Best Dive Bar 2017 | Carioca Cafe | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin

Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We've lost many of this city's celebrated saloons over the past few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar, thanks to the neon outside — something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. For more than a century, this spot has held down the corner of Champa and 20th streets, serving drinks nineteen hours a day to an assortment of regulars, would-be Great American Novelists, hipsters, transients and rockers (during the Eisenhower era, it reportedly served something else in the game room, then a whorehouse); today the entertainment focuses more on the jukebox, live-music acts and endless inebriated conversations. The drinks are stiff, the bathrooms awful, and the atmosphere beyond compare. Leave the credit cards at home; this place is strictly cash and carry on.

Scott Lentz

For more than forty years, tipplers have gathered at the Lakeview Lounge on the last day of Daylight Saving Time to toast the sun as it rises over Sloan's Lake. From the well-worn bar, they have a great view of Denver — and just how much Denver is changing. Cranes now mark the downtown skyline to the east; to the south, development is exploding around the former St. Anthony Hospital. We have seen the future, and it's enough to drive us to drink. Fortunately, the Lakeview is there to serve.

Eric Gruneisen

The Welcome Inn also goes by the name New Welcome Inn, but there's nothing new about this bar that's been run by the same family for almost thirty years; the music is loud, the games popular, and the linoleum on the bar worn by generations of elbows. What's new is the area around the bar: This was once one of the darkest corners in Denver, but since the Blue Moon Brewing Company opened a 30,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant right across the street, it's become a clean and well-lighted place. Which means that plenty of developers have to be eyeing the prime corner occupied by the Welcome Inn. Enjoy the joint while you can.

Mark Antonation
Phil's Place is one of the neighborhood's last classic dive bars.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Phil's Place is a dive bar, even though it's certainly the most modest spot in this booming area of RiNo, across from both the Exdo Event Center and a new Chuburger. But Phil's Place long pre-dates those spots; Phil Garcia bought the Our Place bar before RiNo was even considered a neighborhood, then turned the game room into a kitchen for his mother, Junie, a legendary cook from the Bamboo Hut. She still turns out her Mexican specialties several days a week until the kitchen closes at 4 p.m.; Phil's father, Gary, is often behind the bar. And seated at the stools in front of that bar? Entertaining regulars who can tell you just how much this neighborhood has changed, and likely a few developers sniffing around this prime piece of property.

Oh Hey Creative

Denver isn't known for its late-night revelry, but RiNo stays active a little later than most neighborhoods, thanks to a hip, young demographic and a wide variety of options for bar and restaurant hopping. Cart-Driver, a wood-fired pizza joint wedged into a reclaimed shipping container, keeps the party going with a $5 menu (for both food and drinks) from 10 p.m. to midnight every night of the week. The selection's not huge, but a Daisy pizza (think Neapolitan Margherita) or some sardine toast will help soak up a perfect Manhattan, or you can go hipster with a shot of Fernet and a Prost pilsner. Twenty bucks will take you through the whole happy-hour menu before it's time to give up your seat and move on, or you can hang out over the pizzeria's $5 canned beers (priced that way whether it's happy hour or not), which include several local brews. Nighttime is the right time to land one of the best pizzas in town for less than half the standard price.

Readers' Choice: Steuben's

Erin Copeland

Happy hour is only happy if it's filled with cheap food and drinks, both of which are bountiful at Stout Street Social. Because of the spacious, eclectic eatery's location in the heart of downtown's convention and theater district, the menu offers all things for all people, including sushi, prime rib, bar snacks and raw oysters. While you peruse the happy-hour menu, order a $4 cocktail; there are several to choose from, including a classic martini made with gin or vodka. If you prefer beer or wine, don't miss the huge selection of $3 drafts (many made in Colorado) and wine pours ranging from $4 to $6. Now that the critical decision is out of the way, move on to a few oysters on the half shell, at a reasonable $1.95 each, or some zingy kimchi fries. Oh, and that prime rib? You can get your fill of beef with $3.95 sliders or an eight-ounce slab with potatoes and jus for $14.95. Your happy hour just got a lot more social!

Readers' Choice: Adelitas/Blue Island Oyster Bar (tie)

Mark Antonation

If, for whatever reason, you have decided to skip the alcohol but still desire a stiff drink, consider the expertly crafted Darjeeling Old Fashioned mocktail at Departure, a sleek new spot in Cherry Creek. Created by beverage director Brandon Wise, the basis of this drink is darjeeling tea brewed strong and spiked with turbinado sugar syrup, bitters and fresh lemon. Though the flavor leans more toward iced tea than bourbon, you won't be disappointed by the notes of floral fruits and bright citrus. As a bonus, it looks just like the classic cocktail, so no one will ever know you've decided to stay sober during happy hour.

First things first: The Way Back is not just a cocktail bar. Coming here and failing to try something from the menu of innovative dishes, all prepared in a food-truck kitchen, is to miss out on at least half of what this establishment has to offer. But you'll be forgiven if you didn't know that, because the food, formidable as it is, has been overshadowed by the Way Back's bar — a very glorious bar. Built with the same seasonal ethos as the kitchen, steeled by the bartending chops of the owners and staff, and dashed with considerable whimsy, the cocktail list veers wildly through smart variations on classics, utterly unusual concoctions and drinks that are just plain fun (frozen banana daiquiri, anyone?). Don't see anything you like? The bar will tailor a drink just for you, an enticing prospect when you're in the hands of this capable crew. And if you're not a spirits hound, the wine list is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Readers' Choice: Nocturne

Evan Semón

Grab a bar stool at the Englewood Grand and you'll immediately think we put this bare-bones but still inviting watering hole in the wrong category. "There's no way this place is new," you'll think. But after only a year in business, the Grand has made itself at home in downtown Englewood. You'll find no long-winded menus, no fussy small plates, no chemist's closet of beakers and dropper bottles to confound you. Owners Phil and Erika Zierke have built just a bar — a great bar — that welcomes all comers from the neighborhood and beyond. Phil (he's the one in the leather cowboy hat) can certainly impress with something shaken or stirred, or you can stick with a few locally made brews, a whiskey neat or a simple mixed drink — the kind that doesn't have a name. If you need anything else to keep you entertained, stick around for occasional bands, some guest grub or even a pillow fight.

Resolute Brewing Company Facebook

It's not easy for new breweries to get noticed in metro Denver — not when there are already 200 of them and more opening every month. So when a brewery does stand out, especially in the suburbs, it's worth taking note. Resolute Brewing had a buzz going even before it opened last July, but the place has lived up to the hype. Founded by a group of Columbine High grads, including head brewer Zac Rissmiller, Resolute boasts a semi-circular bar — meaning the bartenders can pour your beer faster — as well as a fifteen-barrel brewing system and a chill flagstone patio with a walkway down to the food-truck parking area. The menu includes a wide range of beers, many of them lower-alcohol styles, including the crowd-pleasing hefewiezen, a session IPA and a hoppy pilsner. But there are plenty of other styles, too, like Wee Heavy, a dopplebock and a robust porter. And you should be seeing more of these beers around soon: Resolute just signed on with a distributor in March.

Readers' Choice: Briar Common Brewery + Eatery

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