Best of Denver

The Best New Bar in Denver in 2018 — and Through the Decade

Bar Helix impressed us with its dedication to wine, bubbles and variations on the Negroni.
Bar Helix impressed us with its dedication to wine, bubbles and variations on the Negroni. Mark Antonation
Sometimes you want your bartender to impress you with rare spirits, a stunning cocktail and a little flair behind the bar, and other times you just want a comfortable place where you can relax with friends any night of the week. Our picks for the Best New Bar over the past decade have shown love for all styles of watering hole: the instant dive bar, the neighborhood hangout and the swanky cocktail lounge. Here are our picks each year from 2009 to this year, with our descriptions from the year they won.

click to enlarge Tooey's Off Colfax gets the dive-bar vibe right. - WESTWORD
Tooey's Off Colfax gets the dive-bar vibe right.
Tooey's Off Colfax
1521 Marion Street
As a local rep for PBR, Alissa Anderson visited a quite a few bars in this town. The next logical step was to own a bar of her own. So last October, she and her husband bought the former Club Boca, which had been vacant for close to a year, did a quick renovation that involved moving the bar to the front near the window, and opened in a flash. Just as quickly, the bar was attracting regulars, especially service-industry folks, and Anderson started bringing in bands, DJs, art shows and a whole lot more. While the place still doesn't have a sign up, it's pretty easy to find: Just look for the neon beer lights and lots of people in the window.

Our Best New Bar award is given for a specific year based on bars that opened the previous year. Despite a number of excellent bars opening in 2009, many of which are still pouring great drinks, no award was given for Best New Bar in 2010. Some contenders that year would have been the Arvada Tavern, Ernie's Bar & Pizza, Interstate Kitchen & Bar, The Rackhouse Pub (in its original Kalamath Street location) and Sketch.

El Diablo
101 Broadway

From the moment Jesse Morreale bought the old First Avenue Hotel, he envisioned something special for the big space on the first floor that faces both Broadway and First Avenue. And he created it with El Diablo, a hellaciously clever tequila joint and Mexican restaurant. (Sean Yontz is in charge of the kitchen.) To one side are booths beneath Mexican-style murals lit by salvaged, red glass lamps, to the other tables flanking First Avenue, and at the edges are a handful of dark corners, suitable for all sorts of debauchery. But the center of the action, without a doubt, is the massive bar in the center of the space, which is always flanked with drinkers. That bar pours margaritas that run the flavor gamut from sweet to spicy, as well as Mexican beer and dozens of varieties of tequila and mezcal. And, as at any great bar, an air of naughty sexiness hangs over the entire scene, making anything feel possible. The devil you say! El Diablo closed in May 2013, and the entire building, which was once the First Avenue Hotel, sold in 2015, but so far the space occupied by El Diablo and sister bar Sketch have not been claimed by a new establishment.

Williams & Graham
3160 Tejon Street

It took longer than expected for Todd Colehour and Sean Kenyon, author of Westword's "Ask the Bartender," 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.

Ste. Ellie still pours great cocktails underground on Platte Street. - WESTWORD
Ste. Ellie still pours great cocktails underground on Platte Street.
Ste. Ellie
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.

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