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

Click here to view our map of the best Denver-area bars

Bars are often confused with restaurants. It's a common mistake that can be avoided by understanding the main difference: Restaurants are destinations; bars are not. The best restaurants, through their food and fame, will draw people from across the city, the state—or sometimes the country—to enjoy their crispy Colorado striped bass filet or slow-braised Highland beef with roasted corn risotto. Bars are local joints. Regardless of whether they're swanky cocktail lounges or dingy hole-in-the-walls, they attract people that live, work, or play nearby to come in for a beer or three. Bars, like parks or libraries, belong to and reflect the surrounding blocks in the best ways. The crowds, the decor, and the staff are familiar, inviting, and inherently of a neighborhood. The best bars are like second homes—with draft beer.

 

With that in mind, we scoured Denver, Boulder, and the suburbs for neighborhood drinking institutions. (For our methodology, see page 71). Chances are, there's one a stone's throw from your house. Go there. Drink. Watch the game. Meet your neighbors. Be merry. And have another

DOWNTOWN

 

Wazee Supper Club

1600 15th St., 303-623-9518
You're drinking: Myriad microbrews—and Pabst Blue Ribbon—on draft
You're listening to: The Kinks, AC/DC, Eagles
There are fancy local beers on tap at Wazee. Lots of them, actually, with names like Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter and Wynkoop's B3K Schwarz. Good to know, then, that the most popular beer at the LoDo institution is Pabst Blue Ribbon. And why not? If bars were like sweaters, Wazee would be your warm, fuzzy, stretched-at-the-neck-and-waist standby—a little worn but mostly because you pull the thing on, like, every day. Founded in 1974 and until recently owned by Mayor Hickenlooper, Wazee, with its checkerboard floor and vintage mahogany art deco back bar, serves up a quintessential Denver vibe: big drinkers and businessmen looking for some liquid solace after a long day. Pregame Nuggets and Avs fans are welcome, but so are families looking for a friendly neighborhood joint and a solid pizza. Big groups can reserve the upper loft and have their food and drinks delivered to them via a dumbwaiter made with a 1937 garage-door opener. If you're solo, nab a seat at the bar and people-watch while you sip, or slug, your PBR.—Geoff Van Dyke

The Corner Office

1401 Curtis St., 303-825-6500
You're drinking: A Dirty Shirley (3 Olives Cherry Vodka and lime juice)
You're listening to: Peppy urban jazz
Until last summer, Theater District denizens had no place to get a drink before a show or after 10 hours at work. The Corner Office, resplendent in its retro-mod, funky-yet-sophisticated decor, fills this niche nicely, whether you're hitting it in that workaholic, I'm-going-to-bill-100-hours-this-week kinda way, or just passing time before the curtain rises across the street.—Julie Dugdale

Cruise Room Bar

1600 17th St., 303-628-5400
You're drinking: A shaken martini
You're listening to: Vintage Benny Goodman
The Cruise Room has loads of history—it opened the day after Prohibition ended, was modeled after a bar on the 1930s cruise ship Queen Mary, and feels a bit like a speakeasy—but it's the martinis that keep bringing people back. Ten dollars buys you a shaker with 2.5 glasses worth of perfectly mixed vodka, vermouth, and olive juice. —Natasha Gardner

9th Door

1808 Blake St., 303-292-2229
You're drinking: Sangria
You're listening to: Live flamenco guitar
Maybe it's the lusty red decor, the strong but sweet sangria, the community table made from 275-year-old Spanish doors, or (on most weeknights) the live, sultry flamenco guitar, but the 9th Door feels like it belongs in Barcelona, not LoDo. —Amanda Faison

El Chapultepec

1962 Market St., 303-295-9126
You're drinking: Tequila shots and a Budweiser longneck
You're listening to: Denver's best jazz
Having served up the same high-quality live jazz seven nights a week for more than 50 years, the Pec was downtown's coolest joint long before LoDo was hip and Todd Helton started smashing fastballs at high altitude. The experience is intimate: No matter where you're sitting or standing, you're practically on the stage. There's no cover, and while the bartender will let you nurse a drink without complaint, this little-dive-that-could deserves a little of your hard-earned cash, so order a couple Buds and a round of shots. The bathrooms look like they haven't been touched since the bar opened, and the burritos are only for the gastronomically adventurous, but trust us, this only adds to the charm. —NG

Falling Rock Tap House

1919 Blake St., 303-293-8338
You're drinking: Green Flash IPA or Chimay You're listening to: Buddy Guy, Louis Armstrong
Coors and Bud be damned: It's "no crap on tap" in this uncompromising LoDo bar, where artisanal beers are the only frills. The walls are raw brick, the floors bare wood, the booths uncushioned, the service sketchy. For art, there are the 75 tap handles behind the bar. A smudged chalk menu lists yesterday's selection of rare imports and limited-production domestics; for current choices, quiz the bartender, who—if he deems you worthy—will decipher the rare, one-off kegs just tapped. On the wall, a digital countdown ticks off the days till the next Great American Beer Festival, when the Falling Rock hosts the after-party for the beer world's Academy Awards. Think you know Black Butte Porter from Cutthroat Porter? Come back when the digits read straight zeroes to sample the special stuff owner Chris Black stashed away for GABF brewers and beer savants.—Kelly Bastone

British Bulldog

2052 Stout St., 303-295-7974
You're drinking: Fuller's London Pride, on draft
You're listening to: The Killers, The Hives, Rage Against the Machine
Though it's only two years old, the British Bulldog oozes history—partly because it feels a bit like an old pub you might happen upon while wandering around London, and partly because the Bulldog's building has been home to one bar or another for more than 100 years. The worn tile floors, high, pressed-tin ceiling, and private booths painted with faded landscapes make for a cozy, welcome respite from the bleak stretch of Stout Street outside. Also welcome: two two-for-one happy hours, between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and 10 p.m. and midnight, every day; soccer on the teley round the clock; and some killer Pakistani eats. If that weren't enough, the Bulldog opens at 7 on weekend mornings during the English Premiere League soccer season, and serves a true breakfast of champions: eggs, bacon, bangers, fried tomatoes, baked beans, and blood pudding—and, of course, two Imperial pints of your favorite English suds.—GVD

The Walnut Room

3131 Walnut St., 303-292-1700
You're drinking: Blue Moon on tap
You're listening to: Denver's indie band-of-the-moment
In the middle of the no-frills Ballpark neighborhood (across from a junk yard, no less), the two-year-old Walnut Room is fast becoming one of Denver's hippest small music venues. Grab a stool at the wooden bar for a draft beer and pizza before ducking into the back-room performance space for the tunes. The clientele is as varied as the music—biker, yuppie, emo, whatever—so go as you are, but be prepared to rock. —Cheryl Meyers

Nobody's Drunker in Denver

Debunking the alcohol at altitude myth.

In Colorado, as the story goes, booze gets you drunker. Has to do with the high altitude, people-in-the-wise claim to scare tourists and transplants from that fifth Coors Light. Even the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau advises tourists to "go easy on the alcohol in the mountains and in Denver, as its effects will feel stronger here."

However enjoyable it might be to believe this, it's a high-altitude myth.

The misperception started in 1936, when two Columbia University psychologists got drunk in the Andes. Using some old-school breathalyzers, they found that their blood-alcohol levels were higher at 12,200 feet and 17,500 feet than at sea level. A couple studies later, McFarland was ready to declare that, "The alcohol in two or three cocktails would have the physiological action of four or five drinks at altitudes of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 feet." More than 50 years later Denverites boast that two beers at altitude is equal to four at sea level.

However, researchers in the 1980s—primarily at the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute—dispelled those findings. Using more sophisticated equipment and improved methods (placebo alcohol!), they found no altitude effect on blood-alcohol level and that impaired test subjects did no worse on cognitive tests. Reached by phone, Dr. William Collins—the FAA psychologist—reiterated his findings. "The [physiological] studies are absolutely clear that there is no effect of altitude when you're comparing ground level to 12,000 feet," he says. "The breathalyzer readings are not different; the blood-alcohol levels are not different."

Touché, Dr. Collins. Denver, you heard the doc: Drink up if you'd like, but stop lying about your studly tolerance.—PD

NORTH DENVER

North Star

3200 Tejon St., 303-919-7942
You're drinking: Pic's Pale Ale or the local microbrew of the week
You're listening to: The game, classic rock
Convenience lures East Highlanders to North Star; the tater tots compel them to stay. Co-proprietor Kyle Carstens had the good sense to put the golden-fried nuggets on his menu alongside such pub staples as sliders and a falls-apart-in-your-hands pulled pork sandwich with slaw on top that could turn the most righteous vegetarian into a born-again caveman. Yes, it's a brewery—they make three or four of their own, the best being the Pic's Pale, a bitter, hoppy elixir that'll make your cheeks flutter like an excitable stallion. But the beer list reaches way beyond North Star's walls, with brews like Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen, and picks-of-the-week from Wynkoop, Railyard, and Boulder breweries. North Star's no dive and no yuppie joint; it's neither clean nor dirty, light nor dark. It's simply, refreshingly normal and reliable, like a tater tot fried to perfection.—Mike Kessler

My Brother's Bar

2376 15th St., 303-455-9991
You're drinking: Fuller's London Pride, on draft
You're listening to: Classical music
If there were a prototype for drinking-establishment excellence, it would be My Brother's Bar. It has history: When Jim and Angelo Karagas bought the joint in 1970, the building had already been a bar for nearly 80 years. It's generally dark, there are no distracting televisions, soothing classical music is always playing, and the bar and tables are worn in and lacquered to hell. The slim, delicious hamburgers are some of the best in the city, and a bag of popcorn will only set you back 50 cents. There's a well-edited beer list with hard-to-find Fuller's London Pride and Golden City Red Ale, not to mention a huge selection of bourbon, Scotch, and rye. It has good service: The bartenders are smart, funny, and always on their game. Seating options abound: a front room with an 11-stool bar and a few weathered tables, a back room for dining, and a homey beer garden that's the best spot for outdoor drinking in the city. The only possible conclusion: My Brother's is the best bar in Denver. —Patrick Doyle

The Grizzly Rose

5450 N. Valley Highway, 303-295-2353
You're drinking: Whatever cheap beer the bartender hands you
You're listening to: Live honky-tonk acts, both big and small
From I-25, the Rose looks like a well-used strip club, but inside the bar is home to one of the best honky-tonk dance floors in the country. The belt buckles are huge, the Wranglers are pressed, and the live acts are some of the biggest (think: Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and Willie Nelson) to come through town. Beer lines stretch 20 cowboys deep on the weekends, so make the bartender fish an extra bottle out of the tub when you finally shuffle to the front. And, if you tire of line-dancing, be sure to watch skinny-jeaned hipsters falling off the mechanical bull.—NG

Mead St. Station

3625 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-2138
You're drinking: Harp Lager or a glass of red wine
You're listening to: Earnest-as-hell live local bands
Despite its location in the heart of the increasingly upscale Highland hood, Mead St. Station feels like some forgotten pocket from the area's not-too-distant past, when Italian grandmas watered flawless lawns and people sat on stoops instead of power-walking their Weimeraners. Long-time regulars blend in with families, blind dates, and post-lawn-mowing beer drinkers, all here for tap beers, pub fare, and music. Chances are, you'll hear "Horse With No Name" on a slower night, between the more polished R&B and acoustic bands. And you'll like it. —Cara McDonald

On the House

Drinking advice from an old pro

Dwight Long has been pouring drinks at My Brother's Bar for eight years. In 2007, 5280 named him the best bartender in Denver, an honor he says earned him "a lot more crap from my fellow bartenders." A while back, Dwight poured us a nice, smoky scotch and talked about American bourbons, where he likes to drink, and how to kick a hangover.

What do we need to be drinking these days? I like to recommend that people drink more whiskey. I'm really into American whiskeys lately. Many people forget what a great distilling history we have.

Speaking of whiskey, what do you do to get rid of a hangover? Oh man, Monday I had a really bad hangover. I hadn't really drank for a year.

What? Well, I just had a baby. She's five weeks old. Her name is Jameson.

So what did you do about that hangover? I think the best cure sometimes is just to get up and get moving. That and the chili cheese fries from Chubby's. Those things could cure cancer. And then you'll forget you had a hangover because your stomach will hurt so bad.

Aside from My Brother's Bar, where do you like to knock 'em back? The Skylark Lounge. They have about 20 beers on tap, and 90 percent of them are relatively good.

Any advice for the other bartenders out there? My mantra is to never piss off the waitresses.

—Interview by Jennie Dorris

Our Methodology

When faced with compiling a definitive bars guide, we asked ourselves a simple question: Where do we regularly drink? Which bars do we return to time and time again, on good days, on bad days, and days in between, to get a beer and have some company? This list is the answer—these are our drinking places. So please, come in, pull up a stool, and have a beer. Next round's on you.

SOUTH DENVER

Bull and Bush Brewery

4700 Cherry Creek South Drive, 303-759-0333
You're drinking: Man Beer and whiskey
You're listening to: Widespread Panic, Bruce Springsteen
When the heavy, Tudor-style pub door whoomps closed behind you, Glendale's piercing sunshine is shut out and your eyes dim to the level of the frosted lanterns and giant TVs faintly illuminating the worn carpet and rustic wooden beams. Tip back a hearty, house-brewed beer, or, if you're a whiskey drinker, one of the 200-plus bourbons and single-malts served. Go ahead and order a side of cholesterol—the prime rib or maybe the fish 'n' chips—and unbuckle the belt a notch. Too dark in here for anyone to notice—or care.—KB

The Cherry Cricket

2641 E. Second Ave., 303-322-7666
You're drinking: Stone IPA, by the pitcher
You're listening to: Classic rock
A laid-back, great-beer oasis (Stone IPA, 90 Shilling, and Smithwicks on draft) in the vast cocktail wasteland of Cherry Creek North.

The Village Cork

1300 S. Pearl St., 303-282-8399
You're drinking: A glass of Italian wine
Overheard: "This place is the closest thing you'll find to Paris in Colorado."
The cork-laden bar top is your first indicator of how much vino flows from bottle to glass at this intimate South Pearl Street wine bar. The wooden furniture, exposed-brick walls, mismatched china, and a couple of dozen choices on the black chalkboard menu give the bar a casual, flirty ambience that—after a few glasses of the good stuff—feels very sexy.—Lindsey Koehler

Skylark Lounge

140 S. Broadway, 303-722-7844
You're drinking: A martini
You're listening to: '50s rock 'n' roll
Sometimes a girl needs to escape the emo pants and sleeve tattoos of South Broadway, and one way to do that is to duck into the dark, unpretentious Skylark and saddle up to its large horseshoe bar. With stimuli at a minimum—no TVs hanging, no trivia, no kitschy bar games—you can actually talk with the horned-rimmed-glasses-wearing bartenders. Just don't expect it to be a one-on-one conversation; the whole bar, even those three drunk hippies, is going to want to play free-association theater games or critique your choice of vodka.—Jennie Dorris

Great Northern Tavern

8101 E. Belleview Ave., Suite E, 303-770-4741
You're drinking: Odell's Cutthroat Porter
You're listening to: You're way too sophisticated for a jukebox, right?
More for the casual drinker, this highbrow bar and restaurant in the heart of the DTC is perfect for the after-work crowd or those looking for a low-key date. Note: The sweater-vest appears to be required attire. The wood-paneled ceiling and dim lights add to the classy, upscale vibe. There are 16 beers on tap, and none are named Budweiser, Coors or Miller. —Robert Sanchez

Pearl Street Grill

1477 S. Pearl St., 303-778-6475
You're drinking: Denver Pale Ale and a shot of Jack
You're listening to: Classic rock
At its heart, the Pearl Street Grill is a locals' joint, where Platt Park neighbors come to fill the spaces in life: after the nine-hour shift at the office, before heading to a show downtown, for a nightcap after a Rockies game, or whenever they need more contact with society than The Biggest Loser. Avoid it at dusk, when well-coiffed men and women waiting for their tables at Sushi Den order drinks with more than two ingredients and talk too loudly. Late night is best, between 11 and midnight, when you can sit at the bar between a grandfather nursing a Drambuie and a butterscotch sundae and a Sushi Den server trying to forget his well-coiffed clientele with equal amounts of tequila and PBR. They may have little in common, but they know where to go for a pick-me-up—or a knock-you-down. —PD

Squealing Pig

2700 E. Third Ave., 303-388-4440
You're drinking: Tullamore Dew whiskey, neat
You're listening to: The Pogues; Irish classics
The owners of the Squealing Pig have turned one of the least-likely places—a basement spot below two hair salons in Cherry Creek North—into one of the best Irish pubs in Denver. It has the compact, homey, organic feel of a bar you'd find in a small Gaelic town—a hodgepodge of old tables, mismatched chairs, booth seats covered with old fabric from the curtains, and most important of all: whiskey, and lots of it.—PD

CENTRAL DENVER

Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Café

534 E. Colfax Ave., 303-861-0347
You're drinking: An imported beer whose name you can't pronounce
You're listening to: Early '90s rock
The new-bar smell at the Cheeky Monk hasn't worn off yet—the walls are bare, the bar unscratched, and the windows, which face Colfax, haven't been mussed up. After a few beers, though, you won't care, and you'll have a hard time telling who has more trouble walking—the Fax denizens outside or the Monk drinkers inside, tossing back Belgian ales with 9-plus alcohol content. —NG

Pints Pub

221 W. 13th Ave., 303-534-7543
You're drinking: Alchemy ESB cask ale and two fingers of Scotch
You're listening to: Traditional British music
We love Scotch. Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch. At Pint's Pub, there are more than 260 types to try, as well as hand-pumped cask ale—a Denver rarity.

Govnr's Park Restaurant & Tavern

672 Logan St., 303-831-8605
You're drinking: A Bloody Mary
You're listening to: The game
Need a mid-Sunday place to decompress after Saturday night's bender? Gov's is as familiar and worn as your favorite Broncos jersey; where the only things that exist in the universe are you, your team, and your $2 pint. Every corner glows with NFL Sunday action—even the outside patio. If you're not wearing sports paraphernalia or jeans and a fleece, you're overdressed. Personally, I roll up in PJs, order up some nachos and a big ol' Bloody to nurse the hangover, and stake out a table with a view of the big-screens.—J. Dugdale

Don's Club Tavern

723 E. Sixth Ave.
You're drinking: A whiskey sour
You're listening to: Rock ranging from Death Cab for Cutie to AC/DC
Don's Club Tavern—better known as Don's Mixed Drinks—has cheap drinks, gruff bartenders, dim lightning, and a bar coated with a sticky film. Go here.

Alcoholic Anonymous

The Nondrinker's POV

9 p.m. The bartender finally emerges from the bowels of the tavern holding a dust-caked six-pack of O'Doul's. I'd bet a week's pay on what he'll say next.

"It's warm."

Oh well, at least they have it.

I quit drinking about 12 years ago but never stopped going to bars. I'm no weenie teetotalist, and bars are where everyone is: friends, bands, women. I just like the atmosphere—to a point.

10 p.m. The O'Doul's has chilled to lukewarm. Close enough.

After flunking a magazine test about my inebriation habits at 29, I knew it was time. I rarely stumbled home, blacked out, or got into foolish brawls; to paraphrase writer Pete Hamill, I simply wasn't very good at it. So when I saw my red-flag score, like a longtime fugitive weary of running, I turned myself in.

Quitting was surprisingly easy. I went to a month of AA meetings, but haven't been back since I got my 30-day chip. I once craved a drink, following my grandfather's funeral several months after my last cocktail (which, for the record, was champagne sipped from my girlfriend's navel). My cousin handed me an N/A, and the moment it hit my tongue the craving washed away in a startling rush.

11 p.m. The best time. People laugh, flirt—connect—the inhibitions beating a charming retreat. The revelers teeter toward incapacitation, predictably oblivious to my unaltered sobriety.

AA devotees might compare me to a junkie kicking it in a crack house, but it's simply never been an issue. Bars unite and entertain—usually, for the sober, until about midnight, when my jackass friend tells the same story for the third time in about 30 minutes.

Think I'll call it a night. —Luc Hatlestad

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!

SUBURBS

Stampede

2430 S. Havana St., Aurora, 303-696-7686
You're drinking: Coors Light on draft from a plastic cup
You're listening to: Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Deana Carter
Now this is cowboy authenticity. While the Grizzly Rose gets most of the glory, the Stampede has quietly grown into one of the best nightspots in town. Hesitant city folk can survey the situation from the second-story ledge: whirling cowboys and cowgirls, mechanical bull riders, huge jumbo screens playing country music videos, and over 35,000 square feet of boot-scootin' action. —BM

Golden City

920 12th St., Golden, 303-279-8092
You're drinking: Legendary Red Ale
You're listening to: Laughing kids, barking dogs
As a college student, I used to think it was cool to sneak in the back entrance of the Coors brewery with my friends and get our three free beers at the tasting room. Then I discovered tiny Golden City, which looks like just another house in an older neighborhood until you discover it's a house with great, strong beer on tap, a brewery in its garage, and a bar area in its backyard, loaded with neighbors playing board games and cards. I never went back to Colorado Kool-Aid again. —J. Dorris

The D Note

7519 Grandview Ave., Arvada, 303-463-6683
You're drinking: New Belgium 2 Below
You're listening to: Live blues
Part of the urban renewal that transformed Olde Town Arvada (yes, with the E) from blighted shell to vibrant, borderline-hip downtown area, the D Note is proof that even suburbs can be cool. Sundays might be the best night: beginner-friendly salsa lessons followed by a smokin' Latin jam by bands like Conjunto Colores. New Urbanism gets dinged for its irritably shiny United Colors of Benetton approach, but the D Note's wide-open vibe scores: Everyone's welcome, whether you want to nurse a cold one in the back or jump on stage to sing a blues standard with the local trio. Just make sure you can hold a tune.—JL

The Little Bear

27895 Highway 74, Evergreen, 303-674-9991
You're drinking: Coors Original, on draft
You're listening to: Live country, blues, and rock
This decades-old establishment feels like a Colorado bar should: warm, well worn, and a bit rough around the edges. Onion rings and burgers are served from a window and cold beers from the bar; every square inch of the wooden walls and booths is covered in name carvings, which isn't that surprising since everyone at the Bear looks like he carries a knife—pocket or otherwise.—LK

Auld Dubliner Irish Pub

2796 S. Broadway, Englewood, 303-781-0864
You're drinking: A Black and Tan
You're listening to: Alternating Rolling Stones and Irish folk tunes
This stand-alone pub is small—you'll brush elbows with strangers in a cozy, toast-your-neighbor kind of way—and the interior is dim and antiquey, but that's exactly what makes it a welcoming watering hole should you find yourself south of the city on a blustery winter night.—J. Dugdale

Warhorse Inn

19420 E. Mainstreet, Parker, 303-841-4018
You're drinking: A Parker Paralyzer (dark rum, vodka, gin, Coke, and sweet and sour)
You're listening to: Blues, lots of blues
This former feed store has soul: worn wooden floors, brick, and darkened leather, and a painted horse above the doorway. More impressively, it's survived more than two decades on Parker's Mainstreet.

Baker Street Pub

7260 W. Alaska Drive, Lakewood, 303-953-5510
You're drinking: Baker Street Nut Brown
You're listening to: Live jazz and rock
Despite being a Sherlock Holmes-themed chain in the middle of a GAP-addicted new urbanism development, the Baker Street Pub is actually cool. No, really. The mass-produced tchotchkies are kept to a minimum, there's a great view of the ice-skating rink outside, and, most important, the bar's packed every night with a laid-back, 25- to 45-year-old crowd focused on drinking, talking, and playing cards.—PD

Old Louisville Inn

740 Front St., Louisville 303-666-9982
You're drinking: Boddingtons
You're listening to: U2, Sinead O'Connor
The copper, tobacco-spit gutter lining the bottom of the antique bar at the Old Louisville Inn should give you an idea the kind of history it's seen: mining strikes, the Ludlow Massacre, a brothel in the back, and an era when firing your six-shooter inside would only get you thrown out, not arrested. —KL

BOULDER AREA

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