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This article is part of our Best Bars 2015 feature. Find the official 5280 list of the city’s best watering holes, trending cocktail ingredients, essays on the makings of a good bar, drinking alone, and more at 5280.com/bestbars2015. Read part 2 of our new bars roundup here.
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Stout Street Social
If there’s one thing downtown Denver can always use more of, it’s middle-ground bars: Places where happy hour keeps your wallet, well, happy, but you can also schedule a business meeting or take the in-laws without feeling cheap. Three-month-old Stout Street Social hits this mark. Choice abounds on the ambitious drink menu, which features more than 40 draft beers—an entire section is devoted to Colorado brews, including two nitros, two beers brewed specifically for Stout Street by Boulder Beer, and a rotating selection from Crooked Stave, Hogshead, and Great Divide—dozens of wines, and straightforward cocktails (think margaritas served in oversize martini glasses, French 75s, and the like). If there’s an aspect where this large bar/restaurant falters, it’s in having too many choices: We’re all for options, but when a menu boasts both sakes and beer cocktails, a raw bar and chicken nachos, well, it feels like a little bit of an identity crisis. We’ll chalk the sprawling options up to the diverse mix of clientele Stout Street expects—tourists, convention people, theatergoers, and businesspeople—and bet that as management feels out what customers are interested in, they’ll pare down the spot’s offerings accordingly. Luckily, such kinks take nothing away from Stout Street’s spirited vibe. So settle into a high-top in the colorful lounge area during happy hour (Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.); and let the conversation flow easily over a refreshing $4 basil martini and crisp and tangy bites of Brussels sprouts. —Daliah Singer
1400 Stout St., 720-214-9200, stoutstsocial.com
License No. 1
If Boulder’s beloved and now-defunct Catacombs Bar and Grill was the swilling spot of choice for fourth-year Buffs, consider its replacement, License No. 1, a kind of graduate school equivalent. License No. 1, which opened last summer as a surprisingly clean reincarnation in the basement of the Hotel Boulderado, adheres closely to the speakeasy trend. The lighting is low (the bar is, after all, in a basement), bartenders wear ties and vests, the simple menu is full of pricey booze and classic cocktails, and on the weekends you’ll find live jazz. Despite all this, License No. 1 feels a bit more relaxed than its speakeasy cousins in Denver such as Williams & Graham and Green Russell. (Note: Williams & Graham bartender Allison Widdecombe is responsible for creating License No. 1’s cocktail menu.) It’s the kind of place you can show up, order a throwback gin cocktail—try The Last Word—and take in the vibe all without feeling weird about not wearing suit jacket. Call it, Speakeasy Lite. —Chris Outcalt
2115 13th St., Boulder, 303-442-4344, boulderado.com/dining-drinks/license
Dorchester Social Eatery
While much of LoDo is filled with cultural strongholds—the Brown Palace, Coors Field, even the Cruise Room—new watering holes around the ever-evolving ‘hood seem as if they are opening and closing the doors in the same day. The six-month-old Dorchester Social Eatery is, in a way, the incarnation of LoDo’s constant evolution and experimentation: The 15th and Market street eatery puts out a killer happy hour of rotating small plates, but only until 10 p.m., when it closes, even on weekends. The decor is an offbeat but purposeful mix of British regency with modern touches like glass-blown lights and TVs, but the cabana-filled patio is the real star. Here, on a warm summer (or, given last weekend, even February) evening, you’ll be as likely to find upscale imbibers sipping a house cocktail on Dorchester’s patio as you would a 9-to-5er taking advantage of the generous happy hour. And that’s why we keep going back. Dorchester is as colorful and unpredictable as its imbibers—and we look forward to seeing how it evolves with the city. —Jerilyn Forsythe
1448 Market St., 303-872-5986, dorchesterdenver.com
Stay tuned for the second installment of New Denver Bars. If you can’t wait, pass the time by drooling over this year’s Best Bars story, on newsstands now.
—Edited by Kasey Cordell