It seemed like a recipe for disaster: Take over a bar/restaurant that has stymied three owners in three years, invest in yet another remodel, then open six weeks before COVID-19 shut down most of the nation.

But that’s what happened to the iconic Campus Lounge, which has evolved and adapted and seems to have found its footing. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm.

If you go

Campus Lounge, 701 S. University Blvd., 720-535-7021. Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Happy hours 2-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. campusdenver.com

This newest iteration of this south Denver landmark — created by the partnership that also owns the Recess Beer Garden in LoHi — reflects the changing nature of the neighborhood. Houses that once had four people and two bathrooms have given way to ones with two people and four bathrooms. Scarce parking is more likely to be taken up by Teslas than Toyotas, and newcomers are more prevalent than natives.

While at least one of the predecessors divorced itself from the Campus’ past — it got rid of all the televisions and offered a cheeseburger garnished with grapes — the new Campus pays homage to the old one: Back are the TVs (nine of them) and a menu that still offers go-to bar food like burgers and wings, but also interesting appetizers like an artichoke green chile dip and a hardboiled egg wrapped in a sausage, breaded, fried and dressed in greens and horseradish mustard sauce. Many of the entrees it offers would be at home in any white-tablecloth restaurant.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    The crispy chicken sandwich is made at the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 25, 2021. The sandwich is one of the most popular items on the menu.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    The artichoke green chili dip dish is made at the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 25, 2021.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    Sarah Daigle makes a drink at the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 25, 2021. Daigle began working when the establishment opened in Jan. of 2020.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    The Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon, side salad and hardboiled egg wrapped in a sausage and dressed in greens and horseradish mustard sauce is made at the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 25, 2021.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    A side dish of mushrooms, bacon and blue cheese is made at the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 25, 2021.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    People sit in the Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 28, 2021.

  • Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

    The Campus Lounge in Denver on Aug. 28, 2021.

The Campus also has expanded physically, with a “beer garden” (more beer than garden) that took up five spaces in its parking lot. It was a survival tactic born of the darkest days of COVID-19 but remains popular today. Speaking of beers, the Campus has 16 on tap, 11 in cans, and seven in bottles. The Coors Light draughts we had were chilled perfectly.

Our party sampled both the sandwich and entrée menu. The crispy chicken sandwich ($13) was good (although not as good as the excellent Garden Burger, consumed on a prior visit), but there was some concern that the bottom of the bun was too thin to accommodate maximum juice absorption.

 

The 10-ounce ribeye — a size that normal people can actually eat in one sitting — was nicely seasoned, though a bit stringy, but what was exceptional was a flirty sauce made from an A-1 base modified to make it memorable. The Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon ($21) has a lemon glaze that could have been less delicate, but that was a quibble more than a complaint. A side dish of mushrooms, bacon and blue cheese made for a nice, moist kick to the mouth.

One member of our party thought the French fries were too crispy; another thought them just right. (Fisticuffs ensued.)

The servers were attentive, although the Campus has experienced some of the staffing problems common in many restaurants these days. The place is noisy — 80 decibels by our measure, which makes conversations difficult — but it is a bar, after all, not a mortuary.

Reservations are a good idea, particularly on Fridays and on Wednesdays, which is when all-you-can-eat crab legs are the main attraction.

The Recess owners were interested in maintaining the character of the original Campus Lounge, and of reflecting its neighborhood. Which makes sense, since some of them — Owen Olson, William Franklnad, Ryan Donizio, Dan Kirson and his brother, marketing director Sam Kirson — grew up there.

The Campus styles itself as a family-friendly place, and the kids there the night we visited seemed to be having a good time. It supports local brewers and provides food for neighborhood events. This takes on added importance when you want to draw your clientele from within walking distance.

The owners are aware of the interest in redevelopment along South University (like what has been proposed for the Bonnie Brae Tavern across the street). For now, they are focusing on their customers and the neighborhood. “We root for small business,” Sam Kirson said.

Speaking as a neighbor, we do, too.

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