In a town that typically welcomes New York sports fans, Rangers aficionados are going to be walking into enemy territory at 99 percent of the sports bars in Denver if the team winds up facing the Avs in the Stanley Cup Finals. But there’s one joint in the Mile High City that not only is friendly to the blueshirts, but bleeds blue. And it will definitely be open at 6 pm today, June 9, for the Rangers v. Lightning faceoff in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“A lot of people are discovering our bar because of the Rangers playoffs. They didn’t know there was a Jersey bar in Denver,” says Sean Kenyon, owner of Occidental, at 1950 West 32nd Avenue. Kenyon has become famous around the country for his award-winning bar Williams & Graham, which has made best-bar lists around the world. But next door at Occidental, he sticks close to home, paying homage to his childhood in North Jersey.
“When we got the opportunity to go in next door, I decided to open a bar that was reminiscent of an East Coast bar, a New York, New Jersey bar,” Kenyon says. “The sports bar part was kind of secondary at first — we had East Coast food; we had disco fries on the original menu. I just wanted it to be a bar that I was hanging out in my twenties.”
When Kenyon opened Occidental in September 2015, he got in touch with a few of the local New York sports team groups, urging Rangers, Giants, Knicks and Mets fans to watch games and host events at the bar.
Giants fans now pack the house on Sundays. “Every football game, we get fifty people, at least,” Kenyon says.
The Mile High Blueshirts, a Rangers fan club, holds gatherings at the bar every month or so during the regular season. And a core group of those in the Blueshirts meet up at Occidental even more often to watch regular-season games together.
“I think it’s different being away from home and coming to a place where specifically you have the sound playing and everything. It just feels like you’re in New York,” says Galina Ciboch, leader of the Mile High Blueshirts.
Interest in the Mile High Blueshirts has shot up recently, and larger crowds have been gathering at Occidental for every Rangers game, as the current playoff run has fans dreaming. The team is very young, and few pundits expected the squad to make much noise in the playoffs — but right now it’s just six wins away from lifting the first Stanley Cup trophy in New York City since 1994.
On June 3, during game two of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Occidental was packed with fans, most of whom were wearing Rangers jerseys, hats or both. Each time the Rangers scored, a fan sitting at the middle of the bar would lead patrons in the Rangers Goal Song, which any fan who’s caught a hockey game at Madison Square Garden will know.
“Just to come out and see all these people standing there, it was absolutely incredible. It almost brought tears to my eyes, just because of the sheer number,” Ciboch says of seeing all the Rangers fans.
After every Rangers win during the playoffs, Occidental plays songs that would typically be heard after a hockey victory at the Garden in Manhattan, such as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” And Kenyon is there watching as fans sing along.
“Those are the moments where it’s like, ‘I built this bar,'” he says. “It’s to give people that are away from home or transplants from New York or New Jersey a place of their own, so they feel a taste of home.”