This year was a banner year for new restaurants -- as we noted in this week's Year in Review, nearly 300 new places have opened since January 1. Dozens of them included bars, and many more new dives, cocktail lounges, pubs and piano bars gave us still more reasons to go out drinking.
Here, in no particular order, are Denver's ten best new bars of 2011:
Williams & Graham It took longer than expected for Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon, Westword's "Ask the Bartender" contributor, to get the doors open to their spot in highland, but the wait was worth it: They've created a sexy, sexy place. 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.
The 1Up Pure genius. That just about sums up how we feel about Jourdan Adler's decision to rock Denver's downtown nightlife by adding The 1Up to the mix. This basement spot on Blake Street features vintage arcade games -- which are particularly popular with the demographic the grew up playing them -- and giant Jenga in digs tricked out with old-school arcade art. With that kind of entertainment, we don't care what we're drinking -- but we're particularly amused by the fact that the bar serves Schlitz on tap.
Black Crown Lounge We're suckers for a good piano bar, and that's exactly what partners Mark Cameron and Brian Grace delivered with the Black Crown Lounge, located in a house on South Broadway that was once home to Cafe Cero/Open Tap. The place is opulent, filled with chandeliers, antique furniture and ornate glassware. You can stay in the lounge and enjoy the live piano, or head upstairs to the game room for a round of darts or cards. While this spot has a large gay following, we wouldn't exactly call it a gay bar -- and neither would the owners.
The Three Lions This summer the Three Lions roared into the former home of the Bank. The football pub, part of the Little Pub Company that owns nineteen other joints in Denver, is dark and cavernous but also cozy, with walls sporting footballing gear from all over the United Kingdom. It's become one of our favorite spots to grab a pint and catch a sporting event -- especially if that sporting event is taking place overseas.
Stingray Lounge Leigh Jones and Margaret Moore are masters at creating comfortable, pretension-free spots, which is all you really need to enjoy good pizza and beer. This strip-mall joint may buck the duo's trend of reviving old neighborhood storefronts -- the partners say they landed an excellent deal on the space -- but it doesn't skimp on bar-room ambience.The massive bar is front and center, a blond-wood monstrosity with car-seat stools, flanked by red vinyl booths and low tables under bulbous lights and drag-racing imagery. A kick-ass jukebox provides a varied list of tunes, played at the perfect volume to drown out the conversations of your neighbors. And the pizza is pretty damn good, too.
Prohibition Prohibition-era bars have been hot for the past couple of years, and after you step into Prohibition, you can see why. This upscale watering hole, which Jimmy Callahan put in the former home of the Roslyn, features a wall full of Prohibition-era newspapers, plush booths and a pair of bars: one mahogany and one saloon bar that's over a hundred years old. No matter which you belly up to, you'll enjoy a list of classic cocktails -- including old-school whiskey "prescriptions" -- and beers on tap paired to a menu of worthy gastro-pub fare.
Denver Beer Co. Okay, so this is technically a taproom, which means if you're looking for a huge variety of spirits, wine and beers, this is not the place for you. But we've got a lot of love in our hearts for the Denver Beer Co., a giant, open, garage-doored space that bleeds out into a beer garden-patio. That makes it an ideal spot for a summer pint on a lazy afternoon, when you can pick up a board game and waste away the hours, occasionally taking a break for sustenance from one of the food trucks that's almost always parked outside.
Linger The restaurant that Justin Cucci put in the old Olinger mortuary space also rates as one of the ten best new restaurants of 2011, but the bar -- or pair of bars -- deserves accolades, too. The indoor bar, which is located up a staircase in the back of the dining room, features a Lite Brite bar, stools made from old hearse seats and one of the best views of the skyline in the city. This is one of our favorite spots for happy hour, when drinks and snacks are cheap. The rooftop bar, lit by the glow of the Olinger sign and twinkling lights, features unfettered access to that same view. And while you can't enjoy the full Linger menu up top, you can indulge in pitchers of punch and margaritas or one of the kick-ass cocktails dreamed up by head cocktologist Anika Zappe.
Crash 45 This Globeville address was most recently home to the White Owl, a dive bar that nabbed the lease from the Portulaca Cafe, a decades-old Slavic spot. As Crash 45, though, it's gotten a bit of a makeover, complete with pieces by metal artist Shane Evans, who owns the place. A DJ sometimes spins in the cozy front room, arcade games provide ample distraction in a second space, and the back patio is frequently full in the warm months. Wade Kirwan, longtime executive chef at Vesta Dipping Grill, contributed his talents to the menu, and the snacks are worth tasting alongside the drinks.
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Amaro Drinkery Italia This Boulder bar is the work of Alec Schuler, the restaurateur who brought Arugula and Tangerine to the Peoples' Republic.The intimate spot bills itself as a wine bar and lounge, and it features a hefty by-the-glass list with nineteen selections, in addition to beers and cocktails that play with, yes, Italian bitters. Salumi shaved on the spot serves as an excellent drinking snack, but you can also order the full Arugula menu while you drink here.