Denver, Colo., is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation—but we’d argue that’s about a lot more than population growth. It feels like a new bar, brewery, or restaurant (or marijuana dispensary) opens its doors in the Mile High City every other day.
Lace up your drinking shoes (heads up: Denverites dress casually) and point them toward any of the metropolis’ myriad microhoods. Each has its own charm, character, and plenty of worthy watering holes. Get started with this boozy tour of four of our favorite neighborhoods.
Locals refer to this onetime industrial neighborhood—now the city’s hippest district—as RiNo. Start on the patio at Black Shirt Brewing Co., which recently added a pizza-focused menu to its roster of red ales. Millers & Rossi, one of the area’s latest additions, is next. Enjoy the theater of a smoked old fashioned at this edgy speakeasy-meets-art gallery.
A 10-minute walk brings you to urban winery The Infinite Monkey Theorem; winemaker Ben Parsons sources most of his grapes from Colorado’s Western Slope. Around the corner are some of the best cocktails in the city: Bar Fausto’s extensive menu ranges from classics to a rotating list of 10 signature drinks. Order one of the latter, since you may never see that specific mixture on offer again. Refuel a couple of blocks away at Finn’s Manor, a New Orleans-inspired bar—there are more than 400 spirits available, including 70 rums—that doubles as a food truck pod.
A post-dinner cider flight from Stem Ciders is the best way to taste the three-year-old spot’s assortment of traditional and experimental offerings (almond cider, anyone?). From there, pull up a seat at Curio inside the always-buzzing Denver Central Market. Any gin-based cocktail on the rotating menu is a winner.
Your next stop is Matchbox, a wonderfully divey locals’ hangout known mostly for its strong drinks and bocce court out back. Nearby Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club is rooted in the neighborhood’s historic jazz culture. Sip sherry to the sounds of live music as you take in your art deco surroundings.
Sober up on the mile-long walk to Great Divide Barrel Bar. The brewery opened this packaging facility and taproom in 2015, but its Yeti Imperial Stout and Denver Pale Ale were some of the city’s first craft beers.
Sunny evenings are meant for the patios of Lower Highland. Don’t expecting anything fancy when it comes to the menu or the furnishings at Denver’s oldest continually operating watering hole, My Brother’s Bar, a onetime hangout of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady; there’s not even a sign out front. Gild your liver with a local pint on the shaded back patio. Down Platte St., find expertly mixed cocktails at the subterranean Ste. Ellie and then pick your way through the millennial crowd sipping Princess Yum Yum raspberry Kölsch and Graham Cracker porter on the large front deck at Denver Beer Co.
After a half-mile walk to Avanti Food & Beverage, a contemporary food hall, reward yourself with an American Grind hamburger and your choice from the almost two-dozen taps, many of which are local. Dig in on the stadium-style deck overlooking the city skyline. More beer—including a handful of bombers—and an extensive outdoor patio await up the hill at Recess Beer Garden.
Change up your order at Señor Bear, a Latin-inspired restaurant from acclaimed local chefs Blake Edmunds and Max MacKissock that opened in June. Ask for the Celso, which incorporates pisco made exclusively for the eatery by Hotchkiss-based Jack Rabbit Hill. Next door is the fledgling Bremen’s Wine & Tap, a relaxed neighborhood eatery with a fun, rotating happy hour ($2 at 2 p.m. to $5 at 5 p.m.).
Time your 0.3-mile jaunt to El Five to coincide with sunset. The latest venture from lauded chef and restaurateur Justin Cucci serves panoramic city views, a lively space, delectable tapas menu (the green gazpacho is a must), and unique drinks, some of which you can guzzle out of a porrón. Depending on your mood, either (night)cap the evening at the dimly lit, award-winning speakeasy Williams & Graham—a Vieux Carré is required sipping—or its grungier sister bar, Occidental, next door.
Your first stop in Denver’s most eclectic neighborhood should be Board Game Republic. Compete against your friends in one of 750 games (it’s just $5 per person to play) with your choice of Colorado-made wine, beer, or spirits. A 15-minute walk along East First Avenue brings your first taste of the strip’s affinity for neighborhood pubs: Historians Ale House is always brimming with people looking for local draft beer and a rooftop deck to enjoy it on.
Just across the intersection sits Sputnik, a hipster-fied South Broadway institution with a fantastic vegan menu and drinks like the Thor (jalapeño-infused tequila, ginger beer, and lime). The adjoining Hi-Dive live music venue is one of many in this area. Your first drink and a show will be a couple of blocks down at Skylark Lounge. The two-story dive is covered in vintage photos, has billiards upstairs, and a full calendar of talented musicians.
Walk into a different world a block away at Adrift Tiki Bar. The tropical vibe of your Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi extends to the kitschy-in-the-best-way décor. The trend of fantastic scenery continues at The White Whale Room; the nautical-themed space (white benches are shaped like whale bones) contrasts the timeless cocktail menu of tipples such as the sloe gin fizz or Hemingway daiquiri.
A slightly longer walk brings you to Syntax Physic Opera, a “multisensory music venue, eatery, and art bar.” The cocktail menu leans heavily on locally distilled CapRock spirits and was crafted, in part, by local musician Nate Meese. A mile away is Palenque Mezcaleria, Denver’s only mezcal-focused bar, which has more than 100 bottles to choose from.
Your options get a little simpler at Dive Inn, where the expected cheap booze can be enjoyed in an unusual setting: the bow of a boat situated in the middle of the main room. Wrap up the evening in the comfort of Grandma’s House, a three-year-old brewery where the nostalgia extends from the crocheted tap handles to the Nintendo.
Check out these side-by-side neighborhoods in one afternoon. Fuel up with gourmet comfort food and ecofriendly wine-on-tap at Max’s Wine Dive. Down the block sits Vesper Lounge, chef and restaurateur Frank Bonanno’s most low-key offering. Channel James Bond and order the house cocktail, the Vesper (London Dry Gin, Skyy vodka, and Lillet Blanc).
Next up are two stops that showcase Denver’s latest bar trend: coffee shops that transform into cocktail houses when the sun lowers. The black-and-gold art deco designs of White Lies are a beautiful backdrop to its decidedly modern-with-a-twist concoctions. Hudson Hill, a little less than a mile away, takes inspiration from nearby Wax Trax Records, with the en vogue industrial space’s soundtrack run on vinyl and the cocktail du jour taking inspiration from an album.
East Colfax Avenue—which separates Capitol Hill from Uptown—is dive bar central, so a pit stop at Sancho’s Broken Arrow is required. The psychedelic bar (concert posters, many from Grateful Dead shows, cover the walls) has no windows and PBR is a popular order. Uptown’s version is The Horseshoe Lounge, which requires a 15-minute walk. Grab a spot at the bar or one of the back booths at this 10-year-old establishment; beer is the way to go here, with everything from Lone Star to Ballast Point available.
Ice cream is your next goal—sort of. Step through the fake walk-in freezer at nearby Frozen Matter ice cream shop and you’ll find Retrograde, a dark, 35-seat speakeasy. Let the capable bartenders steer you toward something new.
Hopefully you’ve already made reservations for a ping-pong table at Ace Eat Serve, an Asian-inspired restaurant-meets-pong hall. Cheers to a successful crawl with a highball or the Year of the Rooster (two types of whiskey, scotch, herbal liquor, bitters, and orange).