Best Non-Coffee Drinks at a Coffee Shop

Joe Maxx Coffee

Joe Maxx Coffee Co.
Courtesy Joe Maxx Coffee Co. Denver Facebook page

Are you meeting a friend for coffee, but aren't a fan of coffee itself? Lots of shops offer alternatives, such as various teas, chai and hot cocoa. But Joe Maxx, right in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe, goes a step further, using housemade syrups to liven up tea lattes. Lavender tea latte is made with Earl Grey and lavender syrup, rose tea latte with English breakfast and rose syrup. There's kombucha on tap, too, or you can just skip the drink altogether and order a slice of crepe pie, fancy toast or quiche.

ChoLon Central Park
Courtesy ChoLon

You'll do a double take when a steaming latte is set on your table at Concourse. You didn't ask for a coffee drink — and where's that bowl of soup you ordered? The surprise from chef Luke Bergman's kitchen is a savory, creamy vegetable soup topped with foam and served in a coffee cup. The particulars of the creation change with the seasons; a wintertime celery root soup with a cider-maple foam topper has morphed into a creamy spring-pea base with Parmesan foam. The trompe l'oeil is equally delightful either way — and Bergman's skill with surprising flavor combinations ensures that future iterations will continue to please.

Avelina
Courtesy Avelina Facebook page

Avelina is a stylish downtown grotto that does a fine job catering to the business set at lunch and dinner, with wood-fired specialties that skew Mediterranean. But when the weekend rolls around and this part of downtown gets to feeling a bit deserted, Avelina serves up a stellar brunch that should draw the crowds. On the sweet side, you'll find beignets with a creamy filling along with lovely scones, crepes and breakfast cakes. The savory slate is full of familiar favorites ranging from pork green chile to steak and eggs, but try the breakfast tacos or duck hash for something just a little different. The kicker, though, is the Bloody Mary bar, which lets you go to work on your own boozy breakfast concoction.

Readers' Choice: Low Country Kitchen

Barricuda's

On a bleary-eyed morning when you just need a little hair of the dog (but nothing too strong), stumble into Barricuda's, which starts serving bottomless mimosas at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends. For just $10, you can keep the bubbly and OJ coming until 3 p.m., as long as you spring for an entree to go with it. But you'll want something to settle your stomach anyway, and Barricuda's has just the right build-your-own omelet menu to fuel you for another long day. By the time you leave, you'll feel as good as new — or at least as good as you did yesterday.

Readers' Choice: The Lobby

Gaetano's Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik

Under owner Ron Robinson, this longtime north Denver eatery — once owned by the Smaldones, a famous Mob family, then by the Wynkoop Group, a family of a different sort — has become a neighborhood hangout, a go-to spot for people who want a satisfying Italian meal in an intimate spot that hints of history and decades of red sauce. But on Sunday mornings, Gaetano's has an offer you really can't refuse: the town's best Bloody Mary bar. Three different tomato blends are offered for the base — a house mix heavy with Italian seasonings, a Clamato version and one with V8 — which can be spiced up further with your choice from dozens of hot sauces and seasoning mixes, not to mention infused, spicy vodka. Adorn your drink with plenty of pickled vegetables, cheese, shrimp, jerky and maple-edged bacon, and you've got your morning meal in a glass.

Readers' Choice: Esters Neighborhood Pub

Bar Helix

Bar Helix owner Kendra Anderson, aka Swirl Girl Denver, has been educating the Mile High on the magic of food-and-wine pairings — and unsung wine varietals — on social media for years. But with Bar Helix, she's taking education to an experiential level. The sultry spot combines a high-echelon wine list with a top-notch cocktail program and drinking munchies that whimsically match highbrow to lowbrow flourishes — Pop Tarts with foie gras, for instance, and Pringles with caviar. Through her menu, Anderson touts a few pet causes: "soulmate" pairings of food and drink, Negronis, Champagne and wines from unusual regions. The quirky mix makes Bar Helix an easy stop for any drinker, and an exhilarating one for those looking to expand their palates and horizons.

Readers' Choice: The Brutal Poodle

Lakeview Lounge
Scott Lentz

The Lakeview Lounge is one of the few classic dives left in metro Denver. After getting its start as a dairy, then a drive-in, the building turned into a saloon in 1957, and through the years (and several name changes — it became the Lakeview in 1975), generations of elbows have made their marks in the worn linoleum on the bar; signs behind the bartender promise cheap drinks and no children after 7 p.m. There's no formal entertainment beyond a pinball machine and a classic jukebox, but twice a year the Lakeview is the site of a unique ritual: On the last day of Daylight Saving Time in November, and again on the first day of Daylight Saving Time in March, you can come in when the bar opens at 7 a.m., grab a drink, and consume it while you watch the sun pop through the distant Denver skyline to the east and reflect off the cranes that mark the construction now under way on West Colfax Avenue. But so far, that boom hasn't touched the Lakeview, a watering hole in the very best sense.

Readers' Choice: Don's Club Tavern

Union Lodge No. 1

What is a cocktail? Union Lodge No. 1 answers the question by stirring up drinks inspired by bartenders of the nineteenth century, before the art of mixing drinks was killed by Prohibition. Showmanship, knowledge and skill are all evident as this downtown bar's crew re-creates some of the classics, modernizes others and builds new libations based on traditional ingredients and techniques. Watch as a blue flame is juggled between two mugs to make a Red, White and Blue Blazer, or enjoy a rising column of foam as it defies gravity atop your Ramos Gin Fizz. Ultimately, though, a cocktail is a catalyst for socializing, and Union Lodge proves just the right spot for a gathering of friends or an intimate evening at the bar.

Readers' Choice: Williams & Graham

Adelitas Cocina y Cantina
Danielle Lirette

We've long lauded the Adelitas house margarita, proof positive that owner Brian Rossi is tequila- and mezcal-obsessed. But last year Rossi changed his house margarita formula dramatically, extending his high standards for tequila production to all the ingredients behind his bar. As a result, Adelitas ditched the processed sugar and agave syrup, which meant that the house marg and all of the other margaritas and cocktails served at Adelitas and sibling mezcal bar Palenque were fundamentally reimagined. The current iteration of the house marg at Adelitas blends Arette tequila blanco, a house simple syrup made from beet sugar and oranges, and an organic orange liqueur from Fruitlab into a beautiful drink, with the ideal sweet-tart balance to highlight the delicate Arette.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina

Cerebral Brewing
Danielle Lirette

Even with all of its breweries, Denver needed a place that was cultured but unpretentious, intellectual but neighborhood-focused, nerdy but not condescending, something...cerebral. Oh, and with fantastic beer. That's what it got with Cerebral Brewing, a mellow spot just off Colfax Avenue that is making some of Denver's best beer and presenting it in a fun, relaxed taproom. From its hop-bombs to its luscious stouts and sophisticated saisons, Cerebral has a menu that has been gathering national accolades from magazines, fellow breweries and craft-beer fans. But Cerebral and head brewer Sean Buchan are probably best known for their hazy, hoppy offerings. Although that style of beer is trendy right now, it was Cerebral's style from the get-go, when the brewery opened back in 2015. The flagship IPA, Rare Trait, is a luscious, tropical showpiece with very little bitterness and plenty of balance.

Readers' Choice: 105 West Brewing

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