The 10 Best Dive Bars in Denver | Westword

The Ten Best Dive Bars in Metro Denver, Including Carioca Cafe

Hunker down at one of these classics this weekend, including Bar Bar, which just reopened after a pipe burst during a recent cold snap.
Bar Bar has survived yet another challenge: a burst pipe.
Bar Bar has survived yet another challenge: a burst pipe. Molly Martin
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There's nothing quite like the camaraderie among regulars at a true dive bar, so when the Denver Post incorrectly reported on February 1 that Bar Bar (aka Carioca Cafe), a century-old watering hole in the heart of downtown, had closed for good, fans of the place were quick to correct that info.

The real story: Bar Bar had closed on January 16 after a pipe burst in the old building, but the repairs were completed eleven days later, and it's again pouring.

"Hours will be limited while we build things back up, but we'll be open Thursdays through Sundays at least," says Richard Granville, a local musician who also bartends and books shows at the bar.

It's been a rough few years for Bar Bar. In 2022, the city put the kibosh on live shows there after discovering it never had a cabaret license despite hosting live music for decades. Once the license issue was sorted out, which required getting some repairs done to the building, Granville once again began booking live music that draws late-night crowds to this otherwise relatively quiet spot.

Bar Bar is among a shrinking number of true dives in the metro area — spots that remain off the radar and haven't become part of local chains, no matter how respectful of the bar's origins (think Don's Club Tavern), or classics that rise above the dive designation (such as My Brother's Bar).

These are the ten best dives in metro Denver right now, in alphabetical order:
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Molly Martin

12 Volt Tavern

7514 Grandview Avenue, Arvada
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 it's 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.
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Scott Lentz

Ace-Hi Tavern

1216 Washington Avenue, Golden
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. Today it’s run by Leo’s grandson, Sid Stillman, and it’s still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors Brewing plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students preparing for a tough day of classes. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and “Native” signs adorning the walls, and old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register.
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Bar Bar is cash-only, but the drinks are cheap.
Molly Martin

Carioca Cafe/Bar Bar

2060 Champa Street
As downtown continues to develop, the survival of Carioca Cafe, better known as Bar Bar, is something to celebrate. Despite a variety of challenges over the past few years, including the increase in homeless encampments in the area, people keep coming, from fans who appreciate the return of live music to Denver’s finest barflies, a couple of whom might have been here since the doors opened. As the night wears on, an assortment of hipsters, punks and rockers mixes in with those barflies, the conversation flows, and next thing you know, it's last call.
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Scott Lentz

Dr. Proctor's Lounge

4201 East Mississippi Avenue
The Glendale strip mall that houses such family-friendly shops as the Bookies is also home to a true dive: Dr. Proctor's Lounge (aka Bar and Grill). Behind its nondescript facade, it's been cranking out comfort food — burgers and burritos for lunch and dinner — as well as pouring good, stiff drinks for almost forty years. Happy hour runs from mid-day through early evening on weekdays, and there's karaoke later in the week. Most of the time, though, you can find locals knocking back brews and knocking billiard balls around, keeping the good doctor in business.

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Scott Lentz
Lakeview Lounge

2375 Sheridan Boulevard, Edgewater
At the break of dawn on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, regulars gather at the Lakeview Lounge — which opens at 7 a.m. — and toast the new day as the sun rises over the Denver skyline, Sloan’s Lake and Sheridan Boulevard. The sunrise service is a time-honored tradition at this weathered dive that time otherwise forgot — even though the bar got new owners, Eugene "Geno" and Jill Martinez, shortly before the pandemic hit. The pair managed to keep the place going, though, and it remains an ideal place to come for stiff Bloody Marys in the morning and mystery shots in brown paper bags late into the night. They're best enjoyed from a bar stool that's worn its own hole deep into the linoleum, or perhaps from one of the picnic tables out front.
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Jon Solomon

Lion's Lair

2022 East Colfax Avenue
The low ceilings and even lower bar top at the Lion’s Lair make you feel like you’re knocking back beers in someone’s basement. And when the music fires up, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into band practice in that basement, with a guitar neck or mic stand only inches from your head. While Denver’s dive bars continue to disappear, the Lion’s Lair just keeps getting grungier; it’s a living piece of Colfax history. Even as the ownership group changes, this bar never does; it just keeps pouring out cheap drinks and great live music.
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The Nob Hill Inn is a survivor, and nabbed another Best Dive Bar award in the Best of Denver 2021.
Scott Lentz

Nob Hill Inn

420 East Colfax Avenue
If there were a love song to the Nob Hill Inn, it would be played on a steel guitar. The song would have some twang to it, and it would be sad and satisfying and honest. The Nob Hill Inn has been a drinker's paradise for seventy years — serving everyone from Bob Dylan to politicos who used to make deals over the phone in corner booths — but this down-and-dirty watering hole on Colfax almost dried up entirely during the pandemic. Without a kitchen or passable alternative, the place closed for months while it sold pizza and to-go drinks out of the back door and regulars hosted fundraisers. "We've had hard times before," said John Plessinger, whose father bought the Nob in 1969 and put it in his name. "But nothing like this." Still, this great dive survived, and despite the sad loss of a favorite bartender last year, the Nob Hill Inn is still a welcome sight on Colfax.
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Scott Lentz

PS Lounge

3416 East Colfax Avenue
Like most great dive bars in this town, the PS Lounge is a place we’d never want to see in the daylight — but at night, the Lounge commands a special place in our bar-loving hearts. It has its quirks: The cash-only establishment won’t let you keep a running tab, for instance. But where else would the bar's owner — Pete Siahamis, in this case — send you a round (or two) of Alabama Slammers, a sweet, Day-Glo-orange concoction made of sloe gin, SoCo and orange juice that tastes more like Tang, just to show his appreciation for your patronage?
Sarah James

Sam’s Bar & Lounge

6801 Leetsdale Drive
While hipsters have discovered many of Denver’s iconic bars, we’re betting you won’t find a single hipster at Sam’s Bar & Lounge, a watering hole that opened on Leetsdale Drive in 1954. The place has weathered some hard times recently, but you can still grab a seat at the big four-sided bar — there are a few comfy booths, too — and chat it up with the bartender, who pours stiff, inexpensive drinks. As so much of old Denver disappears, the neon sign of Sam’s shines like a beacon.
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Scott Lentz

Twins Inn

5201 Ralston Road, Arvada
Double trouble! The Twins Inn is as bare-bones as it gets — with a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in years and no website — but the space is clean, the jukebox is good, the beer is cold and the regulars are very, very friendly. The Twins Inn has been pouring beer on this corner since 1961, and there are even a pair of pet birds named Pretty and Bitch that add to the action. This is a great place to roost.

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