Enduring seemingly endless pandemic-related hurdles has only made the Mile High City’s watering holes more inventive and enticing than ever. Here, we’ve awarded superlatives to this year’s most outstanding bars.

Biggest Flirt

Room for MillyLoHi

It’s impossible not to fall for nearly two-year-old Room for Milly, where every romantic touch hints at the adventures of a (potentially fictional) heroine named Milly Parker, who traveled the globe 100 years ago. Once you pass through the velvet curtains at the entryway, the soft glow of salon lights illuminates kaleidoscopic pastel wallpaper and a gallery of subtly sensual paintings, giving the whole place the feel of a sleek, 1920s New York City supper club. Fittingly, the gorgeous, expertly assembled cocktails have names and phrases that offer tantalizing glimpses into Parker’s life and personality. For example, the Commander Manhattan—a potent blend of toasted sesame rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, oloroso (a sherry), Bénédictine, and celery bitters—is described as such: “Curls a soft, quiet smile then drops the straight flush.” Whether or not the bar’s mysterious muse was a poker-faced gambler, the menu of delectable dough-wrapped parcels from Denver’s Samosa Shop suggests Parker’s fondness for Indian food, a trait we find irresistible. —PK

Most Mysterious

B&GCCherry Creek

B & GC. Photo by Sarah Banks

Like your most aloof, hard-to-pin-down friend, Cherry Creek’s B&GC takes a lot of work to get to know. You’ll have to text to coordinate a meetup and wait a couple of days to hear back. B&GC will eventually respond with two or three suggested times, and when you choose one the enigmatic speakeasy will send ambiguous directions to its location. When the day comes, you’ll wander through alleyways to an unmarked door with a small brass doorbell, the only indicator you’ve arrived. Ring it and follow your host through a maze of service hallways. Finally, you’ll emerge into an elegant, dimly lit bar, where you can settle in and order a cocktail like the Chartreuse-laced Diamondback or a house creation like the scotch-heavy B&GC Sazerac. But don’t ask the bartenders about the meaning of B&GC’s name: Some secrets can never be revealed, no matter how well you think you know someone. —Riane Menardi Morrison

Most Musical

ESP HiFiLincoln Park

ESP HiFi serves coffee, highballs, natural wines, and digestifs in a cozy single-room space birthed this past September. But as the name (a reference to extra sensory perception and high fidelity) suggests, it’s the delights the Lincoln Park spot crafts for your ears that set the daytime cafe and self-described listening bar apart from other Denver venues spinning vinyl. Its soundtrack is meticulously curated for the energy of the room (think: atmospheric sounds in the morning; upbeat, energetic beats for the Friday night crowd). The concept, a nod to traditional Japanese jazz kissas (cafes) that serve tea and tunes, is an audiophile’s heaven, with vinyl-only sets—from jazz to disco—resonating through vintage Klipschorn speakers. Take the music in from the custom-built bar, where your host—usually a music-savvy bartender—selects tracks from the 800-strong record collection. —RMM

Most Likely to Brighten Your Day

Hudson HillCapitol Hill

For a pick-me-up morning, noon, or night, Hudson Hill is a plant-filled bar and cafe that selflessly gives its energy to anyone who might need it. Here, you can visit while the sun is high for a barista-crafted caffeine hit or shrug off your 9-to-5 worries with wine, beer, or a complex elixir, like the taste-bud-tingling Holy Molé made with tequila, mezcal, Averna, ancho chile, and chocolate. Grab a sweet or savory house-made pastry or a plate of creamy Brie, accompanied by toast and seasonal jam. Then get comfy at a bar seat, couch, or cafe table (the roomy back patio is also lovely) to soak in the surrounding greenery’s life-giving oxygen and mood-boosting tunes, courtesy of records spun by the bubbly bar staff. —RMM

Most Congenial

Rayback CollectiveBoulder

Rayback Collective is one of those rare venues that is perfect for nearly any occasion. The five-year-old beer garden, coffeeshop, food truck park, and live music venue has 30 ales, stouts, IPAs, porters, and Pilsners on tap—the majority of which are produced by local makers such as Broomfield’s 4 Noses and Golden’s Holidaily brewing companies—plus a variety of ciders, seltzers, and cocktails. To ensure bellies are full of suds and sustenance, rotating mobile eateries dishing pizza, barbecue, gyros, and arepas encircle the expansive, picnic-table-filled yard. There’s also seating inside a refurbished, industrial-chic building that housed Boulder’s historic Rayback Plumbing Supply for 60 years. Today, the spot’s varied food-and-drink inventory and come-one, come-all atmosphere impress both thirsty college students and families with kids and pups in tow. —PK

Most Likely to Drop Their Phone in the Toilet

Trashhawk TavernOverland

TrashHawk Tavern, which opened this past October on South Broadway between East Florida and East Iowa avenues, is not a dive bar, but it is trying very hard to be one—and it does a pretty good job, for being just a few months old. True dives earn their status after years of accumulating dirt, grime, and stories of joy and regret. TrashHawk, on the other hand, is a slick, newly renovated space with rustic wood throughout and carefully curated sports and Colorado ephemera on the walls. You won’t find $15 bespoke cocktails, however. This tavern leans hard into mass-produced lagers, shots of a nasty, bitter liqueur called Jeppson’s Malört, and concoctions such as the Pink Nasty, which consists of Smirnoff vanilla vodka and orange Fanta. TrashHawk has a back patio for when it’s warm and a room with a big, wooden table ideal for games of flip cup or beer pong, but we suggest hanging out in the front near the bar, ordering a Yellow Jacket (a well whiskey shot and a Coors Banquet), and reveling in the manufactured funk. —Geoff Van Dyke

Most Likely to Never Be Single

WildflowerLoHi

Wildflower. Photo by Sarah Banks

Wildflower’s Victorian elegance belies its Old West rough-and-tumble edge, which peeks out from behind heavy drapes and floral china just enough to make you aware that this well-heeled lady can hold her whiskey. It’s a good thing, too, because Wildflower—which opened in January 2021 inside the Life House Hotel—pours imaginative, often stiff cocktails alongside natural wines, Colorado beers and meads, and a veggie-forward menu. Whether you’re in the mood for something delicate, like the House Rose Vesper Martini spritzed with rose water from a perfume bottle, or something more reminiscent of the O.K. Corral, like the smoked old fashioned, the eight bar chairs are the best spots to experience the artistry of the sharply attired barkeeps. While you’re likely to fall in love with Wildflower, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re the only one: Get there early to snag a seat along the wood and make the acquaintance of this alluring damsel of LoHi. —Lindsey B. King

Most Likely to Wear Their Letterman Jacket to the Bar

PindustryGreenwood Village

This sprawling all-American arcade bar brings the fun (and competition) to the southern ’burbs in the form of camaraderie-inspiring games, pizza, and 20 rotating draft beers. The 54,500-square-foot venue opened this past June with 23 bowling lanes (standard-issue and duckpin varieties); an AstroTurf-laden cornhole court; an array of pinball machines, Skee-Ball lanes, and shuffleboard courts; table tennis and pool tables; and 8-bit games like Ms. Pac-Man. You can fuel up with Pindustry’s wood-fired pies, salads, and charcuterie, and instead of hitting the Gatorade cooler when you need to rehydrate, steal away to get something stronger. The lower-level bar spans nearly the width of the place, or you can venture to the vast rooftop. Stay out past curfew to enjoy live music on the weekends. —RMM

Pindustry. Photo by Sarah Banks

Most Likely to Never Change

Green RussellLoDo

Eleven years after its debut, this subterranean drinkery—one of Denver’s first modern-day speakeasies—still invites locals to descend into the underbelly of Larimer Square for impeccable Prohibition-inspired cocktails. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, chat up a vest-sporting bartender to discover a classic you’ve never tried or rattle off your go-to spirits and flavor preferences to have a drink made just for your palate. Either way, you can count on meticulously crafted house bitters and tonics, hand-carved ice, and uninterrupted conversation, because the bar’s house rules insist you enter its telephone booth if you need to send a text. And when it’s time to decamp from your cozy, pomegranate red leather seat, head back to the surface knowing that when you return, Green Russell will be just the way you left it. —RMM

Most Spirited

Pearl Street Pub & CellarBoulder

This sage father of Boulder college bars, tucked among the Pearl Street Mall’s chic retail stores and restaurants, has been around since 1996. Inside, burgundy and green walls are clad with framed images of buzzed regulars, and dim lighting encourages patrons to order another round without shame. Pop in after 10 p.m., when the rails of its two time-worn wooden bars are packed with booze-happy University of Colorado Boulder students downing heavy pours of well tequila and whiskey. COVID-19 may have canceled the ritual of kissing the taxidermic bison named Ralphie (what else?), a longtime rite of passage for Boulderites celebrating 21st birthdays, but you can take comfort in one thing the pandemic hasn’t changed: The Pearl Street Pub still offers a cheeseburger and fries for less than $12, a rare deal in a bougie part of town even postgrads can appreciate. —PK

Biggest Stoner

MiddlemanCity Park

With its exposed ceilings, wraparound front patio, and bartenders slinging cans of Miller High Life—all to the tune of TVs playing Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting—Middleman has been a beloved, hipster-friendly hangout since 2018. But when Bo Porytko debuted Misfit Snackbar inside the East Colfax Avenue bar’s kitchen in late 2019, his imaginative, upscale riffs on pub grub made the neighborhood watering hole a haven for munchie-seekers of all stripes. The tousled-haired, T-shirt-wearing chef whips up an ever-changing menu of inventive bites, from char-siu-glazed eggplant steak to a sandwich layered with house-made bologna, deviled egg spread, and potato chips. Veg out on a couch in the back and satisfy your cravings with a Paloma-like Day Man and Misfit’s chips and dip: extra-crispy spud nuggets accompanied by the dunking sauce of the day (past iterations have included spicy green chile pimento cheese and smoky tomato chutney). —PK

Life of the Party

MBPFive Points

Short for Moods, Beats, and Potions, this venue delivers all three with color-changing gin and tonics, fall-off-the-bone lamb chop lollipops, and a disco- and hip-hop-driven playlist that would make Dua Lipa jealous. Longtime Five Points residents Matthew and Priya Burkett wanted a dinner-jacket-worthy date spot within walking distance of their home and opened the fine-dining restaurant and bar (in partnership with local food and beverage group Pure Hospitality) this past June. The Burketts’ vision is to provide a progressive experience reminiscent of a first-rate gathering at your best friend’s abode: early evening cocktails and appetizers at the bar, a sit-down supper in the modern, red-leather-clad dining room, and late-night cocktails and dessert on the back patio. Matthew believes MBP brings new energy to the Welton Street corridor of Denver’s historically Black neighborhood—and he’s proud to host the party. —RMM

Most Likely to Be In the Movies

Slashers DenverHale

Colfax Avenue’s scary-movie-themed dive, called Horror Bar, closed suddenly in June 2021 when sexual harassment accusations against the owner emerged. But with new management and a slight rebrand, the spooky watering hole has made a comeback worthy of any starlet. Now, dedicated film buffs can find seats in the backroom theater for a 7 p.m. showing of a different movie each night, while those there to mingle can keep chatting in the front room, where blood spatters and light projections cover the walls (and the featured flick plays on smaller screens). The menu got a makeover, too, with seasonally changing cocktails—complete with creepy garnishes like plastic spiders and skull-stamped fruit peels—that are deliciously twisted. —Angela Ufheil

Most Likely to Live Abroad

La BoucheUptown

Denver’s bar scene, five-month-old La Bouche in Uptown impresses visitors with chandeliers, fine wines, and sophisticated plates. Seat yourself at one of the intimate, date-night-ready bistro tables or along the marble bar top, where you can listen to husband-and-wife owners Alexis and Alexandra Tréton chatter en français. Friends from Colorado who visited them in their native Paris suburb persuaded the couple to move here to open their sun-kissed bar à vin, whose menu has thoughtfully selected wines from France and the United States as well as traditional French cocktails like pastis (an anise-flavored spirit mixed with water) and kir (white wine with a splash of crème de cassis). Complete your European rendezvous with a slice of quiche Lorraine or a croque monsieur with a side of warm Camembert brûlé—no passport required. —RMM

La Bouche. Photo by Sarah Banks

Most Outdoorsy

The Red BarberCole

Perched on the rooftop of the stylish Catbird Hotel, the six-month-old Red Barber’s indoor-outdoor, orange-speckled marble bar and surrounding seating area are a year-round playground where you can take in panoramic views of Denver’s skyline and the mountains beyond. On the patio (encased in translucent tents for winter), strips of AstroTurf serve as a lush base for cornhole sets, hammocks, and lawn chairs, while heaters and fire pits provide warmth on even the chilliest days. Enjoy a taste of summer in any season via the playful, backyard-barbecue-themed food-and-drink list, which has sips such as the Millennial Falcon—a bright blend of Ketel One Botanicals cucumber and mint vodka with strawberry syrup and watermelon seltzer—and bites like a sweet-and-savory sourdough grilled cheese sandwich flavored with honey and black pepper. The Red Barber also boasts buckets
of pre-bottled cocktails, beer, or canned wine—crucial ingredients for a rollicking block party regardless of the forecast. —Barbara Urzua

Most Likely to Be Instafamous

The Welton RoomFive Points

Every creation served at the nearly three-year-old Welton Room inside Five Points’ posh Lydian Apartments comes with an element of whimsy—a melting cloud of cotton candy, a crown of fluffy whipped coffee, a sprinkle of delicate flower petals—courtesy of owner-mixologist Chokedee “Champ” Buabucha. Many of his cocktails are bathed in a stream of liquid nitrogen, a technique that cools and enhances the aromatics of ingredients while producing a smoky effect that garners oohs and aahs both on social media and IRL. The contemporary, marble-backed bar, decorated with fresh bouquets and jars of dried fruits and herbs, makes a pretty backdrop for pics of the Paletas, a seasonally rotating libation studded with a full-size popsicle, or the Fruit De La Passion, a vodka and passion fruit martini that arrives at your table in a potion bottle that’s nestled into a seashell-bejeweled fishbowl. —PK

Welton Room. Photo by Sarah Banks

Best Couple

AtōstGolden

Wine and liquor may seem like an odd pairing, but the unexpectedly blissful marriage thrives in Atōst’s pastel-tinted lineup of grape- based spirits. Cindy and Kyle Pressman, partners in business and life, opened Atōst’s petite, stylish tast- ing room in November 2020 with a suite of 21 percent ABV aperitivos (the highest limit for their location to be licensed as a winery rather than a distillery). Infused with fruit, herbs, and botanicals and cut with white wine, Atōst’s four distinct beau- ties—Bloom, Citrus, Roots, and Woods—are named for the terroir-reminiscent flavor profiles they evoke. The resulting aperitifs are complex, fruit-forward sippers that have a light, herbal, and barely sweet finish and can be served on ice, with bubbles, or shaken into cocktails—providing endless ways to keep your taste buds guessing. —RMM

Most Likely to Travel the World

AdriftBaker

The light-blocking curtains at decade-old Adrift’s entrance are the first indication you’re leaving gritty South Broadway behind. This vagabond of a Tiki bar swiftly transports you to the tropics with a bamboo-filled interior and rum-scented embrace. Slink into a semicircular leather booth and pick your potion: The menu’s skull icons indicate each drink’s degree of mind-numbing alcohol content. You can’t go wrong with a classic mai tai or Hurricane, but beware the Zombie, which is so potent there’s a two-per-customer limit. Counteract the buzz with a shareable dish such as seaweed-wrapped Spam musubi, crunchy-sweet coconut shrimp, or pork belly lettuce wraps. —RMM

Most Popular

Ghost DonkeyLoDo

In May 2021, this New York–born concept debuted its fourth location in LoDo’s Coloradan, a condo building adjacent to Union Station’s train platform—an aptly buzzy home for the agave-spirit-centric drink den. Dripping with stimulating lighting (Purple twinkly lights! Star projections! Neon strips!) and figurines of its namesake animal, including a large white statue that watches over the bar, Ghost Donkey is the hip new spot your in-the-know friends won’t stop talking about. The abbreviated menu has nachos, chips and guac, and shrimp ceviche and more than 100 mezcals and tequilas you can knock back in one-ounce pours or in unusual cocktails such as the Burro Tropical: tequila, rum, passion fruit liquor, soda water, Calpis (an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink with yogurt), and essences of ginger and lemon. Whether you start or end your night in the glow, Ghost Donkey should be on every trend-chasing bar hopper’s bucket list. —PK

Best Dressed

Forget Me NotCherry Creek

Forget Me Not. Photo by Sarah Banks

The building that houses Forget Me Not references its former life as a flower shop with sophisticated flourishes inside and out: The picket-fence-protected patio sits under a mural of the bar’s eponymous flower by local artist Jeremiah Clark, while black-and-white-striped awnings cover the accordion windows like eyelashes. Inside, oversize purple bar stools and maroon velvet banquettes flank a U-shaped bar, and ivory walls are accented with gold shelves that showcase trinkets and potted plants. The cocktails are eye-catching masterpieces, too, featuring blooms, barks, roots, herbs, and spices—and accessories such as the tiny rubber duck that crowns the You’re the One (an azure mix of blanco tequila, blue curaçao, and pineapple juice capped with a tier of frothy egg white). Imbibing with a crowd? Splurge on the She’s Tropical, a $120 large-format stunner festooned with orchids that dispenses glasses of citrus-zinged paradise for 10 to 12 of your fanciest companions. —PK

Most Likely to Play Hooky

Lady NomadaArvada

The fact that Lady Nomada is technically a restaurant makes it even more acceptable to slip into the seven-month-old, Baja-inspired joint across from the Olde Town Arvada light rail station for a beachy, boozy concoction any time of day. The elderflower prickly pear margarita with silver tequila and St. Germain is just sweet enough for solo midday sipping while you pretend to check your email but actually admire the coastal-chic decor. (A woman surfs in a mural on one wall, a fish tank is projected on another, and succulents abound.) Stick around on a Friday or Saturday night to let the excellent house margarita with tequila, fresh lime juice, and orange liqueur—a steal at just $8—fuel your dance moves as the elevated seating area at the rear, backed by stacks of 200 vintage amps, becomes a stage for live music. —Jessica LaRusso

Most Changed

Deviation DistillingLoDo

For Deviation Distilling’s fifth birthday, the booze-maker received a head-turning face-lift, moving its tasting room from a bare-bones production facility in Baker to a swanky, 1,791-square-foot location in downtown’s bustling Dairy Block in August 2021. There, you can tipple seasonally rotating drinks made with Deviation’s gins and whiskeys in a two-story, glass-bedecked taproom or on plush couches beside fire pits out front. Let Deviation’s talented team take your palate on a journey with a guided tasting of its signature, botanically bright gins and coffee-flavored whiskeys, or try them in concoctions mixed with homemade syrups and tonics. (We’re partial to the silky-smooth chai old fashioned, made with the distillery’s cinnamon- and vanilla-rich Aztec Whiskey, and the best-selling cucumber basil cocktail, a refresher featuring the rosemary- and sage-perfumed Mountain Herb gin.) Juniper-spirit skeptics, beware: Deviation has a reputation for converting gin haters to lovers in just one visit. —Madi Skahill

Most Likely to Succeed

AwakeJefferson Park

For evidence that the sober movement is here to stay in the Mile High City, look no further than Awake, a coffeehouse, nonalcoholic bar, and bottle shop—the first of its kind in town. Owners Billy and Christy Wynne opened the establishment across from verdant Jefferson Park in May 2021 to give alcohol-eschewing locals a dedicated space to gather. Instead of getting drowsy over alcoholic drinks, Awake’s patrons toast (until 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday) with zero-proof beers, wines, and cocktails in a space accented with wood panels, floor-to-ceiling windows, and turquoise velvet-upholstered stools. Live music encourages visitors to linger over booze-free variations of cult favorites like mimosas, espresso martinis, and margaritas or newfangled elixirs like its activated-charcoal-infused daiquiri, but you can also take many of the libations home. And, instead of spending the morning after your visit hungover, you’ll wake up feeling good about the fact that 10 percent of Awake’s profits go to local charities such as Recovery Rising and the Stout Street Foundation. —PK

Most Athletic

Tight End BarEast Colfax

While Denver’s only gay sports bar has all the usual trappings of an athletics-centered watering hole—including nine big-screen TVs airing everything from the NBA playoffs to World Curling Federation matches—its approachable vibe makes it stand out in the whooping, heckling crowd. The ambience is driven by good-humored bartenders who are happy to flip channels to the game of your choice and pour IPAs or rounds of vodka-forward Gaytorade shots. Tight End also hosts bingo nights led by local drag queens and karaoke on its dance floor, which is crowned with a glimmering, football-shaped disco ball. On weekends, pair discounted pints and specialty drinks with brunch indulgences, such as breakfast pizza or the eggy, cheesy Tot C(ass)erole from the adjoining End Zone Pizzeria. —MS

Most Talented

The TatarianBerkeley

The Tartarian. Photo by Sarah Banks

A macadamia-nut-liqueur-zinged take on the gin fizz. Gold-accented wallpaper. Doting mixologists. Is there anything the Tatarian can’t do—and do well? The jewel-box spot, nestled on Tennyson Street since 2018, serves inventive cocktails in a space that—thanks to textured wood accents, elegant glassware, and a tree-branch-like chandelier—manages to feel like both a posh mid-mod lounge and a snug mountain retreat. That aura carries over to the menu, with earthy touches woven into each offering: Maple-lapsang syrup infuses the bar’s eponymous signature drink, a take on the old fashioned, and hickory-smoked pineapple sits atop the pistachio- and fennel-laced Otavo, a Scotch-based cocktail. Of course, most prodigies can’t help but show off, as the Tatarian does in the seafoam-hued Rainbow, a Tiki spectacle topped with a citrus cornucopia and infused with house-made coconut cream and orgeat. —AU

Most Likely to Appear in a K-pop Music Video

Thank Sool PochaAurora

“Butter” fans, rejoice: This snug pub situated between a sushi restaurant and an Ethiopian grocery store in a Havana Street strip mall is a mecca for lovers of intoxicating harmonies, rice liquor, and sizzling fare. Owner JW Lee has already introduced Coloradans to South Korean dining culture (via his nearby Seoul Korean BBQ, Sushi and Hot Pot and Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken’s LoDo and Congress Park locations), and Thank Sool Pocha represents an effort to share a slice of the country’s vibrant nightlife. Every evening, BTS, Twice, and other K-pop groups gyrate in mesmerizing sync to infectious beats on TV screens as diners nurse glasses of soju (a low-ABV, vodkalike spirit) and cook their own slices of pork belly and baby octopus on tabletop hibachi grills. The stews—pots of bubbling broth dancing with seafood, ramen noodles, Spam, and other hearty ingredients—are also excellent late-night fuel, particularly if you plan to belt out tunes with as many friends as you can fit into the restaurant’s $1-per-song karaoke booth. —PK

More on Denver Bars

17 of Denver’s Best Dive Bars
The 7 Most Beautiful Bar Bathrooms in Denver, Ranked
Meet the Co-Owner of Denver’s First (And Only) Sober Bar

This article was originally published in 5280 February 2022.

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong

Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to be overseeing all of 5280 Magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.

Riane Menardi Morrison
Riane Menardi Morrison

Riane is 5280's digital strategy editor and writes food and culture content. Follow her at @riane__eats.