The happy hour at Highland Tap and Burger is unstoppable, garnering Reader's Choice awards in our Best of Denver section for Best Late-Afternoon Happy Hour two years running, as well as a host of other awards. Newer and more exotic happy hours pop up all the time, yet HTB enjoys its status as a LoHi institution — only five years old and already an elder statesman on 32nd Avenue. Whether there's a secret sauce bubbling in back that keeps people coming back again and again, or the grassroots community who have embraced the place, there's something special about happy hour here.
Highland Tap and Burger is lauded for its taps and burgers, naturally, both of which are geared to gourmands and regular folk alike. Barbecue pork and chicken wings? Sure. A lamb burger with shaved foie gras? Of course. HTB has influences from the hipster-pleasers around the block as well as an old-school, family friendly vibe you can still find in places farther up the hill. The burgers are massive, sloppy, and decadent, but they're shrunk to pint-size sliders during afternoon happy hour, served from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Along with some discounted appetizers and drinks, it's an immediately appealing menu, if not quite thrilling. $2 off select drafts of Odell, Great Divide and Avery beers is a heckuva happy discovery — shame that I got a copper mug full of the bar's Denver Donkey ($5) instead. Despite the top-notch combination of Spring 44 honey vodka and Pickett's ginger beer, it tasted like canned limeade concentrate on the rocks.
But not much could dampen the appeal of sitting on Highland Tap and Burger sunny patio, watching the parade of Highland visitors young and old walk by or stop in. It was a burger-and-fries kind of evening, and a basket of fries ($4) and a flight of three sliders — beef, chicken and pork ($2.5 each) — awaited.
I couldn't come to terms with the smoked chicken slider, overwhelmed by a mess of iceberg lettuce and a sweet pink liquid calling itself bacon aioli. The fries alongside were enough to feed a couple more people, but were practically joyless, under-seasoned and lukewarm. (I still ate almost all of them. I'm only human.)
I was beginning to wonder why Highland Tap and Burger was so acclaimed, when I bit into the beef slider, topped with nothing more than a pickle slice and some melted cheddar. With that slider, I held in my hand at least one reason to celebrate HTB. The beef was crispy on the outside, loosely packed, and juicy with just the right amount of fat to indicate good meat. By the gutter-level standards of sliders, it was angelic, and a good sign of the kitchen's elevated burger game. The sticky and sweet root beer pulled pork on the bite-sized sandwich was also nicely done, and made me hanker for the full sized, major-league sandwich ($9.50 on the dinner menu). And while I was betting against an order of jalapeño and cheddar pierogi ($5), I was won over by the fresh combination of flavors and the mountain of chopped bacon on top.
I imagine the popularity of Highland Tap and Burger's happy hour has just as much to do with the supremely chill vibe and the community around it as the food and drinks. I can taste the appeal, even if I'm not willing to hand over the crown just yet. If you love HTB, let us know if it's your Reader's Choice in the comments.
Perfect For: Highland Tap is home to the Crafty Ladies Beer Club, a fun group that hosts beer tours and tastings for women. With it's huge indoor seating, HTB would be a great place for a group, even if you have your own secret club.
Don't Miss: Highland Tap and Burger's late-night happy hour (another Best Of Denver reader's choice) might actually outshine its afternoon counterpart. For one thing, you can get one of HTB's famous burgers with fries for eight and a half bucks, or a cup of pork green chile ($5), with all the same drink specials in place. And since the kitchen is open until midnight Sunday to Thursday and 'til one on the weekends, the joint is jumping after most places around have shut off the grill.