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Denver’s growing population is a thirsty one: In the past two years, the Mile High City has gained a slew of new watering holes. We surveyed the additions to come up with the best spot for every type of only-in-Denver situation.
Places That Combine Culture With Cocktails
When you crave Five Points’ jazz joints of yore… Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
In the first half of the 20th century, Five Points’ jazz scene earned the neighborhood the nickname “Harlem of the West,” a musical legacy that’s helped ensure modern Denver has a wealth of live jazz joints (El Chapultepec, the Mercury Cafe, Jazz at Jack’s, to name just a few). Last March the Mile High City added another sultry venue to the mix: Nocturne. In addition to its understated elegance, the RiNo supper club supplies a deft waitstaff, impeccably crafted cocktails, and a sophisticated menu (check out the five-course chef’s tasting). And then there are the tunes. Local bands can spend eight weeks as artists-in-residence applying their own tweaks to the works of an iconic jazz musician or era. Those same bands, along with renowned national acts such as saxophonist Greg Ward, perform live Tuesday through Saturday nights, usually beginning at 7 p.m. (The artist fees added to your bill generally range from $5 to $10 per person.) Do you really need another reason to throw on something sharp, grab a date, and snuggle into a two-top at one of Denver’s sexiest new options? 1330 27th St., 303-295-3333
When you want to drink with the next Clyfford Still… Pon Pon
Increasing rents have sent many of the artists who helped build RiNo running to the metro area’s edges, but they still drink in the neighborhood—at least if Pon Pon’s artsy patronage is any indication. Creative types might flock here because the bar has its own gallery (a back door leads to the Lane Meyers Project minigallery). Or maybe it’s the quality of the DJs (the lead singer of punk icons the Dead Kennedys has performed here). Or perhaps it’s simply because Pon Pon oozes cool. Inside, wood paneling and estate-sale furniture give the bar a decidedly old-school feel, and the drink menu harks back, too, with a roster of classics that includes a Manhattan, an old fashioned, and a martini. And because we all know that in addition to being starving, artists are often thirsty, during Pon Pon’s generous happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., many of these cocktails are $8 (and $2 cans of Genesee are omnipresent). 2528 Walnut St.
When you want to show off Denver’s more refined wine bars… The Greedy Hamster
The Greedy Hamster’s 20-plus-bottle list roams from Australia to Argentina, relying heavily on smaller wineries. The best way to fully experience this cozy, nearly two-year-old Central Business District bistro is to settle into one of the plush armchairs and order a three-glass wine flight. Hint: Try the Tenuta Chianti Classico Riserva, a full-bodied red aged in oak barrels, with the bold Arrowood Knights Valley Cabernet and the fruit-forward La Crema Pinot Noir. 323 14th St., 303-623-2818
When You’re Going To A Show On Colfax
If You’re Going To: Fillmore Auditorium
Pregame At: Hudson Hill
In tribute to the nearby Wax Trax Records, the soundtrack at this eight-month-old Cap Hill spot comes from vinyl. Better yet, every day the barkeep concocts a cocktail inspired by an album. On a recent visit, Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color gave rise to the El Pretty Cool cocktail, made with Strongwater Peach & Rose Shrub sipping vinegar. 619 E. 13th Ave., 303-832-0776
If You’re Going To: The Bluebird Theater
Pregame At: Cerebral Brewing
The music runs from ’80s hip-hop to French pop at this 15-month-old brewery. But you can always count on the beer. Brewer Sean Buchan adores hops. The Rare Trait IPA, for example, combines five varieties to produce a beer both tropical and earthy. And don’t miss a chance to mix your favorite vices, alcohol and dessert: The Dark Galaxie oatmeal milk stout goes deliciously with the chocolate chess pie from adjacent Humble Pie. 1477 Monroe St., 303-927-7365
If You’re Going To: The Ogden Theatre
Pregame At: Marion Street Tavern
Like the Ogden, which opened in 1919, Marion Street has history. Although only a year old, the Cap Hill saloon boasts pressed-tin ceilings from the early 1900s, windows from 1919, and tables made of reclaimed wood. Then there are the 56 varieties of whiskey (a classic old-school spirit). But also like the Ogden, Marion Street has been reinvigorated with youthful acts, such as a coconut mojito and fish tacos. 1223 E. 13th Ave., 720-638-2461, marionstreet-tavern.com
When Chasing the Latest Denver Food Trends
Eat: Playful takes on Chinese steamed buns have been popping up on menus across town, but Uncle’s fried-green-tomato-stuffed version (with miso mayo, pimentos, and Thai basil) is a favorite.
Drink: Stick with the Southern theme and opt for the Modern Whiskey libation, which stars Kentucky-distilled Old Grand-Dad bourbon. The lemon-honey foam that crowns the drink provides a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of the bao. 2215 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-3263
Eat: If there’s a dish that screams “now” right now, it’s the Hawaiian raw tuna salad known as poke. Blue Island seasons its version with sesame oil and scallions; wonton crisps make perfect shovels for the tuna cubes.
Drink: Blue Island adds depth to the classic daiquiri by adding slightly bitter Amaro Montenegro liqueur. The libation’s bright, citrusy flavor offsets the tuna’s richness. 2625 E. Second Ave., 303-333-2462
Eat: Bugs—yes, bugs!—are creating quite a buzz around town (get it?) thanks to their status as a sustainable protein source. Linger stuffs crickets, fried pork belly, and guajillo chile sauce into cricket-dough empanadas.
Drink: Stop freaking out: Insects go down easy, especially when followed by a glass of the hip LoHi restaurant’s orange-zest-garnished red sangria, which is made with brandy and Spanish red wine. 2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120
Bars For The Perfect Date
When you finally go the nerve to ask your Kindness Yoga class crush out on a date… Curio
Choosing Curio shows that you’re up on the trendiest spots in town, since it resides inside the Denver Central Market, RiNo’s five-month-old indoor bazaar. However, this is also a nod to first-date practicalities: Post up at the bar or one of the nearby tables for a Bourbon on the Rose cocktail (mmm, root beer bitters), and if your date talks long and insightfully about her cats’ sweaters, this is where the evening ends (you’re very sorry, but you need to let your Rottweiler, Butch, out). If things go well, though, you can escalate to a charcuterie board from Culture Meat & Cheese and then roast porchetta from SK Provisions and luxe treats from Temper Chocolates and Confections. (And if things go really, really well? Emma & Grace Bridal Studio is on the other side of the building.) Denver Central Market, 2669 Larimer St.
When you’ve been dating since Governor John Hickenlooper was just a brewpub owner… Retrograde
You’ve been together a long, long time. Which means you’re comfortable—with each other, sure, but also with your favorite watering hole. Discover a new spot and a bit of mystery at Frozen Matter, an ice-cream parlor in Uptown. Or, rather, find it inside an innocuous-looking freezer in the back of Frozen Matter. Ring the bell, and a stranger appears from within the fridge to escort you into Retrograde, a dark, intimate speakeasy-style bar that feels like a 1950s cocktail lounge. Sit in one of the booths if you want privacy, though we prefer the bar, where a bartender will nudge you toward an unfamiliar drink—whether that’s a classic cocktail you haven’t tried (for us, it was the not-too-tart Aviation) or a custom sip like the Daleks, a fresh, citrusy concoction atop a whiskey base. Toast the new experiences with your (very) old flame. 530 E. 19th Ave., 720-772-7843
When you just happen to work in the same LoDo office building… Larimer Beer Hall
Is he husband material or just work-husband material? Find out at this unpretentious brick-and-subway-tile haunt on the edge of downtown. From the owners of the Ginn Mill, Larimer Beer Hall provides the perfect setting for a will-we-or-won’t-we happy hour under the pretense of watching the game (six accessible but unobtrusive TVs), grabbing a bit of grub (go for the Juicy Luicy burger, which includes cheese in the middle of the patty), or simply enjoying the beer specials (two-for-one drafts from 4 to 7 p.m.). 2012 Larimer St., 720-550-7610, larimerbeerhall.com
When you’ve run out of small talk, but not your drink… Fire Lounge
The experiential art concept at the Art, a Hotel extends all the way to the bathrooms near the in-house bar, Fire Lounge. The avant-garde waterfall faucet is designed to look more like a sculpture than a washing station, and the walls are covered with black-and-white tile murals of a Greek goddess (in the women’s) and a chiseled man (in the men’s). 1201 Broadway, 303-572-8000, thearthotel.com
When Housing Prices Send You To The ‘Burbs
Inside a nearly 100-year-old brick-faced building, customers at Englewood Grand are greeted by cowboy-hatted owner Phillip Zierke, who’s injected his own childhood nostalgia into the year-old bar. The popcorn machine and shuffleboard table were salvaged from VFW Post 1644 and American Legion Post 16 in Norfolk, Nebraska, where Zierke spent nights as a child with his grandfather babysitter. (Zierke’s mother wasn’t thrilled with the setup.) Zierke honed his drink-slingin’ skills at the Horseshoe Lounge and Green Russell. So ask him for your favorite cocktail, and chances are he will produce an expertly crafted rendition. See, Ma? Grandpa was just seeing to the boy’s education. 3435 S. Broadway, Englewood, 303-568-9948, englewoodgrand.com
This year-old Arvada haven of suds’ 56 taps could feel overwhelming. But thanks to helpful servers and a menu sorted into standards, “featured friends” (local rotating taps), and the reliably awesome staff keg, selecting your new favorite brew is doable. Once you conquer that decision, grab a seat at one of Kline’s shared tables—with a view of Olde Town Arvada’s downtown—and reward yourself with the housemade bratwurst. Tastes like victory. 7519 Grandview Ave., Arvada, 303-351-7938, klinesbeerhall.com
Seven-month-old Miners Saloon is exactly what you’d hope to find as you wander down Miners Alley near Golden’s charmingly rustic downtown: There are pickaxes on the wall, stone fireplaces, and elaborately etched old fashioned glasses. Like a homey mountain hunting lodge, Miners Saloon exudes warmth even with the garage doors open to a stunning scene of the Rockies looming over the town. The grub, such as the flavorful venison sausage, aspires to replicate—and elevate—Golden’s rich Western history. And the 24 taps filled with craft brews like Fate Moirai IPA from Boulder? That’s just history getting an upgrade. 1109 Miners Alley, Golden, 303-993-3850, miners-saloon.com
When You Want To Share A Beer With Your Best Friend (Now That Denver Bars Are Dog-Free Zones)
Although Denver recently began prohibiting dogs from hanging out in places that serve food, Fido can tag along to this LoHi adult playground if leashed and in a designated area. Recess’ outdoor space is plentiful, the beer list is extensive—check out the Bull & Bush Man Beer—and the food is tasty. Try the pulled-pork sliders, but don’t let your guard down. Not with all the hungry dogs around. 2715 17th St., 720-638-0020, recessbeergarden.com
Sips Between Stops
When I-70 traffic means you need a quality drink… Bread Bar
In May, Dram Apothecary herbalist Shae Whitney sold this bar—located right after the Georgetown exit—and the new owners have maintained the high standard she set. Nab a stool at the wood bar and choose a Cortez Thompson, with tequila, aperitivo, grapefruit, and agave, from the list of specialty cocktails. As you sip, take in the tasting room’s hanging scale, floral Victorian-style couch, and other antique touches. It’ll help you enjoy the “stop” part of “stop and go.” 1010 Main St., Silver Plume, 720-722-7323, breadbarsp.com
When you’re not about to have a cocktail at The Pepsi Center… White Whale Room
Next time you’re taking the light rail up to watch the Nuggets/Avs/Mammoth, build in time to hop off at the Alameda stop for a sophisticated sip. The nearly year-old White Whale Room sports a Moby Dick theme, a passenger’s-eye-view of the trains, and drink options ranging from the Airmail cocktail with aged rum and bubbles to a sour from the rotating taps. No matter what you choose, it’ll beat whatever you’ll find at the arena. 415 S. Cherokee St., Suite 125, 415-656-8997, chasethewhitewhale.com
When the A-Line train is delayed…again… Avelina
If your expected wait time triples because of signaling issues, leave the crowds at Union Station and walk a block to five-month-old Avelina. Order a fig old fashioned or a glass of the bartender’s favorite wine, plop on the leather bench in the middle of the room, and eavesdrop on the conversations happening in front of and behind you. We guarantee it’ll be easier listening than the groans at the station. 550 17th St., 720-904-6711, avelinadenver.com
New alliances are being formed in Washington, D.C., the state Capitol building, and even in RiNo—where Noah Price and Jonathan Power, the culinary duo behind Crema Coffeehouse and the Populist, recently pursued separate ventures. In August 2015, Power opened Bar Fausto; a month later, Price unveiled Finn’s Manor. While we hate to see politics drive a wedge between friends, we compiled a guide to help you decide whose new bar—Power’s or Price’s—best serves your particular leanings.
Power partners with Koan Goedman, who worked for Crema before starting Huckleberry Roasters, a retail coffee and roasting outfit based in Sunnyside. 3126 Larimer St., 720-445-9691, barfausto.com
> Infrastructure investment: Fin Art Co., a Denver furniture company (you’ve seen its designs inside Dos Santos and Old Major) and partner at Bar Fausto, built the entire bar. The result—clean lines, warm wood, and dark metals—projects an aura of modern elegance to match the contemporary cuisine.
> Right to privacy: With room enough for 100 patrons, Bar Fausto is plenty big. That being said, Power and Goedman employed dim lighting, high-backed booths, and creative partitioning to section the large space into intimate nooks where people can feel comfortable conversing about anything.
> Traditional values: Bar Fausto offers exquisite custom cocktails, such as the number 34 (a mix of rye whiskey and mezcal, its belly-warming smokiness will have you believing it’s Scotch). But the priority here remains expertly made classics, whether that’s a Negroni or a Sazerac.
Robert Sickler (previously a “master of whisky” for Diageo, a spirits supplier) curates the cocktails, spirits, and punches, while Thomas Taylor handles the beer. 2927 Larimer St., finnsmanor.co
> Urban renewal: Finn’s is a converted junkyard. The owners transformed old pallet racks into tables to help give the mostly outdoor venue—there’s a tent in winter—a funky aesthetic.
> Community-building: The bar boasts options for all tastes and incomes, from New Amsterdam–based vodka tonics to incredibly rare (and expensive) Exclusive Malts whiskies.
> Foreign relations: The 16-beer rotation is small and not solely local. That’s because Taylor taps great beer no matter its ancestry and particularly adores Belgium’s iconic St. Bernardus Brewery.
> Flip-flopping: The fare, courtesy of food trucks stationed on-site on a semipermanent basis, doesn’t stick to a single cuisine. You can gobble up Texas-style ribs at Owlbear Barbecue then saunter to Island Peppapot for Jamaican grub.
Anywhere But Here
Every so often—especially midwinter—we need a break from all things Denver. These two bars will help you hit the refresh button.
When you’re done with the new Mile High City… Union Lodge No. 1
If the antique cash register and massive 1880s-era flag behind the bar don’t convince you of this nearly two-year-old establishment’s commitment to the past, the 12-page cocktail menu will. Proprietors Mike Huggins and Lenka Juchelkova have dedicated nearly every leaf of the hard-backed drink list to a different cocktail, from Sazeracs to lesser-known creations like the Red, White, and Blue Blazer, a potent combo of apple brandy, bourbon, rum, and cinnamon syrup that’s mixed in two silver cups, lit on fire, mixed again, and served in a glass mug. The pages also give brief histories of the drinks; the Blazer, for example, was dreamed up in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Lean back in the leather banquette, take in the wood floors and oil lanterns, and you’ll know what it was like to sip in this same spot back in 1889, when the bar was Denver’s first union hall. 1543 Champa St., 720-389-0447, unionlodge1.com
When you’re disenchanted with hops… Palenque Mezcaleria
As denizens of the Mile High City, we are, by law, required to love beer. Sometimes, though, our palates tire of all the hoppy-malty pairings. When you reach that point, Palenque Mezcaleria in Platt Park has the solution: a smoky liquor courtesy of the agave plant. This past May, Brian Rossi, who also owns Adelitas Cocina y Cantina next door, opened the mezcal-focused watering hole with 100-plus iterations of the tequila relative that hails (mostly) from Oaxaca, Mexico. On any given evening, the Platt Park residents sitting at the wood bar face some difficult decisions: a one-ounce pour of the rare El Jolgorio; a smoldering mezcalarita made with Nuestra Soledad; a “raicilla,” which is kind of like the moonshine version of mezcal; or on Mondays, any mezcal—they’re all half-price. 1294 S. Broadway, 303-778-1294, palenquemezcaleria.com
From The Experts: Bar Etiquette 101
When you don’t know what beer you want, how many samples are too many?
“Just asking for a taster doesn’t make you a jerk; a small splash of beer isn’t going to hurt anyone. But if there’s a packed bar, maybe it’s not the best time to explore the vagaries of a particular beer style.” —Chris Washenberger, co-owner, Cerebral Brewing
When you can’t get a drink to save your life
“If I’m at a bar with friends, I’m not looking at them. Instead, I’m burning holes in the back of the bartender’s head. Once they make eye contact, they’ll know you’re there and take care of you as soon as they possibly can. No bartender is going to give priority to the obnoxious guy waving a twenty in the air and snapping his fingers.” —Chad Michael George, co-owner, The Way Back
When the tab comes, how much should you tip your barkeep?
“Broadly speaking—and depending on the type of drinks, size of the party, and the total tab—there is an industry standard of 20 percent. But you can add on extra as you see fit…or draw something on a cocktail napkin, or bring us candy!” —Christina Acosta, bar manager, Bar Fausto
When you don’t like the craft cocktail you ordered
“It’s frustrating when a person orders, say, a Negroni then sends it back because it’s too bitter. That’s like ordering Hawaiian pizza when you don’t like pineapple. But if you’ve talked with the bartender and the drink still isn’t what you want, send it back. The key is to tell them why you didn’t like it so they can figure out what you do like.” —Stuart Jenson, co-owner, Curio
Editor’s note, 1/18/2019: This article has been updated to reflect recent restaurant and bar closures and moves.