Reporting by Julie Dugdale, Amanda M. Faison, Luc Hatlestad, Lindsey B. Koehler, Lindsey R. McKissick, Chris Outcalt, Daliah Singer & Geoff Van Dyke
Issue: February 2012
The 35 Best Bars in Denver
From dive bars to chic cocktail lounges, we drank our way through the Mile High City to find the best places to imbibe.
El Charrito We must have walked by El Charrito a dozen times before we realized it was there. Open off and on for the last decade, a dark corner bar in the typically neon-lit Ballpark bar scene was easy to overlook. But now it’s back (Wednesday through Sunday) thanks to owners Matt and Esmeralda Orrin—who you may find slinging drinks behind the bar. Besides the cheap booze (did you say $6 for two whiskey gingers? Downtown?) and compact black-leather booths, there’s the karaoke: Get there early to nab a spot on the playlist. 2100 Larimer St., 303-523-1688, elcharritobar.com
Drink this: The beer du jour—or a Jameson car bomb.
Candlelight Tavern Bar & Grill Don’t let the midcentury basement feel (i.e., wood-paneled walls and no windows) deter you. The 50-year-old Candlelight—which still has a pay phone sign hanging out front—is one of the best places to cozy up on a winter’s night. With a constant hum of conversation from the assortment of patrons, from college kids to decade-long regulars, an inexpensive menu of $2 PBRs and bar snacks for $5 or less, and a friendly staff, the joint feels homey. Sure, the shuffleboard and pool tables need a little love, and it’s standing room only on weekends, but you can always go outside and grab a bite from one of the often-parked food trucks. 383 S. Pearl St., 303-778-9530
Drink this: Jack and Coke.
PS Lounge Part of what makes a dive bar a dive bar is that it’s filled with regulars trading stories and downing the same drink they’ve imbibed for 20 years. PS Lounge is just that; the type of place that makes you feel like one of the crew from your first visit—everyone from the bartenders to the fellow patrons wants to know your name. (It helps that ladies get a flower and a house shot with their first drink.) That cozy vibe extends to the 1970s lounge ambience, complete with shag carpet and a jukebox of classics. Plus, you can order the heavenly slices from Enzo’s End Pizzeria next door—and have them delivered to your table. Be smart: The drinks are strong and cheap, but PS only takes cash. 3416 E. Colfax Ave., 303-320-1200
Drink this: Bourbon, neat.
Sancho’s Broken Arrow Colfax is Denver’s dive bar hub, and while every block has a worthy challenger, Sancho’s location (next to the Fillmore, down the street from the Ogden) and just-grimy-enough-but-not-creepy atmosphere earns it a coveted spot on this list. The Dead Head vibe lends itself to a hipster/hippie clientele (happy hour starts at 4:20 p.m., get it?), but the laid-back bartenders, air hockey table, and live local bands on Mondays are details that make this the spot for anyone wanting a strong pour. Take in the old concert posters and other memorabilia lining the walls while relaxing to jam band tunes of the ’60s and ’70s, and revel in the fact that you’re only spending $3 a drink. 741 E. Colfax Ave., 303-832-5288, quixotes.com
Drink this: The Grateful Dead, a Long Island iced tea made with Chambord or other black raspberry liqueur instead of Coke.
Skylark Lounge It’s hard to pin down why we love Skylark. Is it the gray-haired bartender wearing a Western bolo tie striking up relaxed conversations with patrons? Is it the aura of a bygone era, with old-school movie posters (Rita Hayworth, anyone?) and photos adorning the walls? Is it the massive wooden bar? Is it Tony the bartender (aka DJ Tone)—catch him Wednesday nights—throwing down early punk ’70s and ’80s tunes like Elvis Costello? It’s all of it. Skylark’s been around since 1943, and its age shows, but in a way that tempts you to sit down and stay. 140 S. Broadway, 303-722-7844, skylarklounge.com
Drink this: Any tap beer.
Trends: Staying Power
Walk into a bar on any given night of the year and you’ll likely find a drink—or an entire cocktail menu—dedicated to whatever trend mixologists are rabid about at that moment. Come back next week? You’ll find something completely different. Here are some new and old trends that we’d like to stick around—and some we hope never to see on a happy hour list ever again.
Specialty glasses We never knew we cared so much about the vessel our drink was in until bartenders started whipping out concoctions in Champagne coupe glasses. Believe us: The glass makes all the difference.
Ice A drink’s building block. A good bartender knows the ice should be given the same attention as the quality of the spirits.
Craft beer With oodles of breweries slated to open this year in Colorado, we’re happy to say our thirst is nowhere near being quenched. Our latest obsession: Saisons.
Absinthe We’re the first to admit that bartenders went overboard with absinthe drinks when it was (finally) legalized in the states in 2007. But the earthy-sweet flavor of an absinthe rinse spices up ho-hum classics.
Cosmopolitans This sweet-sour drink had its moment—more than 10 years ago. It’s time to let it go. Especially since there are plenty of other heavy-drinking shows to motivate us, like Mad Men. (Appletini drinkers, take note.)
Tiki bar drinks We’ve drank enough of these punch-bowl drinks to know: These are cesspools of flu-spreading evil.
PBR Oh, Pabst Blue Ribbon, we hate to do this, but you’ve simply become too trendy. We have to break up. Up next: Olympia beer.
Over-garnished drinks We’re all for a lemon zest here or an orange peel there, but together? With a maraschino cherry? It’s just a cover-up for a poorly mixed beverage.