The Ten Best Hipster Bars in Denver -- 2014 Edition
What hipster doesn't love a good speakeasy?
The word "hipster" gets tossed around a lot in the blogosphere, usually as a derogatory term for someone who wears different clothes or likes different things than the troll or flamer employing the word as a slur. But every generation has had its defining iconoclasts -- the mostly young and style-conscious who appear to be in the minority but over time end up defining a decade. Beatniks, hippies, punks, goths -- they all know who they are and define themselves by the music they listen to, the clothes they wear and the stuff they're into. And they all claim they live their lives outside the mainstream and free of definitions. Except that, for everyone else, they're pretty easy to spot. If you're a cultural anthropologist looking to observe hipsters in their element or maybe you're just new to town and looking for a hand-built bar within fixie-riding distance where you'll feel at home, here are ten great hipster hives for a drink and maybe some banjo music.
See also: The Top Ten Doughnuts in Denver
The Meadowlark is a little hard to find, which makes it perfect for hipsters.
10) Meadowlark 2701 Larimer Street If you're into hipster-spotting, you'll be impressed by the quantity of pork-pie hats, mustaches, scarves (even in the summer), owl glasses and full-sleeve tattoos at the Meadowlark. If you're a hipster, you're there for the subterranean location, the no-nonsense bar with canned beers and simple mixed drinks (the bartenders mostly ignore the short cocktail list) and the taxidermy. Great local and touring live acts are also a draw. And for added hipster cred, the Lumineers -- the royal family of sing-along earnestness, suspenders and cellos -- got their start here.
Don't even think about asking for water at the Hi-Dive.
9 & 8) Sputnik and the hi-dive 3-7 South Broadway Sputnik is the restaurant side and the hi-dive is the live-music venue, but both feature prominent bars and a dark, grungy atmosphere that appeals to the urban subspecies of hipster, the type who have been bemoaning the gentrification of the Baker neighborhood for years -- or at least since they turned 21 and started hanging out here. The hi-dive brings in some of the best indie bands from around the country, supplemented by vinyl nights and '80s dance parties. Sputnik offers cheap and eclectic food in a kitschy, mod-inflected dining room. Its bar displays jars of booze with unidentifiable stuff floating in them, a sign that something is being hand-made here, which hipsters love. Woodsier hipsters may appreciate a more rustic environment, so see our next choice, which was originally opened by the owner of these two.
It's retro and rustic at the same time.
7) Lost Lake 3602 East Colfax Avenue Lost Lake's current clientele may not be old enough to remember this location's previous incarnation (a bar called The Bulldog), but they certainly appreciate the cheap drinks and surprisingly well-selected musical acts that are primary draws for the East Colfax hipster staple. But what's really bringing them in is the rustic feel of the place: it exudes a vibe that suggests it could be a secret lodge a lumberjack might saunter into after a hard day's work in the northwest -- maybe next to a calm, pristine body of water called Lost Lake. A bar top made from large beams of ancient wood, dim lights, a wood-burning stove, black-and-white movies on the vintage TV set, and leather-clad booths all create a perfect nest for hipsters looking to settle in for a night. Add $2 PBRs and well drinks at happy hour, restrooms of questionable cleanliness, a gritty Colfax address and sometimes superb bands, and you've got a hipster spot, for sure. Keep reading for more of our ten best hipster bars.
The quirky girls all hang out here.
6) City, O' City 206 East 13th Avenue Before City, O' City expanded, more than doubling its bar and dining space, it offered coffeehouse charm with slumped sofas, cafe tables and a rotating selection of questionable art. Quirky girls with crocheted shawls could be found huddled on the couches, tapping away on their MacBooks, selling hand-crafted items on Etsy. The new half of the vegetarian restaurant has a more modern vibe, with dangly, handmade light fixtures and plenty of reclaimed and repurposed materials. Here you'll find dapper hipsters with neatly parted hair, pastel boat shoes and colored-denim skinny shorts (the summer replacement for skinny jeans). With plenty of local beers on tap and in cans or bottles, the food is still the main draw, with delicious meat-free favorites like a savory waffle with Asiago cream sauce and fried egg or a fig and barley sausage torta.
Forest Room 5's patio.
5) Forest Room 5 2532 15th Street Forest Room 5 was built from an old fire station, something that automatically gives it hipster cred. And it was an early entry in the LoHi revival, back before there was a bar, noodle shop or ice cream store on every corner. Although two twentysomething visitors from Manhattan recently raved over the place, it's more of a spot for aging Denver hipsters -- meaning those over 25 -- because it's critical to be overheard complaining about how cool the place used to be before they remodeled the interior for what seems like the twentieth time since 2002 (such a long time ago!).
Shh - don't tell anyone there's a bar down there.
4) Green Russell 1422 Larimer Street Like the Meadowlark, Green Russell is subterranean and a little hard to find. The similarities end there, though. Green Russell attracts a different breed of hipster -- the kind with more money. Bespoke vests, bowties and Zooey Deschanel look-alikes are more common here, as are orders for $12 (and up) cocktails featuring hand-chipped ice, housemade bitters, and small-batch spirits. It's kind of like a speakeasy -- you enter through a pie shop -- but being right in the middle of the Larimer Street action, it's not too big a secret. The real secret is to get the bartenders talking, because they'll talk to anyone who shows an interest in well-crafted cocktails. You might even get a sip of a new navy-strength gin or an extra taster in your flight of amaros if you've done your homework and can banter about the origin of Amer Picon or the science behind clear ice cubes. Keep reading for three more of the best hipster bars.
Our Mutual Friend
3) Our Mutual Friend Malt and Brew 2810 Larimer Street Those in the know just call it OMF. OMF features handmade beer using house-roasted barley in a DIY setting. There are lots of beards, on the employees as well as the customers. There are girls who call themselves beer nerds and say things like, "I love sours!" There are food trucks out front so you can stand in line for twenty minutes to order your food and then wait another twenty minutes before it's ready. No matter -- hipsters know that good things take time. Back inside, the beertender is still topping off your beer -- slowly, and with much concentration and earnestness.
Oh, the beetle-kill pine.
2) Stem Ciders 2811 Walnut Street DIY is a big part of hipster culture: growing vegetables on your ten square-foot balcony, curing your own bacon, or pressing apples and fermenting your own cider. There's something rustic, earnest and pure about cider that hipsters are drawn to, but the equipment can be pricey, so making a good batch might be best left to the pros. Eric Foster and Phil Kao may not be hipsters -- they're just a couple of guys who grew up in Michagan apple country -- but the results of their labor and the bar where they serve it, covered in beetle-kill pine and stocked with oak barrels, are pure hipster bait. If the four or five varieties of cider -- from light and refreshing to oaky and complex -- aren't enough, there's also the live music, often featuring banjos. And who doesn't like banjos?
Bikes, beers and coffee.
1) Denver Bicycle Cafe 1308 East 17th Avenue The Denver Bicycle Cafe combines locally made beer, coffee roasted right in town -- and a full-service bike shop that specializes in custom rides. If you need your fixie fixed, you can hang out and enjoy beverages sourced so locally that the cafe's website calls it "dogma." If you're into Denver coffee (and of course you are), you already know about Pablo's, Novo and Huckleberry, but that's just the start of the list. And for bicycle enthusiasts, the cafe offers bike-maintenance classes, plenty of bike parking and a free air compressor. With so much going on under one roof, it's the perfect hangout for those who think Portlandia is a documentary series.
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