Happy Place: Steuben's, 523 East Seventeenth Avenue, 303-830-1001
The Hours: Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 p.m.
The Deals: $5 specialty cocktails; $12-$20 shareable cocktails; $1 sliders; $3 gravy fries; $0.50 deviled eggs
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The Digs: Few places in Denver evoke the kind of visceral sense of vague nostalgia that Steuben's does. It's the portrait painted in your head when listening to stories about the speakeasies of the Prohibition era: gritty, raw boozefests laced with thick cigarette smoke and violent poker games. It's the place your parents took you as a child when there was enough money for a night out, a warm and comfortable embrace where the scent of fried chicken filled the air and the anticipation of a milkshake was the highlight of the week. And it's the kind of diner you beg the Sweet Baby Jesus for when you're on a road trip across the United States and you've seen nothing but cornfields for thirteen hours.
Born in 2006, Denver's premier hipster sanctuary pays homage to the storied 1940s Boston restaurant of the same name, an establishment that was operated by owner Josh Wolkon's great uncles. In addition to its comforting aesthetic, Steuben's is also bodaciously functional, offering a drive-up takeout window, a jam-packed bar and a steel-clad diner-style dining area strewn with tattooed patrons noshing on gravy fries in high-top leather booths. The wood-paneled walls of the back dining room summon those looking to relax and snuggle up over hot plates, and the patio that hugs the east side of the building is the ideal brunch spot for hung-over weekend mornings.
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The Verdict: Every night is a party at Steuben's. If you're in the mood for an arsenal of alcoholic temptation that will inevitably result in blissful inebriation, look no further than Steuben's family-style drink options: the prosecco punch ($20, serves four to six) and the scorpion bowl ($12). They're served in the fishbowl glasses you find at frat parties and chain Mexican restaurants -- only these are far more potent and insanely delicious. If you're trying to pace yourself but still take the festive route, we recommend the highly addictive strawberry ginger caipirinha ($5) -- just order two off the bat and save your server the extra trip.
Steuben's happy hour is like an indoor picnic sans the drunken Wiffle Ball game. Chatty bartenders pour drinks as plates of deviled eggs and perfectly seared crab-cake sliders appear on tables of smiling folks who are happy that they're no longer tethered to their day jobs. The dollar bitty burgers on the happy-hour menu (your choice of ground beef, pulled pork, veggie or brisket) can be built up with accoutrements like bacon or a fried egg, making the possibilities deliciously endless. The periodic slow service might cause stress and anxiety when your glasses are empty -- but meandering through the standing-room-only crowd is a feat, and though you'll have to wait, you won't be forgotten. Throw on your skinny jeans and flannel shirts, kids: Happy hour at Steuben's doesn't disappoint.
Overall Grade: A-