Best Bloody Mary Garnish 2015 | Wyman's No. 5 | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Eric Gruneisen

Best-known as a raucous spot for watching the Blackhawks or for legit Chicago-style deep-dish (cornmeal crust and all), Wyman's No. 5 scores on football Sundays with its Bloody Mary garnished with a White Castle slider. Channeling a few bars in Joliet, Illinois, where the owners grew up, the garnish is offered as a hangover helper to add some sustenance to your morning beverage. With no White Castle in Colorado, the source of these delectable little patties is a mystery we're not sure we want to solve. Just keep 'em coming.

At most Bloody Mary bars, you get to augment your drink with a few seasonings and some garnishes, then go on your not-so-very-merry way. But not at Punch Bowl Social. At this Bloody Mary bar to end all Bloody Mary bars, you can choose between five different tomato or tomatillo mixes from the Real Dill and Salty Iguana for a red or green base, then layer on the proteins, veggies and spices. Every garnish and accoutrement — from shrimp and jicama tossed in chile powder to a beautiful charcuterie platter with Tender Belly ham, salami and pepperoni — has been meticulously thought out. There are even three housemade spice mixes — Chinese five-spice, six-pepper and "mouth of the South" — that you can use to doctor your drink for a taste that's often imitated, never duplicated. A Bloody here is a whole meal in a glass.

Readers' choice: The Hornet

When a second Sassafras opened in Capitol Hill last year, in a spot already gifted with a liquor license, the owners didn't take their entrance into the brunch-cocktail game lightly. From neon-green zombie punches to more traditional Nola favorites like the Hurricane, the cocktails here are all to die for, but the real standouts are the four house-infused Bloody Marys. Each features a different tomato base with varying degrees of heat and a smattering of creative garnishes, whether you opt for the signature Sassafras, with a pickled quail egg; the BBQ, with pickled-pig's-feet vodka and bacon salt; or the Garden, with goat-cheese-stuffed peppers. The spiciest of the bunch is made with ghost chiles and pickled-pepper vodka (aptly named after the Voodoo Queen herself, Marie Laveau) and features an edible green-pepper voodoo doll that's almost too cute to eat. Fair warning, though: You'll probably want to call a cab home.

Happy hour is a beautiful thing. And nothing goes better with happy hour than sliders, which are filling but not too filling, with just enough protein and carbs to cushion the alcohol without ruining your dinner. The brains behind the Kitchen Next Door know this, which is why the community-hour menu — served daily from 3 to 6 p.m. — includes three versions for you to mix and match. In true Kitchen style, the cheeseburger slider is made of local beef, the slow-roasted pork is accented with salsa verde, and the vegetarian option is a cut above the rest — made not with brown rice and mushrooms, but ruby beets jazzed up with feta, balsamic onions and arugula. The only thing to say when your sliders arrive? "Cheers." And when they're gone? "Another round."

Open since 1966 in a part of the north side barely hanging on to its working-class roots in the face of gentrification, the pink-painted Rosa Mia Inn sits across from Lakeside Amusement Park and is almost as much of an institution. Even though ownership recently changed, little else about the bar has: There's nothing but Bud and Coors on draught, and during twin happy hours — from 10 a.m. to noon and 4 to 6 p.m. — the beer and wells are some of the city's cheapest. Cheap booze is always nice, but it's the loose, anything-can-happen vibe that puts the Rosa Mia in a different dive-bar category. The cheap liquor attracts regulars salty and sweet, and the jukebox is liable to start a hoedown. Add in some pinball and skill games, TVs for sports-watching and the collected atmosphere of decades of drinking, and the Rosa Mia Inn is home to one of the happiest happy hours around.

Like vampires and Lionel Richie, Vesper Lounge's happy hour is in its element after the sun goes down. A hip cocktail bar with the spirit of a grimy dive, Vesper offers bracing drinks from 11 p.m. to close Sunday through Thursday, after most spots have locked their doors. The thirst-quenchers on offer pair off two tipples for one price, named for the flop films of pop divas. Get a cosmo with a Lady in Pink shot (the "Swept Away") or a "Glitter," with a lemon-drop martini and a kamikaze shot. Before the kitchen closes at 11, you can order from a board of up-tempo bar food, like tasty little gyro and falafel sliders or pork-belly lettuce wraps (Vesper's harissa-dusted fries are a must for soaking up any excess booze). Rising from the grave of the Lancer Lounge, this happening spot will keep the party going all night long.

Readers' choice: Highland Tap & Burger

It's not every day that an afternoon happy hour can challenge your culinary boundaries — but Leña does just that every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m., by hopping the border past Mexico and well into Central and South America. The Colombian, Peruvian, Ecuadorean and other cuisines served at happy hour are old hat to those in the know, but they could be a revelation to South Broadway bar crawlers. Start with some llapingachos — cheese-packed potato cakes smeared with a spicy peanut sauce — which are at once familiar and excitingly different. And while you can find happy-hour tacos anywhere, succulent goat barbacoa and silky, tender bison short-rib tacos are singularly impressive. Cheap drafts, wells and wines round out the offerings. There are welcome little touches and twists even on this limited menu, making Leña's happy hour one of the most interesting ones out any time of the day.

Readers' choice: Highland Tap & Burger

Tony P's/Instagram

Happy hours in Denver are plentiful. To help Denverites get even happier, Tony P's Highland location changed the rules of the game and extended its happy hour to a "happier hour," offering discounted drinks and food every day, twice a day. As if $1 drafts of PBR and $5 meatball sliders — plus complimentary breadsticks with every purchase — weren't enough of a deal, Tony P's created a Happier Meal: For $8, you get a large slice of pizza with three toppings, a PBR and a premium well shot. The search for the best happy hour may never end, but the best happier hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night at Tony P's on West 32nd.

Joni Schrantz

Over the years, we've presented Frank Bonanno's flagship restaurant awards for everything from Best Fried Calves' Glands to Best Service to Best Dinner, Period. You'd think the Mizuna crew would be all about preserving the status quo by now. But you'd be wrong, as one look at the current wine list illustrates. Several months ago, after a revelation regarding Denver's dearth of traditional French fine-dining options, wine director Kelly Wooldridge decided to be the change he wished to see in the city and set about revamping the restaurant's entire program to showcase France almost exclusively — world-class Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône in particular. That might sound expensive, and it is. But it's also something that a dining scene of any standing should have. So kudos to Mizuna for stepping up to the plate (or the glass, as the case may be). Besides, it's not all grand cru glitz. From grower Champagnes and crémants to the whites of the Loire Valley to an extensive after-dinner selection, there's some seriously geeky stuff going on here.

Readers' choice: Frasca Food and Wine

Moschofilero. Aghiorghitiko. Mavrodaphne. Greek wine is worth getting into just for the sheer pleasure of rolling the grape names around on your tongue. But these days, thanks to a revitalized industry, it also happens to be a joy to drink — and in Denver, the place to do that is Axios. You want to visit the Mediterranean seashore in a single sip? Try Assyrtiko. Does a wine called "acid-black" live up to its name? Find out in a swallow of Xinomavro. What's it like to sip the same dessert wine that Cleopatra purportedly drank? End your meal with Commandaria and you'll know. And as for retsina, Greece's notorious pine-resinated wine? Order it with a dish of feta and olives and prepare to be astounded by just how bum its rap is.

Readers' choice: Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria

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