When Karl Schwender first walked into the Park Tavern about a decade ago, he knew it would quickly become a favorite hangout. “This is the first bar I went to when I moved to Denver,” Schwender says. “I met my wife here as a matter of fact.” Ten years later in 2009, Schwender finds himself working as General Manager of the Park Tavern.
The brightly lit Park Tavern entice locals to enjoy the patio
He cannot say that he didn’t see it coming. “I kind of had a feeling,” Schwender confesses. “We’ve always stayed pretty close with the owners and some of the people that worked here.”
Whether or not it was fate that brought him here, 31-year-old Schwender is certainly qualified for his position. He has worked in food service ever since he could legally get a job, which gives him about 16 years in the industry. With humble beginnings as an ice cream scooper for a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop and years working behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens, he has worked his way up the ladder to his current position as GM. His wife works at the Park Tavern as well, as the Assistant Bar Manager.
It’s a very family-oriented staff,” says Schwender. “Everybody’s pretty close…everybody knows everybody, everybody hangs out with each other outside work.” Many members of the staff have been working at the Park Tavern for years, including one woman who has been serving food and drinks in the same building for 43 years, before the place was even called Park Tavern.
"Don't plan on sleeping much," says Schwender, offering advice to aspiring restaurant and bar managers.
In addition to his staff, Schwender enjoys the chance to meet and visit with customers. He gets to know the majority of guests by name, and from there things quickly evolve into friendships. “I’m standing at the door helping the door guys out, and you get used to seeing the same ID everyday,” he says. “You eventually get to know their name…and just end up being pals with most of the people who come through the door.” Even on a busy night, Schwender devotes a lot of his time to catching up with old friends and familiar faces.
Billiards tables are a popular addition to many sports bars.
The Park Tavern, established in the early 1990s, has many regulars who have been going there for years. As a neighborhood bar in the heart of Capital Hill, the Park Tavern is known for its laid-back, fun atmosphere, from the patio seating to the sports on TV. “We’re a tavern with a sports bar flare,” Schwender says. Sundays see a lot of customers clad in their favorite jerseys, and the bar caters to Colorado teams especially. “If we can get the channel, we’ll play a game on one of our TVs. But a lot of our big screens are dedicated to Broncos, Rockies and Avalanche,” he says.
Locals know Park Tavern for its happy hour specials. There are three happy hours each day, starting from 9:00am to 11:00am, and then again from 4:30pm to 6:30pm and finally 9:00pm to midnight. During these times, every wine, well or draft beer is two for one.
"It's a very family-oriented staff...everybody's pretty close."
“We do a chip system, where basically you buy a beer and then we give you a chip,” explains Schwender. “That way when you come back up here next, you throw the chip down and then we give you another beer, or whiskey coke, or whatever.” The system works well for the Park Tavern, which keeps 21 beers on tap. On Tuesdays, however, things can get much busier.
Glassware lines the counters and ceilings of the Park Tavern bar.
“On Tuesdays we do two dollar you-call-its from 4:00pm to close, and that’s basically anything behind the bar is two bucks. It gets a little crazy,” Schwender says. Still, his talented staff knows what to expect—a fun, energetic crowd of twenty-somethings looking for a good time.
In addition to its drink specials, the Park Tavern boasts a large menu listing everything from eggs and bacon to sirloin steak. Schwender’s personal favorite is the French toast, but the burgers or nachos are probably the most popular menu items with the customers.
Schwender says that the most challenging aspect of his job is making sure all the equipment stays in working order. He is convinced that his machines malfunction just to give him a hard time. “I think everything in this restaurant…likes to act up no matter what it is, from anything as small as the dishwasher to the glycol system,” Schwender says, referring to his draft beer system. Their draft system is a two-tap system, and he keeps at least 42 kegs on tap all at times to serve their 21 draft beer selections. With all those beer lines, not to mention computerized POS systems and aging kitchen equipment, something is bound to act up once in a while.
An historic bar with modern touches
Schwender explains. “Basically, I’m not an electrician, I’m not a plumber…I’m not a very good computer guy either, so I’d say that’s the hardest part of my job is when stuff breaks. That’s the worst.” Luckily, the Park Tavern has a reliable maintenance worker and outside technicians who can help whenever Schwender is unable to repair something himself.
Despite finicky equipment, Schwender cannot think of much he would change about his current position. “I’m learning a lot from the two owners who work here. Learning quite a bit. Totally different aspect from being an employee…I learned all the steps along the way, now I’m seeing it from their point of view,” he says.
Many people in Schwender’s position have some words of wisdom for thos who want to run their own operations. Schwender’s advice? “Don’t plan on sleeping much,” he says, grinning, although he admitted that he himself had to work on that. “I think I’ve gotten worse at it,” he says, shaking his head. Besides being well-rested, Schwender said that anyone looking to run a business like this should prepare themselves. “Do your homework, know your clientele, know your neighbors, know your product…know what you’re putting out,” he says. A strong understanding of the industry, product knowledge, and a good night's sleep are key for any aspiring restaurant or bar manager, without a doubt.