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The dozen best dive bars in Denver

Punks at the bar at Bar Bar. All photos by Jim Wills.
Punks at the bar at Bar Bar. All photos by Jim Wills.

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.

See also:

- Denver's ten best new bars

- Denver's ten best new restaurants of 2012

- Denver's ten best plates of chicken and waffles

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

inside the Ace-Hi.
inside the Ace-Hi.

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. 

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

Continue reading for more of our top dive bars.

Putting a few back at the Kentucky Inn.
Putting a few back at the Kentucky Inn.

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.

The dozen best dive bars in Denver

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.



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