It takes all kinds of bars to satisfy Denver's thirst for all things boozy. Some people are content with a gritty dive bar with few choices but lots of familiar faces, while others want serious bartenders who mix serious drinks. Whether you like bright and sunny or dark and stylish, this year's new watering holes gave you plenty of choices. Here are the ten best bars to open in 2015 in Denver, in chronological order of opening date.
10) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
2907 Huron Street
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is part of the Tavern Hospitality Group, known more for swooping into already established neighborhoods with a familiar and comfortable brand. But this one's a little different. First, its Prospect Park environs make it feel like a bit of a secret spot, somewhere you can take your suburban buddies to impress them with your knowledge of every nook and cranny of Denver's neighborhoods. Second, the bar feels a little more upscale than typical sports bars — so leave the cargo shorts at home and don't be afraid of some of the smart menu offerings. And, of course, extra points are awarded for an establishment that's ballsy enough to call itself WTF.
1330 27th Street
Nocturne is certainly more than a bar; a constantly evolving menu meant to pair with live jazz keeps the reservation list full in the dining room, and the kitchen has recently added larger entrees from new executive chef Greg Weadick (who started as sous chef when Nocturne opened last spring) to supplement the tasting menus. But an excellent cocktail program, including spot-on classics (like perfect martinis poured at half-price during happy hour), bolsters a creative wine list from co-owner/sommelier Scott Mattson. A seat at the swank bar with a five-piece band or a torch-song crooner in the background pulls you out of the present and sets you down in a different era — when jazz was a major part of the neighborhood vibe.
8) Union Lodge No. 1
1543 Champa Street
Cocktail-mixing is a form of entertainment at Union Lodge, which opened in a compact space on Champa Street last summer. Choose from a big book of pre-Prohibition libations or just ask for something you like, and the bartenders will do their best to make you happy. While bowties and vests may come across as hipster, the Union crew isn't pretentious or aloof. Instead, they take their drinks seriously but love to talk booze — or any other subject that comes up. For an added dose of drama, order the Red, White and Blue Blazer and watch as your barman throws fire from mug to mug before serving up a hot and potent drink.
7) Brik on York
2223 East Colfax Avenue
Live music, wood-fired pizza and a wine passport that allows guests to travel through the world's great grape-growing regions are part of what makes Brik a top-notch wine bar. But it's the low-key and friendly neighborhood vibe nurtured by owner Travis Gee that makes the place special. Whether you drop in for happy hour or grab a seat at the bar for a late night of sipping, you'll feel like part of a community where regular customers include artists (whose work you may see on the walls), local residents and Colfax denizens. A full liquor license means you don't have to stick to wine, but get Gee started in a conversation about his international wine travels and you'll soon be talked into something special — and reasonably priced. And high-tech serving equipment means that the bar occasionally dips into special selections by the glass without giving you the sticker-shock of investing in a whole bottle.
6) Bar Fausto
3126 Larimer Street
The cocktails at Bar Fausto don't have clever names; instead, they're numbered for easy ordering. Yes, you'll find obscure European and American spirits listed among the ingredients, but somehow everything stays low-key and relaxed, where beverages don't come with a minutes-long lecture on craftsmanship. Owners Koan Goedman and Jonathan Power (from Huckleberry Roasters and the Populist, respectively) know what makes the neighborhood tick, so Fausto is equal parts fashionable, DIY and gritty. And while there's not a full kitchen, chef Jared Brant pulls off a stellar list of small plates, bruschettas and ficelle (think skinny French bread) sandwiches to accompany the spirits.
Keep reading for five more of the ten best new bars to open in 2015.
5) Finn's Manor
2927 Larimer Street
When Finn's Manor opened at the end of summer on Larimer Street, the main draw was the expansive outdoor space devoted to food-truck pads where customers could linger over drinks and street food in the waning warm days. Those days will return, but in the meantime the colder weather gives us chance to explore the indoor bar, built from the shell of a brick house that was once part of an auto salvage yard. If you like whiskey (or whisky), a chat with co-owner and barman Robert Sickler will set you on the right path through his extensive collection. His partners Noah Price and Thomas Taylor provide additional hospitality and rare international beers on tap.
4) Occidental Bar
1950 West 32nd Avenue
What could have been nothing more than a waiting room for Williams & Graham became a draw in its own right when barman Sean Kenyon opened the Occidental next door to his world-famous cocktail salon. The new bar offers simpler cocktails at a lower price point as well as more beer — by the bottle, can or pint — than W & G, along with a scattering of punk-rock references and CBGBs-era decor. A short menu of bar-food classics helps soak up the booze and a wooden deck in the back adds to the feeling that you're just hanging out at Kenyon's pad listening to mix tapes.
3) Recess Beer Garden
2715 17th Street
Just down the alley from the Occidental's back deck, Recess is LoHi's new back yard. Beer is the focus here, with a tap list split evenly between Colorado and just about everywhere else. There's nothing going on here that could be accused of being sophisticated, just outdoor games under the shade trees, kill-the-keg nights and roast-your-own s'mores with cheap shots of Jameson's. Food comes in grilled, smoked or fried form, and there's a mac-and-cheese menu with a dozen or so add-ins. Still, with the demographics skewing younger, it's exactly what the neighborhood needed.
2) Globe Hall
4483 Logan Street
Jeff Cornelius purchased a run-down dive bar — the Sidewinder in Globeville — and turned it into exactly what the building was calling out for: a slightly less run-down dive bar. But he also added a Texas-sized smoker out back and is already on track to become a top contender in Denver's growing barbecue scene. The food service is in keeping with the setting; brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken are served atop butcher paper on cafeteria trays with slices of white bread and simple picnic-style sides. In the dance hall next door (which doubles as the dining area), the sounds of live blues, Tejano and bluegrass can be heard on weekends for minimal cover. In a space that's been a gathering spot for drinkers for more than a century, Globe Hall stays true to its roots while offering the neighborhood something new.
1) Rhein Haus
1415 Market Street
A Seattle restaurant team took over the former Old Chicago space on Market Street and built it out into an impressive, two-story homage to a German beer hall. There's enough square footage to include indoor bocce courts on both floors along with impressive, mahogany-stained bars and Bavarian hunting decor. While you can hoist a stein for ein prosit, there's also plenty of traditional German fare to soak up the suds.