We've spent a lot of time in bars since the first Best of Denver issue made its debut in 1984, and sometimes we even remembered to give awards to those bars. One of our most popular categories? Best New Bar, snagged this year by Ace. Some years we didn't make an award in this category, and other years we gave it to a spot that's now shuttered. Here's a look back at the winners over the past dozen years.
2012 Williams & Graham, 3160 Tejon Street Best of Denver 2012 award: It took longer than expected for Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon, author of Westword's "Ask the Bartender," to get the doors open at their spot in Highland, but the wait was worth it: They created a sexy, sexy place with Williams & Graham. Step across a threshold concealed by a miniature bookstore and you're in a 1920s-themed world, filled with plush leather, dark woods and quirky artifacts from the age of Prohibition. It's the perfect setting for enjoying Kenyon's comprehensive cocktail and spirits list, which includes inventive twists on classics and rare selections from all over the world. And don't miss chef David Bumgardner's menu, either: The food is excellent and perfect for pairing.
2011 El Diablo, 101 Broadway Best of Denver 2011 award: From the moment Jesse Morreale bought the old First Avenue Hotel, he envisioned something special for the big space on the first floor that faces both Broadway and First Avenue. And he created it with El Diablo, a hellaciously clever tequila joint and Mexican restaurant. (Sean Yontz is in charge of the kitchen.) To one side are booths beneath Mexican-style murals lit by salvaged, red glass lamps, to the other tables flanking First Avenue, and at the edges are a handful of dark corners, suitable for all sorts of debauchery. But the center of the action, without a doubt, is the massive bar in the center of the space, which is always flanked with drinkers. That bar pours margaritas that run the flavor gamut from sweet to spicy, as well as Mexican beer and dozens of varieties of tequila and mezcal. And, as at any great bar, an air of naughty sexiness hangs over the entire scene, making anything feel possible. The devil you say!
2010: No Award
2009 Tooey's Off Colfax, 1521 Marion Street Best of Denver 2009 award: As a local rep for PBR, Alissa Anderson visited a quite a few bars in this town. The next logical step was to own a bar of her own. So last October, she and her husband bought the former Club Boca, which had been vacant for close to a year, did a quick renovation that involved moving the bar to the front near the window, and opened in a flash. Just as quickly, the bar was attracting regulars, especially service-industry folks, and Anderson started bringing in bands, DJs, art shows and a whole lot more. While the place still doesn't have a sign up, it's pretty easy to find: Just look for the neon beer lights and lots of people in the window.
2008 The Continental Club, 475 Santa Fe Drive - RIP Best of Denver 2008 award: Every once in a while, a bar opens that just feels like home; if your home had cheap drinks (we're talking dollar PBRs all the time) and a damn fine jukebox stocked with everything from old-school punk to classic country to jazz and everything in between. The Continental Club is a simple, unpretentious joint; a little on the small side, but it works. And it's a welcome addition not just to the Santa Fe arts district, but to all of Denver; particularly since it augments that jukebox by bringing in live bands like Whiskey Throttle and Lyin' Bitch & the Restraining Orders.
2007 Rockbar, 3015 East Colfax Avenue - RIP Best of Denver award: Rockbar could inspire a confirmed teetotaler to do a swan dive off the wagon within ten minutes of walking through the door. Conjuring the bygone decadence left behind by Perry's -- as the joint was known during the last days of disco -- Rockbar is the ideal place to relive your wasted youth. The decor in this late-'70s time-capsule remains pristinely intact, with exposed rock walls, patterned carpet, foil wallpaper and vintage lighting fixtures. There's also a notable kitsch factor about the place -- the trashy menu, the lowbrow drink selection (Mad Dog and brands of beer you swore you'd never drink again), the neon band-logo signage and the retro tuneage -- that has prompted some detractors to grumble that the brashness is a little too calculated. These people are completely missing the point. For those about to Rock, we salute you.
2005-2006: No award
2004 High Street Speakeasy, 3862 High Street - RIP Best of Denver 2004 award: The High Street Speakeasy sits in a turn-of-the-century building that, way back in the day, served as a rooming house for transient Denverites. When it opened last spring, the place buzzed with rumors that spirits roamed the upstairs apartments and sometimes came down to the bar -- for a cocktail, maybe, or just to scare the crap out of the staff. But the ghost talk has died down, which is good: There's nothing spooky about this friendly, stylish, forward-thinking joint in the Cole neighborhood. In his renovation, owner John Wallace retained the building's vintage charms, including a very broken-in bar, antique lighting and a great jukebox stuffed with old-timey tunes. Modern touches abound, as well: The bar uses only fresh fruit juices, and many of the house liquors are top-shelf. Haunted or not, the High Street Speakeasy's got that otherworldly thing we call vibe.
2003: No award
2002 Lime, 1424 Larimer Street - RIP Best of Denver 2002 award: Already the bomb, Lime is primed to go thermonuclear once the good weather comes to stay. That's when owners Curt Sims and William Logan will throw open the French doors in the back of their basement space and debut Lime's grand outdoor patio, sunken below Larimer Square and surrounded by high brick walls. Until then, fast-spreading word of mouth will surely continue to pour bodies into the bar side of Lime, where the fresh, cool mood lighting designed by Logan and the bar's signature Mighty Margaritas make the long wait for a table on weekends a pleasure. To savor the decor along with a top-shelf shot of tequila, however, Lime is best experienced on weeknights, especially Wednesdays, when margaritas are two for one and Luke Grant spins jazz and dub from the lounge's DJ booth.
2001 Funky Buddha Lounge, 776 Lincoln Street Best of Denver 2001 award: The Funky Buddha may be named for a chubby Eastern avatar, but what's really worshiped inside this happening club is the martini. The cocktail menu boasts a dizzying number of variations on the ol' James Bond standby; deciding between "shaken" and "stirred" is the least of your worries. Whatever you choose, you'll be able to sip your drink in style. The Buddha's glamorous but comfy vibe is a welcome combination of downtown chic and youthful kitsch. The bar is hip, to be sure, but not to a fault; the urbanite clientele is stylish, not snobbish, and often beautiful. Just remember this one noble truth: Don't forget to tip your bartender.
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