When the weather outside turns frightful, cozying up to a well-made cocktail is all the more delightful. With snow in the forecast and holiday stresses upon us (not to mention Repeal Day!), there’s no better time to check out Denver’s red-hot cocktail scene. Here are our picks for the best local sips right now.
Enjoy the cocktail equivalent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire with the Ole Hickory, a standout at this pre-prohibition style cocktail bar. Roasted pecan-infused bourbon is combined with scotch, amaro, and Dram Apothecary Black bitters and served in a stately old fashioned glass. Layered over the boozy backbone, the bittersweet amaro and spicy bitters complement the pecan’s festive, toasty flavor. 1543 Champa St., 720-389-0447
For a south of the border-inspired cocktail, head to star bartender Sean Kenyon‘s casual LoHi bar and order the El Jefe. It’ll warm you right up with its spicy mix of tequila, chile liqueur, fresh lemon, bitters, and pineapple soda. It’s a perfectly balanced, slightly funky sipper that fits perfectly with the bar’s punk rock aesthetic. 1950 W. 32nd Ave., 720-536-8318
The Grandad’s Orchard from the Cooper Lounge. —Photo by Paul Albani-Burgio
Union Station’s elegant mezzanine bar is particularly festive right now thanks to impressive views of the decked-out Christmas tree in the station’s Great Hall below. As you soak up the scene, sip the Grandad’s Orchard cocktail, made with Old Grand Dad Bonded Bourbon, Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey, cinnamon simple syrup, and black walnut bitters. Served with a small bowl of salted nuts and garnished with a cinnamon stick, it’s sure to put you in a celebratory mood. 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3738
If the thought of impending holiday obligations is enough to send you underground, you may as well head to this subterranean speakeasy in Larimer Square where you can sip the Old Noble cocktail while you hide out. The drink mixes Russel’s Reserve 10-year bourbon with Amaro De Angostura, allspice, house-made pumpkin bitters, and honey. The bourbon’s smoky oak and cinnamon notes are enhanced by the honey and pumpkin spice. 1422 Larimer St., 303-893-6505
The Wind Up Bird cocktail at this Curtis Street restaurant bar (in the lobby of the Curtis Hotel) offers a spot of citrus sunshine on a dreary winter’s day. Sake is the primary ingredient, but the drink also contains shochu, a vodka-like Japanese spirit, as well as tangy Meyer lemon marmalade. The drink is a radiant yellow color, served in a traditional stemmed cocktail glass, and appealingly garnished with yuzu peel. Its sweet, lemony flavor and slightly syrupy texture is well balanced by the sake’s dryness. 1401 Curtis St., 303-825-6500
This edgy-swanky restaurant bar makes great drinks in general, but it’s the Pôr Do Sol cocktail that we want to drink right now. This gorgeous orange sipper (the name means “sunset” in Portuguese) combines Brazilian Avuá Prata Cachaça, Campari, turmeric, St. Germain, and cinnamon. It comes garnished with lime and raspberry, and has a sweet, floral fruitiness that should (almost) make you forget about the decidely un-tropical environment outside. 3350 Brighton Blvd., 720-542-3721
Trade frosty Denver for the warm, carefree revelry of New Orleans with a visit to this RiNo spot, where the dimly-lit interior and eclectic decor evoke the Big Easy’s voodoo vibe. The bar boasts an extensive collection of whiskeys and a creative roster of craft drinks, including the Garden District. This satisfying cocktail features Usquaebach Reserve Highland Whisky with spiced pear liqueur and cherry bark-vanilla bitters. 2927 Larimer St.
The Allora cocktail at Baur’s is certainly an alluring choice. —Photo by Callie Sumlin
Although many associate gin with refreshing, warm-weather drinks (like the gin and tonic), its pine-y botanicals also make it an ideal fit for wintry concoctions. For its Allora cocktail, Baur’s mixes Ransom Spirit’s excellent Old Tom variety with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Zucca, and Ramazotti for a vibrant red-hued libation. The elegant fresh red currant garnish sets this seasonal cocktail apart. 1512 Curtis St., 303-615-400.
We love this stylish Cap Hill bar for the expertly crafted libations, hip tunes (all of which are spun on vinyl), and concise snack menu. For cold-weather sipping, we opt for the Suavecito. This little number contains rye whiskey, Lillet Rouge, fresh basil, and St. George absinthe. The whiskey’s dry spiciness combined with the absinthe’s distinct anise notes results in a seriously potent drink. 619 E. 13th Ave., 303-832-0776
Bonus: The Passport Program has released its highly sought-after Winter Warmer. Continue your spirited adventures by picking up one of these pocket-sized booklets containing coupons for two-for-one beverages at 38 local bars, restaurants, and breweries around Denver. (There are also Boulder and Fort Collins versions available.) Hint: The Winter Warmer ($20) also makes a fabulous holiday gift.