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Denver Dives Worth the Descent: Emilio's

Updated on March 30, 2013

Using the word "dive" to mean a place of ill-repute dates back to the 18th century. At that time, such places were usually located in a basement or cellar-type structure. Thus, patrons literally had to "dive" to get into a place that also indicated a dive in their morals. Though Emilio's itself is not a place of ill-repute, its location on Colfax in Denver provides free street entertainment of the seedy sort.

Emilio's on the corner of Colfax and Logan.
Emilio's on the corner of Colfax and Logan. | Source
$1.75 worth of treats on a Friday afternoon.
$1.75 worth of treats on a Friday afternoon. | Source

The Eats and Drinks

Emilio's offers a full Mexican menu. Patrons dine on tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, etc., in the traditional flavors: bean, carne asada, steak carnitas, chicken, ground beef. As with most Mexican restaurants, combination plates abound on their menu. They also offer a full breakfast menu including burritos, huevos con chorizo, and carnitas with eggs. Breakfast runs from $4 to $7; lunch or dinner entrees run $5 to $10 (Tacos Al Carbon).

Their authentic Mexican food, while delicious, is not what make Emilio's a dive worth seeking out. They offer a few stand-outs such chorizo and potato tacos: grilled corn tortillas filled with chorizo and potato, served with melted cheese, pico de gallo, rice, and beans. My favorite, just as it is at Gomez Burritos, comes in the form of a bean and chicharrón burrito. At $5.25 they are more than twice the price than Gomez's, but they do have a few advantages: I can get them after 4:00 PM, they are a lot bigger, and I get a free floor show (see below). In addition, I can get my beloved chicharrón as an appetizer, Mexican style: served with lime and spicy salsa. Emilio's also offers crispy-soft sopapillas for dessert. This is authentic Mexican food for a good price.

Emilio's absolute best value comes in a glass: house margaritas. Any day of the week, patrons can enjoy a house marg, made with Sauza tequila, for $4.50, a standard price. However, Thursday to Saturday 4 PM to close and Sunday noon to close, Emilio's slings those self-same margaritas for just $1.75. You read that right: a full margarita during prime time for under $2. These are not watered down like the "martinis" at the nearby Beauty Bar (avoid like the plague, which is a possibility there); the margaritas they serve are so strong patrons are limited to four. I personally never made it past the three-marg mark, and I had to stumble home from that evening.

Emilio's neighbors: a poster shop and an abandoned business.
Emilio's neighbors: a poster shop and an abandoned business. | Source

Dining in Denver

Denver Dives Worth the Descent: Gomez Burritos: Denver Dives looks at the little holes in the wall that are worth seeking out. Located in Commerce City, Gomez Burritos is a hidey-hole
worth finding.

Denver Dives Worth the Descent: Fat Bros. Fat Bros offers 50-cent chicken wings and other Happy Hour deals.

Mile Hi Life -- Places Worth the Splurge: The 9th Door. Mile Hi-Life looks at Denver-area restaurants that are a little higher-priced, but worth the splurge. At The 9th Door a meal with wine will cost around $40-$60.

Mile Hi Life -- Places Worth the Splurge: Le Central. Mile Hi-Life looks at Denver-area restaurants that are a little higher-priced, but worth the splurge. At The 9th Door a meal with wine will cost around $40-$60.

Denver Restaurant Week. Every year Visit Denver presents an event to celebrate the culinary offerings of the Mile Hi City.

The Locale

Colfax Avenue is infamous in Denver. This is an avenue that runs its own pin-up model contest, administers its own website, and produces memorabilia touting the wearer's survival of the street. Denver spin doctors like to point out Colfax is the longest commercial street in the U.S. Never mind that. Colfax is the Las Vegas Strip's seedy sister.

For a lot of Denver's history, Colfax served as a vibrant thoroughfare, an artery transecting the entire city. From the 1970s, though, after I-70 drew car traffic away, Colfax became the scene of drug and prostitution traffic. In the 70s ad early 80s downtown, especially Colfax, is not a place respectable people would be caught dead in because, well, they might be caught dead. However, downtown eventually got injections of money from in-coming Californians, sports arenas, and gradual gentrification of the area. Colfax, though… well, we Denverites are doing as Denver scholar Phil Goodstein suggests: we're letting Colfax be Colfax.

Everyone's got a Colfax story. A co-worker of mine who worked in downtown before its heyday likes to comment on two characters: the walking dude and Colfax Sally. The walking dude apparently traversed the entire 26.5 miles of Colfax miles every day. No one knew why since there were buses available, but Colfax Avenue was the walking dude's journey in life. Colfax Sally's journey was a little more obvious. Apparently she also walked the street, in full daylight, in transparent clothing and enough make-up to make Tammy Faye cry. Colfax is still an avenue where the occasional wino goes to a never-ending sleep in a corner and the number 15 bus trolls up and down like a wagon of sin. Drunken brawls at all times of day, loud proclamations about an individual's rights, and police busts are common sights. Like I said, free street show. For all that, as a woman sometimes walking alone, I have not felt truly menaced on Colfax Avenue. In the daytime. Colfax is best avoided at night unless you're in a group or in a restaurant.

Emilio's is located on the corner of Colfax and Logan: 338 E Colfax Ave Denver, CO 80203.

Eating at Dive Bars

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Brave Colfax Avenue, and you'll be rewarded with a relatively cheap – and wholly satisfying – meal for under $10. I've played my cards right and enjoyed a bean and chicharrón burrito with two house margs for that price, during happy hour. Don't indulge in too many, though, or you may end up adding to the circus of Colfax.

Sauza Silver works just fine for margaritas.
Sauza Silver works just fine for margaritas. | Source

Tequila for Margaritas

Margaritas, of course, are tequila and Cointreu blended with a lime-based mixer. Connoisseurs enjoy Mexican-style margaritas, in which the mixer is simple lime juice. In either case, the choice of tequila is important. We all have our favorite brands of tequila (Don't we?). However, for margaritas, silver or blanco tequila will suffice. Blanco tequila has never been aged in oak and so has a strong agave taste well-mellowed by lime mixer. Reposado and anejo tequila has been aged in oak and therefore carries a higher price tag. They make perfectly fine margaritas, but it is not necessary to spend the extra money when the spirit is going to be mixed. No matter the age of the tequila, choose one that is 100% agave; otherwise sugar alcohol is added to the mix, and partakers are more likely to have a headache in the morning. (The sugar does it.) Emilio's uses Sauza Tequila, made from 100% agave.


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