It was a bittersweet moment last month when Jessica Lischka learned that Jimmy’s had been named one of the top 10 finalists for the best American restaurant bar of the year. Like all Colorado restaurants, Jimmy’s in Aspen is shut down for on-premise service due to the coronavirus pandemic, with no clear path or timeline for reopening for Colorado diners and drinkers. “It’s really hard to celebrate anything at the moment because everyone on that list, I’m sure, is struggling to survive and afraid they’re not going to be able to reopen their doors,” says Lischka, Jimmy’s general manager and partner. 

Though Colorado bars and restaurants are in peril right now, there is a small bright spot: Colorado’s hospitality industry is being recognized on a national scale by the Spirited Awards, one of the highest honors that bars, bartenders, and other beverage professionals can receive.

The awards are organized by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, which is hosting its 14th annual festival and awards ceremony digitally from New Orleans on July 25; the top four finalists in each category will be revealed on June 1. 

Anyone can submit a nomination for the various categories, which span the globe and range from best bartender to best cocktail bar. Judging committees, made up of bartenders, bar owners, educators, and writers, then sift through the nominations for each category to narrow down the list to the finalists and regional honorees. 

The Denver location of Death & Co racked up a handful of honors, including being named one of the best American hotel bars and American bar teams in the West. 

Alex Day, one of the bar’s owners, was named to the top 10 list for best American bar mentor, while bar manager Alex Jump is in the running for best American bartender. Jump said she’s humbled by the news and can’t wait to get back behind the bar. “I never really anticipated falling in love with the hospitality industry the way that I did,” she said. “We are so fortunate to work in an industry that is so creative and so passionate and just gets to do really cool, really amazing things every day.”

Newcomer Brass Tacks, which opened about a year ago in LoDo, earned a spot on the list of best American cocktail bars in the West. Co-owner Stuart Jensen said he was happy to see so many Colorado establishments getting the recognition they deserve. Denver, in particular, is starting to settle into its own identity, he added. “Any exposure we can bring to what everybody’s doing here in Colorado just feels especially important to me,” he said.

And while the team at Morin has been heads down, producing 4,000 meals a week to those in need because of the pandemic, being named one of the top American restaurant bars in the West was a much-needed morale booster. “It’s certainly unexpected,” said McLain Hedges, Morin’s beverage director. “It’s a labor of love and a team effort. We all work countless hours and pour our hearts into the program.”

Below is the full list of Colorado top 10 finalists and honorees for the 2020 Spirit Awards. Winners will be announced on July 25, so check back. 

National Top 10 Nominees

For the full list, click here.

Best American Bar Team

  • Williams & Graham, Denver

American Bartender of the Year

  • Alex Jump, Death & Co, Denver

Best American Hotel Bar

  • Death & Co at the Ramble Hotel, Denver

Best American Bar Mentor

  • Alex Day, Death & Co, multiple locations

Best American Restaurant Bar

  • Jimmy’s, Aspen

Regional Top 10 Honorees

For the full list, click here.

Best American Bar Team, West

  • Death & Co at the Ramble Hotel, Denver

Best American Bar Team, Central

  • Williams & Graham, Denver

Best American Hotel Bar, West

  • Death & Co at the Ramble Hotel, Denver

Best American Cocktail Bar, West

  • Brass Tacks, Denver

Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar, West

  • Occidental, Denver

Best American Restaurant Bar, West

  • Morin, Denver
  • Jimmy’s, Aspen

Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta is Colorado-based writer and editor. She writes about travel, lifestyle, food and beverage, fitness, education and anything with a great story behind it.