Bottles silhoutted in a tavern.

By Erik Ness

Most streets worth walking — and bars worth drinking in — contain multitudes. Writers love to have choices. But with so many options available, the challenge becomes guiding a reader into both the soul of a place and the heart of a piece.

That’s the beauty of Cynthia Barnes’s lead into a very personal remembrance, published May 4, 2023, in Denver Westword. How do you invite a stranger to share the sudden and unexpected loss of the signature bartender at your local? It’s a story that needs to be shared, but also demands decorum, even a little privacy.

And so Barnes begins on the street, a street famous all on its own. The longest commercial street in the United States, Colfax Avenue even features its own contested mythology. The story goes that Playboy once called it “the longest, wickedest street in America” but the actual Playboy story where this might have happened is still AWOL. If you’re reading in Denver, you know where you are. And if you aren’t Denver-savvy it doesn’t matter because with a single detail you already know you’re on a street of stories:

On East Colfax, it’s not terribly unusual to see grown men crying in the middle of the afternoon. But this week, the grown men crying at Nob Hill Inn are (mostly) sober. Some may have done a little time back in the day. Some definitely could — and would — kick your ass, should your ass be in need of kicking.

And then we enter. If you’re a stranger drinking in a strange town, it’s always a good plan to understand and respect the atmosphere. And here Barnes lets you know who you’re drinking with, and even the possible consequences. Maybe that stool is empty for a reason. But sit here on the other side, and let me tell you a story….

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Erik Ness is a science and environmental journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. His work can be found at

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