Occidental is a casual alternative to neighbor Williams & Graham.
The inevitable waitlist at Williams & Graham is a worthwhile obstacle to imbibing at this Denver speakeasy. Once inside the elegant wood-paneled room hidden behind a bookshelf, there are imaginative drinks made with balsamic vinegar and sweet corn syrup to savor. But when the bar’s ace drink-slinger Sean Kenyon and partner Todd Colehour decided to open Occidental next door, it was a decidedly more casual neighborhood joint they envisioned. For this grungy, upbeat departure from Williams & Graham, Kenyon didn’t have to look far for an stylist: his wife, Bijou Angeli, was eager to creatively tackle the project.
Angeli, a Renaissance woman who seamlessly morphs from motley roles as graphic designer to hairdresser to roller derby player, confesses that interior design “was always a secret desire of mine.” Her wish was fulfilled with Occidental. “Sean’s always wanted to have a punk-rock bar, and this is it,” says Angeli. “The space is representative of literature and music generated by the counterculture.”
Just a few of the 1,000 cassette tapes found in Occidental.
A collage of more than 1,000 cassette tapes culled from eBay and thrift stores is perhaps the bar’s most striking features. “I spray-painted them silver in our front yard,” says Angeli, who intended the wall to double as an interactive art installation. Another highlight is Angeli’s handmade patterned wallpaper comprised of images found in the anti-consumerist journal Adbusters. She spent hours cutting up old issues found in a bookstore and transforming the severed images into designs.
Wallpaper was made out of images found in an anti-consumerist journal.
This DIY vibe is further exemplified by artist Delton Demarest’s colorful likenesses of Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry gracing the bathroom doors, as well as an I-beam emblazoned with the Charles Bukowski quote “We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war.” Angeli’s Misfits-like skull mural, installed by Travis VanCleave, serves as a playful ode to the national bartending organization Mixfits and is complemented by industrial touches like exposed brick and piping.
Angeli’s mural installed by Travis VanCleave.
“A lot of the design elements are upcycled,” says Angeli, noting how VanCleave painted window screens over and over again to conjure stacks of Marshall amplifiers and that checks are cleverly presented in cassette cases to guests. With a stash of pinball machines and vintage kung fu movies streaming, it’s indeed “an eccentric vibe,” Angeli says.
The entrance to Occidental.
While the drinks might not be as complicated as those served at Williams & Graham, they’re no less satisfying. The seasonally appropriate Sonic Reducer (bourbon, cranberry liqueur, lemon and honey) is naturally named for a circa-1977 song from punk rockers the Dead Boys.