Wow, 2020 felt like quite the decade—so we don’t blame you if you need a getaway. Luckily there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the Denver area to aid your escape until your post-vaccination vacation: A dive bar with a boat in it, an unsuspecting warehouse that leads to a peaceful Japanese garden, and bars with rum drinks strong enough to whisk you away to a tropical island vacation.
Here are eight of our favorite transportive spots located in our own backyard.
Set among a grove of trees, the outdoor space at Forest Room 5 goes all in (and then some) on nature. A babbling brook bisects this woodsy oasis, which is outfitted with national recreation signs, tree trunks serving as seats, fire pits, wildlife murals, and a rustic-looking general store stocked with vintage games, books, and knick knacks. “It’s camping in the forest, but in the middle of the city,” our server tells us, but the bar also has a historic mining town vibe. The only bear sightings are the gummy toppings on the campy cocktails. And bills come tucked in a book, often a field guide. My favorite wild animal sighting, admittedly,was Doug, a fluffy six-month Corgi at the next picnic table over. 2532 15th St.
The best seat in the house is the 21-foot ski boat anchored in the center of the bar. The Dive Inn is a dive bar, yes, but with a scuba diving theme you’ll pick up on throughout and that’s influenced by owner Jason Tietjen’s own scuba background. Cornhole can be found on the South Broadway-facing patio, and in between matches try your hand at the claw machine inside stocked with White Claws. 1380 S. Broadway
Oktoberfest was a bust in 2020. To make up for it, head to Rhein Haus where you can order a homemade pretzel the size of your face and wash it down with one of the many lagers on tap. Before sinking your teeth into a brat, enjoy an intermission playing bocce ball at the courts located in this luxe-yet-warm, Bavarian-themed space. The design is a key part of the overall experience, says co-owner Rich Fox, with statement pieces thoughtfully sourced from European markets: chandeliers commanding attention upstairs from Austria; the downstairs fireplace and antler sconces from Germany; and the refurbished upstairs fireplace from France. You’ll forget you’re in the U.S.; and you’ll definitely not recognize this madeover space as a former Old Chicago. 1415 Market St.
If you’re a Midwesterner (especially of the Wisconsin variety), you know Friday nights are for fish fries and a well-made Old Fashioned. James Wieimann, co-owner of Wally’s Wisconsin Tavern, wanted to pay homage to the classic Wisconsin lake tavern and his dad, Wally Weimann. The influence starts with cheese curds and a classic Korbel brandy Old Fashioned that remind me of being in a Door County, Wisconsin, supper club. Plenty Wisconsin beers are on the menu, too, from High Life to Horny Goat Brewing. There’s also a wooden map of the United States, where visitors are encouraged to hammer a nail into their hometown. Of note: Wally’s and Rhein Haus are adjoining outposts. Count it as a two-for-one escapism experience. 1417 Market St.
The tropical concoctions at Adrift taste like the islands the Beach Boys sing about. If it’s been a while since you’ve vacationed to this “beach on Broadway,” you’ll find some new menu additions like the Dirty Dan, a piña colada with mezcal plot twist. Executive chef Tyler Critchfield has created shareable boards inspired by different parts of the world. Take for instance the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Board, featuring grilled jerk chicken thighs, plantain hash, Peri Peri slaw, coconut cardamom, pineapple salsa and Jasmine rice. 218 S. Broadway
Have you ever sipped sake while indulging in a hearty bowl of slow-simmered ramen in the serene gardens off of Colfax? Domo is a Denver hideaway serving countryside Japanese dishes, including sushi, udon and soba noodles. You won’t find accurtments on the table here because the chef prepares dishes with special spices and sauces that shouldn’t be masked with soy sauce. Domo doesn’t take reservations, and it’s worth the wait to get a spot in the lush, traditional Japanese garden dotted with ponds and Buddha statues. 1365 Osage St.
In a word, the vibe at Ghost Donkey is celebratory. The deep mezcal list (there’s 65 of them, plus 25 some tequilas) transport you—specifically your tastebuds—to the land of agave. While the Oaxaca fabrics do solidify the excursion, the canopy of twinkling lights feels on brand with Vegas, where there’s a Ghost Donkey hidden in the hip Cosmopolitan hotel on the strip. But you may also pick up on the bar’s New York City origins, where it gained a cult following, and the infinity mirrors and the life-size, taxidermy donkey draped in flowers make the place feel fantastical. So really Ghost Donkey feels like it’s anywhere and everywhere—but for the sake of pointing you in the right direction, the Denver outpost is across from Union Station near the light rail tracks. 1750 Wewatta Street, Suite 140
When it comes to drinkware, ceramic conch shells will always trump Collins glasses. And that’s exactly what you get when you order the “Rock Out with Your Conch Out” tequila cocktail from Jungle. The island-themed bar with some not-so-subtly sexy cocktail names has a beautifully illustrated menu. Jungle is just off Pearl Street; yet feels a world away (even in Boulder, which already is a fantasyland). We listened to live jazz, snacked on plantain fritters, and imbibed with frozen cocktails on a sweltering night. With floral wallpaper, neon lights illuminating the bar, lush plants in every nook, Moroccan tiles, and rattan decor, Jungle could easily win Most Beautiful Bar in Boulder. 2018 10th St., Boulder
Bonus: the Rabbit Hole. in Colorado Springs
For a Mad Hatter-inspired meal or nightcap, descend down the steps at this unique Colorado Springs restaurant and bar and stumble into the Rabbit Hole. Inspired by the pages of Alice in Wonderland, this storybook spot has elaborate murals that are a nod to the Lewis Carroll classic. The theme continues through the menu, with salads listed as “rabbit food” and a Mad Hatter Manhattan and Queen of Hearts Bloody Mary. Reservations are highly encouraged. 101 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs