November 22, 2021

Cold beers, colorful cocktails and the comfort of bellying up to the bar are on tap at these spots that define Denver's drinking scene.

Denver’s a drinking town, built on beer and filled to the brim with beloved dives, craft-cocktail havens and everything in between. We go to bars to escape, to celebrate with friends and to make friends with strangers. And so once again, we’re celebrating the saloons of the city with “Drink Here.” These are the 100 local bars we can’t live without, where the booze flows as freely as the conversation and the blurry nights become the best memories. - By Molly Martin

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

12 Volt Tavern

12 Volt Tavern
Molly Martin
Just when you think Olde Town Arvada might be turning a little too precious, you stumble into the dark and down-home 12 Volt Tavern, an old dive that harks back to the days when factory workers would stop in for a shot before heading home. Today this is a true rock-and-roll joint, with a good jukebox, cold beer, drink specials, friendly pool games, live music, theme nights...and better bathrooms than you might expect. Stop in for a jolt.
7514 Grandview Ave., Arvada, 80003

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The 1UP Arcade Bar - Colfax

The 1UP Arcade Bar - Colfax
The 1UP has branched out to three locations in the Denver area, but it's the Colfax Avenue location that's closest to our circuit boards. Sure, the longtimers wax poetic about the days when the 1UP hosted live music — and they're right — but we dare you to find a better place for cheap suds, pinball and classic vidya games in Denver. $2 cans of beer? Check. The Simpsons arcade game and NBA Jam? Check. Pinball games spanning the 1980s to present day? Check. Put a few dollars into the quarter machine, try to reach a high score over some Tecates, and keep the change, ya filthy animal. You'll be surprised at how little you spent.
717 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Ace-Hi Tavern

Ace-Hi Tavern
Since alcohol put Golden on the map, it’s not surprising that one of the area’s best dive bars is located in this town. Bar fans have been living it up at the Ace-Hi since Leo Stillman purchased the old Opera House restaurant on historic Washington Avenue and opened the bar back in 1961. Leo’s son, Sid Stillman, eventually took over, and today it’s run by Leo’s grandson, Mike Stillman. The Ace-Hi is still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors Brewing plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students recovering from a tough day of classes. ($)
1216 Washington Ave., Golden, 80401

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Adrift

Adrift
Molly Martin
Between the ’60s and the ’80s, Denver had a fairly vital tiki scene, thanks to Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber. But this city’s tiki action was largely extinguished decades ago — until Adrift turned a 2,200-square-foot space on South Broadway into an island retreat in 2012. While the ownership has changed in the intervening years and a few other tiki spots have opened, Adrift’s dedication to Polynesian kitsch has never waned. Paying homage to the thatch-roofed hooch huts of yore, it specializes in modern and classic tiki cocktails as well as Prohibition-era tropical drinks and tasty tropical tidbits. ($$)
218 S. Broadway, Denver, 80209

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

American Bonded

American Bonded
Molly Martin
With cocktail heavyweights Sean Kenyon (of Williams & Graham) and Lisa Vedovelli and Justin Anthony (of the Matchbox) behind this bar, it’s no surprise that it’s become a go-to since opening in 2018. The recipe for success here is simple: high-quality, affordable cocktails, including one of the best Old Fashioneds in town, combined with a no-frills atmosphere. Plus you can nosh on bites like pizza hot pockets made with puff pastry and fried pickles from T.S.R., which serves food out of the kitchen. The space also boasts a rooftop patio overlooking all the action on Larimer Street below. ($$)
2706 Larimer St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Awake

Awake
Courtesy of Awake
A bar without booze? That’s exactly what Denver got when Awake debuted in May 2021. The location started as a zero-proof bottle shop, but is now a place to gather, socialize and toast with friends, minus the alcohol and plus a lot more clear memories. And the drinks aren’t boring, either, thanks to the growing number of booze-free spirits, wines and other beverages on the market. Cocktail staples like mimosas, Old Fashioneds, Negronis and more are all on offer, alongside a full list of N/A spirits, beer, cordials and aperitifs.
2240 Clay St., Denver, 80211

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Badger's Pub

Badger's Pub
Opening a Wisconsin-themed bar in Colorado isn’t necessarily a bad ploy if you want an instant customer base; after all, Great Lakes transplants just might outnumber Denver natives in hip neighborhoods like Baker. But you don’t have to like cheese curds or Old Milwaukee to have a good time at Badger’s, which replaced the aging Brown Barrel Tavern a decade ago. We’re fans of the cheap drinks and conversation; beer-and-shot specials go a long way toward drowning out the Packers chatter.
76 S. Broadway, Denver, 80209

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Bannock Street Garage

Bannock Street Garage
In 2004, this former Volkswagen shop was refitted as a bar with a massive garage door at the front, cement floors and a large, open patio. Since then, its divey vibes have made it a neighborhood favorite where crowds gather for First Friday. Whether you shoot a game of pool or play darts, or just settle in at the bar or a heated table out back for a bucket of Montuckys, this is the kind of low-key standby where you’ll quickly become a regular.
1015 Bannock St., Denver, 80204

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Blake Street Tavern

Blake Street Tavern
Just two blocks from Coors Field, Blake Street Tavern epitomizes the sports-bar model. Head here for a meetup before a Rockies game, a marathon televised sports session or just a night of drinks over billiards, shuffleboard, Skee-Ball or Golden Tee. With tons of specials every day, this place is a bargain for afternoon or late-night revelry, and the food is far better than your standard tavern fare. However you plan your visit, mark a night at Blake Street in the win column. ($$)
2301 Blake St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Bowman’s Vinyl & Lounge

Bowman’s Vinyl & Lounge
Molly Martin
Darin Bowman worked as a bartender at the Park Tavern for more than a dozen years and sang for local punk band Dr. Neptune in the ’90s, so he knows that booze and music go hand in hand. He brought the two together under one roof when he opened Bowman’s Vinyl Lounge in the former Tavern 13 spot in 2015. The bar and record store, which carries a decent selection of new and used vinyl, also occasionally hosts live music in a cozy grotto beyond the main bar. Bowman’s feels a little beatnik, a little bohemian, and it’s just right for an evening out on South Broadway. ($$)
1312 S. Broadway, Denver, 80210

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Brewery Bar II

Brewery Bar II
Kenzie Bruce
Long before there were craft brewpubs in every neighborhood — during the Eisenhower administration, in fact — the original Brewery Bar opened in the old Tivoli brewery. It moved to its Kalamath location while Nixon was still in office (hence the II in the name). Today, if you’ve got a hankering for honest Den-Mex cuisine, you’ll be right at home among the road crews, maudlin-drunk insurance salesmen and local armchair quarterbacks who frequent Brew II, drinking Tinys and ordering some of the finest crispy chiles rellenos in town. ($)
150 Kalamath St., Denver, 80223

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The British Bulldog

The British Bulldog
Teal Nipp
The Bulldog’s dark and shadowy space actually looks and feels like an Old English pub — not a nightclub or a cocktail lounge or a fern bar or even the Punch Bowl, which once occupied this spot. It’s a double-barreled shotgun of a room with the long oak bar on one side and rickety, high-backed wooden booths on the other that are devilishly uncomfortable until you get a couple of drinks in you. Out front, there’s a covered patio just big enough for six smokers to stand without bumping elbows. From the kitchen come a variety of simple pub dishes, livened up here and there with hints of Indian and Pakistani cuisine. ($$)
2052 Stout St., Denver, 80205

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The Broken Cage

The Broken Cage
Courtesy of The Broken Cage
In January 2020, Layla Friend opened the Denver location of the Broken Cage with help from her former employers at the original in Orlando. The narrow, plant-strewn space is a cozy escape for sipping cocktails that go heavy on floral and herbaceous notes. Unlike the Florida location, this version of the Broken Cage serves a small menu of snacks so you can nosh on Caesar salad and garlicky fries while you go for round two.
2420 17th St., Denver, 80202

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The Brutal Poodle

The Brutal Poodle
Courtesy The Brutal Poodle Facebook page
How do poodles and heavy metal mesh? The unlikely combo somehow works at the Brutal Poodle, opened in early 2018 by Wes Moralez, Ryan Oakes and David “Yosh” Yoshikawa, members of Denver band Son Survivor. Beyond the goofy, dog-themed art on the walls and the (just loud enough) tracks pumping from the sound system, good food and a classic sunken bar beckon the faithful. Loaded tots, great green chile and outrageous metal-inspired specials keep bellies full, the better to soak up rounds of unpretentious drinks and Colorado beers. This poodle’s bite is as good as its bark. ($)
1967 S. Broadway, Denver, 80210

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Bull & Bush Brewery

Bull & Bush Brewery
Hunter Stevens
Compared to its centuries-old brethren in the United Kingdom, the Bull & Bush Brewery is just a baby, but here in the New World, fifty years is a long time to stay in business. Step inside this dark and cozy English-style pub, though, and you’ll understand its staying power. Now run by its second-generation owners, “the pub you’ve been practicing for” (as its motto goes) serves a long menu of England-meets-Colorado comfort food, like bison burgers, bangers and mash, and green chile, as well as both innovative and traditional house-brewed beers. There’s also a Scotch list to warm the cockles of your heart. ($$)
4700 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, 80246

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Candlelight Tavern

Candlelight Tavern
Sarah McGill
The Candlelight Tavern is a friendly neighborhood bar, beloved by residents of all stripes in the Wash Park area. Once a seedy, smoky dive, the place has been spruced up over the years, with a notable overhaul in 2013. Consistency and simplicity are key here: You can count on no-frills, tasty pub grub, as well as solid service. The warm glow of the Candlelight’s vintage sign still illuminates the way to one of Denver’s oldest and best bars. ($)
383 S. Pearl St., Denver, 80209

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar)

Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar)
We’ve lost many of this city’s celebrated saloons over the past few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar, thanks to the triangular neon sign outside — something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. For more than a century, this spot has held down the corner of Champa and 20th streets, serving an assortment of regulars, including artists, hipsters, transients and rockers. The drinks are stiff, the bathrooms awful, and the atmosphere beyond compare. Leave your credit cards at home; this place is strictly cash and carry on. ($)
2060 Champa St., Denver, 80202