Several of our favorite dives have dried up over the past few years. Fortunately, the Denver area still has an abundance of old-time dives, which we visited while researching the Best of Denver 2013. But who are we kidding? We'd be bellying up to these bars, anyway. Here, in no particular order except for #1 (winner of the Best of Denver 2013 Best Dive Bar award) are the metro area's dozen best dive bars.
12) Hill-Top Tavern 4907 Lowell Boulevard A favorite hangout of comedian Bill Murray, the Hill-Top's got Busch on tap, Bowie on the jukebox and a bar that stretches from wall to wall. Be sure to bring cash, and if the phone rings, don't answer it.
11) Rocky Flats Lounge 11229 Highway 93, Boulder This bar gives a whole new meaning to getting lit -- at one point, it was the payroll office for the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, the federal facility right across the highway that started producing plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs in the early '50s and operated up to 1989. But the Rocky Flats Lounge has a lot more going for it: gritty ambience, great drinks, a deck with expansive views of the Foothills (and future wildlife refuge going into Rocky Flats) and fish fries on Friday nights.
10) Ace-Hi Tavern 1216 Washington Avenue, Golden For more than sixty years, the Ace has been by far the best reason to get wrecked -- and subsequently stranded -- in Golden.
9) Candlelight Tavern 383 South Pearl Street Separated by a safe stumble along Pearl Street from the neighboring Kentucky Inn, the Candlelight Tavern is a down-home dive that offers greasy grub, the full gamut of bar games and open-arms attitudes from staff and regulars alike.
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8) Kentucky Inn 890 South Pearl Street Separated by a safe stumble along Pearl Street, the Candlelight and Kentucky are down-home dives that offer greasy grub, the full gamut of bar games and open-arms attitudes from staff and regulars alike. The fact that the Kentucky Inn managed to keep all of its down-home dinge through an ownership change (it's now a sibling of the Candlelight) earned it the top dive-bar slot in the Best of Denver 2011.
7) El Chapultepec 1962 Market Street With nightly jazz (never a cover), tasty Mexican food and the cheapest drinks in LoDo, the 'Pec is a one-of-a-kind experience, morning, noon and night.
6) Rustic Tavern 5126 West 29th Avenue Owned and operated by octagenarian JoAnn Turner -- who, in more than fifty years of owning the place, has never had a sip of booze or a drag from a cigarette -- the Rustic is tried and true, through and through.
5) Squeeze Inn 5395 West 48th Avenue At only 400 square feet, the Squeeze is easily the teeny-tiniest joint in town. And though the camaraderie is always cramped, the annual car show -- supported in part by a beer tap on the exterior of the building -- is not to be missed.
Continue reading for more of our top dive bars.
4) Squire Lounge 1800 East Colfax Avenue A whole-body condom couldn't protect even the hardiest of barflies from this cross-section of Colfax characters, but cut-rate cocktails and bargain-basement beer prices will surely help with the pain.
3) Thunderbird Lounge 721 Quebec Street The 'Bird is a family-friendly hangout and blue-collar bar room with an impressive menu, a competitive pool table and all the comforts of home.
2) Nob Hill Inn 420 East Colfax Avenue The Nob Hill Inn has been a drinker's paradise for more than fifty years. It's daunting to think of all the people who have spent hours on the stools there, killing time and waiting for the day to the end. But it's the kind of joint where it's easy to lose track of time. The square-shaped bar makes for easy people-watching, and with some of Colfax's finest camping out there, it's usually entertaining as hell. If Bukowski were still alive, this might be his idea of nirvana.
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SHOW ME HOW
1) Carioca Cafe/Bar Bar 2060 Champa Street Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We've lost many of this city's old saloons over the last few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe -- better known as Bar Bar -- something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. It's fascinating to watch how the clientele at this spot at the edge of downtown changes over the course of a day (and three happy hours). Get there at noon and you can grab a cup of coffee and reading material -- or just study some of Denver's finest barflies, a few of whom might have been there since the doors opened at 7 a.m. As the hour gets later, an assortment of hipsters, punks and rockers mixes in with those barflies, the live music starts, and the next thing you know, it's last call.