Best Dive-Bar Happy Hour 2015 | Rosa Mia Inn | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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

Between Frasca and Flagstaff House, Black Cat and Basta, Boulder sets the bar for wine programs dauntingly high — but PMG is clearing it with ease. In the former Beehive space off the Pearl Street Mall, Emily Gold—a onetime employee of famed importer Kermit Lynch—has carved out a literal and figurative niche for enophiles with a taste for old-world tradition and terroir. Her tightly focused, ever-changing list puts the spotlight on Europe's so-called boutique producers — those small family estates making wines of uncompromising quality in generally minuscule quantities, be it some idiosyncratic Northern Italian sparkler or a rarity from Corsica. But no less impressive than Gold's discriminating taste is her sensitivity to price: She packs a wide range of options into that single-page frame, including steals and splurges alike. That's especially important given how heavily the list is weighted toward bottles, as a means of ensuring that you really get to know the wine you order — along with the person you're sharing it with. Complemented by Salvatore Proia's lively Mediterranean plates, this list is the linchpin of what's turning out to be a truly special place.

Best Wine List for a Bar That's Not a Wine Bar

RiNo Yacht Club

From emerging regions such as Lazio and the Languedoc to little-known indigenous grapes like Ruché and Romorantin to sparkling reds and the savoriest sherries, the Source's island bar may be the coolest place at which to explore the world of wine right now — which shouldn't come as any surprise to fans of the Proper Pour, a liquor store just steps away. The couple behind both projects, McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright, are admirably disinclined to dumb anything down for timid tastes: They source, stock and serve what they like to drink. This is not to say that RiNo Yacht Club's MO is snobbery. On the contrary, the staff is all about pressure-free encouragement: Between the precise tasting notes they provide for each wine and the pleasure they take in offering sample pours and flights, even the most experiment-averse are sure to leave here with their vinous horizons at least slightly expanded.

Danielle Lirette

Stuart Jensen brought years of cooking experience to his latest role as bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provision, with all that time in kitchens shaping his approach to creating cocktails. The Brom Bones, for example, one in a series of Jensen's steamed cocktails, is prepared in much the same way as the jams and preserves available for sale in Mercantile's marketplace. In a tiny, four-ounce Mason jar, Jensen combines whiskey, maple syrup, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns, orange peels and Angostura bitters. He steams fifty jars at a time at 212 degrees for exactly two minutes. Order one, and the (cooled) jar arrives with a screened lid; you pour it over ice, and the solids remain. The steaming infuses the flavors together, creating a stunning winter cocktail.

Former Future had a bumpy landing when it opened in February 2014, running out of beer immediately and limiting its hours. But the brewery, helmed by the adorable James and Sarah Howat, has soared ever since. Based on a steampunk-like historical-futuristic theme, Former Future pours an eclectic lineup of beers — everything from a pre-Prohibition-style cream ale and a sour red to a salted-caramel porter and a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout — that you can drink at the bar, which is made from the wing of a Cessna airplane. The experience is deepened by the Howats' ever-present elegance behind that bar and other well-thought-out design touches, such as lights made from old whiskey barrels and runway lights, barbershop-style bar chairs and tabletop terrariums. In October, the brewery won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival for a beer that it spontaneously fermented on its roof. Look for more leaps forward into the past this year.

Readers' choice: Joyride Brewing Company

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