Palace Arms
The Brown Palace
Unless you order very, very carefully, dinner at the Palace Arms may cost you the price of a decent used car -- but at least the macaroons brought with the bill are free. They also happen to be among the most delicious little cookies we've ever tasted, with a delicate texture and hints of honey, almond and sugar.
Restaurant Kevin Taylor is not only the finest expression of the classical talents of Denver's most prolific Big Name Chef, but it's provided some of our most surpassing moments of culinary bliss this past year. Not every one of the seasonal menus is perfect, but when this kitchen is on, it's brilliant, rising so far above Denver's culinary status quo that at times it can seem nearly ethereal.
There are places around town where one visit is enough. One meal off the menu and you know everything there is to know about the place. But there are other restaurants, other menus, that reveal themselves only over time. Chama is one of those restaurants, and the menu, designed by chef Sean Yontz, is one of those menus. On the surface, it seems so simple: a Meximerican three-a-day with tacos, burritos, piloncillo-spiked French toast and entrees heavy on the chiles. But after a few visits, you begin to see the careful balance of Mexican, New Mexican and nouvelle Latino influences at play here. Somewhere around meal six, you understand that with its deep tequila and mezcal list, friendly service and multi-layered menu, Chama is a truly excellent restaurant hidden in the body of a merely mediocre one. And after that? By the time you've been to Chama half a dozen times, you qualify as a restaurant regular -- and there's no question that friends of this house are treated like best friends indeed.
On the best nights at the original Brix, it's hard to tell who's an employee, who's a customer and who's a friend. Everyone just seems to wander around carrying drinks and plates, jumping from table to table doing shots and carrying on conversations about everything under the sun. Though located in Cherry Creek, Brix is about as anti-Creek as you can get, drawing a young, hip, moneyed group of weirdos, bar-hoppers and night creatures: A small-time weed dealer, a chef on the prowl or a recently paroled arsonist would get more action here than a high-powered attorney or black-jacket politico. The food is good, the drinks are strong, the vibe is cool -- but we come for the crowds, because you never know who's going to hit the Brix.
Bourbon Grill
Mark Antonation
Ah, the yin and yang, the sweet and sour of Colfax, Denver's most diverse and delicious street. At Bourbon Grill, you'll find everyone from hipsters to hookers, yuppies to immigrants, cops to East High students all congregating outside the little storefront to quench their common thirst with a big Styrofoam cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade.
City, O' City
Hunter Stevens
When City, O' City opened in the former home of WaterCourse, it quickly became the talk of the town because it reminded everyone of that one really great coffeehouse/bar in Williamsburg...or was it in the Mission? No, Amsterdam! It's easy to see why a space where espresso drinkers can mingle with port sippers and pint guzzlers might make you think of an establishment very far away from Denver. But that's only if you saddle our city with an inferiority complex. In fact, this "down-tempo coffeehouse and bar" fits right into its home on 13th Avenue, a latte's throw from the new wing of the Denver Art Museum. And in keeping with its cool setting and ambience, owner Dan Landes (who also owns WaterCourse, now relocated to 17th Avenue) has introduced a menu of veggie pizzas as well as performances by indie musicians and DJs. No coffeehouse is better geared to this city than City O' City.
Paris on the Platte Cafe & Bar
Cassandra Kotnik
Paris on the Platte has long been one of Denver's finest jolt joints -- and now it's among the few that can legally allow cigarettes, too, due to the Platte's designation as a tobacconist. As a result, Paris is a sturdy, smoky spot for the laptop set, with a menu full of caffeinated creations that make your eyes bug into the wee hours. For those who'd rather not ride out an all-night espresso buzz, there's the Paris Wine Bar right next door. Appealing and sophisticated, with a chill-out vibe and an unpretentious list of reasonably priced wines from around the world, Paris Wine Bar soothes the jitters as well as the soul -- and counteracts all the hyperactive hooey next door.
This is a town teeming with baristas: tattooed, spike-haired baristas; convenience-store baristas; baristas entombed in drive-up booths; smarmy Starbucks baristas; barely breathing baristas. But once in a while you come across someone who just understands the art of making espresso, and Doug Naiman has clearly bean there and done that. He patiently extracts his wicked brew from this Beauvallon bistro's sleek, shiny espresso machine (a fine, functional unit that's all work and no play) and doesn't hesitate to start over when the results are less than perfect.
Falling Rock Tap House could be the best beer joint not just in Denver, but in the entire beer-drinking world. Every fall, folks in town for the Great American Beer Festival make a pilgrimage to this LoDo institution to partake of a few of the more than seventy beers on tap -- all craft brewed, "no contract brews or megaswill." And countless more varieties are available by the bottle, from the most obvious Colorado choices to the most obscure Austrian offerings. With expansive kitchen hours and effusive employees, Falling Rock is a great joint to fall into.
Great Divide Brewing Co.
Eric Gruneisen
Great minds drink alike: That's the slogan of the Great Divide Brewing Company. We'll tap into that sentiment -- and there's no better place to do so than in the Great Divide Tap Room, a cool new space carved into the Ballpark neighborhood brewery. Sitting and swilling in this cozy, clubby nook, you can sample from the eight taps dispensing Great Divide's award-winning craft beers while watching those beers being produced in the brewery itself. Bottoms up.

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