Living history has never been so delicious!
If you've ever driven through the west side of Aurora, over by the intersection of Iliff and Havana, then you've likely seen the sign for the iconic Piper Inn. While it may look like a simple, middle-American bar from a distance, the story and menu behind this classic eatery are anything but. In a way, the story behind the Piper Inn mirrors that of Denver itself—a tale of different cultures forming a beautiful, unexpected friendship.
When the Piper Inn first opened in 1968, Denver looked very different than it does today. At the time, the Denver metro area had approximately 500,000 people versus nearly 3 million today. Many of its outlying cities such as Littleton and Lakewood were little more than general stores and the occasional ranch house. The same year that Led Zeppelin started their North American tour in Denver's Auditorium Arena, the Piper Inn poured its first beers.
At the time, the area surrounding it was still somewhat rural, and farmers would often ride their horses over to the bar. Across the street was a dirt airstrip where Piper airplanes would land, inspiring the inn's name. Over the next decade, the Piper Inn would quickly become a go-to location for aviators, farmers, and bikers who would take advantage of the bar's proximity to scenic, mountain-bound roads.
Around this time, the kitchen was rented out by a family of Cantonese immigrants who brought authentic Chinese cooking to the Piper Inn's menu. Cantonese mainstay foods, such as egg rolls, cashew chicken, and chow mein quickly found their way onto the menu--and became mainstays soon after. As the years progressed, the menu continued to evolve, further combining elements of Mexican, Cantonese, and classic Americana cooking.
Today, you can see the Piper Inn's diverse heritage best exemplified by the Chinese Style Wings on its menu. While that menu item would sound generic at any other wing restaurant, the Piper Inn's spin on it must be tasted to be believed. These wings combine the nuances of complex Chinese flavors with plenty of American intensity! For many diners, these wings have represented a first-time look into some of the deeper richness of Chinese cooking. You can taste the Piper Inn's rich history in a variety of their other sauces too, including their Denver-famous Golden GOAT sauce!
Although the last generation of the Chinese family running the Piper Inn's kitchen retired several years ago, you can still taste their legacy in the Piper Inn's food. The menu combines plenty of biker bar classics with unique Cantonese twists to make for meals that are as flavorful and diverse as its guests are. To that end, the Piper Inn plays host to all sorts of colorful Colorado personalities, ranging from old guard bikers to trendy millennial foodies.
If you've never eaten at the Piper Inn, it's worth doing so at least once—especially if you consider yourself a fan of Denver dining. This unique eatery features dining that's authentic on a unique level, a multi-generational, multicultural experience that's tightly woven around a shared love of good food, beer, and company. The elements that make a restaurant special are often best reflected in the people who dine there, and one look at the Piper Inn's diverse, dedicated diners shows that there's truly something magical there.
Have you ever been to the Piper Inn? What is your favorite item on their menu? Let us know in the comments!