EDITOR'S NOTE: With Euro 2012, the Olympics and World Cup qualifying just around the corner, now's the time to pull up a barstool, order a cold one and enjoy soccer on the tube. To get you primed, Burgundy Wave will begin reviewing Denver's best soccer bars. Look for reviews of your favorite pubs in the weeks to come.
COLFAX & YORK — Few things signify soccer's arrival as a major spectator sport in the U.S. better than the dawn of footy pubs. Bars reflect society's prevalent culture, and newcomer soccer pubs are a clear sign the sport has finally woven itself into the mainstream.
In Denver, we're blessed by the holy grail of footy bars with the opening of the Three Lions World Football Pub. Full disclosure: I have some bias, given that I moved from the soccer wastelands -- Greeley via Longmont -- to Denver's Congress Park neighborhood three months ago. When I saw the Three Lions sign a mere mile from my residence -- a roaring proclamation at the high-profile corner of Colfax and York -- I thought I'd landed in nirvana.
The Tres Lions is all about football immersion, Brit style. Global club and national team scarves. Restrooms named "Ballers" and "Wags." Updated EPL and MLS standings on the chalkboard above the bar (also well-appointed with a Rapids 2010 championship scarf, an old-school ball and boots). And the TVs. Mercy the TVs. Each and every one dialed into soccer.
Ratings of Three Lions' food, service, soccer-friendliness on the jump.
Alas, the friendly confines of Three Lions. My girlfriend and I went in on Saturday night to watch the U.S. National Team and the Rapids. We were greeted by all the first-floor TVs showing the U.S.-Scotland game. I was a bit put off that not a single TV was turned to the Rapids pregame. Our waitress informed us that the Rapids were on the upstairs TVs and that even though there was a private party up there, we could watch the game. Quite the relief, because the better game on the night was Rapids-Impact. The National Team thrashed Scotland 5-1, making for a festive scene in the packed bar, but it was a meaningless friendly. The Rapidos were badly in need of a win before the three-week layoff and I wanted to see if they could right the ship after a couple subpar outings.
The evening didn't disappoint. Downstairs, we watched the first half of U.S.-Scotland and enjoyed an order of tasty fish and chips, complemented by an excellent selection of beers. The two booths that feature their own bank of beer taps were filled with footy fans.
Upstairs, we encountered fellow Rapids fans Kent and Dale Pendleton glued to the TVs. The Pendletons, both wearing Three Lions shirts, extolled the bar's atmosphere and gastronomic selections. We learned that the Three Lions opened at the start of the EPL season last August, had a brief rough patch with air conditioning, but recovered and has since established itself as a premier soccer-viewing venue. Three Lions is affiliated with The British Bulldog on Broadway, another primo D-Town footy bar, as both run Rapids fan vans to home games.
"We love this place," Kent said. "We tend to swap -- we try to do one (for a Rapids game) and then the other. That place (the Bulldog) was the original and they kept their chef. The food at both places is so far above your average bar food."
The Pendletons tout the green curry and are regular diners at Three Lions' breakfasts. The place opens early on weekends for EPL matches. La Liga matches draw pretty strong audiences at the Lions as well, Kent said. The bar lists its TV schedule for the week on another of the chalkboards looming over the bar.
Other touches include quotes by famous footballers placed about the establishment (Outside the men's restroom: "A ball is like a woman, she loves to be caressed," Eric Cantona), maps showing the globe's various football confederations, and a framed Time magazine cover story on Lionel Messi.
In between games on TV -- and yes, Three Lions shows NBA playoffs and other prominent sports of note -- you can shoot pool or play foosball.
Mostly, the place oozes its namesake (World Football Pub) and further delivers on international flavor with its extensive, reasonably priced menu.
I enjoyed the fact that from my second-floor perch I could simultaneously watch the Rapids eke out a win against the Impact, while seeing on the downstairs set Landon Donovan score a hat trick on the Scots.
And the footy chatter with fellow fans is priceless.
"The first two weeks in here were pretty brutal," Kent says, reflecting on the air conditioning mishaps in August 2011. "But we're soccer fans. We're used to toughing it out."
Thanks to pubs like Three Lions and their growing ilk, soccer fans in Denver no longer have to tough it out when they want to watch their game in a neighborhood saloon.
Pub Rating Guide
0 - Awful, horrible. You call this place a soccer bar?
1-3 - Poor. You trying to model your bar after Toronto FC?
4-6 - Decent. A reasonable joint, but you could have done a lot better.
7-9 - Great place! Did nearly everything right with few mistakes
10 - Perfecto!
Authentic English-style pub food, excellent curry selections, breakfast with the English Premier League. Need we say more?
Gotta love a place with this many tap and bottle beer selections, with big bonus points for the taps-in-the-booths.
The place is drenched in football paraphernalia, schedules and standings. It's all skewed, of course, to English footy. No complaints.
Generally pleasant and responsive. Was impressed that the wait staff wanted to make sure we were accommodated when we said we wanted to watch the Rapids.
I'm thrifty, so naturally I want all my bar tabs to ring out to $20 no matter what I order. Not quite doable here, but still reasonable given the D-town rate.
Soccer friendliness: 9
Spot on. Like I said, the place oozes footy.
Do you have a favorite soccer pub you'd like to see reviewed? Tell us in the comments.