The Ten Best Dive Bars in Metro Denver — Fall 2016
Denver’s dive bars are an endangered species. As developments continue to move into formerly forbidden territory, many lowbrow watering holes have dried up — or been cleaned up into welcoming neighborhood joints, and sometimes even renovated beyond recognition. The Rocky Flats Lounge, which was built around the old payroll office of the former nuclear-weapons plant, burned in the summer of 2015 and has yet to reopen. The former home of the Filling Station, one of the diviest bars of all, has been wiped off the RiNo map. The latest victim? The Squeeze Inn, which was sold this month...and reportedly will be scraped for a parking lot.
But there are still some great dives left around metro Denver; they tend to lack websites, much less wi-fi — and if they serve Pabst, it’s in a completely un-ironic way. Here are our ten favorite surviving dives, in alphabetical order. A toast to them all!
12 Volt in Arvada.
1. 12 Volt Tavern
7514 Grandview Avenue, Arvada
While Arvada is enjoying a restaurant renaissance, with new bars and spots like Steuben’s now opening in the suburb, the 12 Volt Tavern remains a dependable, dark, down-home dive in Olde Town, with a good jukebox, cold beer, drink specials, friendly pool games, live music and theme nights. And good news: It’s currently looking for “fun, friendly, quick-witted bartenders who aren’t afraid to talk a little trash and bust some chops.... If you are shady or a thief, please do not apply.”
Ace Hi in Golden.
2. Ace-Hi Tavern
1216 Washington Avenue, Golden
Since alcohol put Golden on the map, it’s not surprising that one of the area’s best dive bars is located in this town. Bar fans have been living it up at the Ace-Hi since Leo Stillman purchased the old Opera House restaurant on historic Washington Avenue and opened the bar back in 1961. Today it’s run by Leo’s grandson, Sid Stillman, and it’s still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors Brewing plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students preparing for a tough day of classes. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and “Native” signs adorning the walls, and old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register.
Carioca - Bar Bar, a landmark in downtown Denver.
3. Carioca Cafe/Bar Bar
2060 Champa Street
As downtown continues to develop, the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar — is something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. It’s fascinating to watch how the clientele at this spot changes over the course of a day (and three happy hours). Get there before noon and you can grab a cup of coffee and some eclectic reading material — or just study a few of Denver’s finest barflies, a couple of whom might have been here 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.
Hang at the Hangar.
4. Hangar Bar
8001 East Colfax Avenue
“Get bombed at the Hangar.” That’s the motto of this dive — and with three happy hours a day, the Hangar gives you ample opportunity to do so. The grocery-store-turned-tavern became the Hangar in 1938, catering to the military crowd at the newly opened Lowry Army Air Force Base. Lowry is long gone, of course, but those patriotic patrons are remembered with the Beer Can Bomber, a scale replica of a B-17 bomber built out of vintage beer cans by local artist Chris Lewis, commissioned by current owner Lorie Thomas. Bonus points for the tiki corner.
5. Lakeview Lounge
2375 Sheridan Boulevard, Edgewater
At the break of dawn on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, regulars gather at the Lakeview Lounge — which opens at 7 a.m. — and toast as the sun rises over the Denver skyline, Sloan’s Lake and Sheridan Boulevard. The sunrise service is a time-honored tradition at this weathered dive that time otherwise forgot. While construction is under way on the nearby St. Anthony’s project, the Lakeview continues with bar business as usual, serving stiff Bloody Marys early in the morning and mystery shots in brown-paper bags late into the night. The bar stools have each worn their own set of holes deep into the linoleum; the water closet is a true hellhole. But no matter how dim the lighting, the outlook is always sunny in this classic dive.
Keep reading for five more of metro Denver's best dive 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.