Denver's solid rep as a meat-and-potatoes town only serves to augment the venerable martini as the beverage of choice as prelude to a truly meaningful steak.
But as is often the case with established traditions, the martini has morphed into numerous variations on its basic theme. As a result we have martinis with sake, pomegranate, cranberry, lemon and, hold your nose, chocolate. Still, if that's your preference, you can find it at any number of accommodating watering holes.
PANZANO (HOTEL MONACO)
909 17th St.
An under-the-radar sort of bar that on any given evening might be populated by rockers, writers, lawyers, hair stylists or, well, you never know. Whether prelude to a meal, an after-work wind-down or post-dinner nightcap, the bartender at Panzano pours a most satisfying libation, whether shaken or stirred.
1450 Larimer St.
This offshoot of the popular hangout for Washington insiders in the nation's capital is dark and clubby. Generous pours from a range of vodkas ease you through the transition from powerbrokering to the evening's poker game or whatever other games powerbrokers play. Like the mother ship in the District of Columbia, the Capital Grill is all dark wood, subdued light and testosterone. But in a good way.
CHERRY CREEK GRILL
184 Steele St.
A popular Cherry Creek neighborhood bar frequented by locals and visitors as well (being as it's an easy walk from the nearby JW Marriott hotel), the Cherry Creek Grill is a a just plain nice place to be. It's perfectly OK to eat at the bar, and if there isn't a crazy crush thoughtful bartenders will replace your martini glass with a chilled one if it looks like the contents are drifting toward room temperature.
CRUISE ROOM (OXFORD HOTEL)
1600 17th St.
Ambience abounds here, a renovated Art Deco spot in Denver's Lower Downtown. Patterned after a lounge on the Queen Mary, its rescue renovation kept the original chrome and neon that draws attention to art that portrays various international toasts. It's hard to believe Denver almost lost the Oxford Hotel housing the Cruise Room. But it didn't and Denver is the better for it.
JAX FISH HOUSE
1539 17th St.
The 4-6 Happy Hour at Jax Fish House LoDo is heaven for oyster lovers who enjoy a good slurp of bivalves as accompaniments to the martini of choice. It's an easy place to debate the relative merits of Wellfleets and Kumamotos; Bluepoints or Moonstones; Atlantic or Pacific mollusks as you sip. There is always enough variety from both coasts to pair nicely with a hearty martini, be it dry or dirty.
DEL FRISCO'S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAK HOUSE
8100 E. Orchard Rd., Greenwood Village
Steak houses are supposed to have good martinis, and this classy joint is no exception. Augmented by the strategic placement of oversized containers filled with fresh flowers, Del Frisco's caters to a clientele clearly defined by its smartly dressed diners and their expensive cars, customarily parked by attentive valets. Also a gathering place for sports figures, real and imagined cowboys who mingle easily with captains of industry - some ensconced in corner offices in the nearby Tech Center.
630 E. 17th Ave.
Another neighborhood fave, the Avenue Grill consistently wins high marks for its martini menu. Who knows where the notion arose of filling olives with blue cheese, anchovies or citrus, but a review of the grill's stirred (never shaken) libations served up in the familiar thin-stemmed triangular vessel is bound to slake the devotee's thirst, whether it leans toward gin, vodka, ginger, sake or just plain vermouth.
SHIP TAVERN (BROWN PALACE HOTEL)
321 17th St.
Located in Denver's Grande Dame of hotels, the Ship Tavern's pub-like setting incorporates the appropriate nautical themes with such un-pub-like offerings as the "El ‘Tini," which unites El Tesoro platinum tequila with lime and ruby red grapefruit juices. A suave gathering place where, Wednesday through Saturday, a pianist tickling the ivories provides background sounds. Stroll through the hotel lobby and appreciate the architectural touches that make place truly grand.
LOLA MEXICAN FISH HOUSE
1575 Boulder St.
Nestled in the lower Highlands (LoHi), which embraces an easy, breezy, laid-back bar scene, is a product of Metro bar big shot, the Big Red F Restaurant Group. Ignore that you're indulging in a delightfully sweet libation nearly adjacent to North Denver's historic Olinger Mortuary and you'll feel totally at ease at Lola, a spacious Mexican-coast influenced bar and bistro. It has a large upstairs dining area, downstairs tailored for private parties and inside/outside bar providing prime no-strings-attached, no-conversation-necessary scoping opportunity. And the mojitos are excellent.