal, Breckenridge Aquavit, Chartreuse, blood orange and lemon balm — that may be the menu’s current crown jewel, betraying Hathaway-Casey’s long background in fine dining. Expertise can come in many forms — and sometimes it’s best enjoyed when edification is off the table. “Formality for formality’s sake is trite,” he continued.
Food-wise the menu is short and sweet, focusing on the kind of expected standards that are mostly there to help temper a proper debauch. The hunter’s breakfast ($8) — with sliced increments of a Bovine and Swine beef stick alongside an ample portion of white cheese curds — is hearty enough to support more than a couple of Rye Lifes ($5) — the house boilermaker of a Miller High Life Pony and a shot of Old Overholt Bonded Rye. While customers may come for the drinks, the buffalo chicken dip ($11) is reason enough to stay.
While the cocktails indeed hold a strong pull, it’s the beer selection that may have Midwesterners flocking. “Bell’s will live on tap here,” Hathaway-Casey. Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Company is well represented, as is Decorah, Iowa’s Toppling Goliath. For the seltzer-lover, Waunakee, Wisconsin’s Untitled Art is there to deliver a range of funky flavors.
In an era where third spaces are more important than ever, Dirty Laundry fulfills the role nicely — giving folks the kind of drinks they’d be hard-pressed to assemble at home in an environ that remains homey.
Dirty Laundry is located at 2955 Ulster St. Suite 100, Denver. It is open Monday – Thursday from 4 p.m. – 12 a.m., Friday from 4 p.m. – 1 a.m., Saturday from 12 p.m. – 1 a.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. – 12 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.