It doesn't take much to get thirsty Denverites out for happy hour after the 5 p.m. whistle blows. But for the next few months, bright sun and rising temperatures will bring many more out to crowd the city's patios and partake in drink and dish discounts. But a good summer happy hour is about more than a nice patio and access to fresh air; it's about a place that has fresh, seasonal cuisine, refreshing cocktails — or at least a cheap draft — to cool off with, and good vibes to the core. Here are the ten best happy hours, in alphabetical order, for whiling away summer afternoons or late nights.
2500 Larimer Street
The corrugated steel of Kelly Whitacre's much-lauded pizzeria doesn't offer much shelter for those seeking relief from the red-hot sidewalks of RiNo. But it's well worth braving the heat to sample the unique vibe and vivacious vittles on offer when the sun dips lower from 3 to 6 p.m., and on a mild night from 10 p.m. to midnight. Pack your group into the dining room or perch on the patio for afternoon snacks like oysters from the raw bar up front or mega-rich mousses with oven-fresh focaccia. Prosecco on tap, "messed-up" negronis and Aperol spritzes are fine accompaniments, all for $5. Late-night brings even more delights, with amaro and pilsner boilermakers, more liver mousse, the funky mortadella hot dog, and the best drunk-and-sweaty meal you'll find on this block: an exquisite margherita pizza, plus soft serve gelato with a bottle of digestive Underberg bitters jammed inside it ($5 each).
9. Highland Tap & Burger
2219 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211
A perennial readers' choice in our Best of Denver awards, Highland Tap is the place to be when you need a dose of summer sports and something more substantial than microwaved mozzarella sticks. Happy hour here runs Monday through Friday, 3 to 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to close each day, and you'll find fine patio drinks like the LoHi rum punch or a Moscow Mule with Spring 44 vodka for $5 each, plus Odell, Avery or Great Divide drafts for $3 — some of the best deals to be found in this lowest of Highlands. Fries ($4) and sliders ($2.50 each) will power you through the NBA Finals, but there are also Puerto Rican-style tostones ($5) and a sharable plate of stuffed piquillo peppers ($7) with chimichurri providing unique flavors. After 10 p.m., check out the fantastic burger-and-fries deal for $8.50 and $5 bowls of green chile.
8. The Hornet
76 North Broadway
If the heat coming off the sidewalk makes you want to shimmy into something sexy and get the party going something fierce, ain't nothing hotter than South Broadway. And few happy hours on this stretch of blacktop are better for drinking and noshing than the Hornet. In the afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m. and at night from 11 to close daily, gulp down $4 drafts, house wines and well cocktails. There's an impressive selection of eats available at both times, from mandatory drinking snacks like French fries ($3) and chicken nachos ($6) to quick meals like a Cuban sandwich ($6) or a $5 burger. And if the interior is too sweaty and crowded, check out the hidden back patio for semi-fresh air and a snapshot of the nightlife passing by.
7. Next Door Union Station
1701 Wynkoop St
Union Station is the new epicenter of LoDo nightlife — the classy kind, not the $50 blazer kind. The accessible and delicious happy hour at Next Door, served daily from 3 to 6 p.m., is an easy way to get in on the action as the station's halls get more and more crowded this season. Bring the kids — or at least one person you like — to share bacon-wrapped dates ($4), local beef meatballs & polenta ($5) and even addictive kale chips ($5), then order some cheeseburger sliders ($5) for yourself. The best things in life are fried, of course, so don't miss the signature salt-and-pepper calamari ($5), and especially the crispy garlic smashed potatoes ($5), which can single-handedly make your day. Simple $5 cocktails and sangria are best enjoyed on the shady patio up against Union Station's historic walls.
6. Milk & Honey
1414 Larimer St
Hiding downtown hot spots like Milk & Honey and Bistro Vendôme, Larimer Square's "secret garden" ain't much of a secret. But the leafy, secluded corner feels far away from the hustle and fumes of Larimer. At Milk & Honey's sunken patio, you'll get doses of Vitamin D and peace along with your Mai Tai or lavender lemonade ($6). If you're looking for a light snack with your drinks, the cheese or salumi plates ($9/$10) will take care of your evening. Something more substantial? Crispy polenta ($5) with turmeric aioli and pepper-spiced pork ribs ($5) are there for you, plus a $9 Niman Ranch burger. And you should — nay, need to — stay for dessert.
Keep reading for five more top happy hours for summer bites and booze...