Whether you've been an item for decade, on a first date or preparing to pop the question, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be judged on your pick for a special night out. From intimate enclaves ambient with the glow of a fireplace to sensuous cuisine, sexy cocktails and splurge wines, there’s a Denver restaurant for every romantic situation. Consider this your Cupid guide to the city’s best spots to celebrate your courtship, no matter the day of the year.
It’s only been around for five years, but Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club, located in the heart of the River North Art District (RiNo) scene, is one of Denver’s most renowned venues for combining love and live music. This isn’t a place for jeans and a T-shirt or to hear off-key musicians missing notes, but somewhere to dress up, sip a throwback blood and sand cocktail, share a plate of glistening oysters on the half shell and watch great local and national titans, mostly of the jazz persuasion, take their place on the large stage. The room’s magnificent sound system is conducive to soft conversation, though the most intimate tables are stowed on the mezzanine, which overlooks the stage and low-lit bar and dining room. The menu, stamped with mussels, a double-fisted burger, cheese plate, salads and a season-intensive, three-course dinner, captures the spirit of the jazzy space and sounds.
Low-key, cozy and downright alluring, Table 6, a popular bistro in Capitol Hill basks in captivating warmth and tender intimacy. The menu, galvanized by the seasons, is illustrated with starters like rich butternut squash soup crowned with toasted pepitas, grilled flatbread scaled with prosciutto, figs, ricotta and cauliflower and tater tots matched with creamed mushrooms and pulled chicken. Main dishes seesaw from pheasant plated with linguiça sausage, kale and crisped chicken skin to black garlic spaghetti paired with chiles, bacon and herbed breadcrumbs, a dish that deftly redefines Italian-American comfort food. The deeply diverse, unpretentious and artisanal wine list is so beautifully curated that you may want to ask the sommelier if he’s taking investors.
It’s been one of dreamiest restaurants in Denver for a decade, eclipsing splashy new arrivals and old paramours alike. There’s the fairytale dining room, an ode to the romance between a lumberjack and a winemaker’s daughter, their story told through the eyes of alluring design elements: diaphanous muslin curtains, clusters of aspen tree trunks weaved throughout the dining room, flickering camp lanterns and cozy booths conducive to canoodling. And then there’s the rusticated global menu, a sonnet of refined plates—crawfish beignets, chicken liver pâté, roasted bone marrow and a cheese board—that are seductive and shareable. Beatrice + Woodsley’s urban location, smack in the bustle of the pulsating Baker neighborhood, might make you wonder if you’re entering a party zone, but beyond the door is matchless tête-à-tête territory.
Larimer Square, with its tourist-filled sidewalks, sometimes feels like Denver’s equivalent of Times Square, but if you dart through what’s called the “Kettle Arcade,” you’ll find Bistro Vendome, a low-key Parisian sanctuary that evokes enchantment at every turn, whether it’s inside the endearing dining room where knees knock and lips lock across the small tables or on the beguiling courtyard patio potted with blooms. The soul-soothing menu, courtesy of chef de cuisine Ben Ashworth, is equally alluring, beckoning diners with escargot, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and duck confit with roasted parsnips, grilled radicchio and chive aioli. The affordable and seductive wine list—complete with bubbles—keeps the conversation flowing.
For new American cuisine with a distinctive French flair, there may be no restaurant more treasured than Mizuna, chef-owner Frank Bonanno's captivating flagship restaurant in Capitol Hill. Blissfully romantic, cozy and graceful, the dining room is orchestrated by a cordial and studious staff who are more than adept at pairing wines with beautifully prepared dishes like beef wellington and the decadent macaroni and cheese, creamy with mascarpone and punctuated with succulent bites of butter-poached lobster. This is a restaurant that’s become nothing other than timeless, and while the tab will swell your credit card balance, it's a dining experience that’s earned its place among the best in Denver.
At this exceptionally sultry nighttime destination in LoDo, the soft-lit, loft-like space—a cube of copper accents, antiqued mirrors, hardwood floors, curved booths and exposed brick—is ever so sexy, making Vesta a no-brainer restaurant to romance a date over cocktails, beef tartare with Parmesan mousseline and Moroccan-spiced lamb tenderloin paired with moussaka saffron rice. Cocktail-friendly starters, including a Spanish artichoke heart dusted with tangy sumac powder, represent the kitchen’s global-leaning strengths, while the glorious charcuterie plate, an assemblage of pâté and house-cured meats, exemplifies the kitchen’s allegiance to laborious mastery.
Situated in LoHi, the Family Jones Spirit House is, quite simply, a bombshell of beautification. The intimate space, bedecked with purple-surfaced stools, plush old glory blue banquettes, concrete block walls mounted with pots flush with juniper, soaring windows and a sunken bar, is perched below the mezzanine, which showcases a skylight-illuminated copper still. There’s a hybrid bar/kitchen—the team calls it “bitchen”—that dispenses innovative small plates. The three-cheese fondue, pooled in a hollowed-out pumpkin and paired with skewers, is a playful culinary fashion statement from chef Tom Dotson, whose food is offset by a superb cocktail scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs.
From James Beard Award-winning luminaries Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca Food and Wine—Boulder’s lauded Northern Italian temple of gastronomy—comes Tavernetta, a sensational regional Italian restaurant based at the boot of the Kimpton Hotel Born. The menu, created by Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, housemade pastas, and fish and meat dishes that seesaw between a breaded Berkshire pork chop to branzino with fennel, escarole and olives. The gorgeous space, complete with a fireplace lounge, a trio of patios, a centerpiece open kitchen and pasta station that buzzes with activity and walls mounted with Slim Aarons portrait photographs showcasing Italians on ritzy holidays, suggests a lost world of wine-soaked lunches and romantic dinners and sojourns to fantastical faraway places.
Rioja, a celebrated Mediterranean and Spanish restaurant, cemented the stardom of James Beard Foundation best chef winner Jennifer Jasinski, whose stunning restaurant, complete with a transparent kitchen and chef’s counter, transformed Larimer Square into a bona fide dining destination that’s perfect for date night. Renowned for its pristinely fresh ingredients, season-intensive dishes, plate artistry, hand-crafted pastas, extensive brunch menu and thoughtful pastry program (including a fantastic house-baked bread basket), Rioja is a favorite of local and national celebrities, the food cognoscenti and just about everyone else who appreciates true artisanship coupled with an approachable wine program and imaginative cocktails.
In 2013, chef-owner Paul Reilly, along with his sister, Aileen, unveiled Beast + Bottle, a quintessential neighborhood bistro perched on one of Denver’s most populated restaurant rows. Reilly’s cooking, an ode to locality, seasonality and global flavors, has earned him a spate of well-deserved accolades, while the enchanting farmhouse setting—largely synchronized with the food emerging from the partially open kitchen—is an object of adoration for romanticizing couples who share intimate moments over bubbles and aphrodisiacal oysters on the half shell.
Chef-owner Caroline Glover thought twice before opening her lovely small-plates restaurant in the sprawling Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. But since its debut, the petite nirvana of culinary excellence has knocked the socks off just about everyone who's set foot inside the plant-filled space puddled with sunshine. Named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants of 2017, Annette embodies everything you could possibly want from a romance-filled dining experience: an elevated casual vibe, seasonal ingredients that are never manipulated, faultless flavor combinations, a wood-burning grill that permeates the air with perfumed smoke and a small but enormously satisfying wine scroll. The cocktails are heavenly, too. In a neighborhood starved for style, substance and honest, reflective cooking, Annette is a gem.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another steakhouse in the city that has the funky old-school charm of Bastien’s, a decades-old steakhouse in City Park that pays homage to the Rat Pack, properly chilled vodka martinis and comforting cuisine that channels days gone by. With apologies to those who eschew sugar, the dish to live (and die) by at Bastien’s is the iconic sugar steak, preferably paired with a grilled Caesar salad and a loaded twice-baked potato, best enjoyed on a chilly evening, in an intimate booth under the romantic twinkle of lights. If you’re longing a yesteryear dining experience that’s warm, unfussy, relaxed and nostalgic with Frank Sinatra crooning through the speakers, then Bastien’s has all the trappings of an amorous night.
All aboard fortunes, trains, umpteen bottles of wine and tête-à-têtes at this new hotspot from the talented team behind Tavernetta, Frasca Food & Wine and Pizzeria Locale. Sunday Vinyl, which fronts the train platform of Denver Union Station is, first and foremost, a swanky European-style wine bar, where Old World and trailblazing German, French, Swiss, Slovenian, Spanish and Austrian wines intersect with varietals from California and Oregon. The bottle manifest is nothing short of brilliant—and so is the vinyl theme that permeates the space. Outfitted with an astounding sound system—McIntosh turntables and state-of-the-art speakers—and an impressive vinyl-only collection that spans genres, Sunday Vinyl is unlike any other venue in Denver. Jostle for a marble-surfaced table overlooking the train tracks and share a cheese plate, country pâté and lobster toast from chef Charlie Brooks, whose experience includes a spell at New York’s Gramercy Tavern. For the record, this is one of the coolest places in the city for a romantic rendezvous.
Its name translates to “hole in the wall” in Italian, but while Bettola Bistro resides in a suburban strip mall, seats a mere 40 diners and is bereft of splashy pomp and circumstance, the space oozes with the kind of casual, laid-back romance that’s quietly illicit. The vibe is mellow and convincingly genuine, in part because the dining room is staffed by exceptionally warm servers who know a thing or two about hospitality. The food—baked Gorgonzola cheesecake with pear compote, risotto with wild mushrooms, lamb ragu with housemade tagliatelle and cioppino—is the handiwork of chef Enrique Socarras, whose Italian-leaning creations are accessible, comforting and taste like love. And the wine list is lovely, too. All of the elements of a perfect date night come together here.
Even back when the tables were so close together that you’d inevitably become acquaintances with your neighboring diners, even when chef-owner Alex Seidel—now a James Beard award-winning chef—wasn’t a household name, diminutive Fruition, a new American restaurant in Cherry Creek, was a vaulted destination for couples celebrating their courtship. Over the past few years, Seidel, who also owns Mercantile Dining & Provision and a dairy farm and is co-owner of Chook Charcoal Chicken and Füdmill, an artisan baking company, has purposefully refined his menu to push progressive flavors, polished the service and face-lifted the interior, the result of which makes this splendid temple of culinary magic all the more bewitching.
Barolo Grill, a stellar Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek, is for beautiful bottles of wine, unassailable pastas and sultry braised duck; for exquisite service and fine-tuned tasting menus sketched with experimental flavors bereft of borders. For one of the loveliest dining rooms in the city, where tables are still sheeted with white tablecloths dressed with polished silver, the lighting is gentle and warm and the amorous table for two, snuggled against the glow of the fireplace, symbolizes classic romance. Put it on your bucket list.
Odyssey Italian Restaurant
There’s a reason why your iPhone comes equipped with a flashlight: You’ll need its bright beam to peruse the menu at Odyssey, a crimson-clad tablecloth Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek with the kind of low lighting that makes even those with perfect eyesight admit defeat. But that’s part of the allure of this charming two-story maze of corner nooks and jewel-box rooms framed with weathered brick, gold-framed photos, wine bottles and violins. Romancing couples come here to kiss and hold hands and to feast on saucy spaghetti and meatballs, scampi, osso buco and the “Godfather” steak, an aged ribeye that’s intended for two.
Chef and restaurateur Lon Symensma is arguably one of Denver’s most talented kitchen magicians, unleashing whiz-bang-boom flavors at every turn, and LeRoux, his smashing restaurant on the 16th Street Mall, might be his best effort. The elegant space, ambient with crystal chandeliers, flickering candles, frosted windows, tufted booths and banquettes hued the color of vintage blue, handsome dark woods and antiqued mirrors sweeps diners away with its sensuality. The stellar French-European menu offers the opportunity to fall deeper in love, thanks to bewitching dishes like beef tartare paired with shatteringly crisp, latticed potato chips and a cold-smoked egg, foie gras and chicken liver mousse, Champagne “beurre blanc” scallops with lobster froth and the brilliant cauliflower crème brûlée. An all-European wine list, coupled with smashing cocktails and decadent desserts, including tableside baked Alaska, ensures a flirty rendezvous.
The Perfect Landing
Stowed away on the second level of Centennial Airport, The Perfect Landing is the antithesis of a frenetic airport restaurant. There’s no racing through security lines and no heavy bags to wheel through tight spaces, and the only chance of a missed connection is if your jet-setting date stands you up in favor of a flying lesson. The softly illuminated restaurant, with its large windows that peer over multi-million-dollar planes on the runway, is prime real estate for romantic date nights, especially against the backdrop of a terrific pianist whose song repertoire is seemingly endless. Book a window seat to watch a Colorado sunset, order fresh oysters and filet mignon and map out your next journey to parts unknown.
Eschewing trend-setting fads, Domo is an exquisitely adorned Japanese hideaway that specializes in the countrified cuisine of northern Japan. The disarmingly comforting dining rooms, with their tree-stump seats, rustic woods and farmhouse folk art, are perfect for ceremonial snuggling, while the beautifully meditative garden is an idyllic respite for smooching couples, especially during cherry blossom season.
By Lori Midson