This Friday and Saturday, kick off the holiday season with Denver's annual Parade of Lights
, now in its 41st year. Instead of getting left out in the cold, why not celebrate the occasion by taking in the two-mile march in comfort while nibbling on some of the best eats and sipping a cocktail at one of downtown's bars or restaurants. After all, what better way to see Major Waddles the penguin, a bunch of colorful floats and, of course, the real Santa Claus. True, most of the action can be best observed from the street, but we found nine places that make the event not only tasty, but toasty too.
The parade leaves from Civic Center Park and heads up 17th Street and back down 15th Street before ending at 14th Street and Glenarm Place. You can catch it Friday at 8 p.m. or Saturday at 6 p.m.
1) The Greedy Hamster
323 14th Street
You'll find this quaint neighborhood eatery right on 14th Street and Tremont Place, a perfect location for a great shot of the parade. Book a table inside and order a gooey grilled cheese, green-chile bacon burger, house-made chips with dip and other indulgent delights. Or, make a reservation for a spot on the heated, outdoor patio where the Hamster will offer a mixed menu of appetizers and cocktail specials just for parade watchers. It's a great way to be outside, satiate your hunger and thirst, and enjoy the brilliant march. The only catch: no one under 21 allowed.
2) Harry's Bar & Grill
818 17th Street
Nestled inside the Magnolia Hotel, Harry's Bar & Grill has windows that overlook 17th Street, which make it a good spot from which to enjoy the parade. The only caveat: there will be a horde of parade watchers lined up on the street to see the dazzling floats. Luckily, the staff at Harry's have no qualms with you ducking out to get a better view, confident that when you come back in from the cold you can warm up with piping hot short rib sliders, fries and beer.
3) Hyatt Place and Hyatt House Denver
440 14th Street
Check out this newly opened property not only because it just opened, but because it's on 14th Street between Tremont and Glenarm Places, a hot spot that bookends the start and finish of the parade. There's no grand restaurant to park in, but you can get a glass of wine, craft beer or cocktail from the bar in the lounge. And the best part is that you don't have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy a drink and the view, although you could always book a room overlooking the festivities and throw your own private party.
909 17th Street
One of the best perks of a visit to the Hotel Monaco is Panzano, chef Elise Wiggins's seasonal Italian restaurant — one of the best in the city. Order house-made bucatini, butternut squash risotto and a glass of wine, then gaze out at the twinkling lights as the parade marches by. The whole front of the restaurant is lined with windows, so even if you don't get a table right there, you can easily peek over a fellow diner's shoulder.
918 17th Street
A slew of windows at this eatery in the Renaissance Denver Downtown hotel face the parade route on 17th, but chances are the eager crowd will ruin your inside viewing opportunity. Never fear, you can ditch your table and wood-fired pizza for a while to go out and see a sparkling Santa — chef Paul Nagan won't mind. Or, you can book one of the special packages put together by the hotel. For example, the extra-fancy combo includes cocktails and appetizers in one of the corner suites, perfect for gazing down a the action. You can also reserve a seat on the hotel's grandstand in front; just make sure you warm up with a cocktail or two at the Teller bar beforehand.
6) Reunion Gastro Pub
1480 Arapahoe Street
Get a front row seat to the Parade of Lights at this newly opened eatery. You can dive into your basic gastropub fare including pizza, burgers, sandwiches and such, as well as some of their more elevated bites like pheasant confit tacos and a reuben made with slow-roasted brisket that takes 18 days to cook. The cozy restaurant offers valet parking and takes reservations, which is highly recommended given the popularity of the event.
7) Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
707 15th Street
Have your steak and see the lights too. At least you can if you make a reservation at this snappy restaurant located right on 15th Street. Your best bet for comfortably watching the parade is to book a table next to the window, although you still might have to pop outside for a closer view. Either way, you can stay toasty with a hearty slab of beef, bowl of lobster bisque, rich potatoes au gratin and a glass of red wine.
8) Sam's No. 3
1500 Curtis Street
For prime viewing, this comfort food joint is right in the center of things at 15th and Curtis Streets. Diners can take in the parade while chowing on a hearty bowl of homemade chili, Coney dogs, hamburgers and Greek-inspired fare — just to name some of the options on this diner's epic menu. However, during the parade you can also pop in for a cup of $2 hot chocolate to go. Sam's will be filling up some giant urns of the drink to keep it piping hot and perfect for warming hands and bellies.
9) Strata Bar
650 15th Street
Watch the excitement as Santa goes by, followed by a marching band and tons of brightly-lit floats, from the cozy confines of the Strata Bar in Hyatt Regency. This roomy hotel bar offers not just classic cocktails and local beer to sip, but floor-to-ceiling windows to help with optimal viewing. Of course, since the parade marches right in front of the hotel, you can opt to don a coat and dip outside for a few. There's a small bar-food menu too, so if a toasty Manhattan isn't enough, order a plate of nachos or a buffalo burger to fill you up.