March 3, 2020

These indispensable cocktail bars, dives, neighborhood watering holes and historic classics define Denver's drinking scene.

Denver’s best bars come in all varieties, whether you want to hear your name called out and see your drink of choice already poured as you step up to your usual spot, or you’re looking to be dazzled by inventive bartenders with encyclopedic minds for spirits and cocktails. Your favorite bar is there for multiple toasts with friends, a solo night on a bar stool, or an intimate conversation in a padded vinyl booth that swallows you whole and doesn’t spit you out until the house lights come up at 2 a.m. In “Drink Here,” we’re pouring out the 100 best bars in Denver, a compendium of swank and sparkling destinations, neighborhood joints, dark dives and historic watering holes, each filling a specific niche in the city’s drinking scene. (Breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries are not included here, since Denver’s excellent artisan producers’ scene deserves a list all its own.)

"Drink here!" the sign reads, and who are we to refuse? -- Mixed by Mark Antonation

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. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and “Native” signs adorning the walls, as well as old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register. ($)
1216 Washington Ave., Golden, 80401

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Adrift

Adrift
Harry Warters
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. When the 2,200-square-foot Adrift opened in 2012, it established itself as Denver’s only tiki bar; originally conceived to be old-school and timeless, it’s definitely a step back in time. 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. ($$)
218 S. Broadway, Denver, 80209

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Arvada Tavern

Arvada Tavern
The Arvada Tavern opened in 1933, not too long after the repeal of Prohibition, and was issued the first liquor license in Arvada. A dive for decades, the tavern received a facelift in 2013 under new ownership while still holding on to the building’s vintage charm. More upscale now, the Arvada Tavern serves a variety of vintage cocktails and Colorado beers, and the menu runs from comforting pierogi and schnitzel to island-themed fare served up on Tiki Tuesdays. Upstairs (through a phone booth with a false back wall) in the Bernard Ballroom, there’s live music every Friday and Saturday night. ($$)
5707 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 80002

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

B & GC

B & GC
Courtesy B&GC
This underground speakeasy flies under the radar, but there’s no hiding the sexy of B & GC. Half the fun is pretending to be not quite sure where you’re going as you initiate newcomers to the dim and swanky cocktail temple in the basement of the Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek. Go for a Sazerac, choose from a long list of craft spirits, or have your mixologist create something just for you. The small menu of snacks includes a spectacular chocolate mousse. And be sure to wash your hands — if only to check out the restroom’s risqué wallpaper. ($$$)
249 Columbine St., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The Bar Car

The Bar Car
When Leigh Jones — of Horseshoe Lounge fame — bought the Recovery Room a decade ago, she overhauled it completely. The resulting Bar Car looks a little nondescript, but the rustic interior, with its old-timey railroad theme, is a pleasant surprise. Also pleasantly surprising, given Colorado Boulevard’s penchant for chains, is that the Bar Car is defiantly neighborhood-focused, offering a list of draft beers that’s heavy on locals. Patrons are local, too, whether they’re stopping by for the daily happy hour or the not-so-secret secret food menu, checking sports scores or just soaking up the warm surroundings late at night. ($)
819 Colorado Blvd., Denver, 80206

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Berkeley Inn

Berkeley Inn
Part of the trio of bars forming the “Beermuda Triangle” at the corner of 38th and Tennyson, the Berkeley Inn is a neighborhood institution. The joint opened in 1934 and is rumored to have subterranean tunnels made for transporting bootleg alcohol during Prohibition. Regulars band together to help out other regulars in times of need, and use the “Buy a Friend a Drink” board often. There’s no kitchen, but a pool table, giant Jenga, darts and live music on Friday nights keep drinkers entertained. Tennyson Street is one of the most rapidly gentrifying stretches in Denver, but the Berkeley Inn keeps the drinks flowing and holds on to the area’s more colorful past. ($)
3834 Tennyson St., Denver, 80212

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

The Bitter Bar

The Bitter Bar
Danielle Lirette
Cocktail culture has thoroughly inundated America, but in 2011, when Boulder’s Bitter Bar opened as the late-night speakeasy alter-ego of the now-defunct Happy Noodle House, there was no other game like it in metro Denver. Bartender James Lee built a quick following with his precise drinks — be they long-forgotten classics or inventive creations — and bought the place outright in 2014. He continues to work obsessively toward creating the perfect cocktail for every customer, as well as maintaining Bitter Bar’s position as one of the best venues in the state for a cocktail. ($$$)
835 Walnut St., Boulder, 80302

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Blake Street Tavern

Blake Street Tavern
Blake Street Tavern epitomizes the sports bar model. Just two blocks from Coors Field, it’s purpose-built 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. Two happy hours — one from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and the other from 10 p.m. until midnight Monday though Thursday — make the place 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
bowmansvinylandlounge.com
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, and 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 is just right for an evening out on South Broadway. ($$)
1312 S. Broadway, Denver, 80210

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Brass Tacks

Brass Tacks
Mark Antonation
The craft-cocktail scene was feeling a little stale when Brass Tacks opened in early 2019, making it fun to hang out in bars again. Owners Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, Stephen Julia, Zach Spott and Stuart Jensen didn’t dispense with quality ingredients or obscure spirits; they just packaged them in cocktails on tap and in bottles used to create drinks that look good, taste good and don’t rob you of fifteen minutes of your life as you watch someone scurry around for ingredients and then studiously stir concoctions. There’s amusing food to match, with an $8 cheeseburger, a Viet-Cajun boil and a dirt-cheap breakfast sandwich you can score as early as 10 a.m. (practically daybreak for industry folks). It’s time to get down to Brass Tacks. ($$)
1526 Blake St., Denver, 80202

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, and then they become miraculously snug and comfy. 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 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 an outrageous Gwarled-cheese sandwich (loaded with big slabs of pork belly) 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

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. Grab a beer and plan to make a night of it: You can keep yourself amused with shuffleboard, pool or darts, or just by talking with the person on the stool next to you. 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)
Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. 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 drinks nineteen hours a day to 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

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill

Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill
Mark Antonation
Colorful characters from Denver’s past are rumored to have bellied up to the bar at Charlie Brown’s, which has been open since Prohibition ended. A sprawling spot filled with a variety of Capitol Hill characters and the music of nightly piano sing-alongs, it lives up to its slogan: “Something for every-one.” Couples, friends, tourists, young professionals, senior citizens, college kids and even celebrities enjoy the stiff drinks, huge food menu, enclosed smoking patio, free happy-hour wings on Fridays, and free drinks for revelers celebrating their birthdays. Here’s hoping the drinks will flow long into the future at this Denver landmark. ($$)
980 Grant St., Denver, 80203

The 100 Best Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Charlie's Denver

Charlie's Denver
Sometimes Colfax Avenue is so idiosyncratic that it risks becoming a caricature of itself. For evidence, look no further than Charlie’s, Colfax’s big, gay cowboy bar. Gaze upon the cowboy-boot disco ball that spins and glistens from the ceiling. Don’t miss the translucent machine that blows money (or whatever else) around as dancers — also spinning and glistening — put on a show within. And look to the stage and dance floor for drag queens, bikers and bears. Oh, my. A word for the timorous: Charlie’s truly shines in its inclusiveness. Come one, come all, whether you’re stopping in before a show at the Ogden for a mini-pitcher of light beer or wrapping up your night on the prowl for something else entirely. ($)
900 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 80218