Bar culture is about far more than booze. Bars should be welcoming destinations where you can relax and forget the outside world. You can hit your favorite bar to feel like part of a family, to enjoy time with friends, to feel pampered and indulged — or just to partake in a beverage without distraction. The best bars know what you're looking for from the moment you walk in the door, whether it's your local watering hole that has your drink poured even as you settle into your seat, or a cocktail lounge willing to let you make the call. The ten best new bars this year have added exceptional hospitality and imaginative drinks to the scene. Here they are, from nostalgic heart warmers to the mysterious and exotic.
3440 Larimer Street
Bar Helix opened the first week of October, adding something a little different to the RiNo bar scene. Owner Kendra Anderson brings her experience as a sommelier, caterer and cocktail aficionado to a sultry, ’70s-style space that balances mid-century modern, disco-era swank and modern urban edge. The gist of the menu is a range of thoughtful cocktails (with just a little swagger), democratically priced wines by the glass and bottle, and "soulmate" food pairings that range from sensuous and decadent to a little trashy.
Bigsby's Folly Craft Winery & Restaurant
3563 Wazee Street
When something truly different comes along, it catches our attention. That's the case with Bigsby's Folly, a new winery-restaurant that opened in June. What's so new and different about the place? Under founders Chad and Marla Yetka, it's the first winery in Denver to take advantage of Colorado's new vintner's restaurant liquor license, which allows an establishment to sell food and alcoholic beverages while producing wine on site. So unlike a standard winery or brewery that only serves its own product, Bigsby's Folly, named after the Yetkas' late golden retriever, also serve wines from around the world, as well as a selection of craft beers and cocktails. And it does all that in a lofty, comfortable space built in a former factory.
The Family Jones Spirit House
3245 Osage Street
Some of the most creative minds in the LoHi restaurant business got together for a new project called the Family Jones Spirit House. Paul Tamburello, real estate developer and owner of Little Man Ice Cream, and pioneering distiller Rob Masters have collaborated with Justin Cucci, founder of Linger and nearby Root Down, on this unique distillery-restaurant. The Family Jones makes all the booze it sells across the bar, which may sound limiting — but only in the same way that the strict structure of a sonnet focuses a poet's imagination and brilliance. The space feels like a chapel, with the bar as the altar and the distillery equipment rising above it like a magnificent pipe organ. Grab a seat at the sunken bar, order some snacks, and work your way through the cocktail list; it's a delightful way to pass the evening in LoHi.
2801 Welton Street
The palette of Denver's palate deepened and broadened when Goed Zuur opened in Five Points in May, serving not just a vast spectrum of complex sour and wild ales, but a sophisticated range of small plates and unusual dishes. Set inside a 120-year-old brick building with a carefully restored 1930s-era mural on the side, Goed Zuur, which means "good acid" in Dutch, boasts an interior look best described as steampunk meets European chic. Long tables with elevated platforms for meat-and-cheese boards run along one side, while an artsy clock covers an entire wall on the other. In the middle is a copper-topped bar and custom draft tower made of industrial pipe, wood and lightbulbs. Goed Zuur is proof that Denver's beer scene is as sophisticated as the world's beeriest destinations.
1336 27th Street
Down an alley between Larimer and Walnut streets, past flowing street-art murals, there's an inconspicuous doorway that could be the back entrance to an office or kitchen. No sign tells you that you've arrived at Greenlight Lab, but if the green light is on above the door, you'll know that there's a cocktail inside for you. Greenlight Lab was launched in November by Brandon Anderson, owner of design/architecture firm LIVstudio. While Anderson's firm has designed plenty of bars and restaurants for such clients as Il Posto, Denver Central Market, HashTAG and Concourse, this is the first time he's designed a bar for himself. Greenlight Lab isn't some lavish tour de force, though; instead, it's a simple, almost speakeasy-ish grotto where the focus is first on drinks and second on design. Sip "beta" test cocktails if you're feeling adventurous, or go with an item on the "approved" list; either way, you'll find something magical and tempting.
Moguri Izakaya at Izakaya Ronin
3053 Brighton Boulevard
Moguri is the Japanese word for speakeasy, and it's the perfect description for the subterranean lair built from a former boiler room beneath the brand-new Izakaya Ronin, chef Corey Baker's second sushi joint (after Sushi Ronin in LoHi). Things don't even get started at the moguri until after 10 p.m., at which point you can indulge in Japanese whisky (Ronin has one of the longest lists in town), sake and cocktails. The late-night menu is built to go with booze, with skewers, dumplings, fried finger food and a delicious bowl of ramen. You'll feel like you're entering another world as you descend the steps into this hidden bar that surely won't remain a secret for long.
Poka Lola Social Club
1850 Wazee Street
Poka Lola isn't a new Hawaiian restaurant or a cannabis strain; it's the retro bar located inside the new Maven hotel. The ritzy watering hole balances art-deco elegance with Midwestern soda-shop comfort. Guests will feel pampered even if cocktails and fountain drinks — think phosphates, egg creams and lactarts — ring in at $10 or less. A small food menu and some indulgent top-shelf spirits add to the draw.
RiNo Beer Garden
3800 Walnut Street
RiNo Beer Garden is the latest project from the founders of Historian Ale House on Broadway, and it boasts what the owners claim is the largest patio in Denver. The whole setup is built for all seasons, with covered areas, fire pits and heaters, but a seat inside at the bar will get you a few steps closer to sixty beers on tap. While you're quaffing, make sure and order a platter of German nachos — an eye-popping mound of potato chips, sausage, cheese and sauerkraut. We'll say "prost" to that!
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The Squeeze Inn
5395 West 48th Avenue
Fourteen months ago, one of Denver's great dive bars closed after nearly seventy years in business. The tiny Squeeze Inn had been started by two World War II vets as the Hilltop, a drive-thru burger joint; burgers were eventually replaced with booze, and the name changed to the Squeeze Inn in 1993. After its last owner passed away in 2016, the bar seemed a prime candidate for the wrecking ball, but Michael and Missy Dalvit were drawn to the tiny spot and reopened the Squeeze in November. While it's not exactly new, this classic watering hole was resurrected in a surprising reversal of the usual trend — just in time to bring Denver some winter cheer.
Wally's Wisconsin Tavern
1417 Market Street
There's surely more to Wisconsin than cheese and sausages, but those are the things we care about. And those are what Wally's Wisconsin Tavern, a side project from the owners of Rhein Haus next door, offers — plus a few more surprises from the Great Lakes region that will warm the hearts of homesick Midwesterners. There isn't a huge stylistic leap from the German-style Rhein Haus to the more American Wally's, but the latter has its own beer and cocktail list as well a short menu that reads like the greatest hits of Wisconsin bar food as it has evolved from its Scandinavian and German roots. Cheese curds, butter burgers and bratwursts beckon every badger and badger wannabe for authentic Wisconsin booze, food and hospitality.