Feature

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.

February 2012

5280.com Exclusives: 
The Best Neighborhood Bars.
Mix It: How to Make Olivéa's Ophelia at home.
Mix it: How to Make Interstate's Standard Etiquette at home.
Mix it: How to Make the Barrel Aged Martinez from Steuben's at home.
Mix it: How to Make Williams & Graham's Vieux Carré at home.

 

COCKTAILS

Olivéa Food meets drink on this Uptown restaurant’s cocktail list with chef-inspired sips made with seasonal stalwarts (beets, cranberries, citrus fruits, and hearty herbs in the winter). The drinks are food-friendly, meaning you won’t burn out your palate with hard liquor—something not every cocktail can boast. Olivéa’s offerings are ever-changing, but we’re forever waiting for summer when ingredients like carrots and tomatoes are featured. 719 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-5050, olivearestaurant.com 

Drink this: Begin with the Ophelia, an herby tincture of gin, lemon, and rosemary. Move on to the Dante for a mix of beet purée, Herradura, citrus, and jalapeño-infused agave. Then call a cab to take you home.

5280.com Exclusive Mix It: How to Make Olivéa's Ophelia at home. 

Williams & Graham It was only a matter of time before the craft cocktail movement led to the rise of speakeasy-inspired bars. Williams & Graham—the second Prohibition-style bar to open in Denver—plays the role perfectly. There’s the sleepy bookstore front, the shop clerk who writes down your name on a piece of paper, passes it through a crack in the wall, and—perhaps—grants you access to the clandestine bar behind the bookcase. Once inside, the scene is set with old-school tunes and handcrafted sips. 3160 Tejon St., 303-997-8886, williamsandgraham.com

Drink this: Order the Vieux Carré, co-owner Sean Kenyon’s favorite after-shift cocktail.

5280.com Exclusive Mix it: How to Make Williams & Graham's Vieux Carré at home.

Green Russell Below Larimer Square’s bright lights is a dark, secluded entrance to what feels like a secret hideout: Green Russell, a Frank Bonnano project with a cocktail list crafted by Adam Hodak (the mastermind behind Osteria Marco’s bar). This subterranean space—and the heady drinking experience—is Hodak’s baby. He makes what he can from scratch, including grenadine, aquavit, seven types of bitters, four kinds of sours, five sodas, three tonics, eight syrups, five cellos, and more than a dozen infusions of rum, gin, bourbon, and vodka. Whew. That’s not to mention the ice, which is frozen in several sizes and shapes so it melts at a pace fitting for the cocktail. 1422 Larimer St., 303-893-6505, greenrussell.com

Drink this: The drinks are pricey, so order a sipper, like a Sazerac (rye, bitters, sugar cube, and flamed lemon peel served in an absinthe-rinsed glass).

5280.com Exclusive Mix it: How to Make the Barrel Aged Martinez from Steuben's at home.

Steuben’s Is Steuben’s a restaurant or a bar? Honestly, we don’t care as long as they serve fried chicken and mix some of the best cocktails in town. Under Sean Kenyon’s direction for four and a half years (he’s now at Williams & Graham), Steuben’s became the hottest cocktail bar in town. When Kenyon left, we worried the menu would become stagnant and deteriorate to mediocrity. We couldn’t have been more wrong. What makes Steuben’s a cocktail destination—year after year—is its ability to keep improving. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001, steubens.com

Drink this: A recent addition to the menu, the Martinez is an aged cocktail of gin, sweet vermouth, Leopold Brothers maraschino liquor, and bitters.

5280.com Exclusive  Mix it: How to Make the Barrel Aged Martinez from Steuben's at home.

Interstate Kitchen & Bar Whenever we’re out for cocktails, we ask one thing: Please serve us the best drink on your menu. It’s a simple request, but it tends to freak mixologists out. They want to know what we like; we want them to serve what they are most proud of. Fortunately, the bartender at Interstate didn’t blink an eye when we asked him on a recent visit: He served us a traditional Sazerac, and then a Standard Etiquette, a modern cocktail. It was a lesson in mixology, which makes Interstate more than just a damn good watering hole. It’s an experience. Bonus points for the hipster reading a book at the bar. 901 W. 10th Ave., 720-479-8829, interstaterestaurant.com

Drink this: Sip on the Standard Etiquette, a blend of whiskey, grapefruit juice, and honey.

5280.com Exclusive  Mix it: How to Make Interstate's Standard Etiquette at home.

 

SCIENCE: Cold Case 

The most important part of a drink just might be the ice.

When I started drinking spirits in earnest years ago, a gentleman much wiser than me said that the perfect martini consisted of three things: ice, ice, and more ice. That may have been overstating things a bit, but, nonetheless, any knowing bartender (and imbiber, no less) is aware of the importance of ice when it comes to cocktails. Stir your Manhattan if you want that smooth mouthfeel and wish to avoid the “bruising” of ingredients; shake your martini if you like things a little lighter and don’t mind those little shards of ice in your glass. And use big, square ice cubes (never freeze tap water; use boiled or filtered water) when you make your old-fashioned at home. (At certain local bars, like Green Russell, bartenders chip chunks of ice off giant blocks.) The larger surface area means the ice melts more slowly. The result: The ice will cool your beverage while neither messing with its flavor nor, perhaps just as importantly, diluting the alcohol. —Geoff Van Dyke

CRAFT BEER

Falling Rock Tap House It wasn’t long ago that Falling Rock was the place to go in Denver for craft beer selection. And, well, let’s be honest: It still is, even with the massive growth of lengthy beer lists around town. Owner Chris Black’s passion for beer (he’s almost as in demand at the Great American Beer Festival as the celebrity brewers) is borne out by the bar’s “No Crap On Tap” tagline, and the 85 or so rotating handles, which dispense everything from local microbrews to Belgian legends. The beer menu may frequently be out of date, and the service borders on surly at times—but, really, it’s a beer bar. Would you expect anything less? 1919 Blake St., 303-293-8338, fallingrocktaphouse.com

Drink this: Russian River Brewing’s Pliny The Elder imperial IPA on draught. The most balanced imperial IPA (8.0 percent alcohol by volume)—ever.

Freshcraft One of the newer additions to LoDo’s exploding food and craft beer scene, Freshcraft’s founders, the Forgy brothers (Lucas, Jason, and Aaron), have created a restaurant and beer bar that’s difficult not to like. The menu is a culinary mash-up of comfort foods like a barbecue chicken sandwich and the cheese crusted pork tenderloin, but the beer is the real star. With 20 constantly rotating taps that range from the standard (Avery IPA) to the obscure (Ovila Quad), and more than 100 bottles, dark beer lovers, hopheads—and everyone in between—will find something worth quaffing here. 1530 Blake St., 303-758-9608, freshcraft.com

Drink this: Freshcraft usually has something from California standout Firestone Walker Brewing Company; try the Pale 31 or the dark, roasty, creamy Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout.

Rackhouse Pub Tucked away on a barren block near the intersection of Alameda and I-25, and inside Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Distillery, Rackhouse Pub combines two of our favorite pastimes: drinking whiskey and drinking beer. Rackhouse has 20 tap handles, and all but one are dedicated to Colorado brews: On a recent visit, hard-to-find beers like AC Golden’s American Wild Ale Cherry Sour and Dry Dock’s 2010 Barley Wine were on draught. If the service at Falling Rock errs on the side of disinterested, we’ve found the barkeeps at Rackhouse to be friendly and chatty in a way that’s endearing but not overbearing. 208 S. Kalamath St., 720-570-7824, rackhousepub.com

Drink this: Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout, a smooth and creamy draught version of Left Hand’s near-perfect stout.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen Euclid Hall is a beer bar for yuppies—and we say that in the most loving way. There are times when we want cheap canned beer and peanut shells on the ground, but sometimes we want to be a little more…sophisticated. Here you can have hand-cranked sausages (kielbasa, blood sausage, and various wursts, for example) and bottled beers like Ommegang Abbey Ale Dubbel or Avery Brewing’s The Reverend. And you can relax in this very nice, hip, but studiously casual, space. The tap list may be small (11 beers on draught), but Euclid’s “Library List” (flip to the back of the menu) is where you’ll find the really interesting stuff, like Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron or Bourgogne des Flandres Belgian Brown Ale. These brews may not be cheap (that Bourgogne des Flandres runs $31 for 750 ml), but, hey, this isn’t your grandfather’s corner pub. 1317 14th St., 303-595-4255, euclidhall.com

Drink this: Deschutes Black Butte Porter, the best American porter not made in Colorado (in our humble opinion).

Wazee Supper Club Full disclosure: Wazee Supper Club is the 5280 editors’ watering hole of choice, in part because of the simple fact that it’s a half-block from our LoDo headquarters. But that’s not the only reason: Not long ago, Wazee made us very happy indeed when it upped its tap handles from 22 to 32. And although they tend to be heavy on Wynkoop and Breckenridge beers (Breck owns Wazee), there’s plenty to choose from beyond Colorado craft brews (we, for example, are thankful that there always seems to be something from Russian River Brewing and Victory Brewing on tap). Add to that solid pizzas and sandwiches, a soundtrack of ’80s rock that varies from Van Halen to the Police, and regulars that range from staid suits to local barflies to rabid Avs fans, and you’ve got the quintessential Denver neighborhood bar. 1600 15th St., 303-623-9518, wazeesupperclub.com

Drink this: We usually get happy hour off to an auspicious start at Wazee with a cold pint of Great Divide’s Titan IPA.

WINE BAR

The Village Cork, A Wine Bistro If you haven’t been to Platt Park’s Village Cork in recent years, you’ll be amazed at the transformation. What was once a too-cozy space has doubled in size without losing its New York City ambience. The menu has also expanded since chef Samir Mohammad took over the burners. But the Village Cork, as the name suggests, is really about the wine. And owner Lisa Lapp makes sure her staff knows exactly how to pair you—as well as Mohammad’s cuisine—with the right pour. 1300 S. Pearl St., 303-282-8399, villagecork.com

Drink this: After 9 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and after 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Lapp offers an open-bottle special: Any glass poured from an already-open bottle is just $5.

Caveau Wine Bar The vibe at Caveau matches that of the surrounding Uptown neighborhood: urban, young, and maybe just a little too cool. But that doesn’t mean it’s not in our regular rotation of places to imbibe grape juice; it just means we break out those killer red heels instead of the clogs. For an independent wine bar, Caveau’s list is fairly extensive, with 60 wines by the glass. Fortunately, the expectedly fashionable servers we encountered knew their varietals and vintners well enough to point us in the right direction. 450 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-3747, caveauwinebar.com

Drink this: If you’re a fan of Pinot Noir, the Benovia is a slightly pricey ($20) but enjoyable choice.

Cellar Wine & Salumi Bar If your palate is new to wine, this intimate, triangle-shaped bar is the place to let it mature. Not only is the staff genuinely friendly, easygoing, and willing to guide you, the menu offers no less than 10 wine flights. If you and your drinking partner both order a flight—and we recommend you do—six well-rationed pours will help you decide what flavor you like best. Of course, if you have a nose for good wine, sommelier Evan Williams can easily explain nuances your more veteran taste buds will appreciate. 2556 15th St., 303-455-9463, cwbon15th.com

Drink this: The South American flight includes a floral Torrontes, a fruity Carmenere, and a jammy Malbec.

Lala’s Wine Bar + Pizzeria The aroma of tangy red sauce spiked with Italian spices hits you as you walk in the front door of this bustling eatery in Capitol Hill. This isn’t your typical wine bar, but make no mistake: Lala’s knows wine. It just also happens to know thin-crust pizza. Although you can order wine at a table, we suggest bellying up to the bar, where tenders can help you sort through the more than 60 by-the-glass options or organize special tasting menus paired with appetizers or blind tastings. 410 E. Seventh Ave., 303-861-9463, lalaswinebar.com

Drink this: Order a half-glass of Infinite Monkey Theorem’s the Petite Sirah or, if you’re getting a pie (we like Beppe’s), grab a full glass of the Nozzole Chianti Classico.

Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar Owner David Schneider has a resumé that drips with wine. He comes to Denver from Chicago, where he opened the hugely successful BIN 36, a restaurant-bar-wine-retailer combination. Here, Schneider is using his knowledge to make good vino accessible and approachable, without dumbing it down. And he’s doing it in style at his convivial bistro in the Spire building. The wine menu, which is loaded with both unusual varietals and little-known vintners from all around the globe, has 40 by-the-glass offerings plus rotating wine flights. And the prices are remarkably reasonable. 891 14th St., 303-825-0100, row14denver.com

Drink this: Visit during happy hour for a wallet-saving deal when all glasses priced at $10 or less become $5, and anything more expensive morphs to half price.

SPORTS BAR

Denver Bicycle Cafe Warning: This is not your typical sports bar. In fact, it’s just the opposite—unless you are a cyclist. The brand-new bar is part bike shop and part neighborhood watering hole. Pull up a bar stool and sip on one of the ever-rotating Colorado craft beers as you chat with the mechanic working on your two-wheel steed. Since Denver continues to grow as a cycling haven (B-cycle? USA Pro Cycling Challenge? Denver Cruisers?), this just may become its epicenter. 1308 E. 17th Ave., 720-446-8029, denverbicyclecafe.com

Drink this: Anything on draft.

Govnr’s Park Tavern This neighborhood joint doesn’t bill itself as a traditional sports bar but can be a fan’s best friend, especially if you have nonsporty friends. Bring along your less interested companions for local and national matchups on strategically placed TVs. You can devote an evening to the game or just keep an eye out for big plays as you destroy the next table in team trivia. It’s multitasking at its best. 672 Logan St., 303-831-8605, govnrspark.com

Drink this: Big Nose Pale Ale from Breckenridge Brewery (it is only served at the tavern).

Three Lions­­—A World Football Pub Recently opened on East Colfax as a destination for soccer fans, Three Lions has score and leader boards above the bar to keep the educated fan in the loop. If you’re lucky, score one of the booths with the four-spout, self-pouring taps serving Fuller’s London Pride, Guinness, Carlsberg Lager, and Paulaner Hefeweizen. New to soccer and need a football mentor? Call co-owner Jon Forget to find out what the game of the week is. 2239 E. Colfax Ave., 303-997-6886, threelionsdenver.com

Drink this: Fuller’s London Porter, a chocolate and coffee flavored beer pulled up with a “beer engine” machine so there’s no extra air or gas.

Chopper’s Sports Grill The last thing Robert “Chopper” Travaglini (the former Nuggets trainer) would want is for anyone to strain his or her neck to watch a game at the sports bar inspired by his name. Which explains why you can look in any direction and catch the latest play on more than 50 TVs. Did we mention those screens are big? (No less than 18 have a 73-inch display.) And if you imbibe a little too much, you won’t miss a thing: The bathrooms have sound piped in. The beer menu is Colorado-friendly, with picks like Del Norte’s Cinco. 80 S. Madison St., 303-399-4448, chopperssportsgrill.com

Drink this: Wash down a full sports bar menu with a 22-ounce “bomber” of Colorado Cider or Ska’s True Blonde Dubble.

Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot Whenever the Rockies are home and cracking home runs on Blake Street, our favorite watering hole is Coors Field’s Sandlot Brewery, where Coors showcases experimental brews, like Wild Pitch Dunkelweiss (a hefeweizen). Brews like this will come in a plastic cup, and cost more than a Coors Light, but they’ll taste better too. You can watch the game on the bar’s big screens, but we prefer to drift out to right field to watch the action, be it a Tulo double or a sunset over the mountains. Coors Field, 2161 Blake St., 303-298-1587

Drink this: Ask the bartender to surprise you with the brewer’s latest experiment.

 

Taste Test: Buzz It

A drinking game for Colorado.

We love Colorado’s craft beers (see page 55), but there are times when an ice-cold Silver Bullet is ideal, like whenever we’re cheering for the Nuggets (or Broncos or Rockies). The next time you’re watching the game, ask your buddies to do a blind taste test between Coors Light and other mass-market beers. If they can pick out the home state brew, call them a “native.” If they don’t, “transplant” will do. To help you pass the test, we asked Cameron Rogers, the beverage manager for the Tavern Hospitality Group, to give us some tasting notes.

The Results

Coors Light: Light, smooth, no aftertaste or aroma.

Bud Light: Most popular, hint of bitterness.

Miller Lite: Best imitation of a true Pilsner, more hops.

MUSIC

The Meadowlark The hidden staircase that delivers you to the Meadowlark feels like a best-kept secret. Inside, the ceiling is low and exposed, the stone and brick walls are covered in modern art, and the stage—flanked by two floor-to-ceiling beams—flows into the wood, horseshoe-shaped bar. It’s a thing of beauty, really. The music varies—jazz, acoustic, Americana, indie, and DJs—but the quality doesn’t. On weekends, the crowds are shoulder to shoulder. 2701 Larimer St., 303-293-0251, meadowlarkbar.com

Drink this: Skip the PBR and go for locals’ favorite Dale’s Pale Ale.

El Chapultepec Plopped next to a few snazzy establishments, El Chapultepec seems ever so slightly out of place. Au contraire: This gritty jazz and blues bar has called the corner of 20th and Market streets home for decades. Stop in for a respite from the dress-code joints on the block; the occasional $2 cover is well worth the blistering tunes tucked inside. Seating—and standing room, for that matter—is at a premium (occupancy: 49). The booze is cheap at the ’Pec, and the management has posted a “one drink per set” sign on the wall. You might be able to catch a ball-game score when the band is on break, but when the music swings, heads snap toward the stage. 1962 Market St., 303-295-9126

Drink this: Corona with a lime.

Hi-Dive The aptly named Hi-Dive might as well be proclaimed Denver’s indie music capital. The floor is sticky and the air stale—but the music is worth it. Navigate the smokers in Castro-style jackets outside; the clusters of skinny jeans, beards, and sleeve tattoos inside; order a beer and a shot of whiskey; and, finally, position yourself within eyeshot of the stage. Those bands you’re dropping $30 to see at the Bluebird and Ogden, or, God forbid, the Fillmore (think Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Silversun Pickups, and MGMT)—you could’ve seen here a year or two ago for 10 bucks. 7 S. Broadway, 720-570-4500, hi-dive.com

Drink this: A well-whiskey shot with a Miller High Life bottle back.

Dazzle Dazzle serves its jazz with a touch of elegance: The deep red walls are accented with modern, red lights reminiscent of sea urchins. Starry end-table lamps and craft-beer taps break up the sleek, tiled bar. The booze is almost decorative; glass jars contain fruit- and vegetable-infused vodkas. The stage past the end of the bar is for the club’s Tuesday jam session and smaller acts; a separate room with a more traditional, dark jazz-club vibe hosts some of the finest players in the world. Get your tickets ahead of time and bring your etiquette (read: a round of applause after solos). 930 Lincoln St., 303-839-5100, dazzlejazz.com

Drink this: Infused cucumber vodka tonic.

Grizzly Rose The Rose has been the place to hear—and dance, and drink, and sing to—country music in Denver since 1989. Lately, though, it’s had a bit of an identity crisis as it insisted on putting ’80s hair bands on the schedule. Fortunately, country music is back, and the Rose is as raucous as ever. We’re talking multiple bars, a restaurant, a mechanical bull, a dance floor that looks like it could accommodate a heat of 400-meter hurdlers, and enough cowboy hats to give the Stock Show a run for its money. 5450 N. Valley Highway, 303-295-1330, grizzlyrose.com

Drink this: Any domestic longneck.

 

FIRST PERSON: A Little Pick-Me-Up

Embracing my unique designation.

My friends love me, and I think I know why. It’s got little to do with wit or kindness; it’s that I don’t drink, and therefore I can drive. For more than a decade, my cohorts, when drunk, have leaned on me—or more accurately, on my car—to get them from here to there after a night of too much of this or that. I don’t mind. I imbibed my fill before I turned 30, so I know what it’s like to be out (and out of it) with no legal or secure way to get about. And I’m older than most of my friends in Denver, so it’s a natural tendency to want to look after them when they’re enfeebled by spirits. The payoff for me is getting out with people I enjoy. Well, to a point: There was the night I packed six people into my Volvo (which seats five), and only two of them later recalled anyone else being in the car. And now and then I’ve had to steer some of my more ornery sidekicks away from someone else’s ornery sidekick. But it always works out. They get home safely, and I, ever the storyteller, get one more for the road. - Luc Hatlestad

HOTEL BAR

The Cruise Room It’s narrow, dark, and standing-room-only on any given Friday at 6 p.m., which all adds to the mystique of the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel. The chrome bar glints in the dimly lit space, and the booths are packed with downtown professionals loosening their ties and out-of-towners who’ve sought it out from word-of-mouth. The vibe is such that you might expect to see Don Draper tipping back an old-fashioned in the next booth over. The Cruise Room opened in 1933 right after Prohibition was repealed; today, it’s a Denver institution. 1600 17th St., 303-825-1107, theoxfordhotel.com/the-cruise-room.html

Drink this: A Manhattan. Just enough to take the edge off of a long day at work.

The Corner Office The pretheater crowd at the Curtis’ Corner Office is demanding. Young professionals belly up to the bar and overrun the high-tops, chattering and tossing back sugar-rimmed cocktails with gusto so they can make the 7 p.m. curtain time across the street. The bartenders, thankfully, are fast and accommodating. The decor—a blend of modern and Jetson chic that somehow works—reflects the youthful, pop-culture theme of the Curtis hotel. 1401 Curtis St., 303-825-6500, thecornerofficedenver.com

Drink this: White Rascal ale from Avery Brewing Company, or a Sugar Mama: limoncello, blood-orange liqueur, lemon, and prosecco.

Edge Restaurant & Bar Want to see and be seen? Head to Edge at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver, where social circuit–goers regularly breeze through to get their drink on. The game will be on above the bar, but it won’t dominate; instead, skip the actual bar, park yourself at a high-top, and people-watch over a plate of the spicy tuna tartare from the bar menu. If you’ve got a business agenda for your bar rendezvous—it’s not uncommon to spot a briefcase here and there—stake out a couple of cushy armchairs to lend a more casual vibe to your meeting. 111 14th St., 303-389-3343, edgerestaurantdenver.com

Drink this: With an average of 60 wines by the glass, you can’t go wrong. The buffalo rib-eye pairs superbly with the Catena Vista Flores Malbec.

Second Home Kitchen + Bar Next time you walk into Second Home at Cherry Creek’s JW Marriott Denver, don’t be surprised to see a thirtysomething (and up) crowd in celebration mode. The open, wraparound couches inside (we love the tree-stump lounge tables) and the giant stone fire pit outside in the courtyard lend themselves to large gatherings of dressed-to-the-nines Cherry Creekers—lots of ladies—who want to toast a birthday in style. While the bar does a good job maintaining its hip, night-out feel, it also manages a natural, bamboo/stone/wood aesthetic for a cozier appeal. 150 Clayton Lane, 303-253-3000, secondhomedenver.com

Drink this: Grapefruit A-Go-Go—a specialty cocktail with St. Germain, honey simple syrup, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, all shaken and poured over a frozen grapefruit ball in a martini glass.

Peaks Lounge View, view, and more view: That’s the biggest draw to the Hyatt Regency Denver’s Peaks Lounge, where the city lights and the mountainscape to the west make any happy hour a special one. Take the elevator up to the airy lounge and find a table by the expansive wall of windows. On weekdays, hotel guests wander up for a glass of wine to enjoy a mountain view they don’t get at home; on weekends, locals head upstairs for apps and cocktails before a show at the Wells Fargo Theatre, or for a special occasion. (Don’t be shocked to see a proposal or two. In our book, a spectacular sunset is as good a reason as any.) 650 15th St., 27th floor, 303-486-4433, denverregency.hyatt.com

Drink this: The 27th Floor (Navan cognac, Baileys, Frangelico, Godiva, and espresso in a martini glass with a cocoa rim).

DIVE BAR

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. 

Stay

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.

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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.