Denver’s dive bars are an endangered species. As developments continue to move into formerly forbidden territory, many lowbrow watering holes have dried up — or been cleaned up into welcoming neighborhood joints, and sometimes even renovated beyond recognition. The Rocky Flats Lounge, which was built around the old payroll office of the former nuclear-weapons plant, burned in the summer of 2015 and has yet to reopen. The former home of the Filling Station, one of the diviest bars of all, has been wiped off the RiNo map. The latest victim? The Squeeze Inn, which was sold this month...and reportedly will be scraped for a parking lot.
But there are still some great dives left around metro Denver; they tend to lack websites, much less wi-fi — and if they serve Pabst, it’s in a completely un-ironic way. Here are our ten favorite surviving dives, in alphabetical order. A toast to them all!
1. 12 Volt Tavern
7514 Grandview Avenue, Arvada
While Arvada is enjoying a restaurant renaissance, with new bars and spots like Steuben’s now opening in the suburb, the 12 Volt Tavern remains a dependable, dark, down-home dive in Olde Town, with a good jukebox, cold beer, drink specials, friendly pool games, live music and theme nights. And good news: It’s currently looking for “fun, friendly, quick-witted bartenders who aren’t afraid to talk a little trash and bust some chops.... If you are shady or a thief, please do not apply.”
2. Ace-Hi Tavern
1216 Washington Avenue, Golden
Since alcohol put Golden on the map, it’s not surprising that one of the area’s best dive bars is located in this town. Bar fans have been living it up at the Ace-Hi since Leo Stillman purchased the old Opera House restaurant on historic Washington Avenue and opened the bar back in 1961. Today it’s run by Leo’s grandson, Sid Stillman, and it’s still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors Brewing plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students preparing for a tough day of classes. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and “Native” signs adorning the walls, and old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register.
3. Carioca Cafe/Bar Bar
2060 Champa Street
As downtown continues to develop, the survival of Carioca Cafe — better known as Bar Bar — is something to celebrate. Perhaps with a drink or ten. It’s fascinating to watch how the clientele at this spot changes over the course of a day (and three happy hours). Get there before noon and you can grab a cup of coffee and some eclectic reading material — or just study a few of Denver’s finest barflies, a couple of whom might have been here 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.
4. Hangar Bar
8001 East Colfax Avenue
“Get bombed at the Hangar.” That’s the motto of this dive — and with three happy hours a day, the Hangar gives you ample opportunity to do so. The grocery-store-turned-tavern became the Hangar in 1938, catering to the military crowd at the newly opened Lowry Army Air Force Base. Lowry is long gone, of course, but those patriotic patrons are remembered with the Beer Can Bomber, a scale replica of a B-17 bomber built out of vintage beer cans by local artist Chris Lewis, commissioned by current owner Lorie Thomas. Bonus points for the tiki corner.
5. Lakeview Lounge
2375 Sheridan Boulevard, Edgewater
At the break of dawn on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, regulars gather at the Lakeview Lounge — which opens at 7 a.m. — and toast as the sun rises over the Denver skyline, Sloan’s Lake and Sheridan Boulevard. The sunrise service is a time-honored tradition at this weathered dive that time otherwise forgot. While construction is under way on the nearby St. Anthony’s project, the Lakeview continues with bar business as usual, serving stiff Bloody Marys early in the morning and mystery shots in brown-paper bags late into the night. The bar stools have each worn their own set of holes deep into the linoleum; the water closet is a true hellhole. But no matter how dim the lighting, the outlook is always sunny in this classic dive.
Keep reading for five more of metro Denver's best dive bars.
6. 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 here, killing time and waiting for the day to end. But this is also 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 here for much of the day and night, it’s usually entertaining as hell. If Bukowski were still alive, this might be his idea of nirvana. And for a dive, the bathrooms have very cushy toilet paper.
7. 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 bar-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 — Pete, in this case — 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?
8. Sam’s Bar & Lounge
6801 Leetsdale Drive
While hipsters have discovered many of Denver’s iconic bars, we’re betting you won’t find a single hipster at Sam’s Bar & Lounge, a watering hole that opened on Leetsdale Drive 62 years ago. You won’t find any wi-fi, either; as one message on the bar’s chalkboard urges, “Talk to each other and get drunk.” That’s not hard, especially if you sit at the big four-sided bar — there are a few comfy booths, too — and chat it up with the bartender, who pours stiff, inexpensive drinks. As so much of old Denver dries up, the neon sign of Sam’s shines like a beacon, earning top honors in the Best of Denver 2016. Raise a glass to the 10 Best Dive Bars in Denver right now.
9. Twins Inn
5201 Ralston Road, Arvada
The Twins Inn is as bare-bones as it gets — with a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2011 and no website — but the space is clean, the jukebox is good and the beer is cold. It’s been pouring beer on this corner since 1961, and as Ryan S. says, “It’s a place where everybody knows your name but will give the police officer an alias when questioned.”
10. White Horse Bar
5130 West Alameda Avenue
The White Horse Bar has been pouring since the '20s — and it looks it. The current owners bought it in 1974 and have made relatively few improvements. An obsolete dance floor in the middle of the room is surrounded by dingy floral carpet, and many of the theme-keeping white-horse statues, paintings and plaques are permanently stained yellow. While the red/green/yellow twinkle lights strung along the booths and the neon-backlit glass bricks below the bar are wonderful touches, our favorite detail is the Coors poster hung on the wood paneling behind the corner stool: It shows an apron-clad E.T. wiping up a spotless bar with a rag and this message: "If you go beyond your limit, please don't drive. 'Phone Home.'"
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