What is it they say? That good things come in small packages? We wonder how sick chef/owner Sean Kelly must be of hearing that. Still, it was never so true as it is at Kelly's Clair de Lune, where everything -- from the menu to the dining room to the kitchen to the wine list -- is small, controlled and perfect. The wine bottles find a home in the racks beside the bar and in cubby holes along the walls in the dining room, and are carefully chosen to pair up wonderfully with whatever is on the menu that night. Crisp whites, strong, dark Bordeaux and Chimay -- the champagne of beers -- are the highlights of Clair's stock, and if you ever need help in choosing what will go best with what, just ask. The benefit of a short list is that the staff becomes intimately acquainted with every bottle. And at Clair de Lune, help is never far away.

Best Wine List -- Inexpensive but Never Cheap

Brix

It's no surprise that Charlie Master, son of Mel and Jane, would come up with a good wine list at his first restaurant, whose very name is a word used for measuring the sugar content in wine. At Brix, Charlie set out to create a list of appealing, very drinkable bottles, none of which would come in above thirty dollars. And with the kind of experience he has from growing up in a wine-and-restaurant family, he was up to the task. If you're not a grape-juice fan, Brix still has you covered with its nightly "white trash beer specials," with Schlitz and PBR in the can to go along with the kitchen's simple menu of hot dogs, burgers, tarragon chicken, mussel stew and other high-class, low-price comfort foods.


In Denver, Mel and Jane Master are known for a lot of things. Their flagship restaurant, Mel's, is one of the most consistently excellent eateries in town, with a staff of top-notch professionals and a menu that's high-end and comforting at the same time. Outside of Denver, though, they're probably best known for the name they've made for themselves in the wine business. Lucky for us, Mel's gets to act as a focal point for all that grape expertise, and the restaurant's list -- which features primarily French vintages -- maintains a nice depth and breadth without pricing out the casual drinker or becoming too fussy. But what truly sets Mel's apart from the dozens of other good lists and good houses is the way the wine is neither elevated above nor subsumed by the food. The two menus strike a perfect balance, complementing each other equally and proving that the best companion you can ever have for a fine dinner is an equally fine bottle of wine.
There was a time not so long ago in American culinary history when wine was ordered simply by asking for the house red or white. Bastien's is a product of that period. And while settling down for a night in this time-warped Colfax fixture may not inspire your thirst for a delicate Ctes du Rhne or hundred-dollar bottle of bubbly, that's all for the best: Bastien's wouldn't have it, anyway. What it does have are house reds and whites going by the glass in the single-digit range and the occasional, surprising Aussie shiraz or South American cabernet that'll still only run you somewhere in the neighborhood of a five-spot. Though Bastien's throwback atmosphere may move you to want the sort of cocktails Truman Capote would've sucked down when he used to visit the place, just remember that man does not live on martinis and sidecars alone. Cheap wine has its place -- and Bastien's is it.
Like its agave-derivative namesake, Mezcal -- the upscale Mexican cantina that opened on a gentrifying-by-the-second block of East Colfax last December -- is getting slammed on a nightly basis. And rightly so. From its glowing Moroccan lamps and sunny walls painted with Sol Cerveza advertisements to such kitschy decorations as a chrome low-rider bike suspended from the ceiling and a plastic baby Jesus affixed to an exposed-brick column, Mezcal looks like the real thing. And Mezcal tastes like it, too, with its stash of over a hundred premium tequilas, served straight up or mixed into fabulous fruity concoctions. But the only true measure of a tequila bar is the house margarita, where the mix is key. Too much sweet in the sweet-and-sour, and your marg tastes like soap. Too little, and your cheeks get glued together in a permanent pucker. Mezcal makes its mix daily from freshly squeezed Key and Persian limes; add in the Triple Sec and Silver Herradura -- the very generous house tequila -- and you've got one great marg. It's even better at happy hour, when a tall, tall glass runs only $3. Since the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every day of the week, there's plenty of time to order a burrito to soak up all that excess alcohol. And before you head for home, remember to check out the baño de caballeros, which is full of busty Mexican pinups.


Best Wine List -- Inexpensive but Never Cheap

Brix

It's no surprise that Charlie Master, son of Mel and Jane, would come up with a good wine list at his first restaurant, whose very name is a word used for measuring the sugar content in wine. At Brix, Charlie set out to create a list of appealing, very drinkable bottles, none of which would come in above thirty dollars. And with the kind of experience he has from growing up in a wine-and-restaurant family, he was up to the task. If you're not a grape-juice fan, Brix still has you covered with its nightly "white trash beer specials," with Schlitz and PBR in the can to go along with the kitchen's simple menu of hot dogs, burgers, tarragon chicken, mussel stew and other high-class, low-price comfort foods.
Good margaritas are a dime a dozen in this town. But Cielo raises the tequila bar with its Hot & Cold margarita, a hot twist on the cool classic. Made with triple citrus and chile-infused Chinaco Silver, a splash of dry vermouth and olive and serrano-chile juices, this marg bursts with exotic flavors and leaves a warm, spicy afterglow on your tongue. Douse the fire with complimentary nibbles in the candlelit Hacienda Bar, which spills out onto Cielo's stucco patio -- an ideal spot for springtime sipping.
Bastien's Restaurant
Mark Antonation
There was a time not so long ago in American culinary history when wine was ordered simply by asking for the house red or white. Bastien's is a product of that period. And while settling down for a night in this time-warped Colfax fixture may not inspire your thirst for a delicate Ctes du Rhne or hundred-dollar bottle of bubbly, that's all for the best: Bastien's wouldn't have it, anyway. What it does have are house reds and whites going by the glass in the single-digit range and the occasional, surprising Aussie shiraz or South American cabernet that'll still only run you somewhere in the neighborhood of a five-spot. Though Bastien's throwback atmosphere may move you to want the sort of cocktails Truman Capote would've sucked down when he used to visit the place, just remember that man does not live on martinis and sidecars alone. Cheap wine has its place -- and Bastien's is it.
Mezcal
Danielle Lirette
Like its agave-derivative namesake, Mezcal -- the upscale Mexican cantina that opened on a gentrifying-by-the-second block of East Colfax last December -- is getting slammed on a nightly basis. And rightly so. From its glowing Moroccan lamps and sunny walls painted with Sol Cerveza advertisements to such kitschy decorations as a chrome low-rider bike suspended from the ceiling and a plastic baby Jesus affixed to an exposed-brick column, Mezcal looks like the real thing. And Mezcal tastes like it, too, with its stash of over a hundred premium tequilas, served straight up or mixed into fabulous fruity concoctions. But the only true measure of a tequila bar is the house margarita, where the mix is key. Too much sweet in the sweet-and-sour, and your marg tastes like soap. Too little, and your cheeks get glued together in a permanent pucker. Mezcal makes its mix daily from freshly squeezed Key and Persian limes; add in the Triple Sec and Silver Herradura -- the very generous house tequila -- and you've got one great marg. It's even better at happy hour, when a tall, tall glass runs only $3. Since the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every day of the week, there's plenty of time to order a burrito to soak up all that excess alcohol. And before you head for home, remember to check out the bao de caballeros, which is full of busty Mexican pinups.
What do you get when you combine seventeen liquors with a smidgen of water? At Mario's Double Daughters, it's called Succo Vaffanculodi Mario, which translates roughly into English as "Mario's go-fuck-yourself juice." While the super-strong recipe is a well-guarded secret, the bright-red concoction is on display front and center in this whimsical LoDo bar, mocking weak stomachs as it gurgles in a glowing brass-and-steel tank riveted behind the long bar. If you're smart enough to pair the potent cocktail with a slice of greasy pizza from next-door sibling Two-Fisted Mario's, you might not black out after two glasses. But don't count on it.

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