Remember when we had to wait months to sit on a barstool again? At times, it felt like pandemic drinking would never make a full return to normal. Our Best of Denver 2020 came out in March of that year, just after bars and restaurants were ordered to close for dining (and drinking), so that edition had no Best New Bar winner: We didn't know when, if ever, we'd be able to go to a bar again.
Many bars, from old dives to once-trendy hangouts (and even past Best of Denver winners), have closed for good since March 2020. And in the first year of the pandemic, hardly any new drinking establishments opened — understandably. But in 2021, as we once again remembered how to banter with our favorite bartender, watering holes made a comeback.
In the Best of Denver 2022, we honored not only our overall pick for Best New Bar, but also other additions to the scene like the Crypt (Best New Industry Bar
), TrashHawk Tavern (Best Place to Drink Malört
) and the Electric Cure (Best Bar for Your Inner Child
). Check out all the Best of Denver 2022
winners for more favorites across hundreds of categories.
Now, keep reading for the ten Best New Bar winners over the past eleven years, along with the descriptions that accompanied the award the year it was given and italicized updates. The list ends with our favorite new place to drink this year.
Best New Bar 2012
Williams & Graham still draws lines of fans for its cocktails.
Williams & Graham
Williams & Graham
3160 Tejon Street
It took longer than expected for Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon, author of Westword
's Ask the Bartender column, to get the doors open at their spot in Highland, but the wait was worth it: They created a sexy, sexy place with Williams & Graham. Step across a threshold concealed by a miniature bookstore and you're in a 1920s-themed world, filled with plush leather, dark woods and quirky artifacts from the age of Prohibition. It's the perfect setting for enjoying Kenyon's comprehensive cocktail and spirits list, which includes inventive twists on classics and rare selections from all over the world. And don't miss chef David Bumgardner's menu, either: The food is excellent and perfect for pairing. The OG of Denver's speakeasy scene is still going strong, though its executive chef is now Grant Bushkuhl.
Best New Bar 2013
Ace Eat Serve
501 East 17th Avenue
Ace is much more than a bar, of course. Owners Josh and Jen Wolkon took a cavernous, 9,000-square-foot garage next to Steuben's and turned it into a hangout extraordinaire, with an ambitious kitchen that reinterprets Asian food with smart, silly twists; a huge front patio with a couple of ping-pong tables; and a back room with many more. But even without the ping-pong, this space would feel like a party: lights low, music pumping, the decor full of fun touches and, most important, a big, curvy bar that barman Randy Layman has stocked with scorpion bowls, alcoholic shaved ices and clever cocktails. The menu has gone through a few tweaks since the place opened last August — but as a bar, Ace has scored from the start. Randy Layman is now one of the co-founders of Chook Charcoal Chicken, and Ace has elevated its culinary game since bringing in Thach Tran as executive chef in 2017.
Best New Bar 2014
1553 Platte Street
There are plenty of high-end cocktail caves tucked into Denver's trendiest ’hoods, but Ste. Ellie, an intriguing fifty-seat boutique and small-plates retreat in the underbelly of Colt & Gray, rises above the rest. Although the black-and-white color palette, moody lighting, modular chairs and crescent-shaped booths are ambience-rich and obligingly swank, owner Nelson Perkins and head barman Kevin Burke have smartly assembled a behind-the-bar cast that harbors none of the snoot that too often plagues cocktail bars whose aesthetics are 100-proof highbrow. Fifteen cocktails — a fair split between classic and current, all impeccably accomplished — are augmented by a "based-on-your-preferences" bartender's choice, potent punch for a crowd, and a well-curated selection of wines, champagne and beer. There's no shortage of food cred here, either: Try the clams and octopus with viande ’nduja, an Italian pork sausage, or the duck-confit poutine. Ste. Ellie closed in December 2019; the space is now home to Luci's Shambles & Provisions and its upstairs sister concept, Modis in the City.
Best New Bar 2015
Dunbar Kitchen & Tap House
2844 Welton Street
After decades of operating bars and restaurants in Grand County, Mike Ayre and Charles Wessels had gotten out of the business — but then they found a spot in Denver that was just too good to refuse, in the heart of Five Points, a part of town that was once jumping with joints. A deal had just gone south on the 115-year-old house and fifty-year-old storefront next door that had been occupied by Dunbar's barbershop; Ayre, who was working in real estate, persuaded Wessels to get back in the game and help put the "bar" in Dunbar. The result is a casual, comfortable spot with exposed-brick walls and a bar made from old wood reclaimed from the house; the original barbershop sign hangs on an interior wall, near old photos of the barbershop and other old Denver scenes. Nearly all of the beer and liquor offered here is local; the food menu is a nod to Wessels's roots, with Southern specials that include a pimento-cheese appetizer. The big Sunday brunch is one of the best-kept secrets in town — almost as big a find as the new patio out back. All in all, Dunbar is a great neighborhood hangout — in a great neighborhood that's making a strong comeback. Dunbar never reopened after Governor Jared Polis ordered all bars and restaurants to close because of the pandemic in March 2020. The space is now upscale eatery MBP (which stands for Moods.Beats.Potions).
Best New Bar 2016
Union Lodge No.1
1543 Champa Street
In the cocktail world, there's a lot of focus on Prohibition this and Prohibition that, but Union Lodge No.1 delves even deeper into America's past, resurrecting recipes and techniques from the glorious barroom days of the late nineteenth century. The cocktail is an American invention, and owners Mike Huggins and Lenka Juchelkova open a window onto history with a menu that's chock-full of cobblers, flips, fizzes, sours, smashes and juleps. They essentially created a museum of bygone cocktails, keeping alive recipes like the Ramos gin fizz, the Saratoga, the Knickerbocker and the Blue Blazer. The back bar is limited to products that were available around 1880 (no vodka here, and no Coke or Pepsi, either). Bar manager Alex Daniluk trains his bartenders to carefully craft each drink in the traditional way of the period. Union Lodge No. 1 is still pouring pre-Prohibition era cocktails, and is the ideal place to duck in for a drink if you're visiting the 16th Street Mall.
Best New Bar 2017
Overland is now the Brutal Poodle.
Courtesy The Brutal Poodle Facebook page
1967 South Broadway
Denver musician Nathaniel Rateliff teamed up with a couple of his bandmembers and the owners of the hi-dive to take over the former Bushwacker's Saloon and unveil it as the Overland in the summer of 2016. But don't go here because you're a fan of the Night Sweats; the team has created a bona fide Broadway watering hole, worthy of a stop for late-night whiskeys after a long shift, beers with friends at happy hour or a solid plate of grub (don't miss the poblano hush puppies) in an unpretentious setting. While not exactly a dive, the Overland feels lived-in and low-key, with just enough dining-room space for those who want to get a little rowdy without disturbing the regulars at the low-slung bar. That bar is a wonder in and of itself, with a sunken floor so that bartenders greet you at eye level rather than looking over your head for the next customer. Grab a stool and a drink and soak in the atmosphere without worrying about obscure cocktail ingredients or a head-spinning array of fancy beers. Sure, there are fancier saloons in town, but the Overland is where you'll want to go day in and day out, when everything else in Denver feels too fancy by half. The Overland shut down in June 2017, less than a year after opening. Today, the Brutal Poodle is open at the address, serving up some of the best green chile in town alongside cold beers.
Best New Bar 2018
3440 Larimer Street
Bar Helix owner Kendra Anderson, aka Swirl Girl Denver, has been educating the Mile High on the magic of food-and-wine pairings — and unsung wine varietals — on social media for years. But with Bar Helix, she's taking education to an experiential level. The sultry spot combines a high-echelon wine list with a top-notch cocktail program and drinking munchies that whimsically match highbrow to lowbrow flourishes — Pop Tarts with foie gras, for instance, and Pringles with caviar. Through her menu, Anderson touts a few pet causes: "soulmate" pairings of food and drink, Negronis, Champagne and wines from unusual regions. The quirky mix makes Bar Helix an easy stop for any drinker, and an exhilarating one for those looking to expand their palates and horizons. Bar Helix was another victim of the pandemic, shuttering in November 2020. Anderson is now focused on her consulting group, Modern Queens.
Best New Bar 2019
2021 West 32nd Avenue
Lady Jane makes the second casual cocktail bar for owner Jake Soffes after Hudson Hill, which debuted in 2016. And like Hudson Hill, this LoHi bar raises the bar on cocktail quality, even if the ambience is laid-back and low-key, coming in somewhere between tropical yacht club and ’70s fern bar. We've long since lost the skill to separate millennial irony from earnest intentions, but the palm trees, gilt-edged barware and hunter-green furnishing feel distinctly like a wink at Tom Selleck, Christopher Cross album covers and swinger culture. And you know what? We love it. It's far easier to settle in among the throw pillows and enjoy a drink while music crackles from the turntable (of course) than to consider that it may all be just a joke played on anyone over 45. Lady Jane is still a LoHi cocktail destination, and in 2021, Soffes added a third watering hole, The Wild, across from Union Station.
Best New Bar 2021
2955 Ulster Street
New bars were few and far between in 2020, given the strict COVID-based rules on serving food (always), closing early (frequently) and drinking at an actual bar (never). But in the Central Park neighborhood, a latecomer named Dirty Laundry made its debut just in time to go full-on takeout with booze, and then somehow managed to hang on through the winter until customers could sit inside. Dirty Laundry isn't fancy, but it has all the things you need for a successful bar: lots of drinks, a little grub and some Wisconsin stuff — because everyone knows Wisconsin bars are the best kind. Connoisseurs will find enough artisan spirits and craft beers to suit their needs, and the cocktails include some eyebrow-raising ingredients. But this is really a simple neighborhood watering hole at heart, so you can nosh on Buffalo chicken dip, cheese curds and soft pretzels while downing $5 pours of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, because, yeah, there's some Michigan stuff here, too. Dirty Laundry is still serving up Midwestern hospitality in Central Park.
Best New Bar 2022
The Dew Drop Inn just opened, but it already feels like a neighborhood mainstay.
Dew Drop Inn
1033 East 17th Avenue
Although it only opened in May 2021, the Dew Drop Inn already feels like a longtime neighborhood mainstay. That's because it comes from a team of longtime bar pros
— the same women behind such staples as the Horseshoe Tavern and Embassy Tavern, among others. On cold days, the inside is a lively yet cozy respite from the snow; a large patio out front is ideal for summer sipping. Cocktails range from classics to new creations, there are two happy hours daily, and you can get a beer-and-shot combo for $8 anytime. All that is bolstered by the food from Fush, a man who worked at the iconic Falling Rock Tap House for 22 years until it closed. Here he's getting the chance to let his culinary talents shine with big bowls of mussels in spicy red curry, poutine with house-smoked pork, crispy Japanese-style fried chicken and much more.
Which new bars do you love? Let us know at [email protected].