Iconic brews, views, food and fun
By Veronica Penney
Photos by Phil Mumford
Many Boulder residents will be hard-pressed to remember the west end of Pearl Street before The West End Tavern. Founded in 1987, the tavern has adapted and changed alongside Boulder, but its focus on downright good food and a friendly atmosphere keeps locals and visitors coming back for more.
Since taking over as head chef last year, Jeff Whitney has put his own twist on the varied menu. “Honestly, it’s fun to cook with American food, and a little spice here and there can really change something,” he says. His innovative seasonings are evident in the green chili, the spicy local honey drizzled on the Sticky Bird fried-chicken sandwich ($12), and the House Punched French fries ($3), a Front Range favorite. The tavern’s tots ($7) are also worth a try, featuring a crisp exterior and fluffy middle that pair perfectly with the accompanying aioli.
Barbecue lovers will delight in the brisket, which is smoked in-house for 12 hours and sliced to order. The chef-driven menu changes in winter and spring, highlighting seasonal ingredients and pulling from Whitney’s experience at farm-to-table restaurants.
The West End Tavern (303-444-3535, www.thewestendtavern.com) is located at 926 Pearl St., Boulder 80302. The restaurant is open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sunday.
Patrons can get a taste of West End’s famous smoked wings for just 87 cents each (a nod to The West End’s inaugural year) on the happy-hour menu, or attempt the Wing King Challenge—50 wings in 30 minutes. Drink and food specials run from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Sunday, with additional daily themes including Cheesy Monday with build-your-own mac and cheese (starting at $9), and Throwback Thursday movie nights at the upstairs bar.
New this year is the Sunday brunch menu, which incorporates The West End Tavern’s renowned meats in a fresh selection of benedicts and griddles. Brunch happy hour runs 10 to 11 a.m. and stars $1 mimosas, which go nicely with an order of You Name It—two eggs, avocado toast, and both green and smoked-salmon salads ($16). The Tavern Griddler ($11), a twist on traditional biscuits and gravy, features waffles piled with hot links, egg, Cheddar and gravy, topped with bourbon maple syrup.
Food may be the heart of the tavern, but the staff is the soul. Original owners Steve “Beaver” Goren and Marc “Minnie” Minion founded The West End Tavern to create a Boulder bar with a true community feel, (it’s now owned by Dave Query’s Big Red F). From the best Boulder hikes to the best place for coffee, the West End staff is happy to offer advice.
“We’re the locals’ place to give that information to anyone who hasn’t really been in Boulder, and our staff really gets into that,” says general manager Ashley Millikin. “Our customer base is all over the board, which is the most terrific thing about The West End Tavern. You meet people of all walks of life.”
Belly Up to Miss Kittie’s Bar
When it comes to beer, look no further than The West End’s 20 rotating draft lines. “We have something for everyone,” says Millikin. “I can look at the list and I have a cider, I have a sour, I have a stout, a porter, a barrel-aged beer.” The permanent draft list showcases Colorado brewers, and thanks to close relationships with them, The West End Tavern is able to offer rare brews and batches that have limited distribution.
Behind the handsome ground-floor bar, which hails from a famous Oregon Trail stop called Miss Kittie’s Saloon, The West End Tavern has curated an impressive spirits selection. Their authority in craft whiskey encompasses a collection numbering more than 200 bottles, some of which are available nowhere else. Malt liquor enthusiasts up for an adventure can join the Whiskey Club, where $15 earns you a tasting card, a whiskey guidebook, and the chance to sip some small-batch, single-
barrel whiskeys at a discount.
Much like The West End Tavern, the building the restaurant occupies has deep roots. City records date the building’s construction to 1906, when it housed Boulder’s police station, then the Red Cross and later The Spaghetti Factory before The West End Tavern opened in 1987. Low lighting and varnished tabletops create a tavern-like feel in the first-floor dining area, and even the tables have Colorado roots: The wood was sourced from trees destroyed in the 2002 Hayman Fire.
From the main bar and dining area, a staircase leads to a second bar and a rooftop dining area with heat lamps and a view of the Flatirons. As Boulder has grown, the rooftop view has changed, which is why the upstairs bar is being renovated this winter to offer diners views of Pearl Street.
Warren Miller Wednesday movie screenings, monthly “tap takeovers” with local brewers, and special dinner events are just a few of the ways that The West End Tavern has built a fun, familial community. In July, the restaurant gives back through Jul-IPA, when proceeds from dedicated Post Brewing IPA sales go to the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence. Another give-back program channels 10 percent of each Sunday’s proceeds to local charities.
At the end of the day, The West End Tavern’s three decades in business come back to quality food and a family atmosphere. “It’s great to be part of something so iconic, and something that means so much to so many people,” says Millikin.
Veronica Penney is a Colorado-based freelance writer who can often be found riding her bike west of Boulder. Her culinary enthusiasm and outdoor adventures are fueled by strong black coffee and the hope of finding an excellent cheese plate.