Pony Up to This Blake Street Pub for Fun Food and Drinks
By Dionne Roberts
Pony Up is a hip new bar on Blake Street in Denver that brings a posh yet unpretentious option to the Ballpark neighborhood near Coors Field. And, it’s built for both comfort and speed.
Co-owners Angela Neri and Sheamus Feeley have an impressive grasp of what’s trending in the food and beverage industries, and they stay involved in cooking, managing and serving. They have launched multiple past projects in Colorado and across the country.
However, this is the first establishment under the Sheamus Feeley Hospitality Group umbrella, where they combine their knowledge, appreciation and experience. Pony Up is contemporary and chic while still down-to-earth, with eye-catching cocktails, a French dip-focused menu and good times around the shuffleboard tables.
“It’s an extremely fun, energetic industry and neighborhood bar,” says Neri. “We care more that we get a drink in your hand fast and have an amazing staff that is going to be extremely kind. You’re going to feel like you’re walking into your bar.”
And it really is all about the bar, which Neri rightfully calls “the showcase piece.” The elongated, sleek stick winds down the deep, inset building, generously peppered with stools bathed in halo lighting from the glowing orb fixtures suspended above. A well-lit, impressively organized back bar secures steps and handles for the bartenders to climb up and down efficiently, accessing a broad collection of local and exotic craft spirits.
The drinks pay homage to tried-and-true libations from the past, while also incorporating delicate twists, such as the Brown Butter Old Fashioned with added sweet and smoky notes, or a Paloma made with Peychaud’s Bitters for an unexpected nuance.
Pony Up appeals directly to neighborhood folks with great deals on $10 beer-and-shot specials that include: W.L. Weller Bourbon and a Stone IPA, Mezcal Unión and a Tecate or Fernet Branca (the bartender’s handshake) and a Montucky Cold Snack.
Tropical drinks with colorful, oversized garnishes and special “Tiki Nights” also invite a sense of whimsy and mod onto the menu and the calendar, vastly distinguishing them from the casual beer bars nearby.
“When you do a classic cocktail program, tiki is always going to be there,” says Neri. “We like to do events for Colorado because there’s not a lot of tiki and it’s kind of a fun way to escape to go on vacation.”
Other escapes include an oversized painting of Neri’s French bulldog, Louis, dressed up as King Louis XIV by Denver muralist Patrick Kane McGregor; sought-after Japanese fried chicken that Feeley says “every chef in town comes in and orders;” regional shoutouts on the classic cocktail menu; and playful French dip sandwiches such as The Frenchie, The Saigon and The Alameda Street Classic.
“It all flows together,” says Neri.
Feeley said he chose to highlight the “easy-to-eat” juicy handhelds because they evoke trips he would take with his dad in Southern California to eat at Phillipe The Original, which claims to have invented the now-famous sandwiches more than a century ago.
“Being downtown, we wanted to do something approachable but not pedestrian,” says Feeley. “We just wanted to differentiate ourselves and offer something cool and unique.”
Although a sammy-based menu sounds somewhat simplistic, the orchestration of slow-cooked proteins, accompanied by an assortment of complimentary broths and freshly baked buns from Hinman’s Bakery in Denver, fortifies a satiating, unexpected and contemplative presentation of bar food.
“There’s no one that specializes in French dips and is doing variations on it,” says Feeley. “We wanted to play with nostalgia, make it delicious, make it approachable.”
The feel-good vibes radiate most literally through the bold, neon sign that jumps off the wall and has appropriately become Pony Up’s slogan: “Thank you for a real good time,” borrowed from the Grateful Dead track “Loose Lucy.”
“People recognize it instantly and connect with it,” says Neri. “The younger clientele thinks it’s extremely fun.”
Neri and Feeley urge patrons to find a saddle stool below the alluring, bright text to snap photos, relive pieces of history and new places through thoughtful cocktails. He hopes that guests can simply “capture the moment” and unwind within the inviting and eclectic retreat.
“We just want to drive as much value as possible for people in the city and in the industry,” says Feeley. “Create a place where everyone would feel comfortable and not take ourselves too seriously.”
Dionne Roberts is the editor of the Rocky Mountain Food Report, rockymountainfoodreport.com