The Nickel lives at the foot of the Tramway Building on 14th Street, roosting in a place with more than a century of rich history. The building was erected in 1911, where the former home of territorial governor John Evans once stood, and soon became the heart of the city's streetcar system. (It also housed much of CU Denver's classrooms when it was just a disempowered offshoot of CU.) Inside, you can sit at the Barrel Bar and marinate alongside the spirits of generation after generation of Denverites. Or you can just drink a beer at Social Hour, offered here daily from 4 to 6 p.m. You'll have a fine time either way.
Part of the Hotel Teatro, the Nickel has a reputation as one of the city's better hotel restaurants. True, while you'll pay hotel prices for meals outside of happy hour, the board by executive chef Chris Thompson and company never condescends to picky guests. More than room-service fodder, it's bursting with Colorado farms and producers and intriguing outliers like wood-fired octopus. And having recently celebrated its first anniversary, the Nickel feels more self-assured than ever. However, the pint-sized happy-hour menu has been through a few retoolings: The Nickel previously offered a $5-by-$5 happy-hour special with drinks and charcuterie bites for a Lincoln each. With differently priced wines, beers, cocktails and four appetizers, the selection is now a bit more conventional — probably for the best.
Happy hour at the bar and on the patio offers a couple of signature drinks for $7 (normally $12), like the barrel-aged Boulevardier, a Negroni made with cask-steeped Breckenridge Bourbon instead of gin. This is an old-school beverage, infused with the respect it deserves. Half a century ago, downtown denizens preferred the 25-cent drafts at the Frontier Hotel across the street, but this cocktail at least feels historically important. You can also grab a $5 glass of normally pricey Infinite Monkey Theorem rosé.
The quartet of small plates offers more than what a first glance suggests. Or, as in the case of the meatball tartine ($6), more is less is more. Chopped-up meatballs on a hunk of bread with melted provolone? It seems like nothing more than shit-on-a-shingle, but these meatballs are braised in San Marzano tomatoes and oregano, and the bread is from the dependable Grateful Bread Company. As the slice soaks up the crimson juice, so does it soak up whatever tipple you're pounding alongside. At this point, every seat at the bar becomes occupied by men representing more than a handful of countries and accents, all in the uniform of business travel. The ebb and flow of patrons here isn't affected by happy hour as much as the schedule of the latest conference down the street.
It would take nothing less than a Norse god to rival the sublime happy-hour tater tots at the Nordic-inflected Trillium The Nickel belongs to an entirely different pantheon. These tots ($6) look more like hush puppies, with the interior consistency of mashed potatoes — plus flecks of charcuterie stuffed inside as a bonus. Assorted pig bits don't make up for the starchy blandness, but the smear of togarashi spiced remoulade certainly does. Southern comfort by way of Tokyo, the fragrantly seasoned condiment should be served with everything at the Nickel that's remotely sinful.
You can't ride a streetcar for five cents anymore, but Social Hour is a refreshingly affordable taste from one of LoDo's signature restaurants, already making its own kind of history.
Perfect for: If you're a guest at the Hotel Teatro, you can order off a slimmed-down menu that still offers a memorable sample of Colorado cuisine. It won't be cheap, but I can imagine a 7X Ranch Wagyu burger with bone marrow-onion jam and billionaire's bacon ($18, +$2.50 bacon) will be a highlight of your Mile High visit.
Don't Miss: The Nickel is serious about charcuterie, with familiar salumi cuts (jamon Iberico, prosciutto di Parma) and cheeses (Humboldt Fog, Ossau Iraty) fulfilled — and occasionally made — by local outfits like Western Daughters and Marczyk, always presented with grace.