Gird your loins and steel your livers: The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, bringing with it the attendant consumerism, family drama and, of course, drinking. No doubt you'll be making a few runs to your local liquor store for supplies, but this festive season is also a good time to find safe haven — or cause for celebration — in Denver's bars. And for that, we have a few recommendations, whether you're searching for a hideout from feisty relatives, need a salve after a stressful shopping trip or are caught in transit to some other city entirely.
For the Christmas enthusiast: Miracle on Little Raven at Wayward
1610 Little Raven Street
If you're the person who starts playing Christmas music in October and trims the tree the second the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put away, Miracle on Little Raven is your holiday bar. Billed as an "immersive Christmas-themed cocktail bar pop-up," this limited-time green-and-red-bedecked speakeasy, whose entrance is inside of Wayward, doles out festively named cocktails, tricked-out egg nog, hot mulled wine, and a pair of shots: Nice (rum, peppermint and chocolate) and Naughty (bourbon and cinnamon).
For the Grinch: TRVE Brewing
TRVE isn't inherently anti-Christmas, but this brewery, which has long catered to metalheads in its music selection, is a good antidote to they syrupy carols emanating from speakers all over town. As a bonus, TRVE shines in experimental fermentation techniques and mixed-culture sours — pours that seem especially tasty during the winter months.
For those looking to escape the relatives: Retrograde
530 East 19th Avenue
Yes, you could skip into your friendly neighborhood dive bar to escape the frenzy of your visiting relatives, but you could also head to a hidden bar, one your family would have a hard time finding, even if they walked right past it. Retrograde is one such example, located behind a freezer door inside Uptown's Frozen Matter ice cream shop. Other possibilities include RiNo's Millers & Rossi (with an art gallery as a front), or the alleyway tasting room for Golden Moon Distillery out in Golden.
For the Cherry Creek shopper: B&GC
245 Columbine Street
Just dealing with the parking garage at Cherry Creek Mall is enough to drive us to drink — so a real respite is our play here. Head to the alley behind the Halcyon Hotel, where you'll find the entrance to B&GC. A quick descent through the building's unfinished hallways delivers you into a dark, soothing lair, where you can settle into a banquette with a well-executed cocktail. Whiskey takes the edge off, we find. Just note that you'll need a reservation; make it by calling 720-925-8598 after 3 p.m. on the day you're planning to stop by. Too much work? The Bull & Bush Brewery, a low-key brewpub with live jazz on Sunday night, is a short drive away.
For the Park Meadows shopper: Lone Tree Brewing
8222 Park Meadows Drive, Littleton
Like most suburban shopping centers, Park Meadows is surrounded mostly by chains. While those will certainly do the trick in a pinch, if you're after something a little more inspiring, you might follow up your trip to the mall with a stop at Lone Tree Brewing, where you can put back a Mexican lager, a peach pale ale, a coconut brown or something seasonal. A rotating roster of food trucks supplies this brewery with eats, and every Thursday night brings trivia.
For the Flatirons or Boulder shopper: The Bitter Bar
835 Walnut Street, Boulder
Holiday shopping should come with a treat for you, and if you're up north, no better treat than a trip to the Bitter Bar, a Boulder cocktail institution that continues to get better with age. Proprietor James Lee and his staff function as a well-oiled machine, turning out stellar cocktails in a comfortable space that should erase the worries of even the most anxiety-ridden family Santa. There's not a single bad drink at this bar, but if you're a Manhattan enthusiast (or even Manhattan-curious), don't miss your chance to sip this one: Lee has exacting specifications for his iteration of this classic, and it truly is the best we've ever had, by a margin.
For the person who needs a drink during the holiday booze run: RiNo Yacht Club
3350 Brighton Boulevard
You've got to stock your bar at home anyway, and the Proper Pour, tucked into a corner of the Source, is an excellent place to get the job done. The shop curates a great selection of unusual wines and spirits, perfect for festive occasions. You may as well congratulate yourself for checking something off the to-do list with a drink, and you can do it here at the Proper Pour's sibling bar, RiNo Yacht Club. Belly up for a winter standard, or celebrate the season with a fancy drink made with rare spirits.
For the Union Station travel-weary: Mercantile Dining & Provision
1701 Wynkoop Street
There are a number of bars inside Union Station, with varying levels of formality. You'll probably need a reservation if you're after a seat at the Cooper Lounge, but you'll be rewarded with solid cocktails and a great view of the station from above. The Terminal Bar is significantly more low-key: Order your beer from the window, then find a seat in the midst of the holiday hubbub. If we're just off the train or looking to kill a bit of time before setting out for the airport, we pop over to Mercantile, where a great selection of wine, beer and cocktails awaits — with good bites to match.
For the holiday traveler stuck at DIA: Root Down
DIA Concourse C
Okay, okay. If you've flown through DIA even once in the past few years, you probably already know about Root Down's satellite location in Concourse C, where you can drink away your flight-delay woes in style. But consider this your periodic reminder that this is your best bet on C for pre-flight cocktails, as long as you have enough time to get to your gate. Grounded on Concourse A? ChopHouse is your jam. If you're stuck on Concourse B, head to the Lounge 5280 wine bar on the mezzanine, Elway's in the core, or New Belgium way out by gate B60.
For the Champagne hound: Bar Helix
3440 Larimer Street
When Kendra Anderson opened Bar Helix on Larimer earlier this year, she gave Denver a place to exercise hedonistic tendencies. Sometimes that means highbrow — there are a couple of ways to experience caviar here, for instance — and sometimes that means going low. Much of the Bar Helix food list is elevated junk food: chips and dip, tater tots, homemade pop-tarts with foie gras. All of it pairs well with Champagne, several selections of which are offered by the glass, split or bottle here. If you can't imagine this time of year without bubbles, this should be your go-to.
For the person day-drinking away December: Curio Bar at Denver Central Market
2669 Larimer Street
Let's face it: December isn't the most productive work month of the year, which makes it easy to take a late lunch meeting — and then "work from home" for the rest of the day. Post up at the Denver Central Market, where Curio Bar sees a lively crowd all day long. You can supplement your cocktails with coffee and snacks and still look productive. We promise there will be a handful of freelancers and other remote employees doing exactly what you're doing: clutching beers while staring into their laptops.
For the Christmas Night drinker: Williams & Graham and Occidental
3160 Tejon Street, 303-997-8886 and 1950 West 32nd Avenue
Many bars in Denver close up shop on Christmas Day, but not the conjoined Williams & Graham and Occidental, which keep the excellently made cocktails flowing from 6 p.m. until midnight. The former is the more traditional cocktail bar of the two; the latter embodies the neighborhood bar vibe. Whether you need a break from festivities or don't celebrate the holiday that shuts down much of the city, either would be a good place to find yourself on December 25.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.