Seven years ago, we said bars weren’t destinations. Turns out we were mistaken (at least, we were by today’s standards). The Mile High City’s watering holes are no longer merely neighborhood distractions; they’re objectives in their own rights, as the 15 bars on the following pages—for beer snobs, foodies, couples, and more—demonstrate. We’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

Edited by Kasey Cordell
Photograph by Aaron Colussi
Illustrations by Peter James Field

Beer Bars

Pubs that offer more than just expansive tap lists.

Euclid Hall
1317 14th St., 303-595-4255,

When it comes to a good beer bar, size doesn’t matter. This is certainly the case at Euclid Hall, where a glance at the list of 15 draft beers might leave you thinking it’s a bit, well, inferior to joints that tout 75 tap handles. But Euclid Hall has actually done you a favor by keeping things simple. A dedicated home brewer with degrees in biology and chemistry, bar manager Chris Sage maintains an expertly curated tap list, which means there’s no need to scan pages of brews worrying you might select a dud—because there are no duds at this LoDo mainstay. An autumn trip to Euclid revealed everything from in-town favorites such as Great Divide’s Fresh Hop and Avery’s Lilikoi Kepolo (kegs of which don’t often venture outside the Boulder taproom) to out-of-state prizes like Stone’s Enjoy By 10.31.14 and Boulevard’s Tank 7. And if you’re the kind of guy or gal for whom size does matter, worry not: Euclid maintains an extensive bottle collection full of large-format brews, one-offs, and Belgian rarities. —Chris Outcalt

Lowry Beer Garden
7577 E. Academy Blvd., 303-366-0114,

Long before the craft beer mega-boom in this country, Germans headed to large biergartens (beer gardens), where they’d knock back steins of locally made ale with friends and strangers at long communal tables. Today there is perhaps no better Front Range example of this concept than the Lowry Beer Garden. The 4,500-square-foot outdoor space, complete with cornhole, foosball, and pingpong, opened three years ago adjacent to an old airplane hanger on the defunct Lowry Air Force Base. Originally intended as a seasonal destination, the garden has proved so popular that the owners are attempting to winterize the bar, which features a rotating list of 16 taps (most of the draft beers hail from Colorado) and a menu populated with brats and sandwiches. (General manager Josiah Miller consulted with well-known Denver chef Troy Guard about the menu.) For the time being, “winterize” means temporary plastic walls that suffice when the temperature remains above 30 degrees. But when the plentiful Colorado sun shines, so does this Lowry bar—no matter the temp. —CO

Hops & Pie
3920 Tennyson St., 303-477-7000,

Beer and pizza are as inextricably linked as Coloradans and their Patagonia puffies. On an increasingly hip stretch of Tennyson, four-year-old Hops & Pie executes this classic pairing better than just about anyone in the Mile High City. We dig the thin-crust pies with made-from-scratch sauce and a wide variety of toppings, from pepperoni to smoked tofu to dollops of mashed potatoes. Really, though, it’s the ever-changing beer selection that keeps us coming back: Hops & Pie never repeats a beer. Among the 20 drafts, we’ve discovered gems like Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew, a honey stout ode to the classic Miles Davis album. What’s more, Hops & Pie—which maintains an upbeat, throwback vibe with a stereo tuned to the likes of Rancid and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones—offers killer deals for craft beer lovers. On Wednesdays, aka craft can night, $2 high-end cans come served in the restaurant’s signature beer koozies; “Saturday Sessions” get you two slices and three drafts for $16. —CO

Where Bartenders Drink

“Scruffy Murphy’s, for the good selection of scotch and Irish whiskey, always chased with a beer.”
—Chris Sage, Bar Manager, Euclid Hall

Date Bars

Cozy spots where the spirits (and sparks) fly.

Ste. Ellie
1553 Platte St., 303-477-1447,

Like a good date, this subterranean offshoot of Colt & Gray doesn’t try too hard to impress anyone. A velvet curtain at the entrance suggests a speakeasy vibe, but one that doesn’t feel contrived; a section of the menu is dedicated to (elevated) beer and shot combos; and bartenders are more likely to show off Ste. Ellie’s tiki mug collection than their ice block–chipping skills. Although these drink-slingers may not call themselves mixologists, they make a mean cocktail. You’ll taste the proof in balanced, updated takes on classics, such as the Loneliest Monk, an old fashioned made with Old Medley bourbon, Underberg bitters, and yellow chartreuse instead of sugar. Whether you imbibe at the glowing marble bartop or in the oversize ivory leather chairs, the sultry space sets a sophisticated backdrop that’s balanced by genuine service. All of which make Ste. Ellie an ideal place to settle in and drop the pretense yourself. —Jessica LaRusso

Dada Art Bar
2470 Broadway, 720-350-4716,

Dada Art Bar is not romantic in the traditional sense; it’s loud, hip, and gritty, with lots of hard surfaces and sharp angles. But it is endlessly stimulating, making it a winning first-date spot for pairs who may appreciate conversation-starters—hello, Bob Ross episodes looping on the TV in the corner. The 2,600-square-foot space is part gallery, part performance venue (live entertainment ranges from musicians and DJs to comedians and burlesque dancers), and part watering hole. We suggest grabbing a beer from the bar and making a lap to admire what’s on the walls before snagging a two-top. Once you’ve finished your Duvel Belgian golden ale or, perhaps, your can of hipsterific Genesee cream ale and are done discussing the current exhibition (monthly shows feature emerging artists), stroll around the corner to sweeten the deal at charming dessert-haven Sugarmill. —JL

Truffle Table
2556 15th St., 303-455-9463,

This bright bistro at the corner of 15th and Umatilla streets is all about perfect pairings: wine and cheese, impeccable menu sourcing and down-to-earth delivery, and you and your significant other. A tightly selected by-the-glass list—typically two bubblies, six whites, and seven reds—and generous tasting pours make it easy to find your new favorite varietal or vintage. In the summer, a table on the sidewalk patio is prime for LoHi people-watching over a cheese board and rosé, but now that the snow flurries are flying, snuggle into the back corner of the banquette. Ask your server to suggest a wine or a beer from Truffle Table’s impressive bottle lineup to complement your melted, nutty Raclette. Or pull up stools at the bar, order a bottle of Scholium Project’s Gardens of Babylon red blend from Napa, and discover—or rediscover—what makes you two go together so well. —JL

Where Bartenders Drink

“If I’m looking for a good beer, my go-to is Trve Brewing. Awesome beer, dark atmosphere, good metal, and no hippies.”
—Luke “HoneyBear” Ramos, Head bartender, Ste. Ellie

Foodie Bars

Where what’s on your plate is as good as what’s in your glass.

Mercantile Dining & Provision
Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3733,

Like the trains and buses just beyond its doors, Union Station’s five-month-old Mercantile is a restaurant in perpetual motion. From the seasonal menu, which shifts from small bites and sandwiches during lunch to farm-fresh plates at dinner, to the rotating cocktail menu, no visit is ever the same. Foodies will appreciate the four-top counter spot near the bar that allows diners to peer into the kitchen, where they’ll see executive chef Alex Seidel’s creations coming to life: house-made Burrata and pork pâté, Fruition Farms ricotta gnocchi, and family-style dishes such as the Creekstone rib-eye. But our favorite perch is at the concrete-topped bar. Scoot a stool close and opt for the Drinker’s Choice: Simply tell the talented bar staff what kind of base spirit and cocktail you normally drink and wait for them to stir up something delightful. When you’ve stopped gawking at your drink long enough to ponder your company at the bar, don’t be surprised to find yourself sitting next to one of Denver’s renowned restaurateurs or bartenders, such as lauded Williams & Graham owner Sean Kenyon himself—a sure sign of a good thing and one we hope is here to stay. —KC

3350 Brighton Blvd., 720-542-3721,

As the five o’clock hour approaches, Acorn’s bar staffers tend their stations as carefully as the line cooks setting up in the kitchen. They fill ice buckets, check kegs and wine stock, and line up bottles of bitters and jars of fruits and herbs just so. When your spot has been named one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants (thank you, Bon Appétit), the bar gets every bit as much scrutiny. Steered by co-owner Bryan Dayton’s experienced hand and staffed by standout bartenders such as Alexandra Parks and Chris Clewell, Acorn delivers everything from classic old fashioneds to more complicated drinks like the Central Slope Sour, a bourbon-and-beer cocktail spiked with honey and lemon, with poise and perfection. Like the food menu (speaking of which, don’t miss the crispy fried pickles or Iberico ham), the drink menu is small but thoughtful and well executed. And Acorn pays exceptional attention to detail, be it the choice of drinking vessel (each drink gets a special glass) or the hand-chipped ice spheres, which take about two minutes each to make. After all, as one Acorn barman noted on a recent visit: “If you’re paying $12 to $14 for a cocktail in Denver, it better be damn good.” We’ll certainly drink (and eat) to that. —KC

Old Major
3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622,

While the square footage of the dark, rustic bar at Old Major may be on the small side, everything else inside the two-year-old Highland spot qualifies as oversized: the giant Edison bulb lamps on the bar bouncing warm light and shadows around the wood-paneled room, the walk-in wine vault in the corner, the giant ice cubes that quite literally nip at your nose when your drink dwindles, and, of course, the monster flavor packed into delicious pig-centric plates such as house-cured ham and biscuits and elk and pork sausage. That doesn’t mean Old Major ignores the small things—hand-squeezed juices for cocktails, immaculately dressed bar staff in vests and ties, and silverware that’s replaced between courses. Don’t be fooled, though: Old Major is anything but pretentious, instead taking a kind of down-home pride in the fact that it sources ingredients from local farms and ranches, worships at the nose-to-tail butcher block, and cures its own meats in-house. The vibe here feels at once nostalgic and sophisticated, a soul-soothing combination that’s mirrored in Old Major’s regularly changing menu of classic cocktails (palomas and mules, for example) and drinks with new-school twists—and in the warm, ready smiles of those serving them. —KC

Where Bartenders Drink

“My favorite spot is Star Bar. They have a great team, incredible beers on tap, an impressive selection of spirits, and usually country music. All of my favorite things.”
—Stuart Jensen, Bar Manager, Mercantile

Bars for Locavores

For when you don’t just want a drink—you want a cup of Colorado.

À Côté
2239 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111,

While the wine and spirit list at cozy little À Côté—French for “next door” (in this case, next door to sibling restaurant Z Cuisine)—spans the globe, almost all the specialty cocktails are anchored by Colorado spirits. À Côté pays particular attention to liqueurs from Golden’s Golden Moon Distillery, one of the only spirit makers in the country to distill its crème de violette—a key ingredient in the aviation, a classic gin drink—from actual violets. But then, we’d expect nothing less from chef-owner Patrick DuPays’ farm-to-table eatery, which was founded on the principle of eating locally. Between the expansive absinthe menu (two are from Colorado), wainscoting, over-the-top chandeliers, gold lettering on the windows, and French films, this chic sidekick might appear Parisian on the surface, but we know different: At its heart, or “à la coeur,” À Côté is pure Colorado. —KC

523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001,

Since opening in 2006, Steuben’s has, in some ways, become synonymous with Colorado’s craft cocktail movement. “Steuben’s did a lot for local and craft distillers,” says Moose Koons, partner at Peach Street Distillers. Twin brothers and bar managers Randy and Ryan Layman were among the first to find homes for several Colorado spirits on their shelves, something former Steuben’s bar staff such as Sean Kenyon and Courtney Wilson took with them to other establishments. Today, you’ll still find the latest offerings from the likes of Leopold Bros. and CapRock, whose gin anchors Steuben’s signature high-octane Punch In The Mouth. And Steuben’s continues to pay homage to Colorado beers: At least a third of its canned and bottled brews are local. Of course, you’ll also still find an out-the-door wait for a table in the restaurant section of this comfort-food hot spot, giving you all the more reason to visit the bar. —KC

Star Bar
2137 Larimer St.,

Dark, divey, and decorated with local craft brewery stickers, Star Bar isn’t the kind of place where you’d expect to find the bartender wielding a jigger—but that’s exactly what you’ll get. When owner Justin Lloyd took over this historic Denver drinking spot in 2010, he made local craft spirits and brews the focus. Nearly 20 rotating local beers fill out the draft list, and when you order a cocktail, the aforementioned be-jiggered bartender will point to the six shelves behind him—bowed under the weight of dozens of local spirits—and ask you what base spirit you’d like it made with. Don’t expect any fancy garnishes, though. Star Bar isn’t about flash; it’s about precision, professionalism, and an honest taste of Colorado. —KC

Where Bartenders Drink

“I have been going to Sputnik on South Broadway since it first opened. I am always warmly welcomed by the staff, the people-watching is so good you can stay all day and never get bored, and the Cubano sandwich there is tops.”
—Ryan Layman, Bar Manager, Steuben’s

Booze +

Bars where good drinks aren’t the only draw.

930 Lincoln St., 303-839-5100,

Among Denver’s dozens of live music venues, few offer shows seven nights a week. Even fewer often do so for free. And we can think of only one that provides all of this with solidly made cocktails and without the sticky, beer-coated floor: Dazzle, Denver’s 17-year-old pillar of jazz, blues, and soul. Everyone from local standouts like Ken Walker to national talent such as Rudy Royston has stood on the corner stage inside Dizzy’s Room. But before you even get to Dizzy’s, you’ll want to spend some time sipping an old-school cocktail in the front bar, where silver cocktail tools and shiny jars of vodka infusions stand out against the dark walls. Expect your drink to be well-made from classic national brands and served without any pomp in a weighty glass vessel. Subtract the LP album covers doubling as menus, and you could easily imagine your grandparents sucking down gimlets on special Saturday nights in a place like this. Just because we can have it every night of the week doesn’t make us any less appreciative. —KC

4280 Tennyson St., 720-443-2227,

Nineteenth century Romantic poet John Keats gave us more than just a few sexed-up odes; he also provided the blueprint for the perfect modern bar. “Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know,” he wrote in 1819. Two hundred years later, we found Keats’ nirvana: BookBar on Berkeley’s Tennyson Street. This light-filled bookshop with its own bar fulfills all of Keats’ requirements: books (nearly 5,000 volumes), French wine (plus bottles from Spain, California, and the Northwest and an almost-all-Colorado beer list), fruit (try the Midsummer Night’s Fruit Plate), fine weather (given), and a little music (soft indie tunes or, during story time on Thursday afternoons, you’ll be serenaded by the characters). Throw in tea sandwiches with literary names like the Salinger (chicken salad) and the Melville (tuna, naturally), and you’ve got yourself a swoon-worthy 21st-century sipping spot. —KC

Blake Street Tavern
2301 Blake St., 303-675-0505,

This 18,000-square-foot Ballpark sports bar isn’t just a place to watch the game on one of the 60 big-screen TVs. It’s also a place to have a beer and play a game. Any game. Downstairs in the Underground Social, choose from two sets of cornhole, three Pop-A-Shots, four Skee-Ball setups, two short shuffleboard tables, a four-man tabletop Pac-Man station, three dart boards, and an arcade with half a dozen ’80s-era video games. When you’ve played yourself out, you’ll find 24 beers on tap and a large pub-grub menu. One round of Blake Street’s enormous nachos and you’ll be fueled up for a Big Game Hunter rematch. —KC

Where Bartenders Drink

“Local 46 has the best patio, the bartenders are fast and nice, and they get great music. I also love El Chingon; the owners are warm and welcoming, and the drinks and food are great.
—Catherine Olah, Wine Bar Manager, BookBar

Find more recommendations from Denver bartenders.

Mapping the best bars

Have a favorite bar to add to the list? Tell us about it.

Three questions for one of the best bartenders in the world

Sean Kenyon | Williams & Graham

What was it like for Williams & Graham to be named one of the 50 best bars in the world by Drinks International magazine?
The fact that a Denver bar got recognized in the top 50 is pretty insane. It’s even more insane that it’s our bar. [Kenyon owns W&G.] For a place that is not in a major city to get into that top 50 means that a lot of people have been to your bar because none of the 350 worldwide judges can vote on a spot they haven’t been to. The odds are stacked against any small city. It’s more of a nod to Denver than W&G.

How’d you get started bartending?
I’m a third-generation bartender. My brother and I grew up in my father’s bar in New Jersey; it was our babysitter. We would get dropped off after school. My mother always called the patrons of the bar my drunken uncles. They watched after my brother and me as we played video games. The bartenders would cut our Coca-Cola with soda water so we didn’t drink too much sugar. We grew up around a lot of wonderful people; it’s just that some of them had a few drinks in them.

Where do you go for a cold one?
I look for a place that has soul. My friend Sarah Bechen, who used to work at the Thin Man, opened a cool little bar in my neighborhood called Jefferson Park Pub. I also like the Federal, and My Brother’s Bar is always my fallback. —Jerilyn Forsythe

Want to learn more from Sean Kenyon? Check out our extended interview.

Straight Up: Essays to sip on...

An Ode To The Old Fashioned

By Chris Outcalt

First, an admission: I’m a bandwagon old fashioned drinker. A few years ago, I became hooked on the series Mad Men. The show’s protagonist—Don Draper, a smooth-talking, chain-smoking ad man with a mysterious past—swills old fashioneds like water. Fueled by a gigantic lapse in logic, I began mixing Draper’s drink at home for a semiregular nightcap thinking I’d somehow also inherit a bit of his suaveness. What I got was not a lesson in being cool, but rather an education in what makes a good cocktail.

With three ingredients—bourbon or rye, bitters, and sugar—an old fashioned is, technically speaking, a simple drink. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s easy to execute; with so few ingredients, there’s no room to hide. A killer old fashioned is eminently balanced: The whiskey shouldn’t overrun the cocktail; the bitters shouldn’t bite; the sugar shouldn’t overpower.

In fact, it’s precisely this drink’s basic but delicate equilibrium that makes an old fashioned an excellent measure of a bar. It’s an estimation you can start making before you even take a sip. The drink should be served in a lowball glass—often referred to as an old fashioned glass—with ice. If a bartender unceremoniously plops a pint glass in front of you, as happened to a friend at one Denver bar, he’s made a critical error. An orange (or sometimes a lemon) peel garnish should accentuate the bitters. These days, you might come across what’s called a “new old fashioned.” Generally, this means an establishment has taken it upon itself to mess with the classic, muddling in fruit or other ingredients or even adding soda water. This doesn’t (necessarily) make it a bad drink; it just makes it not an old fashioned.

Several years of drinking old fashioneds—and watching seven seasons of Mad Men—hasn’t made me any smoother. One thing it has taught me, however, is that sipping a particular old-school cocktail is not an effective measure of a good man (turns out Don Draper is kind of a dick). Making a good one, on the other hand—well, that’s something else altogether.

The Makings Of A Good Bar

By Kasey Cordell

Over time, as the editor of four bar feature stories, the one-woman bartender in a Belfast bar, and a solo diner when I moved to Colorado three months before my fiancé arrived, I’ve spent a lot of hours on my own in bars. The upside, though, is that drinking alone gives you the opportunity to appreciate the little things that get lost in the company of others. Like the things that make a good bar. Not a sports bar or a dance club—I’m talking about the kind of spot you turn to for refuge or for celebration. A bar is a funny thing in that it serves dual purposes for drinkers: Some are there for laughter, others for solitude. But if you botch any of the little things, you’ll ruin the experience for both. So let’s get a few ground rules straight.

No more than 10 cocktails on the menu. Period. More than that and I start feeling like I’m ordering a drink from Yelp.

Soft music. I don’t care if it’s Otis Redding or Iron Maiden; it shouldn’t interrupt my thoughts or my conversation. (OK, if it’s Iron Maiden, I mind a little.)

Bar stools should be padded. (Preferably with foot- and backrests, so I don’t end up slumping over my drink like I do my laptop.) This is particularly true here in the nation’s fittest state, where most drinkers haven’t yet acquired adequate backside cushioning to sustain sitting on hard surfaces for more than one round.

Coat hooks. We’re in the Mile High City, people. Even our summer nights require jackets. There’s simply no excuse not to have a place to put them.

Femur room. The bar should be built out from the vertical plane so that my knees aren’t knocking up against it. By my count, that’s at least 18 inches.

Low lighting. Whether patrons are there to celebrate or commiserate, no one wants their pores on display. This is why Edison bulbs or dimmers are awesome.

Bartenders with savvy. This extends beyond drink-making ability. They need to be men and women with the ability to discern when to chat someone up, when to just shut up and pour another, and when to gently but firmly intervene when one saturated patron intrudes on another’s evening.

Wood-burning stove or fire pit: Because this is Colorado. And it smells good. That’s all.

How To Drink Alone

By Geoff Van Dyke

As a younger man, I had the very self-satisfied impression that drinking alone was a retrograde activity, something for drunks and degenerates and the friendless. It didn’t take long for the cruel circumstances of the real world to disabuse me of my pretensions. After a particularly bad day, I did what any 23-year-old with an affinity for drinks would do: I headed to one of midtown Manhattan’s dive bars and got suitably hammered. By myself.

It was a valuable learning experience. After recovering from that monster hangover, I resolved not to drink alone ever again. And then, years later, my longtime girlfriend and I broke up. I moved in with buddies who had strange work schedules, and often I’d find myself wandering to my neighborhood bar, solo, for drinks after I’d punched the clock. Since then, my ex and I reconciled, got married, and started a family. Much has changed. But the bar as a refuge has not, and here are some of the things I’ve learned about drinking alone over the years:

Bring reading material. In the days before smartphones, I always had a magazine or book on hand. This telegraphs to would-be “friends” sitting at the bar that you’re not interested in talking. Also, a good book or story is invariably enhanced by a good drink or two.

Know your booze. Most barkeeps will treat you just fine regardless of whether you order a Coors or a Negroni on the rocks with an orange twist. But they also appreciate drinkers with a bit of knowledge about the bottles on the backbar.

Be prepared. If you don’t want to hole up with this month’s 5280 and are willing to actually talk with another human being, be aware of what you’re getting into. Stay away from politics and religion. Sports can have its pitfalls if you’re talking to a tipsy fanatic. The weather is usually safe. And it can never hurt to have a “fake” occupation at the ready if you don’t want to discuss your real job—“actuary” can be a real conversation killer.

Know your limits. Don’t get sloshed. Getting drunk in a bar by yourself is kinda sad. I can speak from experience.

Bars We Miss


With its vinyl red booths, cheap pitchers, baskets of fries, and killer jukebox that boasted everything from indie rock icons to jazz maestros, Gabor’s was, as one regular remembers, “where every great Cap Hill coming-of-age story started.”


A bizarre two-story marriage of dance club, sports bar, and pool hall, B-52’s is perhaps best remembered for what it became after its sudden shutdown in 2006: The Real World Denver house.

Rock Bar

A gritty dance spot on the bottom floor of an even grittier East Colfax motel, Rock Bar helped redefine “dirty dancing” for the Mile High City and laid down the foundation for a new wave of bars along this stretch.

Rackhouse Pub

Don’t panic; it’s not gone for good. Last year, this bastion of local craft spirits attached to the Stranahan’s distillery announced its intention to move across the street. Change of plans: Now the Rackhouse will open in RiNo as part of a collaboration with Bierstadt Lagerhouse. —Danielle Ennis

Statewide Sipping Spots

Whether you go for the cocktails, the beer, the view, or simply the history, make sure you stop by these quintessential Colorado watering holes when you're in town.

—Photo credits from top (left to right): Aaron Colussi; Courtesy of Lowry Beer Garden; Courtesy of Hops & Pie; Aaron Colussi; Courtesy of Dada Art Bar; Aaron Colussi (2); Courtesy of Jennifer Olson; Sarah Boyum; Aaron Colussi; Courtesy of Steuben's, Sarah Boyum; Courtesy of Tim Dwenger; iStock, Sarah Boyum; Aaron Colussi; Shutterstock (5); Jeff Nelson (3)