From dive bars to chic cocktail lounges, we drank our way through the Mile High City to find the best places to imbibe.
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