Denver has always been a wild child when it comes to having a good time. It's first permanent structure was a bar after-all. And by 1910 there were around 450 saloons in town serving nickel beers and free lunches to folks who'd headed west in hopes of finding gold. A century plus later, Denver is still keen to party at any time of day or night, and the city is home to dozens of different style watering holes. There are prohibition era style speakeasies like the Green Russell, where you must still enter through a secret door and the booze comes from Colorado craft distilleries. And dozens upon dozens of start-up microbreweries, like Denver Beer Company, where you can make new friends over pints at communal patio tables on sunny afternoons. There is even a winery in town, Infinite Monkey Theorem in the up-and-coming Five Points neighborhood.
And should you be looking for something more than a drink, there are plenty of clubs to dance the night away in and sports bars to check out out the latest scores. Because as much as Denverites like their bar scene, on a whole this is a city that's equally sports crazy and no team is bigger than the Broncos who play their home games at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. So in honor of this writer's favorite football team, here are 10 great watering holes, representing various angles of Denver's diverse drinking scene, within short taxi ride of the stadium:
On game days, the air at Sports Column is absolutely electric. You'll find the place packed with dedicated sports fans, whose eyes stay glued to the many TV screens, willing their teams to victory. The menu offers traditional bar eats, including burgers, fried appetizers, and salads. Be sure to don your favorite team's colors, and you'll fit right into the lively scene and the sports memorabilia. The official Colorado Rockies bar, Sports Column was also named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 25 sports bars in the US. Another cool thing about Sports Column is its special promotions during big games – check their social media sites for more info. Sports Column also has two happy hours per night (from 3.30pm to 6pm and from 10pm until close, excluding designated major game days like football playoffs) and build your own Bloody Mary specials on the weekends.
Unique among Denver nightclubs, The Church is just what it sounds like: A dance club housed in a former place of worship. The church itself was built in 1865 and its Gothic architecture may have particular appeal for the Goth subculture of the city, though it's a cool space no matter what kind of music moves you. The Old World ambiance is supercharged by a state-of-the-art sound system and cutting-edge DJs with regional and national followings. Open Thursday to Sunday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., The Church is for ages 18 and older. On Fridays and Saturdays a late-night sushi bar provides sustenance. On Global Fridays, the feast is a more visual experience, thanks to the GoGo Nightlife Dancers and $1 drinks for women 21 and older. Saturday is typically Latin night, and on Sundays DJs spin Goth, alternative and industrial.
Denver Beer Company is one of several excellent breweries located in the Lower Highlands (LoHi) area. It's casual, friendly and, by design, a place where folks can meet to share a table, a pint and good conversation. The crowd might be made up of colleagues having a beer after work or mountain bikers stopping in after a ride or neighbors enjoying a casual afternoon or evening out. On Sundays the place is likely to be populated by young families, with their babies and dogs along, enjoying some of Denver's famous sunshine and equally famous beer. The vibe is easy and the music ranges from bluegrass to classic or alternative rock. There are no TVs but there are board games to play while sipping a cold brew. Patrons can check out the brewery on a tour at 4 p.m. or by appointment.
Look closely and you'll notice the Cruise Room Bar, inside the historic Oxford Hotel, is shaped like a wine bottle. It's actually a replica of one of the lounges on the original Queen Mary ocean-liner and has a history that dates back to Denver's early days. It "officially" opened the day prohibition ended, but ask the staff about the secret paneling and underground tunnels if you're interested in learning its moonshine history. Today the bar is famous for its martinis, of which there are more than a dozen to choose, served in oversized shakers. It's a loungy spot to just sit back, sip your old-school cocktail and listen to big bands and the crooners of the 1940s and '50s. Because the Cruise Room seats only about 60 guests, it's a good idea to arrive early as it often fills quickly.
Peaks Lounge sits high above the city in the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. No mere convention hotel venue, Peaks is popular with locals, too, with good reason. It offers what is arguably the best sunset view in Denver. And if there's a rain storm, it's equally dramatic. Peaks is located near Denver's theater complex, making it ideal for an appetizer and drink before a show or dessert and Champagne after. Patrons can choose from nearly 50 wines by the glass and cocktail aficionados will savor specialty drinks made from locally and regionally sourced liquors and fresh ingredients (Denver is home to several excellent distillers). Appetizers and desserts also include regional and seasonal ingredients so they change with the season, providing plenty of variety. For stunning views and a setting that allows for conversation and companionship, Peaks Lounge is hard to beat.
Opened summer 2014, Terminal Bar anchors one end of the meticulously renovated Union Station. Set inside the Great Hall but with its own patio area facing Wynkoop Street, Terminal Bar is integrated into the station and its LoDo neighborhood, making it a natural gathering spot for locals, train passengers and guests of the Crawford Hotel, also inside Union Station. If the bar resembles a train ticket office it's because that's exactly what the space once was, a nice historic note for those sipping some of the 30 Colorado beers on tap. There are also cocktails and wines available. As for food, bar patrons can order from Acme Burger & Brat Corporation just across the Great Hall, and have it served at the bar.
Infinite Monkey Theorem is an urban winery (with patio) that opened in 2008, and weekends are always a party. Located in the RiNo Arts District, IMT is a part of RiNo's burgeoning community scene, including First Friday open houses. IMT doesn't have vineyards. Its winemakers buy grapes from other growers and use their skills to create wine. The ambiance of the tasting room is industrial, young and hip--no granite and marble here. There's no happy hour but there are $5 sangria slushies on weekends. Meat and cheese plates are available and food trucks are on the scene Fridays and Saturdays. Wine is offered by the glass, bottle, flight, on tap, in cans and growlers. Check IMT's Facebook page for up-to-date info on which food trucks will be on scene each weekend and for upcoming special events. Tours, private tastings and a wine club are available.
Located in Lower Highlands, this neighborhood come-as-you-are alehouse is not strictly speaking a brewery. But it belongs on this list because it's owned and operated by the Breckenridge-Wynkoop group, a collaboration of two of Colorado's oldest breweries. At any given time there are 42 beers on tap, including several from the parent company. But taps also pour a couple dozen other Colorado craft brews, with some 10 to 20 beers rotated every week. From just one table or barstool at the Ale House, beer lovers can try the latest and greatest from a slew of Colorado's amazing, prolific craft brewers. The rooftop patio has one of the best Denver city views around--it's well worth working to get a spot. The full menu, decidedly upscale from traditional pub fare, showcases Colorado purveyors including cheese makers, bakers, farmers, coffee roasters and more. Vegetarians and healthy-choicers are covered, too.
ViewHouse creatively combines a 7,000-square-foot rooftop patio, live music and DJs with an expansive green on which patrons can play volleyball, badminton, bocce and other games and activities or sit in 10-person field-side cabanas to watch and drink. The indoor-outdoor space is appealing at all times of day and evening and this is definitely one of Denver's most unusual places to meet friends for a late-night cocktail. Located by Coors Field, it's a good destination after a night game. However, be forewarned: on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to closing and on Sundays there's a dress code that bans such things as facial piercings, backward-facing ball caps, hoods, excessively baggy pants, visible tattoos above the collar, backpacks, and earrings or excessive jewelry on men. The full menu offers everything from giant pretzels to seared salmon; a specialty mule menu features eight different cocktails. For views, head to the rooftop.
Enter through the door of a tiny pie shop and suddenly you're in what's billed as a chef-driven cocktail joint. Like the food in Frank Bonanno's multiple Denver restaurants, the drinks here feature fresh, quality ingredients. Fresh herbs, house-made bitters and infused sodas are expertly crafted into trendy cocktails and paired with such goodies as pork belly pigs-in-a-blanket or loaded chips. And because there is a real pie shop, you can ask the bartender to match your cocktail to the pie of the day for a most unusual dessert combo. Jazz is the music theme here and there's live jazz on Sunday and Monday evenings. Order a cocktail with tonic to taste the difference in beverage director Adam Hodak's house-made version, with added hints of citrus and spice.