For more of the best places to drink, check out our other City Guides.
There are a few things people tend to know about Denver: It’s called the Mile High City, it’s surrounded by the incomparable majesty of the Rocky Mountains, and its airport is weird as hell (seriously, the locals nickname its unofficial equine mascot Blucifer. This likely wasn’t meant as a compliment).
What’s not as well known is the excellence of the city’s drinking scene. We may think we know about it on paper, since it’s the longtime home of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and has gotten a bunch of love from the Tales of the Cocktail folks. But even being equipped with this knowledge cannot fully prepare one for its mélange of posh, polished venues, funky alien speakeasies, five-star dive bars, and slices of history, all tied together with an unpretentious ethos set at varying levels. Colorado’s capital evokes a uniquely visceral response that cocktail geeks should experience at least once. It’s a response inadequately replicated through the printed word. The best we can do is give you a heads-up on the essential places to visit when you arrive.
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Here are the best places to drink in Denver:
Best Place to Start an Evening: Lady Jane
Simply put, this is a bar you need to experience before sundown at least once. Splashed with bright pastel hues, groovy retro breezeblocks, and leafy plants jutting behind booths, the space condenses Palm Springs and Miami sensibilities into a package that is far too pretty to exclusively be experienced at night. Fortunately, this Tales-nominated bar opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, affording one sufficient time to kick off the evening here before the sun disappears. Regardless of the hour, swinging by this spot in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood affords one the chance to indulge in a seasonal rotation of thoughtful and delicious cocktails that emphasizes local ingredients as much as possible. Sitting at Jady Lane’s bar also provides a different type of beauty for the spirits enthusiast — Pappy, Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and other expensive, hard-to-find gems are displayed proudly. Eagle-eyed imbibers may even spot a bottle or two of vintage Chartreuse.
Address: 2021 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, Colo. 80211
Best Place to Feel Like an Insider: Yacht Club
There’s a sign tucked in the corner of Yacht Club’s L-shaped bar that reads, “This ain’t no goddam country club.” Accurate. Part cocktail bar, part dive, and all neighborhood joint, this slightly nautical establishment in Denver’s RiNo district combines a loose, freewheeling atmosphere and a 2 a.m. closing time to act as catnip to Denver’s hospitality industry. Snagging a seat here will likely get you within earshot of folks talking about spirits brands, cocktail specs, and other inside baseball topics, but that’s only half the fun. The Tales-nominated space gleefully injects its welcoming, unpretentious attitude into its drinks program in a way that helps one define what type of bar it is on their own terms. “The beauty of Yacht Club is that it can be whatever you want it to be,” explains Yacht Club bartender Monica Stephen. “Want to grab a nuanced cocktail before a show? We got you. Want to grab a beer and a shot after work? We got you. Inclusivity’s kind of our thing.” This easygoing malleability gives license for Yacht Club to dub itself as a “purveyor of spirits and good times,” and its staff unapologetically lives by this credo to justify the claim. Its customers, whether in the industry or not, richly benefit from this.
Address: 3701 N. Williams St., Denver, Colo. 80205
Best Place to Day Drink: The Wild
Day drinking can sometimes require a delicate approach where you ease into the ritual rather than dive in full-throttle. This downtown Denver spot is ideally suited for these times. It offers a spate of well-composed craft cocktails, but also an array of delicious coffee drinks and casual-sipping beverages like tea and kombucha. These non-potent potables make it possible for one to gently slide into an afternoon of adult imbibing with the bar’s take on a frozen Irish coffee. The venue’s design also captures day drinking’s easy ethos: Festooned with light woods and an airy floor plan whose glass paneling brings the outside in, The Wild’s atmosphere is anything but during the afternoon — perfect for a daytime session.
Address: 1660 Wynkoop St., Suite 100, Denver, Colo. 80202
Best Spot for a Date Night: Forget Me Not
This Tales-nominated cocktail bar fully understands its surroundings. Located in Denver’s affluent Cherry Creek neighborhood amid an eclectic cavalcade of restaurants and high-end boutiques, the space’s sleek modern decor and chill ambience exudes a gentle elegance that encourages connection-affirming conversations. The vibe alone makes it an essential place for a pre-dinner cocktail with your beloved, a feeling furthered by a brilliant cocktail program focused on matching the mood through inventive yet approachable drinks. A prime example of this is the Rootstock cocktail, a beguiling concoction of strawberry rhubarb aquavit, Cappelletti, amontillado sherry, lemon, and Peychaud’s bitters.
Tip-Jar: Forget Me Not is open on Sundays and Mondays, which is somewhat of a rarity for Denver bars. If you’re in town over an extended weekend and plan on hitting multiple bars, check the hours beforehand and appropriately plan.
Address: 227 Clayton St., Denver, Colo. 80206
Best Place to Go Before a Game: Ratio Beerworks
Sports are a big deal in Denver. To wit: It’s not uncommon to encounter Bronco-orange and -blue plates and cups in the city’s diners. Coloradans also take their beer seriously — not surprising, since the city hosts GABF every year. This brewery, recommended by Stephen, offers an ideal convergence of the two passions. Located within two miles of Coors Field and Ball Arena, the industrial-style space hits the sweet spot of being close enough to enjoy a pre-game brew and a cheap rideshare and far enough to not be fully engulfed in stadium-adjacent chaos. This makes it easy to become immersed in the brewery’s intriguing story. Founded by a couple of musicians who honed their brewing skills in Germany, the beers here lean toward lighter ales and European styles like witbiers and saisons. However, you’ll find a collection of IPAs, sours, and other expressions on the menu. Even if you don’t have tickets, it’s still a great space to celebrate the good and vent about the not-so-good of the Denver sports scene.
Address: 2920 Larimer St., Denver, Colo. 80205
Best Place to Order a Classic: Cruise Room
Inspired by a lounge on the legendary vessel Queen Mary — hence the boat-themed name — this pristine Art Deco-style bar nestled inside downtown’s Oxford Hotel opened its doors the day after Prohibition’s repeal. Its long, narrow layout and design is the same as it was on day one, and a careful restoration to its paint job and furniture in 2012 fully restored the space to its elegant Cole Porter-era glory. Such a step back in time that practically begs you to order a classic cocktail. It’s a good thing, too: Cruise Room’s near-90-year reputation was partially built on its ability to whip up the city’s best Martini. This doesn’t mean it just sticks to the classics — the menu offers a solid roster of modern in-house creations. Still, you’d be remiss if you didn’t belly up to the bar, ask for something timeless like a Martini, French 75, or Gimlet, and slowly savor the elegance of a bygone era.
Address: 1600 17th St., Denver, Colo. 80202
Best Spirits Experience: Laws Whiskey House
Colorado’s outstanding craft whiskey scene is worthy of attention not just for its juice, but also for the way it promotes the relationship between the Rockies’ land and the liquid. Laws Whiskey House in the city’s Platt Park neighborhood has emerged as a leader in this movement. Laws preaches the gospel of Colorado terroir through its tour and tastings, emphasizing the impact where and how the growth of local grain has on a flavor. That peppery note you’ll get when you taste Laws’ straight rye? It’s there because the grains used gather influence from an adjacent field of serrano peppers. As the push toward studying and acknowledging terroir in spirits continues, a visit to Laws provides an exceptional glimpse into where this conversation may be headed in the next decade.
Address: 1420 S. Acoma St., Denver, Colo. 80223
Best Place to Get Your Groove On: ESP HiFi
Food isn’t the only thing you can pair with wine. The right blend of music can make the glass of vino clutched in your hand taste better, simply because the vibe created by the former can effortlessly flow into the latter. This venue in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, also recommended by Stephen, exemplifies this phenomenon on a tremendous scale. Inspired by the music-focused tradition of Japanese kissaten (tea houses), the minimalist, industrial-chic space spins vinyl records through analog systems to guide the room’s vibe. There is no set playlist or theme — ambient, jazz, synth pop, and Motown are all possibilities. Its staff takes a similar approach to selecting the wines you’ll enjoy while you explore the sounds. Each selection is the viticultural equivalent of “analog”: natural, minimal intervention, nothing that adds or subtracts from its organic journey. This creates a unique symbiosis between sound and taste that could end up providing unique nourishment to the soul.
Address: 1029 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, Colo. 80204
Best Speakeasy: Williams & Graham
The best speakeasies are the ones that deftly replace the threat of gimmickry with the joy of unique experience. This critically acclaimed space in the HiLo neighborhood excels at producing delight. Designed to look like a bookstore from the front, its cozy lobby opens to a dark and windowless, yet sophisticated, homage to Prohibition that establishes an intimate sense of place the second you walk through the secret panel. A terrific mélange of classics and modern seasonal delights dot the menu, but the bar’s true secret sauce is owner Sean Kenyon. He took home the 2022 Tales of the Cocktail award for Best U.S. Bar Mentor, and his wisdom and guidance govern an outstanding bartending team and front-of-house staff whose collective character and commitment to service fill the space with a palpable sense of connection and happiness. It’s an attitude that comes from an organic place. “What we’re really selling is hospitality,” explains Williams & Graham bartender James Menkal. “You can teach anyone how to make a cocktail, but you can’t teach them to give a f*ck. We’ll take someone who’s completely new to the bar scene as long as they have the right drive.” Reservations are required, so make sure to plan ahead.
Tip-Jar: There’s not a lot of real estate here — bar seating is restricted to parties of two or less — so keep your party small to maximize enjoyment.
Address: 3160 Tejon St., Denver, Colo. 80211
Best Neighborhood Bar: Occidental
Located next to Williams & Graham and also owned and operated by Kenyon, this unfussy, slightly divey, punk-themed bar provides the charmingly ramshackle thrust to its neighbor’s elegant parry. Festooned with band stickers, flat-screen TVs, and the ephemera of New York sports teams, the bricked-out space leaves zero room for pinkies-out pretense. The scene creates a remarkable juxtaposition to the stupendous drinks whipped up by talent behind the stick. Boasting names borrowed from song titles across all genres, these drinks feature inventive ingredients and techniques seemingly unbecoming of such a space, like chocolate-infused bourbon, chicory liqueur, butterfly pea flower syrup, or lavender tincture, but that makes everything that much more fabulous. If you’re in the mood for something significantly more basic, Occidental has your back: It claims to make the “world’s best vodka soda,” so take that as you will. (No word on whether it makes the best vodka water, though).
Tip-Jar: Lady Jane, Williams & Graham, and Occidental are within 200 feet of each other. All three have earned either Tales wins or nominations. If you’re planning on hitting one, go for the trifecta.
Address: 1950 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, Colo. 80211
Best Place to Push Your Palate’s Boundaries: Retrograde
Don’t let the saccharine innocence of this speakeasy’s fully operational ice cream shop storefront fool you. A walk through the thick metal door separating sweets from sauce sends you to a funky, retro-futuristic environment that feels like 1975’s idea of what 2022 might be. The sci-fi-inspired cocktail list enhances the vibe with plenty of daring house concoctions designed to nudge you from your comfort zone as you kick back and giggle at whatever MST3K-quality slice of cinematic cheese that’s beaming on the wall. Don’t be intimidated by the esoteric ingredient builds — the mezcal, chili-infused Campari, smoked pineapple, lime, and maple soy featured in the bar’s Transmorphers cocktail may look like an alien mishmash, but hot damn, does it work. If weird is your jam (read: you enjoy Malort), order a Galaxy Lords — a drink composed of milk-clarified Fernet Branca, cauliflower-infused sotol, Korean pepper, and black walnut. It’s the final boss of the Denver cocktail landscape.
Address: 530 E. 19th Ave., Denver, Colo. 80203
Best Place to Finish an Evening: Pony Up
If the Denver drinking scene has an Achilles heel, it’s that a healthy chunk of it closes before midnight. This lively neighborhood bar in the city’s bustling LoDo district eschews this convention by staying open until 2 a.m. It’s not just open for the sake of standing out. For one thing, its kitchen stays open until 1 a.m, and its French dips have a cult following. “I’m not exaggerating when I say the French dips are the reason I first became a regular guest and then started working here,” says Pony Up bartender Dylan Lopez. A stable of sandwiches pair nicely with the bar’s seasonal roster of delicious drinks that find balance beyond the glass. “We’re a fast-paced, high-volume space where efficiency is paramount, but by no means do we do it at the expense of creativity,” Lopez explains. Then, there’s the atmosphere: Buoyant and spirited without being too overwhelming, its vibe will put a nice bow on an evening without leaving one drained. Its energy is perhaps best encapsulated by the long neon sign that hangs in the space. It reads “Thank You for a Real Good Time.” After a few nights in Denver, you’ll likely be saying the same thing to the Mile High City.
Tip-Jar: Feeling adventurous? Order a “Pony Up Shot,” a shot of George Dickel whiskey chased by a shot of French dip au jus.
Address: 1808 Blake St., Denver, Colo. 80202