Feature

The Best Bars in Denver

From swanky lounges to boozy bars, we round up more than 40 of the city's best places to imbibe. Plus, the nondrinker's journal, bartenders' tips, and debunking the alcohol-altitude myth.

February 2008

EAST DENVER

The Thin Man

2015 E. 17th Ave., 303-320-7814
You're drinking: Infused vodka on the rocks
You're listening to: Hipsters talking about bands, booze, and boys
Count yourself lucky if you score a bar stool at the nearly always packed Thin Man. The space is narrow, with room only for the long, marble-topped bar, a few wooden tables, and a couch in the back. But it's the perfectly infused vodkas, the draft microbrews, and, during the summer, a rolled-up garage door that keep the revelers boozing for hours.—LK

Gabor's

1223 E. 13th Ave., 303-832-3108
You're drinking: Anchor Steam, on draft, and a shot of Jameon
You're listening to: A little metal, a little country, a little indie, and semi-obscure classic rock
Swimming in kitsch, mostly from cinema's golden age, and sprinkled with the occasional fern or paper Asian fan, Gabor's is cozy, cool, and surprisingly clean, for a dive. Tats abound but aren't required, and classic movies run in constant silence above the jukebox. Lounge in the red leather booths, Rat Pack cool, as Hollywood icons like Marilyn, Clint—and, for some reason, Louie Anderson—watch over the proceedings. And, if the bartender gives you the nod, feel free to light up—Gabor's is one of the few "smoke-easies" in the city.—Luc Hatlestad

The Tavern Uptown

538 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-9210
You're drinking: Widmer Hefeweizen
On the jukebox: Rock
Uptown has the coziest fireplace lounge in town, best after a hellish day at work. It's like sinking into your favorite honey-we're-selling-this-over-my-dead-body leather couch at home. But way better, because there's no getting up for refills and snacks.

PS Lounge

3416 E. Colfax Ave., 303-320-1200
You're drinking: A Budweiser longneck and an Alabama Slammer
You're listening to: Tom Waits, Johnny Cash
The PS Lounge looks like my grandfather's den: Dark, worn leather booths and a small, 15-stool bar sit under '70s-era wood-paneled walls covered with NFL and Budweiser paraphernalia. Women receive roses from the bartender. No draft beer is served, just bottles, which are mostly domestic and mostly cheap. An old jukebox heavy on Johnny Cash sits guard at the door, and a small back room has a pool table. There is no lock on the bathroom door. Nothing fancy, but lived-in and homey, just like grandpa's.—PD

William's Tavern

423 E. 17th Ave, 303-861-9813
You're drinking: Busch Light, on draft
You're listening to: The White Stripes and Lynyrd Skynyrd
Meet William: William isn't fancy; he only owns one pool table. William isn't rich; PBR in a can is $1.50 during happy hour. But William is friendly (his free Sunday hangover brunch is legendary), and his tavern is one of the best damned blue-collar dive bars in the city. —Brian Melton

Goosetown Tavern

3242 E. Colfax Ave., 303-399-9703
You're drinking: Denver Pale Ale and Jack Daniel's
You're listening to: R.E.M.
The Goosetown Tavern is the perfect place to watch the happenings on Colfax. Grab a table by the window, order your favorite microbrew and a pizza, and sit back for some quality people-watching. —KL

Rocky Flats Lounge

11229 Highway 93, 303-499-4242
You're drinking: Leinie's on tap
You're listening to: AC/DC, Reba McIntyre
Like the hard-luck workers who used to mold plutonium triggers just down the road, the Rocky Flats Lounge hides a sweet heart under a forlorn and weathered shell. Decades after it stopped cutting checks, the nuke plant's old payroll office continues to attract Flats employees, this time with pints. Since the plant closed and the happy-hour crowd drifted away, the corner-bar feel lives largest on Friday's Wisconsin-style fish-fry nights, and on Sundays, when Packers fans gather for the weekly Lambeau Field high mass, which, in keeping with the Lounge's—ahem—unrefined decor (wood paneling, vinyl tablecloths), they view not on the latest HD plasma widescreen, but on a few old TVs scattered around the joint. For all its seeming seedy-roadhouse mystique, the Lounge is your friendly neighborhood dive bar, only without any neighbors.—Joe Lindsey

Lightning in a Wagon

The first bar in Denver.

On Christmas Eve, 1858, trader and mountaineer Richens Lacy Wootton pulled eight goods-laden wagons into the burgeoning settlement at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte and unloaded two barrels of Taos Lightning—a wheat-based liquor laced with gunpowder, tobacco, and pepper, among other things. He began passing out shots of the whiskeylike concoction, better known as "bust-head," "tangle-foot," or "rot-gut."*
He made a lot of friends that night, earning the nickname "Uncle Dick" along with an invitation to set up shop on Ferry Street (now 11th Street). Within months, he opened Wootton's Western Hall, the first bar in Denver. Compared to the tent city along the riverbank, "Uncle Dick's" place, with its hewn-log structure, shingles, and glass windows, was an impressive structure. Equal parts town hall, general store, saloon, hotel, and bowling alley, it was one of young Denver's first gathering places. In 1859, the fledgling Colorado Territorial Legislature met at the bar to draft a constitution and make plans for separating from the Kansas Territory.
By 1860, a dozen bars flanked the street with offerings of prostitutes, whiskey, cards, and dancing. Impatient travelers, many of them miners waiting to cross the South Platte on Thomas Warren's ferry, backed up along the thoroughfare, finding welcome distractions at its many saloons. By 1862, unable to compete, Uncle Dick headed back to the mountains. Rumors swirled that his Confederate sympathies forced him out, but he claimed the town was getting too crowded—and that he "might have been expected to wear fine clothes." —NG

*For a Taos Lightning replica, try the $5 "Trade Whiskey" at the Fort restaurant. Complete with rotgut!

Lightning in a Wagon

The first bar in Denver.

On Christmas Eve, 1858, trader and mountaineer Richens Lacy Wootton pulled eight goods-laden wagons into the burgeoning settlement at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte and unloaded two barrels of Taos Lightning—a wheat-based liquor laced with gunpowder, tobacco, and pepper, among other things. He began passing out shots of the whiskeylike concoction, better known as "bust-head," "tangle-foot," or "rot-gut."*

He made a lot of friends that night, earning the nickname "Uncle Dick" along with an invitation to set up shop on Ferry Street (now 11th Street). Within months, he opened Wootton's Western Hall, the first bar in Denver. Compared to the tent city along the riverbank, "Uncle Dick's" place, with its hewn-log structure, shingles, and glass windows, was an impressive structure. Equal parts town hall, general store, saloon, hotel, and bowling alley, it was one of young Denver's first gathering places. In 1859, the fledgling Colorado Territorial Legislature met at the bar to draft a constitution and make plans for separating from the Kansas Territory.

By 1860, a dozen bars flanked the street with offerings of prostitutes, whiskey, cards, and dancing. Impatient travelers, many of them miners waiting to cross the South Platte on Thomas Warren's ferry, backed up along the thoroughfare, finding welcome distractions at its many saloons. By 1862, unable to compete, Uncle Dick headed back to the mountains. Rumors swirled that his Confederate sympathies forced him out, but he claimed the town was getting too crowded—and that he "might have been expected to wear fine clothes." —NG

*For a Taos Lightning replica, try the $5 "Trade Whiskey" at the Fort restaurant. Complete with rotgut!

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