It doesn't take much to get thirsty Denverites out for happy hour after the 5 p.m. whistle blows. But for the next few months, bright sun and rising temperatures will bring many more out to crowd the city's patios and partake in drink and dish discounts. But a good summer happy hour is about more than a nice patio and access to fresh air; it's about a place that has fresh, seasonal cuisine, refreshing cocktails — or at least a cheap draft — to cool off with, and good vibes to the core. Here are the ten best happy hours, in alphabetical order, for whiling away summer afternoons or late nights.
Oysters are recommended happy-hour material at Cart-Driver.
2500 Larimer Street
The corrugated steel of Kelly Whitacre's much-lauded pizzeria doesn't offer much shelter for those seeking relief from the red-hot sidewalks of RiNo. But it's well worth braving the heat to sample the unique vibe and vivacious vittles on offer when the sun dips lower from 3 to 6 p.m., and on a mild night from 10 p.m. to midnight. Pack your group into the dining room or perch on the patio for afternoon snacks like oysters from the raw bar up front or mega-rich mousses with oven-fresh focaccia. Prosecco on tap, "messed-up" negronis and Aperol spritzes are fine accompaniments, all for $5. Late-night brings even more delights, with amaro and pilsner boilermakers, more liver mousse, the funky mortadella hot dog, and the best drunk-and-sweaty meal you'll find on this block: an exquisite margherita pizza, plus soft serve gelato with a bottle of digestive Underberg bitters jammed inside it ($5 each).
Tostones are now on the happy-hour menu at Highland Tap & Burger.
9. Highland Tap & Burger
2219 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211
A perennial readers' choice in our Best of Denver awards, Highland Tap is the place to be when you need a dose of summer sports and something more substantial than microwaved mozzarella sticks. Happy hour here runs Monday through Friday, 3 to 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to close each day, and you'll find fine patio drinks like the LoHi rum punch or a Moscow Mule with Spring 44 vodka for $5 each, plus Odell, Avery or Great Divide drafts for $3 — some of the best deals to be found in this lowest of Highlands. Fries ($4) and sliders ($2.50 each) will power you through the NBA Finals, but there are also Puerto Rican-style tostones ($5) and a sharable plate of stuffed piquillo peppers ($7) with chimichurri providing unique flavors. After 10 p.m., check out the fantastic burger-and-fries deal for $8.50 and $5 bowls of green chile.
The Hornet's happy hour is even better in the summer.
8. The Hornet
76 North Broadway
If the heat coming off the sidewalk makes you want to shimmy into something sexy and get the party going something fierce, ain't nothing hotter than South Broadway. And few happy hours on this stretch of blacktop are better for drinking and noshing than the Hornet. In the afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m. and at night from 11 to close daily, gulp down $4 drafts, house wines and well cocktails. There's an impressive selection of eats available at both times, from mandatory drinking snacks like French fries ($3) and chicken nachos ($6) to quick meals like a Cuban sandwich ($6) or a $5 burger. And if the interior is too sweaty and crowded, check out the hidden back patio for semi-fresh air and a snapshot of the nightlife passing by.
Slide into sliders at Next Door.
7. Next Door Union Station
1701 Wynkoop St
Union Station is the new epicenter of LoDo nightlife — the classy kind, not the $50 blazer kind. The accessible and delicious happy hour at Next Door, served daily from 3 to 6 p.m., is an easy way to get in on the action as the station's halls get more and more crowded this season. Bring the kids — or at least one person you like — to share bacon-wrapped dates ($4), local beef meatballs & polenta ($5) and even addictive kale chips ($5), then order some cheeseburger sliders ($5) for yourself. The best things in life are fried, of course, so don't miss the signature salt-and-pepper calamari ($5), and especially the crispy garlic smashed potatoes ($5), which can single-handedly make your day. Simple $5 cocktails and sangria are best enjoyed on the shady patio up against Union Station's historic walls.
In the land of Milk & Honey.
6. Milk & Honey
1414 Larimer St
Hiding downtown hot spots like Milk & Honey and Bistro Vendôme, Larimer Square's "secret garden" ain't much of a secret. But the leafy, secluded corner feels far away from the hustle and fumes of Larimer. At Milk & Honey's sunken patio, you'll get doses of Vitamin D and peace along with your Mai Tai or lavender lemonade ($6). If you're looking for a light snack with your drinks, the cheese or salumi plates ($9/$10) will take care of your evening. Something more substantial? Crispy polenta ($5) with turmeric aioli and pepper-spiced pork ribs ($5) are there for you, plus a $9 Niman Ranch burger. And you should — nay, need to — stay for dessert.
Keep reading for five more top happy hours for summer bites and booze...
The bar at Nocturne.
1330 27th St
Nocturne is realized in such a classy way that it begs you to rise to the occasion. And classy doesn't have to mean expensive here, with a pre-show happy hour that sets the stage for a chill evening. Settle in early before a summer concert from 5 to 7 p.m. on the weekend and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, with an encore happy hour from 11 p.m. to midnight. Sip a glass of the daily rosé ($7), the perfect wine pairing for sunsets and warm evenings. Seven-buck martinis are crafted with care by Nocturne's indefatigable staff, as are $4 muffaletta sliders piled with ham, pancetta, capicola and giardiniera. The housemade slider fillings complement each other in a junior version of what would be a masterful grinder. Two-for-one oysters ($1.75 each) are given royal presentation and treatment with a beautiful mignonette. No matter which season you drop by Nocturne, you're sure to be greeted with good jazz and the perfect vibes.
Happy hour at Ophelia's bar lets in just enough light to brighten the sultry interior.
4. Ophelia's Electric Soapbox
1215 20th Street
Conscientious summer club-goers and concert-watchers already have Ophelia's marked in their little black books. But arriving before the show is worth the early start for the steamy snacks and drinks behind the bar at happy hour. As winking and wicked as their surroundings, lusty ingredients like blood orange, Campari, and truffle duxelle make up the menus, which are served from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Rich, truffled mushroom flatbread ($6) is a four-quadrant snack for any time of night, and you should not escape without a bowl of Belgian mussels a-bubbling in a saison-curry broth ($7). Pay tribute to Ophelia's history with a prosecco-based Diamond Lil's ($5) or the grapefruit-scented Airedale ($5). It'll bring a blush to your cheeks and cool you down just as concert season heats up.
Roasted beets anchor this happy-hour salad at Root Down.
3. Root Down
1600 W 33rd Ave
Just judging by the constant crowd at this full-service food station on Denver's north side, the changing seasons have little effect on Root Down's popularity. But the warm months do grant expanded access to the lovely patio and a new happy-hour menu that reflects the growing season. Offered Monday through Friday at the bar from 4 to 6 p.m., it's an exemplar of diverse, mostly plant-based and gluten-free small plates like green garlic chickpea fries ($5), served with tarragon-spiced romesco and garnished with rhubarb syrup and kale. Lamb sliders ($5) are worth the Lincoln for the flavor of Longs Peak Lamb and the harissa aioli atop them. There's passion poured into the $5 drinks as well, as you can taste in a sparkling Boulevardier based on bourbon and enlivened with vermouth, Aperol and sparkling wine. Or perhaps the Blaquiri: cachaça and lime, darkened with activated charcoal. It's detoxifying but a little sinful, just like the upcoming evenings at Root Down.
Solitaire is a garden of eatin'.
3927 W 32nd Ave
The space that housed neighborhood standard Highland's Garden Cafe from 1994 on has been transformed into one that skews modern, even sexy, with a menu to match. Yet the Victorian charm of the place and the famous garden surrounding it have been preserved, and Solitaire promises to continue the seasonal and local focus of its predecessor. The generous happy hours here, lasting all day and night Tuesday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, are perfect for summer evenings. On the serene garden patio, fresh flowers and green trees are paired with light and heavy plates like uni "shooters" ($7) dressed up like a Moscow mule, with sake ponzu and wasabi caviar. Mozzarella in carroza ($8) is a sinful snack: a pan-fried sandwich with salami and a dusting of pecorino. With entree-worthy entries such as braised oxtail and marmalade ($8), spicy, special house cocktails for $7 and well-presented wines for $5, everything is perfectly calibrated for a sunny garden party.
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Wings are the thing for happy hour at the Squeaky Bean.
1. The Squeaky Bean Farm + Table
1500 Wynkoop Street, Suite 101
It's not just the sun's glare and the fresh air that make for ideal summer dining. The Squeaky Bean has seasonality in its bones, bringing in the bumper crop from its Bean Acres farm for dazzling entrees and a Best of Denver-award-winning happy hour. It's served from 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close, and although the bar menu can change without warning, you're sure to find dressed-up veggies like crispy cauliflower ($7) refreshed with mint and pickled shallots. Meat gets its due in the complex Szechuan-style chicken wings ($6) and the all-American burger special ($15) complete with special sauce, fries and a 7 Up. The justly lauded cocktail program shows up with $5 classic cocktails, like the Tombstone, with ginger beer and whiskey from the Bean's barrel of Knob Creek.