The real test of a great bar is how relaxed you feel when you walk in, while you drink and as you leave. Whether you're sitting by yourself on a stool facing rows of gleaming bottles or sharing drinks in a booth with friends, you're there to unwind: That's ultimately the bottom line at a bar. You can find sustenance, entertainment and culture elsewhere, but only at a good watering hole can you shed your cares and forget about the world outside, at least for the time it takes to finish a round or two.
Jake Soffes opened Lady Jane last August as the LoHi sibling of Hudson Hill, which landed on our list of Denver's ten best new bars in 2016. The two share a similar vibe: bright and airy when the sunshine is streaming in, transitioning to a warm glow by night. Both balance vintage and modern in a way that adds a subconscious level of comfort to vanquish tension in an almost autonomic way.
Lady Jane is just referential enough to elicit a smile; palm trees, throw pillows and concrete breeze blocks painted white give the impression that you're walking into a Florida beach club or an episode of Charlie's Angels; throwback tunes coming from the turntable add to that atmosphere. Wood installations stained deep cherry — a small ziggurat that serves as additional seating in the front, and two inverse versions suspended from the ceiling above the entryway and bar — add warmth as well as a nod to art-deco architecture. Cushioned banquettes and basket-shaped bar chairs invite you to slump into a seat and let out a deep sigh.
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This is primarily a cocktail bar, and under the guidance of Soffes and bar manager Minetta Gould, the slate of house cocktails beckons to spirits explorers while remaining grounded for casual sippers: Most of the drinks only use three or four ingredients. Flavors phase from tropical (but not kitschy) in the warmer months to deep and cozy in the winter. And a small range of international beer, cider and wine (some priced to sell, such as $3 cans of Genesee) will satisfy neighbors just dropping in to wet their whistle.
Soffes has built a neighborhood bar for a neighborhood that has morphed into something other than what it once was. This is no longer the Northside; it's thoroughly LoHi, like it or not. And Lady Jane comes across as young and stylish, holding its own on the ground floor of a new apartment building where Dickinson Plaza once stood. But the place is still welcoming, comforting and casual; you can have a conversation with your bartender without it feeling forced; you can plug in and zone out near the front windows facing West 32nd Avenue or meet your friends for a first or last drink of the night. Sure, it's a little quirky, but not in a pretentious, clubby or off-putting manner.
In a city filling up with specialty taprooms, glamorous special-occasion destinations and out-of-state chains, Lady Jane slows down the pace, maintaining an air of casual, carefree fun. That's what makes it the best bar to have opened in 2018.
We'll drink to that.