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Scruffy Murphy's reigns as LoDo's no-BS soccer bar

John Elliott, owner of Scruffy Murphy's, knows how to serve up soccer, genuine Irish pub ambiance and kick-ass whiskey at his cozy establishment on Larimer Street in LoDo.
John Elliott, owner of Scruffy Murphy's, knows how to serve up soccer, genuine Irish pub ambiance and kick-ass whiskey at his cozy establishment on Larimer Street in LoDo.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With Euro 2012 and MLS in full swing and the Olympics 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 be reviewing Denver's best soccer bars this summer.

2030 LARIMER ST. - Tucked into the meat-market scuzz and sports-bar overkill that is LoDo stands a refreshing oasis: Scruffy Murphy's Irish Pub.

Owner John D. Elliott likes to point out that if not for the fact that Scruffy's is 5,000 miles away in landlocked Colorado, you'd swear that after a night of revelry -- or football viewing -- you could stroll out on a pier and tumble into the Irish Sea.

After living in Europe for almost a decade, based out of Glasgow, Elliott came to Denver in fall 2004. He found plenty of schlocky, corporate-style bars, but not much in the way of authentic Irish pubs.

"There was really nothing up in this area," he says. "The ballpark was up and coming. I thought I'd like to open someplace that I'd like to go to, that I would have been able to walk to out my door in Scotland."

He did just that with Scruffy's, which makes no fuss over fancying itself up and doesn't cater to such wussy sports as American football and basketball. (Baseball, yes, because the damn Rockies play just down the block). In here, the manliest, most rough-and-tumble games rule: rugby, hurling, soccer and of course, whiskey drinkin'.

"We're showing Euro 2012," Elliott says. "We show a lot of sports, but we tend to focus on what most Americans would call 'alternative' sports: Australian-rules football, rugby, soccer, gaelic football."

Scruffy Murphy's has everything you'd expect from a real-deal Irish pub: beer (24 taps and adding more), whiskey (around 80 varieties: single malts, Irish, bourbons, ryes), pub food (check out the Shepherd's Pie, an Elliott-family recipe), music (the Stubby Shillelaghs kick arse, as do Seven Nations and Street Dogs) and good-natured blarney.

"We don't do the drama LoDo b.s., all the 'see to be seen' stuff," Elliott says. "We want people to come in here whether they're 21 or 91. You might not know anybody when you sit at the bar, but by the end of the night you've met a half-dozen people. You might even like one or two of them. That's the ethos behind Scruffy Murphy's - it's a pub."

And god bless it, especially since it is favorable to footy and the other sports where spilling blood is an unwritten rule. Elliott knows a lot of people in town who used to live in Europe and has reached out to them through the rugby, hurling and soccer clubs. He's run fan buses from the pub to local rugby and hurling facilities as well as Rocky Mountain Roller Girls bouts.

"The Colorado Rapids games are on in here," he says. "We've done some fun things with the Rapids in the past (viewing parties, etc.) and we'd love to do more."

Listening, Rapids?

It would be nice if the Rapids got some Scruffy on, because a splash of burgundy would look great above the bar with the colorful array of jerseys (mostly gaelic football and hurling kits, but also a bit of soccer and baseball) hanging there.

Elliott is working with beer suppliers Carlsberg and Heineken on viewing parties for Euro's final rounds.

If you're in Scruffy's you'll find a friend. And if you don't you can always chat it up with Elliott. He's got a scruffy beard and shock of blond hair. An "American mutt" of Philly origin, he's no slouch in the pub-ownership biz and no wuss in the sporting department.

"I never played the traditional sports," he says. "I played lacrosse, rugby, soccer. I never got into the whole baseball, football b.s."

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 could have done a lot better.

7-9 - Great place! Did nearly everything right with few mistakes

10 - Perfecto!

Food: 8.5

Must be honest and say I've never sampled Scruffy's fare, but I've seen people sharing the Shepherd's pie and it looks delish. Full menu of Irish pub and American fare, plus I have it on good authority that the smoked bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers as well as the bangers and mash are not to be missed.

Drinks: 10

Holy moly they've my beloved Redbreast whiskey - plus 70-plus other varieties - every Irish beer you could want and a stunning variety of infused vodkas. Bubble gum? Key lime pie? Gummy bear. They've got it. Scruffy's even serves up an apple-cinnamon-infused whiskey.

Ambiance: 9.5

This place rocks it like an authentic Irish pub. Cozy in the front room, which is connected to a larger room where you can hear the Irish punk bands rock out. Don't miss the beer garden out the back.

Service: 9

Boatloads of friendly Irish service here.

Prices: 8.5

Moderate prices all around. Great happy hour deals.

Soccer friendliness: 7

Footy is right in there with hurling, rugby and gaelic football as the preferred sports of this pub. Six TV screens, including an 84-incher.