What makes a great bar? Neighborhood appeal is always important, along with friendly, professional staff and a well-rounded drinks list. Mostly, though, it's that indefinable feeling when you set yourself on a bar stool, feel instantly at home — and then never want to leave. Whether you call for a pint of beer or a clever craft cocktail, the best bars encourage conversation among your pals and fellow patrons — or help you feel at ease if you're just stopping in for a drink by yourself. Here are the ten best new bars in Denver (and the surrounding suburbs) that welcomed us over the past year, in alphabetical order.
715 East 26th Avenue
Corey Costello, Sudhir Kudva and Michael Reilly resurrected this long-vacant Five Points joint, originally owned by Charles Cousins, and opened it in September. They kept the retro charm and are keeping prices appropriately low. The 715 was at its best in the 1940s, but closed in the ’80s after becoming a rundown shell of its former glorious self. The new incarnation is a comfortable canteen that pays respect to the past in a resurgent neighborhood.
Briar Common Brewery + Eatery
2298 Clay Street
Kent and Greg Dawson opened Briar Common in a former corner grocery store in Jefferson Park at the beginning of October, adding a brewpub-style destination to the up-and-coming neighborhood. Beer is obviously the beverage of choice, but there's wine, too, if you're in the mood. Small plates with international flair complement the clean, well-crafted brews, and bigger plates await hungrier appetites. What makes this taproom stand out from the vast selection of other Denver breweries is the lived-in feel of the space and the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the ground-floor bar. For more intimate drinking, there's a smaller bar upstairs and a great rooftop patio overlooking the park across the street.
3435 South Broadway, Englewood
More and more, downtown Englewood is becoming a destination for drinking and dining. In March, Phil and Erika Zierke added the Englewood Grand to the mix on South Broadway, giving the neighborhood a much-needed meeting place for sipping and socializing. The Grand is a simple and straightforward bar with little else in the way of distractions. Sure, there are a few house cocktails and craft beers from nearby breweries, but you don't need to be an expert on mixology to enjoy a few rounds with friends in the atmospheric joint, which evokes saloons of days gone by. Need food? The Grand runs occasional specials like a shot of Japanese whisky paired with a cup of instant noodles, "crocktease" nights with crockpot favorites, or occasional food trucks out front. Live music and cocktail theme nights (like a tiki takeover) round out the experience.
619 East 13th Avenue
Hudson Hill is bright, airy and inviting — almost the exact opposite of a dive bar. But owner Jake Soffes manages to make this Cap Hill newcomer feel casual and lived-in, with records spinning on the turntable, comfortable wrap-around banquettes and a roster of delicious drinks. Come in early in the afternoon and try an espresso for a quick pick-me-up before rounds of drinks, then hang out over meat-and-cheese plates, bowls of almonds and olives, or pork terrine wrapped in bacon. Not to be missed is the inside-out grilled-cheese baguette: a crusty, cheesy, buttery slab of grilled goodness.
New Image Brewing Co.
5622 Yukon Street, Arvada
Olde Town Arvada's New Image pours barrel-aged beers brewed in-house, creative styles for adventurous palates. But there's also a full bar offering cocktails made with beer ingredients, so you'll find, for example, housemade syrups and bitters flavored with individual hop varietals blended into seasonally inspired drinks. The small-plates lineup feels equally ingredient-driven, with Spanish-style shrimp, lamb lollipops and pork-kimchi tacos as examples of the decidedly non-brewpub menu. New Image gets props for creativity in a sea of craft-beer choices.
Keep reading for five more great new bars.
1967 South Broadway
Nathaniel Rateliff and a couple of members of his band, the Night Sweats, teamed up with the owners of the hi-dive to take over the former Bushwacker's Saloon space and transform it into something a little Old West, a little hipster — and a lot unpretentious, classic-bar atmosphere. Despite the owners' musical pedigree, the Overland doesn't host live music, but instead focuses on craft cocktails, quality food (think poblano hush puppies and coriander-spiced lamb with gremolata) and a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. A sunken bar adds a divey element, and the dim, boxy space will lure you in during the day and keep you captive, and captivated, all night.
13 East Louisiana Avenue
Adelitas Cantina is already known for its extensive tequila list and thirst-quenching margaritas, but the spring addition of Palenque, with a side entrance around the corner from the main restaurant's front door, gives special focus to the mezcals and antojitos of Oaxaca. There are more than 75 mezcals to choose from, and the staff is ready to field your questions in order to steer you in the right direction. A pour of the smoky spirit, sipped from custom-made clay cups, along with a side of spicy peanuts and chapulines (Dios mío — those are toasted grasshoppers!) will take you far, far south of Denver.
530 East 19th Avenue
Scoff at the notion of the modern speakeasy if you will, but missing out on Retrograde means eschewing one of Denver's most fun bar concepts: a swank, disco-style cocktail lounge hidden in the back room of an ice cream shop. Step into Frozen Matter, where families queue up for quality housemade frozen dessert, and you might notice a boozy ice cream pairing on the menu — the only clue that the joint has a liquor license. But after a few couples slip past the ice cream counter (sans children) and duck into a walk-in freezer in the back, you'll wonder if there's something sneaky going on. That freezer door is the entrance to Retrograde, where the cocktails are shaking and the dim lights give a neon cast to sleek surfaces and sexy lines of the bar shelves and glass fixtures. This is one daring dairy.
3254 Navajo Street
This quirky joint with the ambiguous name is in fact a full restaurant, but the entire setup and execution have the feel of a neighborhood bar, where it only takes a visit or two before the bartenders know your name and you're tipped off to all manner of insider specials. The menu is eclectic and ingenious, with tostadas, steamed buns, skewers and lettuce wraps making for nearly limitless combinations of small bites. There are larger plates, too, mostly served from a nightly specials board, but those are built to be shared. The crew behind this bar concept, which got its start in Telluride, proves that there is indeed a there there...
The Way Back
4132 West 38th Avenue
You know Denver's tastes are changing when we recommend a place on West 38th Avenue that's not Chubby's. That's because there's room for both greasy-spoon Den-Mex and clever cocktail concoctions on this fast-changing stretch demarcating the West Highland, Sunnyside and Berkeley neighborhoods. The Way Back is serious about drinks without taking itself too seriously. The evidence: cocktails named Death by Mariachi, I'd Buy That Drink a Drink and Oaxacan the Garden — as well as the threat of a good brain freeze from a frosty daiquiri. What's more, the Way Back has a way with food, too, building exceptional small plates from seasonal vegetables and expertly handled offal (like heart and sweetbreads) and large plates that include some of the best roast chicken in town.
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