Wynkoop Brewing Company
Wynkoop Brewing
When the Wynkoop Brewing Co. opened almost twenty years ago in LoDo, there was no Coors Field, no sports bar every few steps, no brewpub every few steps past that. The Wynkoop was a pioneer not just in the microbrew industry, but also in this neighborhood, and for too many years, it's been taken for granted. But no more. Lately we've found ourselves heading to the Wynkoop on all sorts of occasions: when we needed a night out of the house, a place to watch the game, a spot to hold a last-minute business meeting, or just a bar stool where we could kick back with a couple pints of serious home brew. With recent improvements in service and an overhaul of the kitchen's down-to-earth menu of American classics (shepherd's pie, burgers, steaks, vegetarian green chile, even nachos), the Wynkoop once again rises to the top -- which is probably where it belonged all along.
A longtime resident of Highland, former Wynkoop brewer Kyle Carstens thought the area was perfect for a brewpub -- but it took him years to finally get his North Star brewpub up and running. Still, there's no denying that this place was worth the wait. Not surprisingly, the home brews are great -- but the ambience of the cozy, spring-green-painted spot is also unbeatable. Order up some tater tots, grab a fresh pint of the Pic's Pale Ale, and toast North Star's very bright future.
Palace Arms
The Brown Palace
The regular wine list offered to diners at the Palace Arms is as dense and heavy as a Leon Uris novel, containing both the house's most easily moved everyday bottles and a selection of the treasures kept buried in the basement. The full list is more like the Bible, written in large print on heavy-bond paper. For serious oenophiles only, it's a daunting tome that contains within its pages the very best of the vintner's craft and hints of the formidable cellar below filled with once-in-a-lifetime bottles. But even beyond depth and price, the Palace Arms has a real asset in staffers who aren't shy about sharing knowledge and are admirable in their restraint, allowing each table to define its own interest and then moving on from there. So can you get a thousand-dollar bottle of Chteau de Blah Blah here? Absolutely. But you can also get a forty-dollar bottle of something young and Spanish and walk away just as pleased (and drunk).
Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe
If you know almost nothing about wine, can't speak French and couldn't care less about growing region, age, legs, microclimatology or varietals but still don't want to make a fool out of yourself by accidentally ordering the French equivalent of a bottle of Mad Dog to go with your cassoulet, Z Cuisine has the solution. On the wall near the bar is a chalkboard that lists the wine of the day. It's never terribly expensive, usually interesting in some way you probably won't understand, and can be ordered simply by pointing -- which you should do with a certain attitude of world-weary lan. Z Cuisine's vin de la maison offers an easy, eminently drinkable choice that saves you from having to peruse the list and pretend you know what you're looking at.
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
It's the tajut -- the sample, the half-glass of vin ordinaire -- that makes Frasca a must-stop destination for those still trying to find their way in the wine world. But Frasca takes a good idea several steps better. The impressively long list of tajuts -- organized by Certified Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and his floor staff -- was put together not to dispose of unwanted bottles, but to introduce people to a world of sometimes devastatingly good wines that they might not try if forced to commit to a whole bottle, or even just a whole glass. The list (like Frasca's menu) is ever-changing as new cases come in and new wonders are discovered, but we guarantee that what you drink will be interesting and leave you wanting to sample, drink and learn more.
Mezcal
Danielle Lirette
On the island in the middle of Mezcal's wraparound bar are dozens and dozens of bottles of tequila and mezcal -- from the cheapest, greasy-yellow-death variety up through the finest, most artisanal small-batch liquors ever to come out of Mexico. Then there's the small fridge mounted in the back wall, where the best of the best, the house's favorites, are kept. And beyond that, the owners and bartenders always seem to have some super-extra-special secret stash of imported bottles tucked away that they'll pull out and pour when the mood strikes to turn someone on to something that'll totally blow his mind. Without a doubt, the Del Maguey "Pechuga" (the only mezcal made with a raw chicken in every barrel) is the best neat shot in the house, but we could easily spend the next ten years bellied up to Mezcal's bar, drinking and trying to decide on what's second best. Who's coming with us?
Mezcal
Danielle Lirette
We tried. While our tequila-snob friends sipped at their Coin-style marg, we knocked back every house margarita we could find. We sucked down so many that our teeth started squeaking from all the sweet and sour. And again and again, we kept coming back to those palate-cleansing house margs mixed up at Mezcal. Rather than try to cover up a bad tequila with a worse mix, Mezcal starts with fresh-squeezed juice, pours in (generously) 100 percent agave 30-30 Blanco, then adds a spritz of carbonation to brighten the drink. Served in a pint glass, it's a real deal at happy hour, when it costs only $4, but even at the standard $6, it's the best margarita in town.
Vita Restaurant
Vita is proof that there's life after death -- because this new Italian restaurant in part of the old Olinger Mortuary space is very lively indeed. Part of that is due to the interesting menu, part to the chic interior -- and a lot to the very impressive cocktail menu that specializes in mixing fresh ingredients in very fresh ways. Basil gimlet, anyone? For a truly stirring experience, sip your drink at the indoor/outdoor patio bar.
Gaetano's Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik
Though now a member of the Wynkoop family of bars and restaurants, this old-time neighborhood Italian joint and former Mob bar still has a couple things going for it. First, the atmosphere (bulletproof front door, basement vault, Frank-and-Dino-at-the-Copa decor) and fifty-odd years of history at Gaetano's can't be bought, but must be earned. And second, the tenders working behind the comfortable, dark bar (perfect for daytime drinking) know how to assemble those classic cocktails that never go out of style. Want a Sidecar? A perfect gin gimlet? Maybe a Gibson or a tall Collins is more your style. Whatever your cocktail of choice, Gaetano's is the best spot in Denver to get it made the way it should be made -- and the perfect place to drink it.
Parallel Seventeen
At Parallel 17, there are many good things to eat. There are always pretty things to look at. And there are several fine things to drink. But the one that counts is the Vietnamese coffee martini. Of course, this is not a true martini (that can only be one thing -- gin, gin, gin and an olive), but it is still an amazing drink, as addictive as crack cocaine, made of chilled Vietnamese coffee, vanilla Stoli, Kahla and a single dot of sweetened condensed milk lurking in the hollow where stem meets glass. Never again will we so quickly dismiss as knee-jerk heresy those terrible, juvenile and self-indulgent cocktails that today are poured as proxy to James Bond's favorite recreational indulgence. No, from now on we'll try one first -- and then we'll make fun of it. Unless it rises to the level of Parallel 17's Vietnamese coffee martini, in which case we'll give it an award.

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