The nightlife in Boulder, Colorado, is like nowhere else.
Sure, like any good Colorado city, there are plenty of breweries and distilleries, about 50 in Boulder County, in fact. But even these are unique. There is cold brew beer, bike and brew tours and even a bar called Shoes and Brews, where you can buy a new pair of shoes and then wear them to race for the price of your pint.
Beyond beer, Boulder’s bars offer kombucha “car bombs” for the non-alcohol drinkers, hand-squeezed margaritas and potions made with different herbs, “energies” and “vibrational essences.” Take these on their own, sans booze, throw in some gin if you can’t soberly swallow the idea of a vibrationally intentional potion at the bar.
Boulder has some pretty unique bars and breweries, as well as some more mainstream ones just serving up excellent, good ol’ fashioned old fashioneds. Here are our 13 favorite places to tip back a cold one under the shadow of the Flatiron Mountains.
Shoes and Brews
This bar isn't technically in Boulder; it's a bit east in Boulder County, in a smaller city called Longmont. And it's not technically a bar, either. That's what makes it worth noting.
Shoes and Brews brings together Boulder's love of both fitness (specifically, running) and beer in one unique spot. It's a specialty shoe store-slash-taproom. So you can buy your running shoes here and then slip them on and race for the price of your pint. Shoes and Brews holds various other unique running-related events and drink specials, too. You have to visit to believe it.
Granted, this isn’t the most Boulder-y bar, but its vibe is unmatchable. The Bohemian Biergarten feels like you’re stepping straight into an authentic European pub, complete with long, community-style tables (that some Americans totally hate). The biergarten serves (you guessed it) Euro beer and food (mmm, schnitzel) and features a small front patio facing the Boulder County Courthouse lawn, just a polka-step to the popular Pearl Street Mall.
Travelers love it because it’s stumbling distance to the historic and elegant Hotel Boulderado, one of the top places to crash for the night. As a bonus, the Bohemian Biergarten’s back room is a killer live music venue that attracts world-famous (no, really) stand-up comedians to its popular comedy night on Sundays.
So, this isn’t a bar, per se. It’s a lot of things. And it’s everything.
The Rayback Collective couldn’t be any more Boulder if it were Subaru Outback. It’s an old plumbing supply store converted into a hip food truck park. The indoor-outdoor venue also has a lengthy bar counter with more than 30 taps and features live music, special events and cornhole and silly yard games outside.
The vibe here is great. It’s spacious, yet friendly and cozy. There are tons of nooks and spots to hang out and sip beer, and it’s open all day and night. The food trucks are always changing, so you never get bored. It’s a bit of a non-traditional style of nightlife, but then what in Boulder isn’t non-traditional?
Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery
Mountain Sun is a Boulder staple and a hot spot among the locals. This relaxing, locally owned pub, located right on the Pearl Street Mall, brews more than 75 different types of craft beer throughout the year that you can use to wash down a pretty naughty and delicious menu. Mountain Sun rounds off its offerings with live music and even an open bluegrass pick, all for free. There’s never a cover.
Mountain Sun also has a second location in South Boulder called Souther Sun, which is just as popular and retains the same relaxed, granola vibe.
License No. 1
License No. 1 is where to go for a date night out or an expertly made cocktail. This atmosphere is totally different than any other bar in Boulder. It’s dark, sultry and feels like an old-fashioned speakeasy, located in the stone basement of the historic Hotel Boulderado. Here, you can catch live music on some nights or find a corner couch in a side room for a private conversation.
Fun fact: This was the first bar in town to get a legal license to serve up liquor after the Prohibition, hence its name. It got the No. 1 license.
Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place
Welcome to Boulder, where you can get energetically curated cocktails, dubbed potions, for a nightcap. Shine itself has a welcoming, loving atmosphere, with a group of tight-knit tables tucked under the elaborate artwork.
Everything is intentional here, and the potions are no exception. You’ll find (surprisingly delicious and healthy) drinks made out of herbs and flowers, with a dash of sound frequencies and gem essences. OK, maybe all of the ingredients are hard to prove (or taste), but the novelty is fun, no matter what you believe. And since they’re “mindful,” these cocktails don’t come packed with sugar, additives and hangover-makers. You could even say they’re healthy.
Tahona Tequila Bistro
Tahona is a top Boulder bar for so many reasons. First, the drinks. Tahona’s margaritas are our favorite in town. They’re made with hand-squeezed lime juice, which equates to about 180 squeezes a day (on a regular day).
Second, the selection. Tahona features more than 130 different types of tequila, including some rare types.
Third, the location. It’s right on the Pearl Street Mall, with a small front patio and a hip indoor-outdoor vibe in the summer; staff cranks open the oversized windows and the warm, mountain breeze drifts through.
Finally, Tahona is one of the few bars in Boulder where you can actually go “clubbing.” Granted, it’s not huge, but live DJs bring in a packed crowd to the dance floor every weekend. The crew here tends to be a bit younger, but in true Boulder style, it’s welcoming to just about anyone who wants to shake it.
The Bitter Bar
Anyone who knows cocktails will list the Bitter Bar as a Boulder best. This is where you go to get a perfectly made drink made by one of the best bartenders in the country. The Bitter Bar is headed up by cocktail king James Lee, which has earned this bar major accolades among foodies and spirit connoisseurs.
One of the coolest features here is the happy hour draft system, where, you guessed it, hand-made cocktails are presented on draft.
Not a cocktail kind of partier? The Bitter Bar also offers wine and beer.
You can’t talk about Boulder’s best bars without giving a nod to the breweries, in particular Boulder Beer. This brewery claims to be the state’s first craft brewery, making it a must-visit destination in Colorado, especially for hops heads and brewsters.
Boulder Beer has two locations: the Pub on Wilderness, with a pretty respectable food menu (which even serves weekend brunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.), and Boulder Beer on Walnut, conveniently in downtown. Look for live music and special events throughout the week at the Wilderness location.
Avery Brewing is one of the best-known breweries in Boulder, and likewise, it's also one of the most popular to visit when you want to tip back a cold one. This brewery has made a strong impact on Boulder's beer scene for about 25 years. One reason: The beer tastes good. And it's always a little unexpected, rarely fitting neatly into an existing category. In that, Avery epitomizes everything that makes Boulder so beloved.
Visit the Avery tap room during your next trip in Boulder and learn about the history of the brewery, as well as take a tour of the production facility. The tap room has been open to the public since 2003, but the hours vary, and so do the taps. You can check the website for the current line-up of beers before making the trip to taste them. Or allow yourself to revel in the surprise, knowing the atmosphere and flavor are consistently good.
Bramble and Hare
Bramble and Hare is one of those hidden gems in Boulder that the locals know about but don't want to share because it's too special. This tiny, cozy restaurant just off the Pearl Street Mall comes to life after dark, when it is the favorite hangout for the town's restaurant and bar staff as soon as they clock out for the day.
Bramble is known for its innovative, surprising, farm-to-table menu (it has its own nearby farm, which drives the offerings), and that extends to its cocktails, too. The best bet is to ask the bartender to whip you up something unique. Who knows? You may very well end up with a ginny drink accented by muddled asparagus. These are some of the most innovative cocktails you'll ever find. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy the adventure.
The atmosphere adds to the experience, too. Bramble and Hare is tiny, with only a handful of tables accented by antiques. It feels like you traveled back in time. Everything is intimate. Watch the chef cook your meal from scratch in his humble kitchen and interact with the bartender, often sharing ingredients and ideas.
There's also microbrews and wine on the menu, although it'd be a tragedy to go here and not at least try something strange.
Tip: If you want an app with your drink, you can often score deviled eggs here. (Why don't more places serve deviled eggs?)
Centro is another popular Mexican restaurant in downtown off the Pearl Street Mall. But what makes this bar and restaurant stand out from the rest is its massive, festive patio, arguably the best patio in Boulder.
You can sit at a table or the lengthy, indoor-outdoor bar counter that feels like you have been transported to a resort in Mexico. The drinks are top-notch, too, from the bloody Mary at weekend brunch to the margs, frozen daiqueris and pina coladas all night long.
The best time to visit is Monday night: happy hour, all night long. If you want to imbibe to live music, head to Centro on Sundays, when there are more drink specials, too. There's always an excuse to visit here, not that the patio and margaritas aren't reason enough alone.