The Ten Best Cocktail Bars in Denver
A big gap — both stylistically and philosophically — exists between mixed drinks and cocktails. Mixed drinks are two-ingredient blends that you order when you don't care for the taste of a specific type of booze (hence the vodka-tonic), when you want to disguise the fact that you're drinking too early in the day (good morning, Bloody Mary and Screwdriver), or when you just don't want to spend much money to get a head start on the night (ginger ale and whatever's cheap from the well, please). But cocktails have a long and proud history of combining several disparate flavor profiles — bitter, sweet, sour and boozy, to name a few — into a balanced tipple.
And cocktail bars are a big business in Denver today. We're not talking restaurants with bar programs; these are all establishments where the bar is the central focus for guests. Here are the top ten cocktail bars in Denver:
Bar Fausto puts cocktails ahead of fancy surroundings.
3126 Larimer Street
Part carefree hipster hangout and part smartly conceived classic-cool hot spot, Bar Fausto (named for a legendary Italian cyclist) is the kind of easygoing cocktail bar that makes everyone feel welcome. Opened in summer 2015, this unpolished, sleek-yet-simple RiNo space offers a clever cocktail program and savvy small plates. The ten rotating specialty cocktails are numbered, so you don't have to rattle off five ingredients to get the right drink, and the classics (think Manhattan, French 75, Sidecar) are well crafted. A short but sweet list of wines by the glass and a well-rounded roster of beers means there's something for everyone, while salumi, crudo, bruschetta and other tasty snack items could have you staying for the evening.
Service is sterling at the Cooper Lounge.
The Cooper Lounge
1701 Wynkoop Street
During the summer of 2014, Union Station held its grand reopening for the public after a stunning facelift that included restored windows and fixtures and three coats of white paint, among other things. A few weeks after that, Cooper Lounge, on the mezzanine level of the station, made its debut. The space sports a long, sleek bar with seats facing 17th Street and is decked out with comfortable sofas and lounging areas. The Cooper offers high-end cocktails and an extensive wine list, along with elegant dishes designed by chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma to conjure the golden era of railway travel.
It wouldn't be a tropical cocktail without the paper umbrella — courtesy of Finn's Manor.
2927 Larimer Street
You'd think this RiNo bar was trying to be a speakeasy, with no phone number listed (see the bar's website for details), a grotto-like setting behind tall fences, and a squadron of food vendors outside to draw you away from the front door. But the DIY atmosphere and unfussy bar service (sans curly mustaches and proper bow ties) add a distinctly laid-back, almost Caribbean vibe to the place. Cocktails, a daily punch and a roster of mixed shots keep things festive, and a short menu of rare draft beers from the U.S. and Europe satisfy beer hunters looking for something far beyond standard IPAs and lagers.
A fall-flavored punch from Golden Moon Speakeasy.
Golden Moon Speakeasy
1111 Miner's Alley, Golden
Sure, there are plenty of great bars in Denver, but how many of them distill all the spirits that they stir and shake? Duck into a tiny passageway off Golden's main drag and you'll slip into a place that does: the cozy, Prohibition-era Golden Moon Speakeasy. All of the booze on the back bar is distilled across town at Golden Moon Distillery — more than a dozen spirits, with more regularly added. Many of the cocktails on the extensive menu are classics, ranging from Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds to lesser-known vintage libations such as the absinthe-based Brunelle or even punches. The bar team here is one of the best around — highly trained, dedicated, and steeped in the classics that their grandparents probably enjoyed.
Bartenders mix up good things at Green Russell.
1422 Larimer Street
When Green Russell's doors — specifically, the pie-shop door that fronts the place — opened in November 2010, they revealed the beautiful space that Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno and award-winning bar manager Adam Hodak had created in this subterranean spot in Larimer Square. Exposed brick walls back intimate nooks and crannies filled with clusters of armchairs; plush red swivel bar chairs line up before the bar, and a greenhouse full of herbs destined for future cocktails casts a green light behind it. Throughout the space, there's an air of hushed, sultry secrecy — even though Green Russell has never been much of a secret. And six years later, it stands as one of the advance guard of Denver's burgeoning craft-cocktail scene.
Keep reading for five more of our favorite cocktail bars.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.