It’s not your imagination.

Tons of drink dens have opened on the Front Range over the past couple years, quenching Coloradans’ thirst for spirit-forward cocktails, well-sourced wines, and everything in between. To help you narrow down which sipping spots are worth visiting, we bellied up to the rails at dozens of new and classic watering holes in and around Denver. Here, organized by category, are our favorites.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included Three Saints Revival in LoDo. The wine bar shuttered on February 18, 2024. Did we miss your favorite bar? Send us a note at dining@5280.com.


Best for Sips and a Show

Jazz sets, R&B acts, and tribute bands all sound better when you have a tasty beverage in hand. That’s particularly true if you’re in the audience at one of the following venues—long-loved spots that have been given new life over the past couple of years.

Mercury Cafe | Five Points

This eclectic bar has been an escape for misfit music lovers since it opened its doors at its current location—a renovated printing press house in Five Points—on Halloween 1990. Inside, a twinkling canopy of fairy lights illuminates the hodgepodge of booths, chesterfield sofas, and wooden kitchen chairs, almost as if all the regulars pitched in a personal table or two, jokes owner Danny Newman. “Both physically and energy-wise, people are making their mark on it,” he says. “It’s one of those things that just has layers of history that are visible.” A quick glance at the walls covered in a jigsaw puzzle of band posters hints at the Merc’s rich history—one that includes performances from heavy hitters on their rise to headlining stardom such as Blink-182, Foo Fighters, and Alanis Morissette. Since taking over the cafe in 2021 after it nearly closed in the wake of COVID-19, Newman has been working to reinstate the Mercury Cafe as a leader in Denver’s live music scene, digging up rising stars before they start selling out stadiums. Snag a spot in front of the stage with a dangerously smooth Mercury Margarita in hand and you just might discover the next Goo Goo Dolls before anyone else. —Jessica Giles

Ophelia’s Electric SoapboxBallpark

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is proof that there’s nothing like a good comeback. After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, the former brothel turned bar, restaurant, and live music venue reopened in April 2022 with concert-friendly upgrades. Now, patrons can watch acts on a stage equipped with improved lighting and sound equipment or show off their moves at theme parties on a larger dance floor. Fuel up for an evening of entertainment with handhelds such as cheese curds, fried pickles, or roasted green chile cornbread and colorful, citrus-forward cocktails like the Airedale, a grapefruit- and bourbon-based concoction with Aperol, or the Burlesque, which blends tequila, lime, Midori, and sage syrup. For budget-friendly fun, book a reservation during brunch, when shows are included with your meal and mimosas are bottomless. —Visvajit Sriramrajan

Dazzle | Downtown

Ronnie Foster performing at Dazzle Jazz
Jazz artist Ronnie Foster at Dazzle. Photo by Sarah Banks

Time travel isn’t a reality yet, but a night at Dazzle—a beloved jazz club that first opened in 1997—comes pretty darn close. The live music venue relocated (for a second time) to a space in the Denver Performing Arts Complex in August, but despite it seating 45 more viewers than at its previous location, the multiple listening options ensure it doesn’t feel any less intimate. Nab ticketed banquette seats for a prime perch to listen to brass bands and jazz combos play on the big stage, or for a cozier performance, stop by the adjoining El Chapultepec Piano Lounge (an homage to the 91-year-old downtown jazz club that closed in 2020) for solo sets with no cover charge. Our go-to order is an equally retro French 75—gin and lemon juice finished with a healthy pour of bubbly—but Manhattan lovers can also get their fix. We may be stuck sipping in the 21st century, but Dazzle lets us travel back to the Roaring Twenties for an evening. —Ethan Pan


Best for Day Drinking

Whatever the reason you’re hitting the sauce before happy hour—an extended boozy brunch, a game day watch fest, or a daylong birthday celebration—there are plenty of watering holes that cater to afternoon buzz seekers.

Denver Beer Co. | Lowry

According to an informal poll of boozing buddies, a good day drinking spot requires a few components: a patio or deck for sunshine; light beers worth sipping (cocktails are asking for an early exit); and a vibe that invites you to linger. Enter Denver Beer Co.’s newest taproom, which opened in Lowry a year ago. Its dog-friendly patio abuts a small green space and playground so you can let the little ones run wild while hydrating with a five percent ABV Love This City Pilsner. There are plenty of picnic tables and foldable camp chairs for lounging, and if you can’t snag a spot under the veranda, three massive garage doors let the outside in. Plus, at just a mile and a half from the Highline Canal Trail, you can easily pedal to the taproom from a huge swath of Denver. —Nicholas Hunt

BurnDown | Washington Park West

At nine-month-old BurnDown on South Broadway, each of the three stories has a bar. That means you’re never too far from your next draft cocktail (such as the Silk Suit with local Bear Creek vodka, bittersweet Suze, tarragon, and blackberry) or bucket of Coronas. If your gang comes in fatigued, order a four-person espresso martini shot ski—a literal pick-me-up—before heading to the rooftop for fresh air and views of the Rockies and downtown Denver. Thursday through Saturday, you’ll likely find a local band or DJ jamming on the stage in the atrium, which has a concert calendar packed with everything from rock-and-roll acts to swing and jazz combos to booty-shaking dance tracks. But no matter when you arrive, there’s a party waiting around every corner. —EP

The Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant  | LoDo

The Rio has been quenching Coloradans’ thirst for strong tequila-based drinks since 1986. In fact, the potions are so potent that the Tex-Mex restaurant and bar has a three-marg-per-customer limit. Although you can sip your way toward that cap every day starting at 11 a.m. at any of the Rio’s five Front Range locations, the Denver outpost is our favorite for an afternoon of knocking a few back. It has a sunny patio for people-watching and plentiful booths for big groups, courtesy of a move from Blake Street to a corner building on Wazee Street in summer 2022. Ask for a round of your choice of margaritas—options include the popular frozen Manberry (strawberry and mango) and the lime-zinged Silver Coin—with the B.A.P. (big-ass plate) of carnitas nachos. The combination is excellent fuel for a lunchtime pub crawl. —PK


Best for Slow Sipping

Sidle up to the bar at these cocktail temples, where mixologists sling sips that are worth lingering over.

La Doña Mezcaleria | Platt Park

For a long time, the garden-level space that housed La Doña Mezcaleria (formerly Palenque Mezcaleria) was a cozy nook with a few tables and low lighting. As of June 2020, though, the bar—owned by the same team behind nearby Adelitas Cocina y Cantina—has added a small inside dining area and a large covered patio. The result is a trifecta of spaces with different vibes for indulging in the spot’s signature spirit: mezcal. The smoky agave liquor comes in flights, but mixed drinks might be the best option for the uninitiated. The mezcal-curious should consider the Mezcalrita (Madre Mezcal Espadín, lime juice, and simple syrup), the paloma (Madre Mezcal Espadín, grapefruit juice, and organic agave), or the island-y Blue Oaxacan (Rey Campero Mezcal Espadín, Uruapan Charanda rum, blue curaçao, coconut, and pineapple). Soak up the booze with chips and salsa, tacos, or tamales. —Lindsey B. King

Emerald EyeLoDo

Emerald Eye bartender holding cocktail
Emerald Eye lead bartender Meg Ostrander. Photo by Sarah Banks

This seven-month-old bar underneath Larimer Square transports patrons from the streets of downtown to the depths of a Caribbean jungle. Occupying the space that once housed the Crimson Room, Disco Pig, and other dearly departed drinking dens, the Emerald Eye is a labyrinth of subdued lighting, yellow suede chairs, and green palm leaf wallpaper. Linger over creations such as the Cajillo, a boozy cocktail that includes citrusy Licor 43, Torres brandy, and cold brew. Or try the horchata-inspired milk punch, which unites the cinnamon aroma of the classic Mexican rice drink with the smoked fruit flavor of Batavia-Arrack van Oosten (a rum made with sugarcane juice and fermented red rice). Drop in on the weekend, when DJs spin calypso and reggae beats, or during Reverse Happy Hour (11 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily) to save $3 on select tipples, including the rum-heavy daiquiri. —Kinzey Gill

The Lazy GreyhoundLittleton

Downtown Littleton’s two-year-old Lazy Greyhound, named after owners Kristin and Jason Ungate’s pup Guybrush, is a haven for lovers of both canines and cocktails. You can order from the Old Dogs list of classics, such as the White Russian and old fashioned, but we recommend perusing the menu of New Tricks. There, you’ll find adventurous sips such as the Raspberry Beret, a concoction of vodka, raspberry honey, curaçao, cream, lemon, and egg white that tastes just as delicious as it looks. And while the addition of root vegetables to the Over the Garden Wall might seem off-putting, the carrots in the drink complement the bitterness of the Arette tequila and add a bright orange hue. Pair your elixir with shareable bites, such as the roasted whiskey garlic mushrooms or Manchego-stuffed piquillo peppers, in the bar’s British-lounge-inspired interior, decorated with art depicting the owners’ pup and button-tufted booths. —Barbara O’Neil


Best for a Big Night Out

Long evenings on the town require venues with lots of options—at various ABVs. Consider these standouts, where you can quaff a well-mixed drink in an energetic ambience from happy hour to last call. Just make sure your Uber app is up to date.

Yacht Club | Cole

Yacht Club—which puts on no airs in the manner of a yacht or country club—can be just about anything you desire it to be. You want craft cocktails, such as the Threat Level Midnight, made with rye, bourbon, Macvin du Jura wine, chai honey, dark chocolate, and coconut? You’ve come to the right place. How about a Kingston Negroni, wherein the traditional gin is replaced by rum? They can make that, too. Jonesing for a hot dog and a Combo Pack (a can of Miller High Life and a one-ounce shot of Jim Beam)? Bingo. Yacht Club has perfected the trend of bars going both high and low, with creative, well-made cocktails sitting side by side with mass-produced beers and cheap whiskey shots. If you’re looking for something more than a hot dog for supper, however, start at Yacht Club, then take the back door to neighboring Brasserie Brixton for French-inspired eats. —Geoff Van Dyke

Hell or High Water Tiki | LoDo

Tiki drink at Hell or Highwater
Hell or High Water Tiki’s Rum Inside Me. Photo by Sarah Banks

From the owners of two-year-old Electric Cure, a quirky Edgewater nook with beach drinks, Hell or High Water Tiki made sail in July 2022. This time, owners Veronica Ramos and Lexi Healy mixed up the story of a haunted gay pirate ship, where flamboyant fun is fueled by rum and mezcal. On the mezzanine level of sister bar Honor Farm Haunted Spirit House (which has a killer drink list, too), Hell or High Water’s devil-may-care vibe—replete with phallic decor and drink names to match—is best enjoyed after you’ve tossed back a few lower-ABV beverages. We suggest bellying up to a barrel, ordering the Rum Inside Me (house rum blend, allspice dram, pineapple, grapefruit, honey, lime, orange, falernum, grenadine, and angostura bitters) or the Boof-Scootin Boogie (mezcal, aged rum, banana, crème de cacao, pineapple, and lime) and convincing yourself that tomorrow morning’s seasickness will be worth it. —LBK

​​Ay Papi | Cherry Creek

Since July 2023, visitors to Cherry Creek may catch a hint of sea salt, coconut, and rum wafting from Ay Papi, one of the district’s newest watering holes from Nicole Lebedevitch, partner and beverage director of Forget Me Not (situated one block away). Ay Papi is inspired by the vibrant cultures of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Miami, and the birds-of-paradise-bedecked space (usually vibrating with Latin and pop beats) delights all the senses. Start your Caribbean escape with a daiquiri, mojito, or other spirit-forward pour. We like the rum old fashioned, a strong sipper made with a “funky rum” concoction (consisting of four dark rums), Demerara sugar, honey-citrus Bénédictine liqueur, mole-spice bitters, and an orange peel. Or go with a classic Cuba Libre: funky rum, bitters, lime, and Mexican Coca-Cola. Add bites such as tangy halibut ceviche or a comforting Cubano to extend your fiesta long into the evening. —Riane Menardi Morrison


Best for Filling Bellies

Imbibing on an empty stomach is a recipe for a nasty hangover. Thankfully, there are plentiful bars that offer both solid drinks and good eats.

K Pocha | Aurora

This year-old South Korean pub and restaurant—open until 2 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday—stands out for its hearty late-night fare. Cozy up in a booth at K Pocha, where you’ll press a button on the string-light-adorned wall when you’re ready to order. Highlights from the beverage menu include 13 flavors of smooth, clear soju (try the grapefruit); makgeolli, a milky rice wine infused with fruits such as peach and banana; and raisin tree tea, a nonalcoholic drink reported to lower fatigue and support liver function. Soak up your libations with sweet and spicy chicken wings, marinated pork ribs, or the Korean seafood pancake topped with juicy grilled octopus, then belt out tunes in the karaoke room (reservations recommended). —VS

OK YeahBerkeley

Whether you’re planning to grab a pre- or post-dinner drink, the combo of Hey Kiddo’s eclectic food and OK Yeah’s choose-your-own-adventure beverage program makes for a compelling evening. The 11-month-old offerings, from Kelly Whitaker (of Brutø and the Wolf’s Tailor fame), live on the third floor of a boutique hotel, but make no mistake: This is no hotel bar. OK Yeah, located behind Hey Kiddo, is a 16-seat hideaway with mountain views, a large block of ice for carving custom cubes, and apron-bedecked mixologists who will whip up something special just for you. For those who’ve been disappointed by bespoke booze before, fear not. We ordered four drinks—including a mocktail—and there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. Then, when our table at Hey Kiddo was ready, the barkeep transferred our tab to the bustling front of the house, where we balanced out the booze with buttery milk rolls, oysters, popcorn fried chicken, and wagyu beef. —LBK

Major Tom | RiNo

Major Tom executive chef Duncan Holmes and director of experience Allison Anderson know how to add a touch of refinement to just about anything, including bar snacks. At this year-old, cosmic-themed bar and restaurant—adjacent to Michelin-starred Beckon, its sister concept—Holmes serves oysters dressed with Champagne gelée and panisse (chickpea fries) laced with black truffle. The tight lineup of larger, share-worthy plates is designed to pair with wine director Justin Mueller’s deep list, including nine by-the-glass offerings, and complex cocktails. Order the red-miso-glazed charred cabbage with confit lemon and the umami-rich venison tartare to devour with the Verjus, a fizzy and refreshing drink made with tart white wine, Meyer lemon, blanco tequila, and Cava. —PK


Best for Fun and Games

Bars equipped with activities are nothing new. But over the past few years, innovators have introduced fresh destinations for Denverites to partake in both old-school and high-tech games, from bocce ball to golf simulators, while quaffing adult beverages.

Flight Club | LoDo

Darts at Flight Club
Flight Club. Photo by Sarah Banks

Partaking in drinking games, sans the sticky floors and terrible beer of your college days, is one of the greatest perks of adulthood. At Flight Club—an international chain whose Denver location opened by Union Station last June—you can test your tipsy aim at high-tech darts. Reserve an oche (dart lane) for up to 12 of your friends-turned-foes and take turns sipping on cocktails and playing Flight Club’s proprietary game formats on computerized boards. Dart newbies, don’t fret: Automatic scorekeeping and friendly staff mean even the clumsiest of players can keep up, but if you’re more entertained watching from the sidelines, there’s plenty of delicious food and drink to dive into within the chic, Victorian-inspired environs. Order from the menagerie of signature cocktails named after animals, such as the rum-based Iguana infused with ginger, hibiscus liqueur, allspice, gingerbread rooibos tea, and lime or the royal purple Lynx with butterfly-pea-blossom-tinted Empress 1908 Gin, lavender, and lemon tonic. Then pick a few small plates—such as the yuzu guacamole and the Burrata flatbread—to keep everyone’s hands steady between rounds. —EP

Over Flyte | Central Park

Located in the defunct Stapleton air traffic control tower, Over Flyte elevates bar entertainment to new heights. This extension of 18-month-old FlyteCo Tower—a restaurant, brewery, and coffeeshop in Central Park—debuted this past July with three Pro 2.0 golf simulators that track your ball’s flight with realistic accuracy, six axe-throwing lanes, and pingpong tables. The lineup of things to do joins FlyteCo’s existing competition-friendly offerings, which include Skee-Ball, arcade games, and bowling lanes. In between challenging your mates amid murals of planes flying over the Mile High City skyline, refuel with appetizers such as fried pickles (wrapped in a crispy wonton skin with Muenster cheese) or fries coated in clarified butter. Then order a glass of wine, a brew from one of the 20 taps, or a draft cocktail to wash it all down. Hint: Try the Ice Man, 100-proof bourbon with local honey and orange bitters, or the earthy and hoppy Late-A-Rye-Val IPA. —Brock Muñoz

Colorado Tap House | Arvada

Whatever your skill, you can find a way to test it at this multilevel, nearly two-year-old hangout in west Arvada. Speed? Race your pals for primo patio seats during Tuesday night’s run club. Brainpower? Round up a group for trivia on Mondays. Good at throwing things at other things? Head to the dog-friendly, crushed gravel area out back to play cornhole or bocce. No matter your preferred pursuit, longtime area residents and Colorado Tap House proprietors Erik and Jen Zeitlow want you to bring the whole family (perhaps by bike, via the adjacent Ralston Creek Trail) to their friendly neighborhood spot, starting at 8:30 every morning. Rotating food trucks complement the on-site kitchen’s lineup of breakfast burritos and snacks, and 30 taps host a well-balanced selection of sips from Colorado makers such as WeldWerks Brewing Co., Stem Ciders, and Bruz Beers. It’s the full drink lineup, however—local spirits, wine slushies, coffee, kombucha, and even a frozen blue raspberry beverage for the kiddos—that ensures every visitor feels like a winner. —Jessica LaRusso


Best for Clinking Glasses

Snooty wine bars overrun with pinky-raising oenophiles are a thing of the past. These establishments offer expertly curated bottles and glasses from producers around the world in welcoming, laid-back environs.

Wolf & Wildflower | Wheat Ridge

Wheat Ridge’s 38th Avenue, which has long been home to a selection of dimly lit taverns and casual pubs, had been wanting for a more sophisticated (but still comfortable) alternative. So when Tamara McTavish and Sarah Galloway opened Wolf & Wildflower this past July, they aimed to create a venue for swirling glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot that contrasts with those casual dives slinging PBR and Jameson shots. The result is a bright, boho-inspired space furnished with plants, a neon sign with the Tom Petty lyric “You belong among the wildflowers,” and plush pink armchairs. The elegance is also reflected in the wine list, which sports Colorado-based Carboy Winery offerings on tap, as well as wines available by the glass and bottle from around the globe, such as a fruit-forward Grillo from Sicily or the spicy Esoterico orange blend from Australia. Pair your selections with one of two charcuterie boards. Our choice: the Howling Wolf, which features seasonal cheeses, spicy salami, and mustard. —BO

Trellis Wine Bar | Park Hill

In 2021, sommelier Ilona Botton and business partner Alisha Stolz launched Trellis Wine Bar in the Park Hill Commons complex as a gathering space for local wine lovers seeking variety. At the two-story venue, the friends hope to pique guests’ curiosity with a wall-size chalkboard menu of more than 40 rotating, by-the-glass offerings of diverse provenance, with staff favorites denoted by RFG (Really F*cking Good). Sip on half-priced offerings during happy hour (4 to 5 p.m., daily) while basking in the chic sunlit lounge that’s alive with greenery. Or graze on charcuterie, cheeses, and house-made snacks at the bar adjacent to the glassed-in bottle cooler or on a snug, lime-hued velvet couch. Stay into the evening to appreciate the warm glow of the space and the bustle of a lively crowd of grape nerds and novices alike as they relish the chance to mingle over newfound favorite pours, particularly during monthly Blind Tasting Tuesdays and Flight Nights. —Chris Marhevka


Best for Catching Multiple Buzzes

Why decide between coffee or a cocktail? These all-day cafes go well beyond the still-trendy espresso martini by offering menus that give customers what they want, no matter the hour.

Hello Darling | LoDo

Couple on couch at Hello Darling
Hello Darling. Photo by Sarah Banks

Whether you’re grinding through a to-do list or catching up with a friend IRL, what you need is a cozy hangout spot. Riverfront Park’s Hello Darling is just that. During the day, lush plants, pastel hues, and plenty of natural light offer the energy you need to power through that Google spreadsheet—with a boost from pastries and MiddleState Coffee–based drinks. Or pep up for yet another Zoom meeting with a carajillo (a Spanish beverage that spikes espresso with a shot of liqueur). Once the sun sets, the venue’s soft woods and velvet couches take on a sultry vibe, transforming Hello Darling into an enchanting locale for ordering a cocktail (perhaps a gimlet, martini, or mezcal paloma) and sharing a snack with your evening date. Just put that laptop away first. —Daliah Singer

Salita | Capitol Hill

One thing coffee and cocktails have in common: The best versions require precision and artistry. Enter the masters at year-old Salita. Helmed by pros from Green Russell (the beloved subterranean Larimer Square bar that closed at the end of 2022), this chic corner spot is all about the details, whether that’s infusing dozens of their own syrups or experimenting with intriguing ingredients—such as fermented garlic honey syrup in the easy-drinking Birds, Bees, Flowers, Trees. And, yes, the apron-wearing connoisseurs take a.m. concoctions just as seriously. Espresso and Americanos are on the menu, but you can also level up your patio sipper by ordering a pistachio latte. —DS

Side Pony | West Colfax

At the corner of West Colfax Avenue and Vrain Street, you can score an endorphin high and a buzz, thanks to boutique fitness studio Duality and neighboring Side Pony. (The bar, which opened last winter, is co-owned by the gym’s crew and the F&B experts at downtown’s Pony Up.) Here, you can carbo-load with a naughty PB&J board—wicked for its white chocolate cashew butter—and a protein latte or a cuppa Queen City Collective Coffee while cute pooches wait outside to finish their walks around nearby Sloan’s Lake Park. Afternoon sweat sesh? The transition to cocktail o’clock begins early, with happy hour kicking off at 2 p.m. Krista Orlebeck—a former Death & Co barista and onetime Pony Up head bartender—consulted on the lineup of cocktails, wines, and beers. Our favorites: the brightly hued, mezcal-heavy Oaxacan Sunset and the sweet-savory blend of rum, green tea, herbal liqueur, and peach bitters in This B*tch. —DS

This article was originally published in 5280 February 2024.
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.