Though Denver has experienced record growth over the past 10 years, the truth is that Denver has always been a drinking town, since the first miners arrived in search of gold. As a result, you’ll find a wonderful mix of historic locales with plenty of character, along with sleek new social spots. From elevated rooftop bars and speakeasies to classic watering holes, Denver has a bar to suit. While après is part of Denver’s DNA, there are options for night owls, too. To find the best bars, look for neighborhood portmanteaus like LoDo, RiNo, SoBo and LoHi.
There’s a good chance that you’ll hear Finn’s Manor before you find it in RiNo. Part bar, part live-music Mecca, part food-truck pod, it’s hard to get a firm handle on Finn’s—but you don’t have to. With a tagline of “worldly libations,” you’ll find more than 800 spirits on offer. Head to the bar for an Inca Trail, with Leblon Cachaca, Cedilla Acai Liqueur, pineapple and Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters, or whatever rotating rum punch they’re pouring at the moment (it changes daily).
My Brother’s Bar
Established in 1873, My Brother’s Bar is reputed to be the oldest bar in Denver, and it’s certainly one of the most well known. Although it’s changed names and hands a few times in its 145 years, the local feel that enticed Neal Cassidy in the 40s and appealed to the likes of Kerouac and his Beat buddies still holds true for those who wander in for the no-frills atmosphere, beer, and burgers.
The Cruise Room
For a taste of art deco glam, visit The Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel. Denver’s longest-running bar (it was opened after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933), The Cruise Room is one of the city’s most iconic bars. Designed to look like the lounge on the Queen Mary (hence the name), this ruby-hued gem continues to woo patrons with classic cocktails, world-famous martinis, and its golden-age vibe.
Wander along SoBo, the stretch of south Broadway that beckons with its myriad of bars, restaurants, and funky shops, and you’ll find Adrift. Look for the carved statues that guard the doors, and then enter the Polynesian-themed oasis. Denver’s only strictly tiki bar, you’ll find classic drinks like zombies and mai-tais, along with punch bowl-sized options for sharing. Hawaiian shirts not required.
After you finish the “Who’s On First” back-and-forth required to locate this destination, head to There… for early evening libations or late night shenanigans. Don a funky hat for photos (the Transformer mask is eye-catching but makes drinking difficult) and then get on with the fun. Featuring several sake-based creations and fruit-forward options, There… also has a full bar for filling up the shot ski, perfect for starting (or ending) any party.
Meier’s Craft Skiery
Visiting Denver means a discussion of skiing and/or snowboarding at some point — the sweeping expanse of the Rocky Mountains to the west makes it inevitable. To truly get into the spirit, make your way to the Meier Skis factory and their “Craft Skiery.” Perched at a bar made out of ski cores, you can sip on Colorado craft beer while you watch the skis being pressed. If the sight of the gear inspires you, purchase a pair. Or simply take a tour and enjoy learning about local, handmade skis.
Terminal Bar/Cooper Lounge
No visit to Denver is complete without stepping inside the gorgeous Union Station, located in the heart of LoDo. While you’re there, you might as well stop and get a drink while you admire the architecture and surreptitiously watch the people coming and going. If you’re a planner, make reservations at Cooper Lounge, the swanky destination on the mezzanine level that offers dazzling views of downtown as well as a bird’s eye option of the Great Hall on the other, along with classy cocktails. For a more casual option, the Terminal Bar offers wine, cocktails and an impressive craft beer list with plenty of seating.
When spirits from south of the border beckon, head to Palenque Mazcaleria. Denver’s first and only mezcal bar (and the fifth largest in the country) operates as a bar-slash-schooling opportunity. There are approximately 75 agave-based spirits on offer, letting you create your own syllabus for sipping. Order a cocktail for an intro to the smoky, vegetal flavors of the spirit; sip on one-ounce pours for a more in-depth education.
The inexorable expansion of Denver has made Fort Greene, located in the Globeville neighborhood, not as far-flung as it once might have been. Cool and quirky, Fort Greene serves up exquisitely crafted cocktails along with live music, performances, and even yoga. Belly up to the bar or explore the various sitting areas including an outdoor patio and what seems to be your '70s-loving aunt’s living room.
Williams & Graham
Opened in late 2011, Williams & Graham is credited with putting Denver’s cocktail scene on the map. One of the first “speakeasies” in Denver, enter the bar through a bookcase and you’ll find a warm, inviting atmosphere with cozy booths for conversation along with an impressively stocked bar that invites discourse with the bartenders. The cocktail menu serves as a history lesson in imbibing, so don’t be afraid to sip through the centuries.
It’s not a speakeasy (no passwords are required), but you’d be forgiven for thinking it is on first glance. Located in the basement of RiNo’s Izakaya Ronin, this late-night destination is a more of a “moguri izakaya,” or Japanese speakeasy pub. Featuring an eye-opening selection of Japanese whiskeys, sake, cocktails, and Japanese beer, Izakaya Ronin also serves late night food, including some of the best ramen in Denver, to help end the night strong.
There’s no shortage of speakeasies in Denver and while B&GC might not be accessed through a bookcase, it’s definitely one of the most sought after. Tucked behind the Halcyon in Cherry Creek, reservations are available by text and guests are led through an alleyway before being ushered inside. The lights are low, and the drinks are boozy; bartenders are happy to craft something to your preferences if nothing on the (extensive) cocktail list tickles your fancy.
One of the first of Denver’s food halls, Avanti also attracts the happy hour crowd to LoHi with its many spots for enjoying a beverage, including the rooftop. From here, you’ll enjoy skyline shots of Denver along with wine, specialty cocktails (try the Le Queen for a splash of sunshine), and extensive craft beer list. As the night progresses, the lights of Avanti act as a sort of beacon for those who are looking to extend the evening with just one more drink.
Mile High Spirits
What do you get when you combine a distillery with a music venue? Mile High Spirits, the place to for live music paired with house-made spirits. The result is, unsurprisingly, quite spirited. Weekdays are more low-key (perfect for sipping and socializing) while the weekends are reserved for those who want to shake off the workweek on the dance floor.
Since 1959 Star Bar has been the place to go when you know you should go home, but can’t quite tear yourself out of LoDo. Don’t let the exterior fool you: Once inside, there’s plenty of room to groove on the dance floor or enjoy a game of Skee-Ball while listening to the band on the weekends (or the brave karaoke souls that migrate there on Tuesdays or Thursdays). Yes, it’s a bit divey, but at the end of the night, it’s the perfect place to create those stories that you’ll tell over and over again.