Best of Denver

Drink Here: The Fifty Denver Bars We Can't Live Without

Whether you like a great cocktail or a  cheap beer on tap, Denver has what you're looking for.
Whether you like a great cocktail or a cheap beer on tap, Denver has what you're looking for. Danielle LIrette
Denver was founded over a barrel of whiskey, and ever since that momentous day in 1858, this city has celebrated its liquid assets — some made here, some simply poured here. The Mile High City is renowned across the country for its beer brewed with Rocky Mountain spring water as well as the outpourings of hundreds of craft breweries. Prize vintages are putting Colorado’s wineries on the map, and the distillery scene is booming, too, with local outfits bottling everything from whiskey and vodka to rare herbal liqueurs. There’s even a surging craft cider movement.

While many of these homegrown products are offered at Denver bars, our favorite watering holes serve up more than great beer, wine and spirits: True glass acts, they also provide great atmosphere. And so, as a companion to Eat Here, our compilation of the hundred restaurants that we can’t live without, we’re now decanting Drink Here, our list of the fifty bars that we can’t live without. They range from old-time dives to newfangled speakeasies, beer-and-a-shot saloons to luxe wine bars.

So read up and then drink up: Here are fifty bars for you to discover — or rediscover — and return to again and again.

click to enlarge Avanti Food & Beverage - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Avanti Food & Beverage
Danielle Lirette
Avanti Food & Beverage
3200 Pecos Street

Avanti Food & Beverage was Denver’s first newfangled food hall, bringing together an ever-rotating cast of gastro-upstarts under one roof. Avanti quickly became a weekend-night and day-drinking mainstay of young professionals who are big fans of its anchor bar, which doles out a healthy mix of geeky beer and easy-drinking cocktails, plus a concise and accessible wine list. While that’s enough to sustain a considerable crowd year-round, Avanti is especially popular in warm months, when most drinkers float out onto the upstairs patio for the panoramic view of the skyline.

Bar Fausto
3126 Larimer Street

Bar Fausto doesn’t just reside on Larimer Street — it helps define the stretch of road that runs through one of Denver’s hippest, most dynamic neighborhoods. That’s thanks to founders and RiNo denizens Koen Goedman (of Huckleberry Roasters) and Jonathan Power (of the Populist). Named for legendary Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi, the bar captures the same nonchalant grace of European bicycle racers in its numbered (not named) house cocktails and warehouse-chic ambience, which balances painted cinderblock on one side with an elegant bar on the other. Bar Fausto is proof that high style needn’t be stuffy or exclusive.

click to enlarge Bar Helix - MARK ANTONATION
Bar Helix
Mark Antonation
Bar Helix
3440 Larimer Street

“I’m creating the bar I want to go to and that my friends want to go to,” Bar Helix proprietor Kendra Anderson said when she was plotting her RiNo lair. She eventually unveiled a sultry spot that 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.

The Bitter Bar
835 Walnut Street, Boulder

Cocktail culture has thoroughly inundated America, but eight years ago, 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 for his precise drinks — be they long-forgotten classics or inventive creations — and bought the place outright in 2014. He continues to hone his craft today, working obsessively toward elusive perfection. (Don’t miss the Manhattan.) The Bitter Bar is still one of the best venues in the state for a cocktail; the never-wavering crowd is testament to that.

Black Shirt Brewing Co.
3719 Walnut Street

Standing out is tough in a city where beer drinkers can simply walk a few blocks from their front doors to find quality suds in a multitude of new breweries. Since opening in 2012, Black Shirt has drawn crowds by aiming for continuous improvement in its beer lineup and offering value-adds like a killer back patio complete with a stage for live bands and a pizza kitchen with food that’s far more than an afterthought. While owners Branden, Chad and Carissa Miller started with a red-ale theme, they’ve managed to use their self-imposed restrictions to turn out some of the most creative and consistently excellent brews in town.

click to enlarge Brewery Bar II - WESTWORD
Brewery Bar II
Brewery Bar II
150 Kalamath Street

Long before there were craft breweries on every corner, the original Brewery Bar was a beer-soaked neighborhood watering hole that took up residence in the old Tivoli brewery during the Eisenhower administration and moved to Kalamath while Nixon was still in office. Today, if you’ve got a hankering for honest Colorado Mexican 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 the best crispy chile rellenos in town.

Candlelight Tavern
383 South Pearl Street

The Candlelight Tavern is one of Denver’s friendliest dive bars, beloved by neighbors of all stripes in the Wash Park area and owned since 1997 by industry veterans Dave Bryan and Lisa Bryan. Consistency and simplicity are key here: The no-frills tasty pub grub can be counted on every day of the week, as can the solid service. Grab a beer and plan to make a night of it; you can keep yourself amused with shuffleboard, pool, darts and giant Jenga, or just by talking with the person on the stool next to you. You might even meet your future spouse here; Dave says that’s happened often at this welcoming and lively spot.

Carioca Cafe — also known as Bar Bar. - WESTWORD
Carioca Cafe — also known as Bar Bar.
Carioca Cafe
2060 Champa Street

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 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 would-be Great American Novelists, 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.

The Castle Bar & Grill
6657 South Broadway, Littleton

Even without the great burgers, the Castle Bar & Grill would be a classic watering hole...and a real oasis in the suburbs. Yes, the building looks like a mini-castle on the outside, but the theme doesn’t carry over inside. Instead, the square, sunken bar dominates, and regulars grab the captain’s chairs that put them at eye level with the bartenders and order beer poured into their personal mugs, which line one wall. For good times and good company in the ’burbs, the Castle rules.

click to enlarge Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill - MARK ANTONATION
Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill
Mark Antonation
Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill
980 Grant Street

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 bar filled with a variety of Capitol Hill characters and the music of nightly piano sing-alongs, it lives up to its slogan: “Something for everyone.” Couples, friends, tourists, young professionals, senior citizens, college kids and even celebrities enjoy the stiff drinks, huge food menu, 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.

The Cooper Lounge
1701 Wynkoop Street

The Cooper Lounge debuted in 2014, shortly after the unveiling of Union Station’s extensive overhaul. The mezzanine-level bar captures the spirit of the golden age of transcontinental travel by rail, with cocktails served on silver platters to guests lounging in sumptuous surroundings above the hubbub of the grand hall below. Imagine a furtive tryst over martinis or a boisterous celebration with flowing bottles of bubbly, and you have an inkling of what to expect when you ascend the stairway to one of the city’s most elegant drinking destinations.

click to enlarge The Cruise Room - WESTWORD
The Cruise Room
The Cruise Room
1600 17th Street

The Cruise Room could be Denver’s most iconic spot. It’s located in the Oxford Hotel, so its marble floors echo with Denver history, stretching back to the late nineteenth century, when Bat Masterson relieved himself in the giant urinals in the basement bathrooms. But the Cruise Room has more recent history, too: It was renovated in the ‘30s to look like the lounge on the Queen Mary (hence the name), then got a quick remodel a decade later when the frieze with Hitler’s face — one of a dozen international toasts circling the walls of the bar — was deemed politically incorrect; in the ’60s, it was the headquarters for a group of carousers known as the Evil Companions. Today you’ll find all kinds of passengers hopping aboard a stool in the Cruise Room and ordering a classic martini. Ahoy!

The Dive Inn
1380 South Broadway

The Dive Inn has definitely made its mark on Platt Park over the past five years. Owner Jason Tietjen’s decor — which includes an actual motorboat as seating — adds to the upbeat spirit of this neighborhood joint. Dogs love the patio, the bar stocks 99 types of tequila, and drink specials are all-day affairs. With activities ranging from ping-pong, pool and cornhole leagues to garage sales, crawfish boils and charity events, there’s never a dull moment at the casual spot. And last year’s introduction of Rachael Tremaine’s Cluck Chicken, a tasty food game, has given Dive Inn fans even more to love.

Don’s Club Tavern
723 East Sixth Avenue

Don’s Club Tavern, also known as Don’s Mixed Drinks (because of the wording on the old-school neon sign outside), is a Denver dive with staying power. Purchased by local bar conglomerate Little Pub Company in 2006, Don’s has retained a certain welcoming “old man’s basement” atmosphere. The secluded smoking patio and Skee-Ball machine are highlights, as is the vending machine dispensing fun packs of such goodies as condoms, burritos, cigarettes, candy and who knows what else. The bar caters to old-timers during the day and is a packed hangout for the younger set at night.

click to enlarge El Chapultepec - COURTESY EL CHAPULTEPEC
El Chapultepec
Courtesy El Chapultepec
El Chapultepec
1962 Market Street

Jazz and drinks are a natural combination, as El Chapultepec has proven in its 85 years of showcasing live music in a little-changed barroom where piano, trumpet and saxophone mingle with the clinking of glasses and the cacophony of the crowd. LoDo tourists and new Denver residents alike fill the booths and barstools, but longtime locals also call the place home, especially on weeknights when bands aren’t playing. That’s when you can stop in for a quiet drink and soak up the history without jostling for a spot near the stage.

Englewood Grand
3435 South Broadway, Englewood

Phil and Erika Zierke just opened their downtown Englewood watering hole two years ago, but already it’s a fixture for neighbors, employees of the nearby Swedish Medical Center and anyone else who appreciates an unpretentious bar with great drinks and a lived-in vibe. Take a moment to appreciate the wood-block floors (each piece cut and sanded by the Zierkes and their friends) before settling into a private booth or a stool across the bar from Phil and his crew, who are all happy to mix up just what you need.

Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake Street

Falling Rock is the granddaddy of Denver beer bars; since 1997, co-owner Chris Black and his crew have led the beery way with more than seventy tap handles and a treasure trove of rare and vintage bottles. Falling Rock has stood tall through waves of craft-beer surges and was touting Colorado products alongside international selections to eager beer hunters before Denverites knew the difference between a barleywine and a bock. As the motto states, there’s “no crap on tap” at this fiercely independent draft house.

click to enlarge Distillery equipment at Family Jones Spirit House. - MARK ANTONATION
Distillery equipment at Family Jones Spirit House.
Mark Antonation
Family Jones Spirit House
3245 Osage Street

Some distillers claim to solicit bartender feedback when tweaking their spirits, but none are quite so entwined as the team at the Family Jones, where a copper still whirs on the mezzanine as drinkers gather for sips and snacks in the lounge below. Master distiller Rob Masters lets the bar team drive his creations as he builds out the basis of a cocktail program that uses only spirits made in-house. This in turn begs creativity from the bartenders, who serve classics and house specials built without relying on, say, vermouth. The best part? You don’t have to appreciate the geekery to enjoy the drinks — or the food, which you definitely should not skip.

The Federal Bar & Grill
2544 Federal Boulevard

Micky Manor was a north Denver staple for decades before the dive bar succumbed to the ravages of time in 2011. But the Federal Bar & Grill breathed new life into the space in 2013, giving the neighborhood a casual, inviting saloon with a nod to history. The art-deco bar stretches toward a back room cluttered with ping-pong and shuffleboard tables, while up front a few comfortable booths provide the perfect place to enjoy beer and burgers. A surprisingly thoughtful draft list is the main draw, but mixed drinks and the occasional round of shots are hardly frowned upon. A seat near the front window is great for watching the fire trucks come and go on Federal Boulevard, where nothing is ever quiet.

Finn’s Manor
2927 Larimer Street

A food-truck corral with an indoor/outdoor craft-cocktail bar built on the grounds of an old salvage yard sounds like the makings of something tragically hip, but a dedication to quality without the accompanying attitude has made Finn’s Manor one of Denver’s top temples of mixology. While summer nights are prime time for hanging out and grabbing grub under the stars, winter months give guests a chance to belly up to the bar to explore beverage director Robert Sickler’s deep list of rum, whiskey and other rare spirits. There’s almost always a bowl of punch on the bar top, and the tap list is a continuing exploration of rare beer styles. If it all sounds a little overblown, know that it’s all done with the gruff charm of a neighborhood dive bar.

click to enlarge Goed Zuur - SARAH COWELL
Goed Zuur
Sarah Cowell
Goed Zuur
2801 Welton Street

Goed Zuur is either a life-altering experience of new flavors and beer styles or a tortuous dunking into an acidic bath, depending on your preferences. The name of this Five Points beer bar is Flemish for “good acid,” and everything sold on tap and in bottles comes in flavors tart and funky, sour and wild. Ten years ago, lambic, oud bruin, Berlinerweisse and saison were the esoteric territory of bearded beer hunters, but these days drinkers know their Brettanomyces from their lactobacillus. It’s sour times at Goed Zuur, and Denver is so much the better for it.

Green Russell
1422 Larimer Street

After cocktails re-emerged in the mid-2000s, a number of Denver restaurants began upping their game with spirits — but Green Russell had the honorable distinction of being the very first in the new wave of dedicated cocktail bars in the city. Built by Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno in a Larimer Square basement, Green Russell stoked — rather than slaked — Denver’s thirst for the form. Its secretive and seductively appointed digs were novel at the outset, and they remain inviting to LoDo patrons, who still flock to Green Russell’s extensive back bar for camaraderie and creative drinks.

click to enlarge hi-dive - BRANDON MARSHALL
Brandon Marshall
7 South Broadway

For fifteen years, the hi-dive has been a refuge from crass commercialism and bland bars catering to the masses. Cheap, stiff drinks and a revolving door of creative talent have kept the music venue ahead of the game. While Broadway and the Baker neighborhood have changed into a respectable entertainment zone, the hi-dive marches to the beat of its own drum, bringing in the best local bands and national acts on the cusp of hitting it big.

The Horseshoe Lounge
414 East 20th Avenue

The Horseshoe Lounge is a powerhouse bar in the Uptown neighborhood run by powerhouse ladies Leigh Jones, Melanie Unruh and Margaret Moore. The bar showcases quirky yet tasteful decor, such as vintage furniture and a bar top made of thousands of dice. Motown dance parties and trivia mix things up. The friendly, motley crew of regulars love the “’Shoe,” as they call it, and the joint gets jumping with all sorts of folks venturing in and out of downtown on the weekend. Hit the ’Shoe for a brew from the “Shitty Can of Beer” list, or dare to try a mystery shot.

click to enlarge Hudson Hill - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Hudson Hill
Danielle Lirette
Hudson Hill
619 East 13th Avenue

Capitol Hill didn’t seem to be crying out for another bar when Jake Soffes opened Hudson Hill in 2016, but it turns out that the neighborhood welcomed a new kind of cool. Hudson Hill breaks the mold of dark and divey with blond woods, warm lighting and gleaming tile. The soft crackle of a record needle on vinyl adds to the atmosphere, and the drinks are beyond reproach, proving that PBRs and Fernet shots aren’t the only way to draw a Cap Hill crowd.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery
3200 Larimer Street

Ben Parsons has long been a wine-industry renegade, perhaps most notably for his canned wine, which drove Infinite Monkey Theorem to a new level of success and launched something of a packaging sea change among young makers. Just as brazen was planting his winery in the urban core of Denver and tapping into city culture — rather than relying on traditional tasting-room niceties to inform the vibe. In 2012, IMT moved from its original Santa Fe warehouse to its RiNo flagship, which draws from industrial surroundings and continues to sustain a raucous party sensibility. It has since spawned an Aurora location in the Stanley Marketplace and an offshoot in Austin, but it’s hard to beat the patio in RiNo, where fire pits let crowds linger even after summer ends.

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