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These indispensable cocktail bars, dives, neighborhood watering holes and historic classics define Denver's drinking scene.
Denver’s best bars come in all varieties, whether you want to hear your name called out and see your drink of choice already poured as you step up to your usual spot, or you’re looking to be dazzled by inventive bartenders with encyclopedic minds for spirits and cocktails. Your favorite bar is there for multiple toasts with friends, a solo night on a bar stool, or an intimate conversation in a padded vinyl booth that swallows you whole and doesn’t spit you out until the house lights come up at 2 a.m. In “Drink Here,” we’re pouring out the 100 best bars in Denver, a compendium of swank and sparkling destinations, neighborhood joints, dark dives and historic watering holes, each filling a specific niche in the city’s drinking scene. (Breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries are not included here, since Denver’s excellent artisan producers’ scene deserves a list all its own.)
"Drink here!" the sign reads, and who are we to refuse? -- Mixed by Mark Antonation
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. Leo’s son, Sid Stillman, eventually took over, and today it’s run by Leo’s grandson, Mike Stillman. The Ace Hi is still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors Brewing plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students recovering from a tough day of classes. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and “Native” signs adorning the walls, as well as old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register.
Between the ’60s and the ’80s, Denver had a fairly vital tiki scene, thanks to Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber. But this city’s tiki action was largely extinguished decades ago. When the 2,200-square-foot Adrift opened in 2012, it established itself as Denver’s only tiki bar; originally conceived to be old-school and timeless, it’s definitely a step back in time. While the ownership has changed in the intervening years and a few other tiki spots have opened, Adrift’s dedication to Polynesian kitsch has never waned. Paying homage to the thatch-roofed hooch huts of yore, it specializes in modern and classic tiki cocktails as well as Prohibition-era tropical drinks.
The Arvada Tavern opened in 1933, not too long after the repeal of Prohibition, and was issued the first liquor license in Arvada. A dive for decades, the tavern received a facelift in 2013 under new ownership while still holding on to the building’s vintage charm. More upscale now, the Arvada Tavern serves a variety of vintage cocktails and Colorado beers, and the menu runs from comforting pierogi and schnitzel to island-themed fare served up on Tiki Tuesdays. Upstairs (through a phone booth with a false back wall) in the Bernard Ballroom, there’s live music every Friday and Saturday night.
This underground speakeasy flies under the radar, but there’s no hiding the sexy of B & GC. Half the fun is pretending to be not quite sure where you’re going as you initiate newcomers to the dim and swanky cocktail temple in the basement of the Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek. Go for a Sazerac, choose from a long list of craft spirits, or have your mixologist create something just for you. The small menu of snacks includes a spectacular chocolate mousse. And be sure to wash your hands — if only to check out the restroom’s risqué wallpaper.
When Leigh Jones — of Horseshoe Lounge fame — bought the Recovery Room a decade ago, she overhauled it completely. The resulting Bar Car looks a little nondescript, but the rustic interior, with its old-timey railroad theme, is a pleasant surprise. Also pleasantly surprising, given Colorado Boulevard’s penchant for chains, is that the Bar Car is defiantly neighborhood-focused, offering a list of draft beers that’s heavy on locals. Patrons are local, too, whether they’re stopping by for the daily happy hour or the not-so-secret secret food menu, checking sports scores or just soaking up the warm surroundings late at night.
Part of the trio of bars forming the “Beermuda Triangle” at the corner of 38th and Tennyson, the Berkeley Inn is a neighborhood institution. The joint opened in 1934 and is rumored to have subterranean tunnels made for transporting bootleg alcohol during Prohibition. Regulars band together to help out other regulars in times of need, and use the “Buy a Friend a Drink” board often. There’s no kitchen, but a pool table, giant Jenga, darts and live music on Friday nights keep drinkers entertained. Tennyson Street is one of the most rapidly gentrifying stretches in Denver, but the Berkeley Inn keeps the drinks flowing and holds on to the area’s more colorful past.
Cocktail culture has thoroughly inundated America, but in 2011, when Boulder’s Bitter Bar opened as the late-night speakeasy alter-ego of the now-defunct Happy Noodle House, there was no other game like it in metro Denver. Bartender James Lee built a quick following with his precise drinks — be they long-forgotten classics or inventive creations — and bought the place outright in 2014. He continues to work obsessively toward creating the perfect cocktail for every customer, as well as maintaining Bitter Bar’s position as one of the best venues in the state for a cocktail.
Blake Street Tavern epitomizes the sports bar model. Just two blocks from Coors Field, it’s purpose-built for a meetup before a Rockies game, a marathon televised sports session or just a night of drinks over billiards, shuffleboard, Skee-Ball or Golden Tee. Two happy hours — one from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and the other from 10 p.m. until midnight Monday though Thursday — make the place a bargain for afternoon or late-night revelry, and the food is far better than your standard tavern fare. However you plan your visit, mark a night at Blake Street in the win column.
The craft-cocktail scene was feeling a little stale when Brass Tacks opened in early 2019, making it fun to hang out in bars again. Owners Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, Stephen Julia, Zach Spott and Stuart Jensen didn’t dispense with quality ingredients or obscure spirits; they just packaged them in cocktails on tap and in bottles used to create drinks that look good, taste good and don’t rob you of fifteen minutes of your life as you watch someone scurry around for ingredients and then studiously stir concoctions. There’s amusing food to match, with an $8 cheeseburger, a Viet-Cajun boil and a dirt-cheap breakfast sandwich you can score as early as 10 a.m. (practically daybreak for industry folks). It’s time to get down to Brass Tacks.
Long before there were craft brewpubs in every neighborhood — during the Eisenhower administration, in fact — the original Brewery Bar opened in the old Tivoli brewery. It moved to its Kalamath location while Nixon was still in office (hence the II in the name). Today, if you’ve got a hankering for honest Den-Mex cuisine, you’ll be right at home among the road crews, maudlin-drunk insurance salesmen and local armchair quarterbacks who frequent Brew II, drinking Tinys and ordering some of the finest crispy chiles rellenos in town.
The Bulldog’s dark and shadowy space actually looks and feels like an old English pub — not a nightclub or a cocktail lounge or a fern bar or even the Punch Bowl, which once occupied this spot. It’s a double-barreled shotgun of a room with the long oak bar on one side and rickety, high-backed wooden booths on the other that are devilishly uncomfortable until you get a couple of drinks in you, and then they become miraculously snug and comfy. Out front, there’s a covered patio just big enough for six smokers to stand without bumping elbows. From the kitchen come a variety of simple pub dishes, livened up here and there with hints of Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
How do poodles and heavy metal mesh? The unlikely combo somehow works at the Brutal Poodle, opened in early 2018 by Wes Moralez, Ryan Oakes and David “Yosh” Yoshikawa, members of Denver band Son Survivor. Beyond the goofy, dog-themed art on the walls and the (just-loud-enough) tracks pumping from the sound system, good food and a classic sunken bar beckon the faithful. Loaded tots, great green chile and an outrageous Gwarled-cheese sandwich (loaded with big slabs of pork belly) keep bellies full, the better to soak up rounds of unpretentious drinks and Colorado beers. This poodle’s bite is as good as its bark.
The Candlelight Tavern is a friendly neighborhood bar, beloved by residents of all stripes in the Wash Park area. Once a seedy, smoky dive, the place has been spruced up over the years, with a notable overhaul in 2013. Consistency and simplicity are key here: You can count on no-frills, tasty pub grub, as well as solid service. Grab a beer and plan to make a night of it: You can keep yourself amused with shuffleboard, pool or darts, or just by talking with the person on the stool next to you. The warm glow of the Candlelight’s vintage sign still illuminates the way to one of Denver’s oldest and best bars.
Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We’ve lost many of this city’s celebrated saloons over the past few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar, thanks to the triangular neon sign outside — something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. For more than a century, this spot has held down the corner of Champa and 20th streets, serving drinks nineteen hours a day to an assortment of regulars, including artists, hipsters, transients and rockers. The drinks are stiff, the bathrooms awful, and the atmosphere beyond compare. Leave your credit cards at home; this place is strictly cash and carry on.
Colorful characters from Denver’s past are rumored to have bellied up to the bar at Charlie Brown’s, which has been open since Prohibition ended. A sprawling spot filled with a variety of Capitol Hill characters and the music of nightly piano sing-alongs, it lives up to its slogan: “Something for every-one.” Couples, friends, tourists, young professionals, senior citizens, college kids and even celebrities enjoy the stiff drinks, huge food menu, enclosed smoking patio, free happy-hour wings on Fridays, and free drinks for revelers celebrating their birthdays. Here’s hoping the drinks will flow long into the future at this Denver landmark.
Sometimes Colfax Avenue is so idiosyncratic that it risks becoming a caricature of itself. For evidence, look no further than Charlie’s, Colfax’s big, gay cowboy bar. Gaze upon the cowboy-boot disco ball that spins and glistens from the ceiling. Don’t miss the translucent machine that blows money (or whatever else) around as dancers — also spinning and glistening — put on a show within. And look to the stage and dance floor for drag queens, bikers and bears. Oh, my. A word for the timorous: Charlie’s truly shines in its inclusiveness. Come one, come all, whether you’re stopping in before a show at the Ogden for a mini-pitcher of light beer or wrapping up your night on the prowl for something else entirely.
Named for Bob “Chopper” Travaglini, the late, beloved Denver Nuggets trainer, Chopper’s is a holdout from the Cherry Creek neighborhood’s less tony times. Sports memorabilia and TVs hang in every nook and cranny — bathrooms included — and the grub keeps sports fans fed with bites slightly above standard bar fare. The Tavern Hospitality Group took over the space in 2015, giving an upgrade to the menu and other amenities, but Chopper’s has remained just right for rooting for the home team or catching a game from your alma mater.
Clancy’s was founded in Wheat Ridge in 1973 by Bob “Clancy” Murray. While he’s no longer with us, a new ownership group took over and moved the pub to its current location in 2015 after its original home was slated for demolition and redevelopment. The newer Clancy’s is far bigger than the original, but still maintains its welcoming warmth and homey charm, a place where you can choose from several bars and snug spaces to while away the hours. Raise a pint to Bob Murray and one of the last great Irish pubs left in metro Denver.
The College, as it’s affectionately known, has been in business since the Eisenhower administration and proudly wears such hard-earned longevity on its beer-stained sleeve. As the area around Eighth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard keeps getting shinier, the College Inn’s mom’s-basement-but-maybe-somebody-got-stabbed-there vibe stands out all the more. It’s got many characteristics of a dive, yes, but it’s also a dynamite sports bar, supplicating thirsty fans looking for just about any contest on its many TVs. The regulars keep showing up for cheap suds and solid pub grub, especially a green chile that goes toe-to-toe with many Denver legends.
The Columbine Cafe opened the year Prohibition ended, in a former barbershop by a patch of horse pastures. The nearest landmark was the Coors brewery, and workers from that plant kept the place in business for many years. Today, Golden sprawls just down the road, but the Columbine still feels like an out-of-the-way discovery. There’s a beer garden in back, the site of summer barbecues, horseshoe tournaments and music performances; there’s sometimes live music in the tiny bar space, too, though the only nod to the “Cafe” in the name are breakfast burritos occasionally supplied on Sundays. But who needs food when the ambience is so satisfying? This is the kind of place where everyone knows your name...long after you’ve forgotten it.
The Cooper Lounge debuted in 2014, shortly after the unveiling of Union Station’s extensive over-haul. The mezzanine-level bar captures the spirit of the golden age of transcontinental travel by rail, with cocktails served on silver platters to guests lounging in sumptuous surroundings above the hubbub of the grand hall below. Imagine a furtive tryst over martinis or a boisterous celebration with flowing bottles of bubbly, and you have an inkling of what to expect when you ascend the stairway to one of the city’s most elegant drinking destinations.
The Cruise Room could be Denver’s most iconic drinking establishment. It’s located in the Oxford Hotel, so the marble floors echo with Denver history, stretching back to the late nineteenth century, when Bat Masterson relieved himself in the giant urinals in the basement bathrooms. But the Cruise Room has more recent history, too: It was renovated in the ’30s to look like the lounge on the Queen Mary (hence the name), then got a quick remodel a decade later when the frieze with Hitler’s face — one of a dozen international toasts circling the walls of the bar — was deemed politically incorrect; in the ’60s, it was the headquarters for a group of carousers known as the Evil Companions. Today you’ll find all kinds of passengers hopping aboard a stool to bask in the pink light and downing classic martinis.
Surround yourself with the opulence and luxury of the Ramble Hotel while sipping a cleverly crafted cocktail at the bar or in a cushy lounge seat at Death & Co., a concept that debuted in New York City and planted a second flag in Denver in 2018. Choose from a drinks menu that starts with “Fresh and Lively” and moves through “Light and Playful” and “Elegant and Timeless” before landing on “Rich and Comforting” — just like the bar itself. At the nearby hotel counter, travelers check in, eager for a night in one of Denver’s most vibrant neighborhoods, but you’re not going anywhere: You’ve already arrived.
The Dive Inn has definitely made its mark on Platt Park since taking over BJ’s Carousel in 2012. The decor — which includes an actual motorboat as seating — adds to the upbeat spirit of this neighborhood joint. Dogs love the patio, the bar stocks 99 types of tequila, and drink specials are all-day affairs. With activities ranging from ping-pong, pool and cornhole leagues to garage sales, crawfish boils and charity events, there’s never a dull moment at this casual spot. And 2017’s introduction of Cluck Chicken to the Dive Inn’s kitchen has given the bar’s fans even more to love.
Don’s Club Tavern, also known as Don’s Mixed Drinks (because of the wording on the old-school neon sign outside), is a Denver dive with staying power. Purchased by local bar conglomerate Little Pub Company in 2006, Don’s has retained a certain welcoming “old man’s basement” atmosphere. The secluded smoking patio and Skee-Ball machine are highlights, as is the vending machine dispensing fun packs of such goodies as condoms, burritos, cigarettes, candy and who knows what else. The bar caters to old-timers during the day and is a packed hangout for the younger set at night.
You can consider Dougherty’s a semi-Irish pub, one that caters to the young and the old, the hip and the square, the firemen, the drunks and the industry people. It’s kid-friendly, pet-friendly, family-friendly and drunk-friendly, with cheap lunches all day and happy-hour specials at the bar. The bartenders here pour some of the strongest drinks around, and when the time comes for soaking up that firewater, Dougherty’s also has an excellent pub kitchen, a nice dining room separated from the bar, and a menu that’s better than you’d expect.
In a building once home to many failed bars, including one featured on Bar Rescue, the Englewood Tavern has ushered in a new era. Family-owned and brimming with Englewood civic pride, it’s a homey and cozy spot. Delicious food, live music, karaoke, televised sports, hard-rock open mics and bargain happy hours keep regulars coming back. The crowd is multi-generational; young punk rockers mix with older, leather-clad bikers over pints of beer and helpings of green chile made in-house by “Mama D.” Wherever you come from, the Englewood Tavern will welcome you like one of the family.
The Fainting Goat took over a building on Broadway that’s been a half-dozen restaurants and bars over the years, giving it a good cleaning, fixing the elevator and introducing a menu with an Irish accent, with Irish nachos (covered in corned beef) and the best chicken tenders in town. But the greatest innovation by far is the bar on the rooftop patio, which saves the servers (or customers) from having to run down three flights of stairs every time they need another round. Not only does this secluded sky-high spot offer a lovely view of the mountains, but it has wi-fi and ashtrays, since the deck is definitely far enough from the front entrance for smoking to be legal here.
Falling Rock holds its own as the granddaddy of Denver beer bars; since 1997, co-owner Chris Black and his crew have led the beery way with more than seventy tap handles and a trove of rare and vintage bottles. Falling Rock has stood tall through waves of craft-beer surges and was touting Colorado products alongside international selections to eager beer hunters long before Denverites knew the difference between a barleywine and a bock. As the motto states, there’s “no crap on tap” at this fiercely independent and surlier-than-thou drafthouse.
Micky Manor was a north Denver staple for decades before the dive bar succumbed to the ravages of time in 2011. But the Federal Bar & Grill breathed new life into the space in 2013, giving the neighborhood a casual, inviting saloon with a nod to history. The art-deco bar stretches toward a back room cluttered with ping-pong and shuffleboard tables, while up front a few comfortable booths provide the perfect place to enjoy beer and burgers. A surprisingly thoughtful draft list is the main draw, but mixed drinks and the occasional round of shots are hardly frowned upon. A seat near the front window is great for watching the fire trucks come and go on Federal Boulevard, where nothing is ever quiet.
Finley’s opened on South Pearl Street in 2012, but it feels as if it’s been in Denver much longer, especially as an equally enticing neighbor to the much older Candlelight Tavern. A small room with a two-sided bar means you’ll feel like you’re part of any conversation that may be happening as you pull up a chair — and you’re likely to run into someone you know. Beer choices range far beyond typical Irish stout, with a tight selection of craft beers from around the world. You’ll find Irish-fusion bar food like Irish nachos and an Irish Cuban sandwich, but Finley’s also sears one of the best burgers in town, with shreds of braised short rib mixed in with the ground chuck.
A food-truck corral with an indoor/outdoor craft-cocktail bar built on the grounds of an old salvage yard sounds like the makings of something tragically hip, but a dedication to quality without the ac-companying attitude has made Finn’s Manor one of Denver’s top temples of mixology. While summer nights are prime time for hanging out and grabbing grub under the stars, winter months give guests a chance to explore the deep list of rum, whiskey and other rare spirits. There’s almost always a bowl of punch on the bar top, and the tap list is a continuing exploration of rare beer styles. If it sounds a little overblown, know that it’s all done with the gruff charm of a neighborhood dive bar.
A block west of I-25, near the 15th Street bridge, Forest Room 5 is just hip enough to be cool without seeming trendy. With its dim lighting and intimate tables, this eclectic spot attracts a youthful crowd most days of the week, especially on the weekends. While the place is spacious and houses a few different rooms, some of which can be rented out for private functions, it still retains a cozy warmth, and it’s easy to find a spot for a private conversation. What once felt just a little too hip has aged gracefully into a unique hangout that still maintains its cool.
In 2015, Fort Greene took over the Globeville space that was previously Crash 45, and before that the White Owl and before that the Portulaca Cafe, a Slavic speakeasy. This incarnation was founded by Eleanor Cheetham and Bretton Scott, two former residents of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, and Cheetham has owned it outright for the past four years. Part comfortable living room, part night club and part dive bar, Fort Greene has become a go-to spot for artists, musicians and other members of Denver’s creative class.
Gennaro’s is a restaurant, sure: The Italian spot on South Broadway has been slinging red-sauced pasta and pizza for more than sixty years. But it truly shines as a superlative neighborhood bar. Like feng shui or a Radiohead song, everything is in its right place. The crimson stools dot the checkered floors as inebriated locals take in cover bands, half-heartedly participate in trivia night or adjourn to the back patio for a smoke. There are windows that face Broadway, but you hardly notice them: All the action at Gennaro’s is happening inside.
When the Sidewinder Tavern became Globe Hall in 2015, hardly anything changed about the 100-year-old-plus building, which has been a meeting hall and tavern for most of its history. Oh, wait — that wall that fell down had to be replaced. Otherwise, Globe Hall is no-frills: The carpet is stained, the wooden bar is dented and scratched — but therein lies its charm. The bartenders treat you like a neighbor, the drinks are strong and cheap, and the barbecue is plentiful. Shows in the adjacent music hall run the gamut from rockabilly to Devo cover bands, from burlesque to synthesizer-enthusiast meetups.
The palette of Denver’s palate deepened and broadened when Goed Zuur came to Five Points, serving not just a vast spectrum of complex sour and wild ales, but a sophisticated range of small plates and unusual dishes, as well. Set inside a 120-year-old brick building with a carefully restored 1930s-era advertisement on the side, Goed Zuur, which means “good acid” in Dutch, boasts an interior look that’s steampunk meets European chic. Long tables with elevated platforms for meat-and-cheese boards run along one side, while an artsy clock covers an entire wall on the other. In the middle is a copper-topped bar and custom draft tower made of industrial pipe, wood and lightbulbs. Goed Zuur is proof that Denver’s beer scene is as sophisticated as the world’s beeriest destinations.
Located across from the Bluebird Theater, the Goosetown Tavern draws beer drinkers, pool players and music fans from the East Colfax corridor and beyond. After Bluebird owner Chris Swank, who also owns Mezcal next door, bought Goosetown from the Wynkoop Restaurant Group in mid-2014, a stage was built, and the bar started hosting live music on the weekends. The Goose also pulls a loyal crowd for lunch and dinner with barbecue and homestyle cooking from the Kitchen Table, which joined the party in 2017.
After cocktails re-emerged as a trend in the mid-2000s, a number of Denver restaurants began upping their game with spirits — but Green Russell had the honorable distinction of being the very first in the new wave of dedicated cocktail bars in the city. Built by Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno in a Larimer Square basement, Green Russell stoked, rather than slaked, Denver’s thirst for the form. Its secretive and seductively appointed digs were novel at the outset, and they remain inviting to LoDo patrons, who still flock to Green Russell’s extensive back bar for camaraderie and creative drinks.
Herb’s has worn many hats throughout its long, long (it was erected in 1933) tenure: dive, cougar bar, live-music dance hall, a place to escape LoDo douchebags. And while we can’t promise that it won’t violate any and all aforementioned descriptors upon entry, the historic tavern remains a go-to respite from its gentrified surroundings. Yes, some Phi Alpha Whatever guys may wander in, but your drink will be reasonably priced, stiff and, more often than not, accompanied by a band on stage.
The bars at these conjoined spaces (sputnik and the hi-dive) are two sides of the same coin, both a little worn and gritty, but still great for quick shots or planting yourself for the long haul. Since 2003, the hi-dive has been a refuge from crass commercialism and bland bars catering to the masses. Cheap, stiff drinks and a revolving door of creative talent have kept the music venue ahead of the game. Sputnik, on the other hand, offers a mid-century vibe, along with plenty of meatless fare — and perhaps a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört lurking behind the bar as a treat for homesick Chicagoans.
When Highland Tap & Burger opened in 2010, it was designed as a watering hole for a neighborhood in flux: Northwest Denver was rapidly gentrifying, displacing much of the Mexican-American com-munity that had been there for multiple generations (most of the Italian families were already gone). But Highland Tap wanted to bring everyone to the table, to be a place where people could gather and talk about community issues while enjoying a good burger and a drink. Over the past decade, the bar has succeeded in its goal, and expanded its mission to new taprooms in Sloan’s Lake and Belleview Station.
The Horseshoe Lounge is a powerhouse bar in the Uptown neighborhood founded by powerhouse ladies Leigh Jones, Melanie Unruh and Margaret Moore. The bar showcases quirky yet tasteful decor, such as vintage furniture and a bar top made of thousands of dice; Motown dance parties and trivia mix things up. The friendly, motley crew of regulars love the “’Shoe,” as they call it, and the joint gets jumping with all sorts of folks venturing in and out of downtown on the weekend. Hit the ’Shoe for a brew from the “Shit Beer” list, or dare to try a mystery shot.
Capitol Hill didn’t seem to be crying out for another bar when Jake Soffes opened Hudson Hill in 2016, but the neighborhood quickly welcomed a new kind of cool. Hudson Hill breaks the mold of dark and divey with blond woods, warm lighting and gleaming tile. The soft crackle of a record needle on vinyl adds to the atmosphere, and the drinks are beyond reproach, proving that PBRs and Fernet shots aren’t the only way to draw a Cap Hill crowd.
The best Irish pubs give customers exactly what they want without straying too far from familiar territory: Guinness beer (or some other inky stout) on tap, bottles of Irish whiskey lining the shelves, and an intimate interior filled with dark woods and mirrored booze advertisements. But the Irish Snug manages to have its own personality, with private booths for clandestine meetings, a cavernous basement for group outings, and a welcoming charm that feels like a second home just beyond the grit of Colfax Avenue.
The Kentucky Inn, one of the oldest bars in the West Wash Park neighborhood, closed in July 2017 for a remodel and the installation of a new kitchen. Inside, decades of cigarette-smoke stains had been scrubbed away, new floors and wood paneling were installed, and a billiards room was added at the back. The original Kentucky Inn never had much of a kitchen, but the expansion brought a menu of bar favorites and a few Southern specialties to match the Kentucky theme. Burgers and green chile are part of the Inn’s repertoire, but there’s also pimento cheese, a Kentucky hot brown sandwich, and an award-winning KY Cuban.
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. But at least the fern bars and private clubs of the ’70s and ’80s were done up in style, making a little (or a lot of) historical pilfering perfect for a new generation of LoHi bar-goers. Forest green, burnished gold, palm trees and cherrywood finishes can all be found at Lady Jane, the second Denver bar for Jake Soffes, who also runs Hudson Hill. Thumb through the leather-bound cocktail roster in what feels like a set piece from Charlie’s Angels by way of West Egg.
While the patio outside Edgewater’s Lakeview Lounge has prime views of Sloan’s Lake, Sheridan Boulevard and the Denver skyline, those who love authentic dives will be more captivated by the view inside. The Lakeview is a weathered, classic saloon that time forgot. Clearly a drinker’s haven in an increasingly upscale area, the dimly lit lounge serves mystery shots in brown paper bags and very stiff, cheap drinks. Regulars throw quips, dice and dollar bills at each other, taking a break to plug the excellent jukebox. For those who want booze for breakfast, the bar opens at 7 a.m.
The Lakewood Grill has been around even longer than the City of Lakewood itself. The bar was built in 1950 and poured its first drinks (officially) in 1951, back when this stretch of West Colfax was just unincorporated Jefferson County. Lakewood became a city in 1969, and the Grill was there for that, too. Over the years, the bar has been through plenty, including a period when the rooms upstairs were used by ladies of the night. (There are still apartments upstairs, but the sex workers are long gone.) There have been various owners over the decades, but the Lakewood Grill has remained a consistent hangout, welcoming neighbors and passersby alike.
The Larimer Lounge does one thing better than anyone else in the area: It brings the rock. Sure, the venue has brought in indie rock progenitors like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Sebadoh, but it’s also seen acts like Arcade Fire and Bat for Lashes, which have since outgrown the venue. You’ll feel like a member of the band (or at least a roadie) as you crowd the low-slung stage with beer can in hand after shots at the bar up front, which feels held together by nothing more than years of accumulated duct tape and grit.
The low ceilings and even lower bar top at the Lion’s Lair make you feel like you’re knocking back beers in someone’s basement. And when the music fires up, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into band practice in that basement, with a guitar neck or mic stand only inches from your head. While Denver’s dive bars continue to disappear, the Lion’s Lair just keeps getting grungier; it’s a living piece of Colfax history that we hope never changes.
Middleman snuck into an inconspicuous place on East Colfax Avenue around the middle of 2018, doing what many bars do these days — decorating the walls with street art, mixing creative cocktails with clever names, combining a hint of hipster with working-class sensibilities. But Middleman did it without the hype or self-promotion, making this an ultimately unpretentious stop. Add the strange and soulful small plates and sandwiches of Misfit Snackbar, which took over the food program in late 2019, and you’ve got some of the best bar food in town to go with Middleman’s many shot-and-beer combos.
The second-oldest bar in town, Monaghan’s opened in 1892, and its current liquor license dates back to the day after Prohibition ended in 1933 in Colorado. The bar comes complete with underground tunnels leading to the old Fort Logan military officer’s housing, house ghosts and committed, multi-generational regulars. Rumor has it that Alferd Packer, Colorado’s most famous cannibal, drank at Monaghan’s when he lived nearby. Aside from the history, the bar stands out for opening early (at 8 a.m.), serving delicious green chile and pouring some of the cheapest buy-one-get-one-free happy-hour deals around.
Yes, My Brother’s Bar has a fascinating history: The building has held a bar since the 1870s; Neal Cassady hung out here when it was Paul’s Place; and as My Brother’s Bar, it’s survived with no TVs while playing classical music and serving as a neighborhood joint for the whole city. But the most interesting chapter is the current one: After four decades, a longtime employee and her family bought the place from the Karagas family, vowing to keep My Brother’s Bar going. And they have, embracing safe outdoor dining without losing any of that historic charm.
Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options.
The Nob Hill Inn has been a drinker’s paradise for more than fifty years; it’s daunting to think of all the people who have spent hours on the stools here. This is the kind of joint where it’s easy to lose track of time...for decades. The square-shaped bar makes for easy people-watching, and with some of Colfax’s finest camping out here, it’s usually entertaining as hell. If Bukowski were still alive, this might be his idea of nirvana.
In 2019, Nocturne owners Nicole and Scott Mattson, along with wine veterans Joel Kampfe and Troy Bowen, opened a new kind of wine bar: one that ditches stodgy convention for something a little more intriguing and adventurous. They’ve assembled a lineup of small-vineyard natural wines, along with a supporting cast of bites and cocktails, in the intimate space that was previously Greenlight Lab. Brighter paint, white tile behind the bar and raucous music welcome wine lovers or the wine-curious, who are immediately set at ease with a menu that boldly proclaims the best thing about drinking wine is that it’s “fucking fun.”
Just off the main Larimer Street drag, Scott and Nicole Mattson’s Nocturne continues the jazz tradition of the neighborhood with its art deco-style bar, classic cocktails and stage-side dining room. While the stage and dining room are currently silent, you can still enjoy the Nocturne experience every Saturday night with takeout suppers accompanied by live-streamed jazz concerts.
Since restrictions and conditions are changing frequently, contact the restaurant for the latest on COVID-related accommodations and options.
When owner Sean Kenyon grabbed the address next to Williams & Graham and prepared to install a more casual neighborhood bar, he wondered if Occidental would mostly function as a waiting room for its sibling, which sometimes sees waits of three hours. Several years later, he has his answer: This bar has an identity and a following all its own. Occidental’s punk-rock vibe and open seating have made it a neighborhood mainstay, a casual place to get an excellent cocktail or a beer without pretense.
For many Denver residents, no list of essential Mile High haunts would be complete without a location founded by late Greek restaurant magnate Pete Contos. From the classic neon sign on Colfax to its legendary history (Bob Dylan and the Smothers Brothers both performed here), the Satire Lounge is old Denver through and through. The bar continues to draw a diverse crowd from all walks of life, serving them cheap drinks and hearty, Colorado-style Mexican food. The Satire is a straight-ahead saloon that doesn’t put on airs or follow trends, and the off-kilter assortment of characters who work and drink here wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Piper Inn looks like a biker bar, and it is. But it’s also an everyone-else bar. You can find your mom, your co-worker and dudes who ride Harleys, all enjoying cold brews and house specialties like Chinese-style wings, burgers and carne asada fries. The bar was named for the Piper airplanes that used to land on a dirt airstrip when this part of town was still the country; people even rode horses to the bar. Since 1968, the Piper Inn has been offering up free birthday drinks, televised sports, an affordable happy hour and delicious bar food, much of it straight from the pages of a classic Chinese takeout menu.
Poka Lola isn’t a new Hawaiian restaurant or a cannabis strain; it’s the retro bar located inside the Maven, the Dairy Block’s hotel. The ritzy watering hole balances art deco elegance with Midwestern soda-shop comfort. Guests will feel pampered with cocktail classics and house creations, along with bar fare that’s surprisingly down-to-earth for the upscale surroundings.
A weird and wonderful surprise awaits those who wander into Pon Pon, a respite from the more popular and populated bars of teeming RiNo. Records crackle on the speakers, a tiny bar — the kind your uncle might have in his swank, wood-paneled basement — pours creative cocktails, loungey spaces invite lingering, and art installations add visual appeal. Not quite a speakeasy, the bar still captures the intimate, DIY appeal of the artsy neighborhood as it was just as the current boom was beginning.
Here’s what’s to love about Sheamus Feeley and Angela Neri’s LoDo bar: ponies, French bulldogs, French dip sandwiches, sly references to The Outsiders. But even without the pop culture and pups (including an imposing portrait of Neri’s own dog done up as French royalty), the cocktails and Champagne are big enough draws. That, and a roster of sandwiches that serve as an excellent base for just one more drink. “Thank you for a real good time,” reads the neon sign on the back wall of the bar, in a nod to the Grateful Dead. No, Pony Up, thank you.
The PS Lounge is a throwback like no other. The cash-only bar still looks and feels straight out of the ’80s, which is when it opened. Owner Pete Siahamis calls it a “girls’ bar,” and makes sure every woman who crosses the threshold gets a single rose and a syrupy-sweet Alabama Slammer shot. It’s a go-to pre-game location for people getting ready to hit the Colfax bars hard or heading to the Bluebird for a show. But the PS Lounge is also a perfect spot for a long chat with an old friend, and a great place to make new ones.
The original Punch Bowl Social opened on Broadway in 2012 as a premier fun zone for adults. The newer Stapleton location, at 3120 Uinta Street, continues the tradition in a breathtaking space built into the former airport’s control tower. Bowling, karaoke, vintage video games and shuffleboard are just a few of the diversions, but both locations boast multiple bars for those just there for the drinks. Founder Robert Thompson has built a nationwide Punch Bowl empire over the past several years, spreading the Denver brand far beyond Colorado’s borders.
Dear breeders: As dive bars in Denver go by the wayside, so, too, do gay dive bars. And as we’re all under attack here, we can’t be sure how long the R & R will be around — but we’re sure happy it still is. It has everything that a discerning drunk looks for in a Colfax hole-in-the-wall: cheap drinks, weirdos, a certain level of interior deterioration and an amazing neon sign. Follow that beacon inside, stat, before it’s too late.
Shady trees, lots of outdoor seating and nearly every dog in the neighborhood: that’s what you’ll find in the summertime at Recess Beer Garden, one of the city’s top destinations for warm-weather day drinking. But even when it’s miserable outside, Recess offers a well-stocked bar and plenty of comfort food in nearly every form. The owners recently reopened the Campus Lounge, which now shows all the signs of becoming a Bonnie Brae mainstay for another forty years.
Retrograde shouldn’t work, but it does. First, though, you’ll have to stride through the Frozen Matter ice cream shop to the walk-in cooler without being distracted by the desserts or deterred by the fact that you’re stepping into a refrigerator. Once through, you’ll find yourself in a dim room barely lit by purple lights and chock-full of mid-mod accents like doughnut-shaped lamps, horsehair bar stools and a barback straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Instead of milkshakes and floats, you’ll find finely crafted cocktails. But it all comes together: Retrograde is equal parts fun, glam, off-the-rails crazy and welcoming.
There are laws that must be obeyed, and there are laws that just make sense. “Make a friend, buy your neighbor a drink” belongs in the latter category. You can practice following this rule at Rita’s Law, Rita Price’s bar that opened in 2019 in Five Points. Credit Price’s dedication to hospitality for the lived-in quality of her bar, where you’re likely to be recognized by the staff if you return more than once or twice. Come during the day for coffee and pastries, then head back for beers or cocktails over food from the school-bus kitchen on the back patio.
The music never really stopped at 554 South Broadway, where Syntax Physic Opera transitioned to the Roxy on Broadway under new ownership in the summer of 2019. Along with the new name came a new menu and bar program that’s worth a visit, even if you’re not staying for a show. New owner Paula Vrakas brightened up the space and added a slate of reasonably priced classic cocktails to accompany gypsy jazz, DJs and other live music. Go early if you prefer a tranquil setting, or stay for the entertainment if you need a joyous night out.
In this subterranean Dairy Block spot, the cocktail roster presented as a deck of cards, the “parlor snacks” and the rows of encyclopedias behind the bar could all come across as a little too precious. But owner Steven Waters brings it all together with equal parts fun and sophistication. Find your way into the bar (it’s not a speakeasy; it’s just hard to locate) using the elevator inside Free Market, then peruse the deck for your favorite drink, or just draw blindly for a surprise. If you become a regular, consider purchasing a lock box for $300 a year to get a different treat from the bar deposited each month.
Many of Denver’s longtime dives have been renovated into shiny shadows of their former selves, often transformed into hangouts for hipsters. Well, we’re betting you won’t find a single hipster at Sam’s Bar & Lounge, a watering hole that opened on Leetsdale Drive 66 years ago. You won’t find any wi-fi, either; as one message on the bar’s chalkboard urges, “Talk to each other and get drunk.” That’s not hard, especially if you sit at the big, four-sided bar — there are a few comfy booths, too — and chat it up with the bartender, who pours stiff, inexpensive drinks. As so much of old Denver dries up, the neon sign of Sam’s shines like a beacon.
Step a few feet inside Sancho’s Broken Arrow and there’s no mistaking that you’re in a Grateful Dead-centric, tie-dyed hippie hangout. Live bands stake out Sancho’s on Mondays, but jukebox jockeys normally take care of the music, and that jukebox is stocked with enough Dead to last for weeks. Every so often, though, you need a break from Jerry and company, and there are a few other artists sprinkled in — cats like Leon Russell and the Talking Heads, as well as such jam-centric acts as Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident and Gov’t Mule. The place is packed before and after shows at the Fillmore Auditorium next door; otherwise, the vibe is easygoing, roomy and kind.
Once a gentleman’s lounge, this space in the venerable Brown Palace was remodeled into a seafaring bar that opened eight months after Prohibition ended. The fish-out-of-water nautical theme was inspired by a collection of model clipper ships that the hotel’s then-owner brought home from a trip and his wife suggested should shove off. Although a remodel under new owners recently brought in some Denny’s-like tables, the ships are still here, as is the crow’s nest, and a seat at the bar is a swell spot to let history wash over you. Save some dough for a nightcap and cigar in the nearby Churchill.
After nearly 100 years and multiple changes, the Sink remains one of Boulder’s most quirky and popular taverns, as much for the good deals on booze as for the famous Sink Burger (which first appeared on the menu in the 1950s), as well as the art and history scrawled across the ceiling and walls in the form of customer autographs and Beat-era paintings. Barack Obama stopped in during his presidency, and Robert Redford was a janitor here for a year before he ever hit the silver screen. Over the decades, the Sink has helped shape Boulder’s image into what it is today.
Like a jelly-of-the-month club, the Skylark is a gift that keeps on giving. Once located at 58 South Broadway, the bar moved to roomier digs in 2003. Enter the doors and you’ll be greeted by one of the great, lengthy U-shaped bars on the Front Range. On the weekends, more often than not, bands take the stage and a cover is charged. If the tunes aren’t your cup of craft ale, no matter: Escape upstairs, ask for admission, and you’ll find what amounts to a grown-up version of a secret clubhouse, with pool tables, a standout jukebox and another remarkable bar.
There are plenty of sports bars in a town that bleeds orange and blue (and purple, black, blue, gold and/or burgundy when convenient). But alas, many of the options are milquetoast. The Spot eschews such perilous vanilla territory by function of location and size. It’s a consummate neighborhood joint, and the squeezed-in vibe leaves no other option than to make friends with the folks to your right and left. It’s like Cheers but smaller, and, as the flagship of the Little Pub Company’s lineup, has kept its status as a drinkers’ favorite for more than 25 years.
The bars at these conjoined spaces (Sputnik and the hi-dive) are two sides of the same coin, both a little worn and gritty, but still great for quick shots or planting yourself for the long haul. Since 2003, the hi-dive has been a refuge from crass commercialism and bland bars catering to the masses. Cheap, stiff drinks and a revolving door of creative talent have kept the music venue ahead of the game. Sputnik, on the other hand, offers a mid-century vibe, along with plenty of meatless fare — and perhaps a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört lurking behind the bar as a treat for homesick Chicagoans.
If you’re not looking for the Squeeze Inn, you’re likely to drive right past the tiny drink shack and its barely visible sign. But once you make your way into this single-room lounge with checker-tiled floors and red vinyl seats, you’ll never forget it. Set at the back of a wide-open lot, the one-time burger joint and husband hideout has been in operation since the late 1950s, serving up nothing fancy — just beer and plain mixed drinks. A jukebox and a TV or two can be found in the clean and brightly lit establishment, but it’s obvious that it’s the conversation patrons come in for. The Squeeze Inn closed in October 2016, but new owners took over and reopened it a year later.
The “Shade-ium,” as it is known to most who have traversed its stoop, lives up to its nickname. Questionable characters and drinks cheap enough to encourage dangerous levels of inebriation are the name of the game here. Its proximity to the University of Denver promises plenty of co-eds when school is in session — and good thing, too: The kids learn plenty of life lessons at the Stadium — namely, the character and feel of a bona fide dive.
Star Bar was once one of the diviest of dive bars, where the carpet was sticky and the bathrooms icky. But a makeover in 2010 transformed the place in the same manner that the rest of the Ballpark neighborhood was transforming, turning a questionable saloon into a safe haven for craft beers and cocktails. The bar maintains some of its downscale charm, though, even if the clientele is now young and hip. But you’d have to wander blocks in any direction to find anything else as casual, comfortable and lived-in.
During the annual National Western Stock Show, the Stockyard Saloon — located in a historic building in the heart of the old packinghouse district — is the hottest place in town. But this watering hole is worth a visit the rest of the year, too. The second-floor space offers an interesting view of the surrounding neighborhood, and the view inside is usually pretty interesting, too, since cowboys are often rubbing elbows with realtors checking out the area. The burgers and Mexican-food offerings are worthy, and the drinks are strong. For a time it looked like the Stockyard Saloon was about to be put out to pasture as the National Western Center takes shape, but the bar’s owner just signed a five-year lease. Yee-haw!
The website boasts that it’s “a local kind of place,” and Stoney’s definitely qualifies. With Colorado beers on tap, barn wood from Gunnison on the bar and a ski-lift chair from Keystone in the front of the house, Stoney’s is a celebration of all things Centennial State. For entertainment, there’s a stage devoted to live music, Skee-Ball, and a weird miniature bowling alley. Stoney’s was brought to life by a team of industry pros, including Will Trautman, who formerly tended bar at Herb’s, and namesake Stoney Jesseph, who has expanded the Stoney’s family to a second location at 1035 East 17th Avenue.
Boulder: Bask in the sun as it rolls over the foothills…blah blah blah. Ever wanted to duck into a windowless watering hole while your aunt from out of town shops for a fleece vest at Patagonia? Descend into the subterranean Sundown, which promises booze and plenty of it. As its name implies, it is dark. It’s also dirty (we think; you can’t really see inside), and there are pool tables (we’ve been told; you can’t really see inside). It’s a place where you can completely forget than you’re in Boulder, which is exactly what Boulder calls for some of the time.
Tatarian makes it a trio for Lenka Juchelkova and Mike Huggins, who also run Union Lodge No. 1 and the Arvada Tavern. This one’s dedicated to the high art of cocktails and the delicate balance of sour, sweet, boozy and bitter. The decor is posh penthouse; your drink might be smoked or bolstered by house bitters and tinctures. Tatarian, named for a type of shady maple that once graced every yard in the neighborhood, is the fanciest branch on the family tree.
The Castle presides over a corner of Littleton where dim, time-worn watering holes are few and far between. In a building shaped like, unsurprisingly, a castle, the vibe is relaxing and unpretentious, as are the patrons. Snag a twenty-ounce personalized mug for $20, good for a lifetime of twenty-ounce pours for sixteen-ounce prices (enjoy them at the sunken bar). Snacks are simple but tasty, with budget food specials such as fifty-cent wings every Thursday and two-for-one burgers (among the best in town) on Tuesdays. With karaoke, bingo, trivia and chatty regulars of all stripes, you’ll never be bored when you storm the Castle.
While this bar’s name might be inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel, the Thin Man feels more like a modern-day joint in Brooklyn or the East Village than some film-noir relic. The narrow space is stuffed with countless depictions of Jesus, and Christmas lights provide a major source of illumination in the dim bar, making this a place where merry gentlemen — and women — can rest for hours on end, imbibing from the stellar lineup of brews, wines and infused vodkas. The patrons are as eclectic as the decor, and just as entertaining. Praise Jesus!
Lenka Juchelkova and her husband, Mike Huggins, have a knack for planting excellent bars in neigh-borhoods in desperate need of good watering holes. After they gave Olde Town Arvada the Arvada Tavern, they went to an underserved block off the 16th Street Mall, nestling the Americana-appointed Union Lodge No. 1 among outposts of fast-casual chains. Deftly executed American classics — the bar’s list pays homage to pre-Prohibition mainstays like the Martinez and the Brandy Crusta — draw a mix of in-the-know drinkers, first dates and visiting business types. Like its suburban sibling, the Lodge is more than just a bar you’ll be glad to know about when you’re in the neighborhood. It’s a destination in its own right.
The Welcome Inn also goes by the name New Welcome Inn, but there’s nothing new about this bar that’s been run by the same family for over thirty years; the music is loud, the games popular, and the linoleum on the bar worn by generations of elbows. What’s new is the area around the bar: This was once one of the darkest corners in Denver, but since the Blue Moon Brewing Company opened a 30,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant right across the street in 2016, it’s become a clean and well-lighted place. On the outside, anyway. Which means that plenty of developers are eyeing the prime corner occupied by the Welcome Inn. Enjoy the joint while you can.
The White Horse Bar has been pouring since the ’20s — and it looks it. The current owners bought it in 1974 and have made relatively few improvements. An obsolete dance floor in the middle of the room is surrounded by dingy floral carpet, and many of the theme-keeping white-horse statues, paintings and plaques are permanently stained yellow. While the red/green/yellow twinkle lights strung along the booths and the neon-backlit glass bricks below the bar are wonderful touches, our favorite detail is the Coors poster hung on the wood paneling behind the corner stool: It shows an apron-clad E.T. wiping a spotless bar with a rag and this message: “If you go beyond your limit, please don’t drive. ‘Phone Home.’”