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


Niwot Tavern

7960 Niwot Road, Niwot, 303-652-0200
You're drinking: Left Hand's Sawtooth Ale and a shot of bourbon
You're listening to: An acoustic country singer
The Niwot resides just east of the tiny downtown, in a crook of businesses behind the gas station. There are only 16 seats at the heavy oak bar, across which the graying bartender will give you an ear-to-ear grin and slide you a pint. Niwotonians are friendly folks, so count on middle-aged regulars to come in with scathing movie reviews and boss around your drink orders. —J. Dorris

Oskar Blues

303 Main St., Lyons, 303-823-6685
You're drinking: Dale's Pale Ale, Old Chubb
You're listening to: Something you'll stomp your feet to
I've spent 27 years creating my own version of heaven, but three years ago I discovered Oskar Blues in Lyons had beat me to the punch. Two hostess angels greeted me at the doors and took me upstairs, where I was offered the finest in comfort food and lost myself in chicken fried steak, buttermilk biscuits, and Dale's Pale Ale. Heaven's river is the creamy draft of Old Chubb, which runs thick, dark, and smoother than its canned cousin. But, like you might suspect, heaven can get a little boring, with lots of families and laughing and food. It's OK, though; downstairs, things are hellaciously fun—it's where soulful women will sing you the blues and country-rockin' old men in torn-off T-shirts will cuss life up one side and down the other. So if you think it's wrong to seek the afterlife in your favorite bar, just pull up a stool, son, and this fresh Dale's Pale Ale says you'll probably change your mind.—J. Dorris

The Kitchen Upstairs

1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973
You're drinking: A decanted half-bottle of French Bordeaux
You're listening to: Ambient downbeats
A place where the grown-ups go to drink in Boulder. Not only is there the impeccably edited menu of wines by the glass (one that's gotten kudos from Wine Spectator), there's also an equally impressive, five-page menu of beer. Yes, five pages of beer, with tasting notes describing the "contemplative bouquet" and "profound hop bitterness" of your $11 pint of Belgian brew. This groovy-cozy lounge is the upstairs extension of Boulder's acclaimed restaurant the Kitchen (hence the name), so the food is knock-your-socks-off good, too. One bite of the wood-fired gnocchi alla romano with Hazel Dell mushrooms and you'll wonder why you ever bothered choking down onion rings at that dive bar last weekend. Most important, that anti-dive bar vibe keeps the CU students at bay, leaving a gap that's easily filled by Boulder's army of beautiful yuppie/sporto singletons. —C. Meyers

West End Tavern

926 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-3535
You're drinking: Maker's Mark on the rocks
You're listening to: Journey
On a Friday night in February, the leather-and-brick West End feels like a neighborhood tavern should—rosy-cheeked locals belly up three-deep to the mirrored mahogany bar, shouting out whiskey orders over the banter and classic rock. It's as close as you'll get to the Chicago/Philly/Boston bar experience in Boulder, but with a Dave Query sheen (he's the guy behind Jax and LoLa). Meaning, the floors aren't too sticky, the staff is good-looking, and the BLTs are topped with ahi tuna. —C. Meyers