Those who have been to Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto know this bar is unusual. Known just as “Double Daughter’s” to locals, this Denver martini lounge has extraordinary character, mainly due to the startling yet whimsical décor. Tall sculptures of barren trees are situated in the corners of a dark room, with bright red booths and bar stools lining either side. Life-like white doves hang from threads on the ceiling and a back wall glows with red and blue stripes, mimicking a circus tent. Behind the bar, in the middle of the room, a giant iron and glass rocket glows red and seems to throw the entire scene into another dimension.
The bar includes shiny red bar stools and a rocket fixture.
“This place is all about escape, from the fourteen foot brass doors to the hanging doves,” said Spencer Madison, Assistant General Manager of Double Daughter’s. “You can’t walk into this place and have the doors shut behind you and think that there’s an outside world. And that’s the great thing about the concept here, is it really isolates you from whatever might be going on outside. There aren’t any TVs in here. There’s no news. There’s no sports. It’s you and your friends and some really tasty alcoholic beverages.”
The upstairs lounge
39-year old Madison began going to Double Daughter’s as a customer almost immediately after moving to Denver in November of 2003. He found an immediate connection to the place. “I’ve been a customer almost since the day I moved to Denver, six years ago...and I was just looking for a place I could come and relax and hang out and have some drinks, and I didn’t want to go to a club. When I found out they served pizza too, I was hooked.” The bar itself does not serve pizza, but the restaurant next door, Two-Fisted Mario’s, shares the same owners. Bar-goers can order a pizza at the bar, and moment later receive their slice or even a whole pie delivered fresh from next door. There is an inconspicuous curtain hanging in a wide doorway between the two establishments to facilitate this relationship between Double Daughter’s and Two-Fisted Mario’s.
"It's hard to come into this space and not be inspired by it."
What makes Double Daughter’s special is that there is no other bar in Denver quite like it. In fact, nothing really comes close. Like most unique establishments, there is a story behind this bar. Madison tells it with a poise and solemnity that makes it almost eerie. As the story goes, a man named Mario Guccio grew up in Italy in a small, family-owned traveling circus. As an adult, he left the circus to study entomology (the scientific study of insects), and his exploits eventually landed him on the Isle of Man. There, he met his wife, and she gave birth to two lovely daughters—conjoined twins. In addition to their shared organs, the daughters shared a love of life and adventure, much like their father. After the girls passed at only 29 years of age, the Guccios emigrated to Colorado where they met the people who would eventually open the bar called Mario’s Double Daugher’s Salotto. According to Madison, the bar was established as a tribute to the Guccio girls and their lives.
A lounge area with Double Daughter's-themed art
People who come to Double Daughter’s do so for many reasons, but the bar has a strong following of creative, artistic people who find inspiration in the place. “It’s hard to come into this space and not be inspired by it,” Madison says. “I think we end up getting a lot of people who are not necessarily looking for inspiration but who do inspire, who paint, or they write, or maybe they are fabulous graphic designers. We get a lot of people like that because they understand the space. They really get something out of it.”
Customers have described Double Daughter’s as Tim Burton-esque, Alice in Wonderland themed, or Denver’s best gothic bar. Although none of these are entirely accurate according to the story, Madison says that’s part of the appeal of Double Daughter’s.
“I think the great thing about a space like this is although there’s a story behind it, you can take whatever you want from it. If this is your goth bar, then there you go. It can serve that purpose. If this is your space age bar, it can serve that purpose too because we’ve got this big rocket in the middle of the room,” Madison says. According to him, the place is there to act as an other-worldly place; to create a fantasy. “Every time you open those doors and you come in here, it’s your own fantasy, whatever that might be.”
Double Daughter’s sees mainly a younger crowd of college-aged people and young professionals just starting out. However, their location downtown brings in a wide variety of city-dwellers as well as people stepping out for a Rockies game or a night on the town. Many people are drawn to the bar by its unconventionally tall brass doors, wondering what the inside is like. Weekends are the busiest, although a great happy hour also helps to attract business during the week. The bar offers a list of intriguing signature martinis (try the Severed Goat’s Head or the Miss Beauregard), some of which are named for literary or historical references to please the intellectual drinker.
One of the most popular signature drinks is called the Succo Vaffanculo di Mario, a name which probably should not be translated in print. As a nod to Mario Guccio, the head of the legendary Italian family behind this bar, Double Daughter’s makes "the strongest drink possible." This drink involves seventeen ingredients, 15 of which are alcohol. For a very good reason, the bar limits customers to two per evening. Even more exciting, the drink is pre-mixed and served from a custom tap system, much like a beer—only the tap dispenser is located in the center of the giant rocket fixture behind the bar. According to Madison, the bar serves about three times more of these than any other specialty drink. "On an average weekend we probably sell two to three hundred," he says.
In addition to the décor and the drink menu at Double Daughter’s, live DJing invokes an even greater sense of art and creativity. “I think the music aspect is definitely an integral part of what we do here,” Madison says. For a long time, Double Daughter’s was known for hosting the best DJs in Denver. Those artists are still there, but many people prefer to go to clubs where they can dance. However, these “turn-tablists,” as Madison calls them, bring a talented and creative aspect to the bar that remains in line with their overall concept.
"Some people think that working in [the bar] industry is really just a place-keeper, a way to get yourself somewhere else. There's a real importance to the food and beverage industry. We're entertaining people."
Madison has been employed at the bar since 2007, but he has worked in the service industry since he was young. He started out as a dishwasher, then a cook, and progressed through the industry as he continued through college, funding his English Literature degree. With all intentions of finding a job related to his degree, he found himself, seventeen years after college, running the bar at Double Daughter’s. “Here I am,” he says. “It’s a career, and it’s a viable career. It’s a real job. Some people think that working in this industry is really just a place-keeper, a way to get yourself somewhere else. There’s a real importance to the food and beverage industry. We’re entertaining people.”
The seating area provides some privacy for groups of bar guests.
Although Madison holds a management position, he can usually be found working behind the bar. Here, Madison can entertain and be entertained by the people who come in to Double Daughter’s. According to him, bartending is a multi-faceted job that is never the same from day to day. “As a bartender you have to play matchmaker, psychologist, police officer...some days I feel like a performer behind the bar, sometimes I feel like a craftsman,” he says. “Sometimes I feel like a chemist when trying to develop a new drink, [or] a caged lion, just pacing.” As testament to the bartenders’ skill, there are rarely more than one or two bartenders behind the bar on any given night, even during the weekends. Caged lions or not, Madison and his staff know their craft.
One of Madison’s most cherished aspects of his career is that bartending is a social job that allows him to enjoy his days and nights to the fullest. He loves having his days to himself to enjoy the fruits of the Colorado outdoors. Walking, cycling and skiing are a few of his favorite hobbies. As a whole, Madison has found that a career in the beverage industry suits him well, and he sees himself remaining in the industry as long as he continues to enjoy his work.
As for the Guccios? Madison cannot say for sure what has become of the family behind the legend. They may reside in the mountains, or they may have passed on. No matter where the truth lies, Madison believes that the bar continues to carry the essence of the Guccio family in its décor and ambience. “The spirit of that family lives on in these places. That strong-willed, adventurous, capricious and fun spirit lives on both in Two-Fisted Mario’s and in Double Daughter’s Salotto.”