The Ten Best New Bars of the First Half of 2016

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Earlier this week we brought you our list of the most promising restaurants to open in Denver so far this year. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also steer you toward our favorite new watering holes. This year has seen a surge of creative new bars offering seemingly endless rows of beer taps, shelves filled with gleaming bottles of artisan spirits, and menus overflowing with remarkable bites far beyond standard wings and burgers. Here's our list of the ten most promising watering holes to open so far in 2016. Hope to see you on a barstool at one of these soon!

1. The Crafty Fox Taphouse & Pizzeria
3901 Fox Street

Kyle and Angelique Moyer opened the Crafty Fox in February on the same corner as their liquor store, Bogey's Beer & Wine. The couple is putting their industry connections to good use by bringing in rare, seasonal and one-off kegs from top breweries not just in Colorado, but from all over the U.S. — so you'll find your favorite local brews next to beers that are unavailable anywhere else in town. The selection is constantly rotating, so there's always something new to sample; a menu of pizzas, sandwiches and other snacks made with beer ingredients (hops, barley malt, wort and yeast, for example) gives the food beer-friendly appeal. Spacious outdoor patios offer an unobstructed view of downtown and are perfect for a summer evening with beer in hand.

2. Englewood Grand
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? Check out front for the El Tep food truck, or ask about fun specials, like a shot of Japanese whisky paired with a cup of instant noodles.
3. Hudson Hill
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 for 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: the inside-out grilled-cheese baguette, a crusty, cheesy, buttery slab of grilled goodness.

4. Illegal Pete's
2001 East Colfax Avenue

We're all familiar with Illegal Pete's and its menu of hefty burritos, mix-and-match tacos and other Mexican fare. Each of the eight Front Range fast-casual cantinas has its own unique appeal, but the new Colfax outpost is best suited as a hangout for beers and margaritas. An indoor/outdoor bar, a shady patio facing Denver's craziest thoroughfare, and a mezzanine where you can settle in for the night — and maybe catch a live band or two — all make for excellent bar time, even when it's also burrito time. 

5. Kline's Beer Hall
7519 Grandview Avenue, Arvada

Housemade sausages and a smattering of Eastern European small plates are the primary dinner offerings at Kline's, which makes sense for an old-world beer hall. But Kline's keeps from sliding into oompah-band kitchiness with its austere, DIY decor and comprehensive list of craft beers divided into "featured friends," rarities on rotation, staff picks and seasonal specials — like this month's "summer of sours." You won't see sudsy steins being waved in the air here; instead, brews come in sensible portions to make sampling your way through the selection that much easier.

Keep reading for the rest of the list...

6. New Image Brewing Co.
5622 Yukon Street, Arvada

Just a couple of blocks from Kline's, New Image pours barrel-aged beers brewed in-house, featuring creative styles for adventurous palates. But there's also a full bar featuring 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. 

7. Palenque Mezcaleria
1294 South Broadway

Adelitas Cantina is already known for its extensive tequila list and thirst-quenching margaritas, but the new 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 mio — those are toasted grasshoppers!) will take you far, far south of Denver.

8. there...
3254 Navajo Street

This quirky joint with the ambiguous name is in fact a full restaurant, but the entire setup and execution feels more like 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...

9. The Way Back
4132 West 38th Avenue

You know Denver's tastes are changing when we recommend someplace 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 that demarcates 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.

10. The White Whale Room
415 South Cherokee Street
An all-day, Moby Dick-themed cafe serving coffee in the morning and cocktails at night and catering to light-rail commuters and urban apartment dwellers may sound like a hot mess in the making, but the White Whale Room is instead lively, amusing and, most of all, heartwarming, thanks to the gracious service provided by owners Rachael Gass and Dakin Cranwell. Rows of high-back chairs resembling a whale's ribs and flowing ribbons of tentacles painted onto the walls and floors add humor and whimsy to the cool, concrete-and-steel space, turning the Alameda station from an inconspicuous stop on the way downtown into a jumping-off point for a drinking adventure.

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