Denver’s first permanent structure was a saloon, and by 1910 there were 450 saloons catering to the city’s rough-and-tumble crowd. Two or three decades ago, Denver gained prominence as one of the nation’s primo beer cities as the craft-beer movement evolved. It still excels at brewing, and local beers are featured on many bar menus. Today, it’s all about the cocktail and flavor profile. Bartenders across the city have brought back sophisticated classics of yesteryear and moved forward with inspired creations featuring a surprising combination of ingredients and techniques. Whether you crave a classic Manhattan or something entirely new featuring intriguing flavors derived from flowers, spices and house-made bitters and tonics, you’ll find it here. Downtown, Union Lodge No. 1 evokes the ethos of a classic American lounge. Citizen Rail draws locals and hotel guests alike and is anything but a standard hotel bar. Williams & Graham in the Highlands and Retrograde Uptown celebrate speakeasy mystique with contemporary flair. At Punch Bowl Social Denver on South Broadway, patrons can order a new-school cocktail before lacing up their bowling shoes for a little retro fun. And that’s just the start. Cheers!
The menu can please just about anybody at any time of day or evening. Think comfort food elevated by more than a few contemporary twists. The hefty drink menu ranges from breakfast drinks to old- and new-school cocktails, plus mixologist approved tea, coffee and milkshake drinks. Canned beer runs the brew gamut from PBR and Rolling Rock to Ska Modus Hoperandi and Avery IPA–and lots in between. There are a few wines as well and, of course, inspired punch variations. But there's a reason social is in the name. This is a place to play with your friends, whether table games, shuffleboard, vintage arcade games, karaoke or bowling–b.y.o. socks or pay $7 for them when you rent your shoes.
Located behind sister venue Adelita's, the entrance to Palenque Mezcaleria is on Louisiana, not Broadway, through the patio. A neighborhood go-to for residents in the Platte Park and South Broadway neighborhoods, Palenque Mezcaleria is worth the trip for anyone who appreciates tequila's smokier, complex cousin. This bar has a vast selection of mezcals, plenty for patrons to learn all about the smoky Mexican spirit. Palenque Mezcaleria was opened, notes the website, "as a passion project to promote the beauty and terroir of mezcal, which expresses the skill of its distillers, the soil of the villages where it's produced and the many maguey (aka agave) varieties used to make it." The compact menu features the foods of Oaxaca, including Mole Oaxaca, as well as other sauces that are not the "same old."
Hotel bars don't always mesh with their surrounding neighborhoods, but Citizen Rail, inside Kimpton Hotel Born near Denver's Union Station, exudes the vibe and ambiance that characterize Denver's Union Station neighborhood. Contemporary, a little edgy and offering a menu exhibiting just the right amount of sophistication to elevate the casual and welcoming atmosphere, Citizen Rail has what it takes to attract locals and hotel guests alike. The cocktail program is led by Chris Burmeister, a fearless and inventive mixologist who has created a cocktail menu that shines with inventive options and thrills with surprising ingredient pairings. Go ahead, try something absolutely new! The beer selection should please most, and a sommelier is on staff to assist wine lovers. As for bites, the charcuterie board is excellent.
The bar's name is encouragement to unplug and take a break from the frenetic world outside and your own too-busy life. It's tucked around the corner from Platte Street in LoHi, and thoroughly inviting with deep red velvet chairs set across the table from blue banquettes. It feels both old school and modern and the menus reflect that, featuring classic cocktails and Coors Banquet along with creative contemporary concoctions made with ingredients such as sous-vide strawberry tequila, rum-burnt coffee beans and hibiscus flower syrup. In addition to wine, beer and cocktails there's also an array of coffee drinks as well as tea, Mexican Coke and Kombucha. You'll see inspiration from multiple cultures in the eclectic food menu, which includes lots of small plates, stuffed buns, build-it-yourself boards and charcuterie and several mains. Nice touch that the tab comes in an old paperback and final receipt in a different one.
Tucked below fabulous Colt and Gray in LoHi, Saint Ellie is an excellent bar and lounge in its own right and the place to sample some of the stellar fare for which Colt and Gray is known. Like other bars on this list, it operates on a first-come, first-seated basis, so arrive early to avoid a wait. The cocktail list is seasonal but amusing names for the drinks, such as Fresh Quince of Bel-Air, are standard. For the best in creativity, go for the Bartender's Choice and let the staff create a cocktail that meshes perfectly with your flavor preferences. Depending on how hungry you are, you might choose a snack, small plate or large plate to accompany your cocktail. However you do it, you can't go wrong.
Located in Denver's Uptown neighborhood, Retrograde is hidden behind a freezer door at the back of an ice cream shop. It's one of Denver's best bets in the speakeasy genre. To start, it's warm, welcoming and without the annoying pretentious vibe of some others. To be sure, the best way to enjoy Retrograde is by indulging in the spirit and spirits of the place, which is to say by ordering one of the creative or classic cocktails on the list or, better yet, giving the bartender a sense of your preferred flavor profile and waiting for the creative, off-the-menu result. But if you just want to have a beer and watch the show being projected on the wall (Star Trek and Game of Thrones have both been shown), that's OK, too. On the way out, stop for housemate ice cream. Yes, it's a real ice cream shop.
Lady Jane's definitively modern-chic aesthetic is complemented by an abundance of live plants, and there are several separate cozy seating areas so you don't have to hang with the crowd if you don't want to. Where Lady Jane really stands out from other neighborhood bars is its robust lists of beers, wines and spirits, as well as the creative cocktails–both house and classic–on offer. This is not a place for dinner unless a thoroughly elevated grilled cheese is what you're craving. It's a place for before and after dinner and late-night gatherings, a sweet spot in the Highlands to enjoy a nice selection of beverages and a few curated bites, from almonds, olives and pate to a choice of cheeses paired with a baguette.
Williams & Graham, with its upmarket speakeasy ambiance and dark interior, is paradise for sophisticated cocktail lovers and those who appreciate fine whiskeys, cognacs, liquors and liqueurs. Whether your preference is for a classic Old Fashioned or creative contemporary cocktail, Williams & Graham is a fine choice. The drink menu is impressive, featuring more than 60 classic cocktails. Of course, you can also let the bartenders create a bespoke cocktail just for you. As for spirits, patrons can select among more than 500 bottles from around the world, some well-known and some gems to discover. The compact food menu leans toward elevated comfort food with such options as roasted bone marrow with toasted ciabatta and bacon jam, mac and cheese, deviled eggs and the deservedly popular Williams & Graham burger. If your party is larger than six, call to make sure you can be accommodated.
The exposed brick and wood of this warmly-lit bar reflect the historic nature of Denver's LoDo district. Nothing pretentious here, which is one reason it's a favorite with restaurant industry workers–that along with excellent cocktails, beer, wine and snacks offered in a friendly environment. The management has a love of the French Dip and the menu has more French Dip variations than you might have thought possible. If you're looking for just the right comfort-food snack, the crispy chicken and crispy potatoes are deservedly famous, but there are other choices in food as well, and food is served until 1 a.m. Bartenders have crafted some inspired mixed drinks but if you're a fan of classics from the golden age of cocktails, you won't be disappointed. The décor showcases quirky art and fun references to ponies and the west, including a couple of saddles.
From its original brick walls and period prints to menus detailing the history of classic drinks, Union Lodge No. 1 is an ode to a Golden Age of cocktails in 1800s America. The historic 1889 building was home to the first union in Denver, hence the bar's name. If you're a cocktail lover you'll feel at home in this intimate space of just 40 seats where the art of creating and enjoying fine cocktails is the point. All tonics, bitters and tinctures are made in-house, with some delivering a contemporary flavor profile for the staff's deliciously daring seasonal creations. Smoky Irish whiskey melded with grapefruit and hibiscus cordial, lime juice and ginger liqueur? Surprisingly, yes. For a close-up view of the skillful theatrics of the staff at work (fire might be involved) take a seat at the bar. FYI: Colorado is the 38th state, thus the 38-star flag.lag.