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The sky's the limit: Search for nirvana at the Funky 
    Buddha's Ginger Bar.
The sky's the limit: Search for nirvana at the Funky Buddha's Ginger Bar.

The Great Outdoors

My favorite warm-weather activity is relaxing on a patio, fresh drink in hand, on a long summer evening, as the lingering sun covers everything with that gentle golden glow. To help you find that magic moment, we've rounded up some of the area's hottest patios; they're guaranteed to make your summer extra cool.

The most unlikely patio in town tops the Funky Buddha (776 Lincoln Street, 303-832-5075). Its rooftop hotspot, the Ginger Bar, is covered with a bright-yellow awning and decorated in minimalist chic. Order up a hot-pink Cosmo or tasty Belgian Stella Artois draft -- garnished with a lemon wedge for extra zing -- and settle in for some always-interesting people-watching. This place hits capacity quickly, so if your goal is to party with the pretty people, scoot out of work a few minutes early.

The Buddha is definitely upscale, but if you want to take it down a notch, spend an evening guzzling stiff mixed drinks at Herb's Hideout (2057 Larimer Street, 303-299-9555). Because the bar offers live jazz and blues nightly, it's easy to work up a sweat dancing on the non-existent, yet always crowded, dance floor. Extra bonus: You get to cool down on Herb's secluded urban patio. This spot would have the feel of a run-down prison yard -- think concrete and chain-link -- if it weren't always packed with boisterous people having a good time. The aroma of kielbasa and Polish dogs cooking on the large grill hangs heavy in the air, and eating a few of those wieners could be the perfect thing to soak up the five Red Bull and vodkas you just chugged.

If you're looking for a more serene downtown scene, visit the tree-shaded haven that has helped make My Brother's Bar (2376 15th Street, 303-455-9991) a drinker's paradise for over a century. My Brother's has everything from Boddington's to Left Hand's Jackman's Pale Ale to Great Divide on tap, as well as a never-ending supply of free popcorn. Although the place may not have the speediest service, the atmosphere is so friendly and inviting that we forgive them. Besides, this is summer -- what's your hurry?

An added bonus: My Brother's kitchen stays open till 1:30 a.m., serving juicy burgers, tasty grilled cheese and greasy-yet-crisp onion rings. It's a much more appealing option than Taco Bell's late-night drive-thru.

The Tavern Uptown (538 East 17th Avenue, 303-830-9210) is newer to Denver's bar scene, but its large patio -- complete with rosebushes lining the back wall and a separate bar for speedy service -- has already become a neighborhood favorite. The Tavern's bartenders keep busy pouring four flavors of frozen daiquiris and mighty powerful vodka-infused pineapple-and-orange-juice martinis. With a two-for-one daily happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m., the Tavern packs in the downtown suits right after work, and loft-living locals hang out late into the evening.

If you're looking for something more secluded, head for the Buck Snort Saloon (15921 South Elk Creek Road, 303-838-0284), located along a long, treacherous winding back road in Sphinx Park, about fifteen minutes from Conifer. But once you reach this tiny log cabin, you'll never want to leave. Grab a microbrew draft and a sawed-off-log seat on the narrow back patio overlooking Elk Creek, and let the gentle sound of rushing water and the feel of the warm sun lull you into an afternoon nap. Famous for its messy burgers and live music, the Buck Snort is a worthy hour-long road-trip destination.

For a more romantic evening, try wining and dining your someone special at the Hilltop Cafe (1518 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-279-8151). A charming, upscale patio in the terraced back yard of a Victorian home, the Hilltop has a detailed wine menu boasting more than fifty options -- from chilled Sauvignon Blancs to sweet bubbly -- to accompany its award-winning entrees. If you really want to pour on the sugar, spoon-feed each other one of Hilltop's five fabulous chocolate desserts. With twinkling white porch lights to match the stars in your eyes, the Hilltop Cafe oozes l'amour.

Back in town, El Noa Noa (722 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-9968) is a garden oasis in the heart of the Santa Fe neighborhood. With water gushing through the large rock fountain, stray cats running through the gates, and dozens of beer-logo-emblazoned umbrellas blocking out the sun, this patio quickly transports you to Mexico. So it's easy -- perhaps downright necessary -- to waste away an afternoon here, eating burritos soaked in hot salsa, sipping chilled cervezas or strong margaritas.

And toasting to summer.


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