Photos By Emily Cohen, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
Within an hour of Den of Thieves official opening it was packed. Enough people in the small space to give it a sardines feel. It’s not because it’s a ‘new’ bar. There’s a shortage of quality, no-frills bars and restaurants near 14th and U. Den of Thieves is on the corner of 14th and U. It will be packed most Saturday nights for the foreseeable future.
Den of Thieves was imagined as a dive bar. It’s not a dive bar. It’s not as upscale as the not-really-upscale-but-very-nice next door neighbor Marvin. It’s not as high end as the incredibly dark and far from divey Gibson. Den of Thieves is not dirty or old or full of seedy characters. It’s clean and new and full of classic, basic cocktails that are reasonably priced. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not a dive bar.
The man behind Den of Thieves is Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation and Marvin and Gibson and Chez Billy and El Rey and other places that are far from divey. Hilton doesn’t do divey. He does produce quality products that cater to individuals from the early 20s to death that enjoy quality food and good music. Guess what? That’s what Den of Thieves is: a dark place on 14th that will be packed with people in their early 20s to death that enjoy the type of music Hilton makes and spins.
The former home of Hanoi House has an extremely small food menu and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s kinda nice. They have hot dogs and wings and spring rolls and chips. That’s it. On paper it sounds no frills. It’s not. It’s not complicated cuisine, but it’s once again, far from dive bar food.
The hot dog features an Asian slaw, spicy mayo and can be served vegetarian style. Hot dogs in dive bars don’t have slaw or mayo. They come wrapped in foil and a mustard packet is occasionally offered.
The Korean Style Fried Chicken comes with five massive white meat wings with gocchu sauce. You know what dive bars have? $.25 wings with 1/5 the meat of one of these. And they’re served with $5 pitchers of lite beer. And oddly warm ranch dressing.
The cocktails at Den of Thives are $8. The menu was developed by The Gibson’s Frankie Jones. It features old standards like the Moscow Mule and Daquiri and the new Honor Among Thieves, which features whiskey, lemon, honey, Agorstura and ginger ale. You know what dive bars have? All of those ingredients. They’re just sold in shot form. They’re not developed by anyone. Both are perfectly fine and both have their place.
Den of Thieves is not a dive bar. It’s a nice place. There is no shame with being a nice place. When Esquire names it as one of their top-50-bars-in-America-that-you-have-to-try-right-now-aren’t-cocktails-great list, they’ll say it’s a dive bar. Once again, NOT A DIVE BAR. IT’S NICE. Most places wish they were nice. It’s a nice place to spend a quiet evening (the first hour it’s open), spend a loud evening (all of the other hours it’s open), enjoy quality drinks with under four ingredients and listen to good music. It doesn’t need to pretend it’s divey. Nice is not divey.