Best nightlife in Denver: a guide to the city after dark

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Rose
Photo courtesy of SoCo Nightlife District
Photo courtesy of Corridor 44
Photo courtesy of La Rumba
By Christine Loomis, Denver Local Expert

Once upon a time, Denver closed up at 5 p.m. with the exception of a few pockets here and there. Today, that's hard to believe. Denver is a vibrant city of color, characters, sophistication and extensive nightlife options down every street and in every neighborhood. There are lounges, dance clubs, breweries, wineries, speakeasies and a growing number of sophisticated cocktail lounges, all with gathering spots that come alive when the sun goes down. The Larimer Square area satisfies the sophisticated crowd with such options as Corridor 44, Denver's only Champagne bar. Uptown is home to Retrograde, just one of the city's speakeasies, while the Highlands is home to another, Williams & Graham., as well as old-school, come-as-you-are Occidental Bar.  Dairy Block, near Coors Field, has become another hub for nightlife, especially underground Run For The Roses. In Denver's north quadrant, the country-western crowd still packs the Grizzly Rose to line dance, listen to music and challenge the mechanical bull. And in RiNo, nightlife options include Death & Co, the first outpost of New York City's famed cocktail bar.  In short, Denver has it going on across all areas, ages, genres and tastes. If it's happening, it's happening here. 

10. Grizzly Rose
Photo courtesy of Grizzly Rose

Get your cowpoke on at Denver's favorite saloon and honky-tonk where there's live music six nights a week. Some of country-western's rising and already popular stars appear in concert at The Grizz as well. There's no question that this is THE place for boot-scootin' and boogying. There are a 2,500-square-foot floating hardwood dance floor and a 2,000-square-foot dance room. For those who have always hankered to test their bronc-riding mettle on a mechanical bull, this is the place for that, too. Although the club invites families and those under 21 at certain times, at other times it's 21 and older only, so check the schedule. Concerts are general admission, but those willing to spring for bottle service are guaranteed the comfy leather seating next to the stage. There's a full kitchen with a menu featuring BBQ and more.

9. 54Thirty Rooftop
Photo courtesy of 54Thirty Rooftop

Located on the 20th floor of Le Meridien Denver Downtown hotel, 54Thirty offers panoramic views and a hip spot to mix, mingle and sip cocktails. Choose a seat under the awning, out under the Colorado sky or around the cozy fire pit. Wherever you gather, you'll be treated to expansive views across Denver's urban landscape and west to the mountains where sunset or moonlight bathed peaks are in full glorious view. 54Thirty is perfect for a group of friends enjoying the evening as well as for a couple looking for a cozy sweet spot to indulge in a nightcap. 54Thirty is seasonal--primarily in the warm month but occasionally also at other times such as when large events happen at the nearby convention center--so call ahead during shoulder seasons.

8. SoCo Nightlife District
Photo courtesy of SoCo Nightlife District

Club Vinyl. The Church Nightclub. Bar Standard. Milk. These are all venues on Broadway or Lincoln south of Colfax. Each has its own vibe and perhaps a particular genre of music. Both Club Vinyl and The Church are open to ages 18 and older. The others are for 21 and up. Milk, a self-proclaimed underground club, is a nightlife ode to the film A Clockwork Orange, which famously featured a milk bar. The music ranges from '80s and '90s alternative to Goth and Industrial. Those who aren't sure what they're in the mood for can buy a ticket to one club and get in at one of the others, too. All of the venues offer a rooftop area.

7. Occidental Bar
Photo courtesy of Occidental Bar

Located in the Highlands, Occidental Bar is the neighbor and unlikely sibling of upscale Williams & Graham. Proudly punk and low key, Occidental gives dives a good name with its savvy bartenders, excellent cocktails and all the punk tunes you love. Think dive with just the right amount of class. For game watching, Occidental has large-screen TVs and if you happen to be a fan from New York, this has become the place to watch the Giants, Rangers, Knicks, Mets and Yankees. Occidental's well-curated beer list includes options from local and national craft breweries, and while the menu has some familiar bar options such as burgers, the food is elevated here with local and organic ingredients and there are vegetarian menu items as well. Kimchi Tots? You bet.

6. Retrograde

Located in Denver's Uptown neighborhood, Retrograde lies behind a freezer door at the back of an ice cream shop. It's one of Denver's best bets in the traditional speakeasy genre. To start, it's warm and 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, that 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.

5. Corridor 44
Photo courtesy of Corridor 44

While many nighttime venues cater to the young and the restless, Corridor 44 taps into singles and couples looking for a quieter, more elegant (or romantic) experience. This is not about how much one can drink but the quality of the beverage and of the experience itself. Yes, Corridor 44 draws crowds and, yes, it has a hip lounge aesthetic. But it's also a lovely place where conversation and companions are at the fore, along with stellar Champagne, sparkling wines and well-paired small plates including cheeses, salads and chocolate. A private room is perfect for small celebrations with friends. The name comes from the 44-foot corridor within the space, and that's one of the best places to book a table if romance is in the air. Early in the evening, world music might be played, followed by lounge tunes and then more typical club sounds as the night deepens.

4. Death & Co Denver
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

Located in The Ramble Hotel, Death & Co Denver brings a hip vibe and wide-ranging cocktail menu to this first outpost of the famed New York City bar. Denver's iteration fits perfectly into edgy, art-centric RiNo and adds a nicely curated menu of small bites and plates to the mix, such as oysters, burgers (plant-based and beef) and mac-and-cheese. This is not the place for a full-on multi-course dinner, however. Happily, late-night nibbles are offered until 1 a.m. Seating is available at the bar, in plush lobby sofas and chairs and in an airy outdoor garden courtyard. Take time to peruse the expansive cocktail list, divided into evocatively named sections such as Fresh & Lively, Elegant & Timeless and Boozy & Honest. Death & Co delivers a finely honed cocktail experience in comfortably elegant surroundings.

3. La Rumba
Photo courtesy of La Rumba

La Rumba is all about Latin dance, both doing it and learning it. The club, for ages 21 and up, appeals to a diverse crowd spanning multiple generations, cultures and ethnicities, and plays diverse styles of Latin music, from salsa, bachata and Cumbria to merengue and cha-cha. Channeling South Beach and Havana, La Rumba transports dancers to a sultry Latin hotspot, even if Denver is just outside. And just as they would in South Beach or Havana, guests here dress to impress. That means no sports apparel, ball caps, tank tops, shorts or flip-flops. On Saturday nights, La Rumba showcases some of Denver's top salsa orchestras. No salsa or bachata experience? No worries. There are lessons for beginners most nights as well as more advanced instruction for dancers who already have some sultry moves. If you need to park, it's free at 9th and Broadway.

2. Williams & Graham
Photo courtesy of Adam Larkey Photography

Williams & Graham, with its upmarket speakeasy ambiance and dark interior, is a 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 your spot in the Highlands neighborhood. The drink menu is impressive, featuring dozens of cocktail options, cognac and brandy, American whiskeys, blended and single-malt Scotch whiskey and European and New World gins and vodkas, including small-batch variations crafted in Colorado. The list goes on. The compact food menu leans toward elevated comfort food with seasonal offerings added to W&G staples including roasted bone marrow with toasted ciabatta and bacon jam and the Williams and Graham burger. Parties of more than six can be accommodated only in the standing area.

1. Run For The Roses
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

Into the alley mid-Dairy Block, up the stairs, onto the elevator, down a narrow subterranean hallway, through a door in an etched glass wall you'll discover Run For The Roses (RFTR), a swank cocktail lounge that projects both a cozy intimacy and light, sleek aesthetic. RFTR's libation menu is a deck of cards, each card featuring a cocktail and its ingredients, classic to contemporary. Aspiring mixologists can buy a deck for $11 then try to create them all at home. Our tip: the White Lady is a must-try. Down for a beverage adventure? Shuffle the deck and order whatever lands on top. There's no wrong choice. If booze leaves you peckish in the very early morning hours, order the satiating breakfast Sammy with spam like you've never experienced it before, served until last call at 1:45 a.m. Other small bites include shrimp cocktail and deviled eggs.