Best Dive 2002 | Casa Bonita | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Casa Bonita may not immediately come to mind when you're searching for a dive. You're thinking a dark little hole-in-the-wall, not a giant original eatertainment complex filled with canned Mexican music and canned refried beans. But consider: Foodies certainly think they're slumming when they come here. And as at any more traditional dives, inadvertent entertainment abounds. Besides, at Casa Bonita you'll see actual dives -- executed off those fake cliffs by those built diving boys. For the best seat in the house, grab a palapa by the cliffs. Now order a round of margs and raise a glass to an underappreciated Colorado classic.

At the Lancer Lounge, a true neighborhood joint, everyone knows your name -- even if you've forgotten it by the time you stumble in. Although legendary for its stiff drinks and amiable stiffs, the Lancer has some new bragging rights: It serves hearty, down-home food, thanks to Sully, who's now stirring the pot. A decided improvement over earlier operations (we're still trying to forget the Salvadoran-food era), the kitchen turns out a different -- and unbelievably cheap -- special every day. Monday's meatloaf plate is a real bargain -- but don't order so much that the Lancer can't sell its thick, filling meatloaf sandwiches the rest of the week.

The longest bar in Denver draws a clientele that's more eclectic and genuine than any you'll find at downtown's more freshly scrubbed haunts. Depending on the hour, Duffy's feels like an East Coast diner, a down-home cookery or a good ol'-fashioned Irish pub, where waitresses offer patience and sympathetic smiles to those who've had one too many Guinnesses. The look is lived-in, not dingy; the food inexpensive, not cheap. By serving up drinks with muscle in a friendly, folksy atmosphere, Duffy's remains a local favorite.

Already the bomb, Lime is primed to go thermonuclear once the good weather comes to stay. That's when owners Curt Sims and William Logan will throw open the French doors in the back of their basement space and debut Lime's grand outdoor patio, sunken below Larimer Square and surrounded by high brick walls. Until then, fast-spreading word of mouth will surely continue to pour bodies into the bar side of Lime, where the fresh, cool mood lighting designed by Logan and the bar's signature Mighty Margaritas make the long wait for a table on weekends a pleasure. To savor the decor along with a top-shelf shot of tequila, however, Lime is best experienced on weeknights, especially Wednesdays, when margaritas are two for one and Luke Grant spins jazz and dub from the lounge's DJ booth.

Pints Pub has little in common with LoDo sports bars: Beer selecting is about the most strenuous activity going on inside the thoroughly English, charmingly rustic little spot in the Golden Triangle. Still, regulars do enjoy watching a good game now and then. They'd just prefer that it not interrupt their conversation or overwhelm their senses. (The bar's many handcrafted beers and myriad whiskeys do that bit just fine.) So the owners keep the volume down, allowing viewers to follow the closed-caption play-by-play as it scrolls across the bottom of the screen. We've always known the English were great readers.
At Cadillac Jack's, real dudes with broad shoulders and real broads with hoarse throats gather to cheer their favorites on the tube and celebrate the dull ache of the latest scrum with plenty of beers and, yes, rugby songs. The tavern is especially lively in the latter half of September.

Taking customer service to new levels, Swanky's pumps soft-porn Cinemax movies through the bar's bank of televisions. This entertainment approach gets points with patrons, who attempt to score while watching the pros hit home runs with ease, amid orgasms and under great lighting. Pick-up lines come easy, too: "Say baby, how'd you like to go to my place and do that?"

Everyone loves firefighters, but no one shows their feelings as enthusiastically as the female customers on the rooftop deck of Lodo's Bar and Grill. Warmed by the sun and perhaps a few cocktails, they stand at attention whenever a truck races out of the nearby fire station -- and salute the boys by flashing them as they barrel by. The record (thus far): a 22-boob salute.

At Pints Pub, bartender Steve Lighthouse has developed a loyal following that appreciates his good humor, effortless shmoozing -- and the great drinks he pours. Born in Belfast, Lighthouse grew up in Denver and was educated at Stanford, so he brings a rare perspective to the bar. A theater lover, he recommends shows to his customers, and he considers it part of his professional responsibility to collect new jokes to share with patrons. But don't mistake him for a pushover: One Lighthouse quirk beloved by his friends is that he refuses to work on St. Patrick's Day. Seems he doesn't like all the drunks.

The Brown Palace has always stirred up a nostalgic longing for the martini's golden era, when the drink wasn't mixed with chocolate or blueberries and the concept of "class" meant more than a big wad of disposable income. When the hotel's Atrium, always an elegant choice for tea or a quiet cocktail, recently revamped its after-work menu options to include such tempting tidbits as house-smoked salmon tart and chilled, poached asparagus, it wisely retained its popular martini cart, which enables servers to offer swillers handmade martinis done tableside. You name the poison -- your choice from three vodkas and three gins -- and the cart- tender shakes or stirs according to your whims. Throw in a citrus twist, a jalapeño or an olive from the garnish assortment, and sit back in the refined ambience of the Brown's lobby as the hassles of the day slip away. Or is that sip away?

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