When seeking out happy hours, there are a few essential parameters that must be considered: 1) Does the happy hour include food, and how hungry am I? 2) Does happy hour extend past 6 p.m., and can I get out of work in time if it doesn't? 3) Are the specials lame or not lame? After all, I'm looking for more than just a buck off beers, but I might be willing to settle for weak deals if other logistics suit my needs: location, cute bartenders or sports ball-watching, for example.
Citizen Rail, with its stellar snack options and well-chosen lineup of beer, wine and cocktail offerings, applies the sort of attention and intention to the fine art of happy hour-ing that is so often lost on restaurants. The LoDo restaurant’s happy “hour” begins in the early afternoon, at 2:30 p.m., extending to the the ripe old hour of 6 p.m. — a time at which I can just squeeze in my order. The deals include a rotating list of three or four draft beers for $4; white, red and rosé house wines for $5; a selection of four craft cocktails coming in at a reasonable $7; and (my personal favorite) five drink-and-shot combos, including rosé + mezcal, stout + bourbon and IPA + rye, among others. Last week, the stout on offer was Great Divide’s Velvet Yeti on nitro, a perfect creamy snifter to get you in the mood for cooler fall weather. Meanwhile, CR’s Garden Gimlet (I added gin to the elegant cordial-based mocktail) and daiquiri were bright and punchy for those of us desperately clinging to summer.
Next we tackled the potato cake, which, if you take potatoes seriously (and we do), proved worthy with its crispy-fried but delicate outer layer like a luxurious kimono, giving way to a tender, well-salted interior. And while the caviar was mostly lost in the creamy depths of the crème fraîche, the juicy strips of smoky bacon and tart green apple provided ample taste and texture variety. I found myself combining and recombining the flavors into a seemingly infinite array of bites, each distinct in its own right.
By that point we were mostly satisfied and impressed. But primed with our second happy hour beverage, we found no issues polishing off a healthy serving of crunchy, salty taro chips and creamy accompaniments. The hummus, mild golden beet relish and creamy herb dip didn’t readily distinguish themselves, turning into a rather one-note chip-dip situation that was nonetheless satisfying.
All in all, it’s going to be difficult to find a more deliberate, more luxurious happy hour in Denver. One caution: If you’re like me and my crew, you’ll stroll out of the bar self-satisfied at your high-class resourcefulness, then, just out of the corner of your eye, you'll catch a glance of a table tucking into a few dry-aged New York strips and rib-eyes and wonder whether you might just have to come back for supper.
Drop in for happy hour at Citizen Rail at 1899 16th Street from 2:30 to 6 p.m. daily. Call 303-323-0017 or visit the restaurant's website for more details.