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The ten best dive bars in metro Denver

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Are Denver's dives an endangered species? Over the past year, two of the dives featured on last year's list of the dozen best dive bars have lost their divey status -- one, the Hill-Top, closed and just reopened this past weekend as the Rocky Top Tavern, and the Squire, while still open, has been renovated almost beyond recognition --- and certainly beyond dive status. Fortunately, there are still dives where we're happy to belly up to the bar. Here, in no particular order, are the metro area's ten best dive bars -- and as with so many good dive bar deals, one's a twofer. See also: Rocky Top Tavern opens in former Hill-Top 10) Rocky Flats Lounge 11229 Highway 93, Boulder This bar gives a whole new meaning to getting lit -- at one point, it was the payroll office for the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, the federal facility right across the highway that started producing plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs in the early '50s and operated up to 1989. But the Rocky Flats Lounge has a lot more going for it: gritty ambience, great drinks, a deck with expansive views of the Foothills (and future wildlife refuge going into Rocky Flats) and fish fries on Friday nights. 9) Ace-Hi Tavern 1216 Washington Avenue, Golden For more than sixty years, the Ace has been by far the best reason to get wrecked -- and subsequently stranded -- in Golden. 8) Candlelight Tavern 383 South Pearl Street Separated by a safe stumble along Pearl Street from the Kentucky Inn, the Candlelight Tavern is a down-home dive that offers greasy grub, the full gamut of bar games and open-arms attitudes from staff and regulars alike. The facade got a clean-up this past year, but the look remains classic dive. And for the second part of this twofer: 8a) Kentucky Inn 890 South Pearl Street The fact that the Kentucky Inn managed to keep its down-home dinge through an ownership change (it's now a sibling of the Candlelight) earned it the top dive-bar slot in the Best of Denver 2011. Keep reading for more of our dive bars. 7) El Chapultepec 1962 Market Street With jazz on weekends, tasty Mexican food and the cheapest drinks in LoDo, the 'Pec is a one-of-a-kind experience, morning, noon and night. It's been serving since Prohibition, and that history shows. 6) Rustic Tavern 5126 West 29th Avenue Owned and operated by octagenarian JoAnn Turner -- who, in more than fifty years of owning the place, has never had a sip of booze or a drag from a cigarette -- the Rustic is tried and true, through and through. 5) Squeeze Inn 5395 West 48th Avenue At only 400 square feet, the Squeeze is easily the teeny-tiniest joint in town. And though the camaraderie is always cramped, the annual car show -- supported in part by a beer tap on the exterior of the building -- is not to be missed. 4) PS Lounge 3416 East Colfax Avenue Like most great dive bars in this town, the PS Lounge is a place we'd never want to see in the daylight -- but at night, the Lounge commands a special place in our dive-loving hearts. The place has its quirks: the cash-only establishment won't let you keep a running tab, for instance. But where else would the bar owner -- in this case Pete -- send you a round (or two) of Alabama Slammers, a sweet, Day-Glo-orange concoction made of sloe gin, SoCo and orange juice that tastes more like Tang, just to show his appreciation for your patronage? Keep reading for more dive bars. 3) Thunderbird Lounge 721 Quebec Street The 'Bird is a family-friendly hangout and blue-collar bar room with an impressive menu, a competitive pool table and all the comforts of home. 2) Nob Hill Inn 420 East Colfax Avenue The Nob Hill Inn has been a drinker's paradise for more than fifty years. It's daunting to think of all the people who have spent hours on the stools there, killing time and waiting for the day to the end. But it's the kind of joint where it's easy to lose track of time. The square-shaped bar makes for easy people-watching, and with some of Colfax's finest camping out there, it's usually entertaining as hell. If Bukowski were still alive, this might be his idea of nirvana. 1) Carioca Cafe/Bar Bar 2060 Champa Street Dive bars are drying up in Denver, swept away by tides of development. We've lost many of this city's old saloons over the last few years, which makes the survival of Carioca Cafe -- better known as Bar Bar -- something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. It's fascinating to watch how the clientele at this spot at the edge of downtown changes over the course of a day (and three happy hours). Get there at noon and you can grab a cup of coffee and reading material -- or just study some of Denver's finest barflies, a few of whom might have been there since the doors opened at 7 a.m. As the hour gets later, an assortment of hipsters, punks and rockers mixes in with those barflies, the live music starts, and the next thing you know, it's last call. Winner of our Best Dive Bar in the Best of Denver 2013.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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