Located on the ground level of the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel on the 16th Street Mall, the opulent BEZEL Denver delivers inventive drinks and small plates. There's a main bar, an intimate lounge and an outdoor fire pit, so you're welcome to have a good time year-round.
This liquid asset paradise, overlooking the Great Hall of Denver Union Station, radiates elegance, opulence and grandeur, its throwback ambiance an homage to the golden age of train travel, glamour and enchanting bars. It’s a contender for one of the best places to take a tourist, but we locals love it, too, especially when we’re sipping a boulevardier at the bar and peering through the windows to admire the moonlight casting its glow on 17th Street below. Go early with a date to cozy up on one of the leather sofas and whisper the night away.
For bygone-era gimlets and gin martinis, sidecars and whiskey sours. For flickering candles, moody lighting, nostalgic glamor and a rush of history darting back to the late nineteenth century. For a romantic rendezvous away from the maddening crowds. For all of that and more, there’s probably nowhere better to be an adult than at this sensual, crimson-hued time capsule fashioned after one of the lounges on the "Queen Mary." Hop aboard a stool for a pre-dinner libation and converse with bartenders, old-timers, hipsters and overnight travelers of the historic Oxford Hotel, in which the Cruise Room resides, and tap your foot to the vintage jukebox playing blues and jazz tunes from the 1930s and ‘40s.
A collaborative project from some of the biggest names in the city’s culinary landscape—including restaurateur Justin Cucci—this Lower Downtown(LoHi) distillery, tasting room and restaurant is a bombshell of beautification. The tasting room, glorified 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 the 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 offset by a superb cocktail scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs.
Below Larimer Square’s arch of white lights is a staircase that leads to the entrance of a pie shop; the door beyond gives way to a swanky, rock-walled Prohibition-style speakeasy that’s almost always filled with well-heeled patrons who come for the clever cocktails and easy banter with the bartender superheroes, all of whom are assertively talented when it comes to making the drink of your dreams. Sit back, enjoy the show and behold the hand-carved ice, which is worth the price of admission. And follow the rules: Be patient, be adventurous, be kind, dress smartly and if you must use our cellphone, please do so in the designated phone booth. Bonus: There’s a beautifully curated zero-proof catalog of cocktails for designated drivers and anyone else who’s eschewing alcohol.
Named for the L trains of Chicago and the L subway route in New York City, this Baker neighborhood cocktail den is a popular hang for barflies haunting the bright lights of our own Broadway. Excellent cocktails, including the Last Word — mezcal, green chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino cherry liqueur and fresh lime juice — are gleefully absent of pretense, as are the bantering bartenders. The industrial-urban décor is dim-lit, mellow, fitted with a long bar top crafted from Colorado ash and bedecked with a marvelous floral mural hand-painted by Bunny M, a local street artist whose eye-catching displays pepper the city.
The only clue to its whereabouts is a black flag inked with the letters “Y” and “C” inside the face of a skull. When you’ve spotted that, enter through a heavy black door followed by a curtained entryway. Once inside, you won’t want to leave. Owned by Mary Alison Wright and McLain Hedges, two of Denver’s most dynamic and seasoned wine-and-spirits professionals, Yacht Club, a newcomer in the historic Cole neighborhood, is everything a cocktail bar should be: inviting, convivial, comfortable and just a little off-center. A large projection screen showcases anime films, throwback Crystal Light National Aerobic championships and whatever else suits the mood of the night, while Sundays are packed with revelers tuning in to the tunes of live musicians. As for cocktails, there’s no better daiquiri in the city, and the Dead Reckoning, a weaponized mezcal-and-tequila concoction, arrives with an ice square stamped with a skull.
It’s difficult to decide if Asbury Provisions, smack-dab in the University neighborhood, is a craft-beer bar or cocktail emporium because, in truth, it’s both. It calls out equally to those in search of beautifully curated beers from some of the best breweries here, there and everywhere and to the spirit-seeking faithful who can always rely on Asbury’s exceptional bartenders and cocktail masters to mix them innovative drinks absent of pretense or foolery. We love Willy’s Walk, a hybrid between an old-fashioned and a Manhattan. A bazooka of bourbon, maple syrup, ruby port, a dash of bitters, a Luxardo cherry and a skeleton leaf, it’s the kind of cocktail you want to jar and take home. The kitchen does a fine job with a menu of housemade pickles, charcuterie, deviled eggs and a stupid-good braised short-rib sandwich with truffle aioli, cheddar and arugula. And while Asbury is most definitely not a sports joint, it is a bona fide Philadelphia Eagles sanctum, so if you’re a fan, this is a great place to cheer them on.
Union Lodge No. 1
Prohibition-era charisma penetrates this alluring downtown hideaway where the drink booklet, highlighting nearly two-dozen cocktails, all rooted in the 19th century, is illustrated with black-and-white sketches of every cocktail, along with a history primer, dominant ingredients and flavor profiles. Fun fact: the vintage flag flying above the bricked bar has 38 stars, an homage to Aug. 1, 1876, the day Colorado was the 38th state to join the Union. And to toast that slice of history, you’ll witness several patrons drinking the Red, White & Blue Blazer, a liquid firework combustion of 151-proof Demerara rum, 100-proof bourbon, brandy, cinnamon and housemade bitters. No matter if your drink is full of sparks, rimmed with sugar, washed with absinthe or festooned with a flower, the glassware is exquisite, and the sociable bartenders, dressed to impress, are masters of their craft. A word to the wondering: Do not come here looking for vodka, beer or wine; the bar eschews them all.
From the proprietors behind Hudson Hill and Lady Jane comes the Wild, an effortlessly beautiful coffeehouse by day that’s bewitched into a cocktail lounge at the stroke of 4 p.m. Pinched in an alley across from DenverUnion Station, it’s a lovely place to vamoose if you want to abdicate from the crowds and sip spiffy cocktails from an impressive scroll that favors classics like the Vesper as well as intoxicating innovations such as the Animal Cracker Milk Punch, playful concoction of animal cracker-infused bourbon, vanilla, milk and cinnamon. Snackers can graze on a lovely cheese-and-meat board.
You don’t have to know the difference between bourbon and rye to feel warmly embraced at this sophisticated but unpretentious cocktail parlor in Berkeley quarterbacked by the cavalcade behind the Arvada Tavern and Union Lodge No. 1. Named after a local maple tree, Tatarian’s effortlessly retro-contemporary quarters are beatified with textured woods, gold-stamped wallpaper, light fixtures materializing as tree branches and ferns and leafy foliage. The drink scroll, delivered as a book inked with gorgeous illustrations and summarizations of the trees that inspired the bar’s cocktails, is intended to cure your sobriety, whether it’s the signature number with bourbon and maple-lapsing syrup, an Altstadt showcasing sour cherry gin and raspberry syrup or the electrifying Rainbow, a peacock-blue tiki drink that’s a perfect prop for a conversation starter.
A definitive L.A. vibe makes this Five Points cocktail lounge one of the best-looking nightspots in the neighborhood. From the snow-white leather sofas and opulent chandeliers to the cognac-spiked sorbets and barware, everything about the Welton Room is easy on the eyes. And the cocktails? This is where you belong if you’ve had your fill of old-fashioneds, Manhattans and sazaracs and want straight-up conversation piece potions that make a bold statement. An espresso martini arrives festooned with generous clouds of whipped coffee and a macaron, while a martini with rum, fresh watermelon, a sprig of mint and fresh lime juice breezes in with a halo of feather-light spun sugar. To witness the performance art firsthand, make sure to reserve in advance.
Room for Milly
This extraordinarily evocative Platte Street cocktail emporium, named for a fictional, flapper-era dame who breezily sojourned around the world, may be the most scintillating spot in the city to ponder the meaning of life, live, if only for a moment, somewhere else in time and sip brilliant cocktails in quarters suffused with effortless enchantment. Everything about Room for Milly pushes your infatuation buttons: a golden era cocktail — the Douglas — with sherry, gin, salted thyme honey and an olive; ravishing décor awash in velvet; attentive bartenders; and a bold and provocative small-plates menu that zigzags from chilled prawns with candied lemon and chimichurri to cauliflower croquettes and chicken pot pie samosas. Dress up, go on a date and marvel at Room for Milly’s magic elixir.
Run for the Roses
To get to this Victorian-era, underground cocktail den, you need to know where to look—and despite the name, its location is nowhere near any thoroughbreds. Instead, meander along the alley of Dairy Block, a mixed-use retail, restaurant and hotel hotspot, slip through an unexceptional door and descend downward in an elevator, the doors of which open to a hallway that leads you to an intimate and sophisticated hideaway for kings and queens and everyone in between. The cocktails, inked and illustrated on a deck of custom-designed playing cards, are a balanced repertoire of classic and progressive. A small but formidable snack menu struts a late-night breakfast sandwich stacked with housemade spam, ketchup, cheddar and a yolk-spilling fried egg. There’s dessert, as well, including a built-for-two banana split.
Flip the switch to “red” on the heavy steel freezer door and then wait your turn to descend into this outer space-themed subterranean speakeasy fronted by an ice cream parlor perched in Uptown. You’ll be guided to your seats, either at the bar or a banquette, or in a booth upholstered in crushed velvet, and you’ll look up to a dark sky ceiling illuminated with strands of white lights that double as stars and wonder which planet you’re on. Intimate in size and blissfully devoid of raucous chatter, Retrograde is the kind of speakeasy where couples canoodle in the corner, solo bookworms sip gin-bombed cocktails while flipping through a tattered classic and adventurous cocktailers order from the funky sci-fi collection of a dozen different concoctions, not the least of which is the Phantom Planet with coconut-washed Work & Cross Jamaican rum, amaro, Angostura bitters, cardamom, housemade Falernum liqueur and a smoked rod of cinnamon. If you’re at a conversation standstill, eyeball the deliberately D-listed films that play on the screen; they’re bound to break the ice.
Williams & Graham
Cocktail philosopher Sean Kenyon, a pedigreed bartender with enough awards under his belt to erect a shrine, knows his way around a liquid asset better than just about anyone. And at Williams & Graham, a sultry speakeasy concealed behind a faux bookcase, Kenyon and his lineup of like-minded tenders mix and muddle like pros, confidentially crafting imaginative cocktails that make you think beyond a Manhattan — although you likely won’t find a better Manhattan anywhere in Denver. Small plates (deviled eggs, escargot hushpuppies and foie gras torchon), coupled with main dishes like elevated burgers and a bone-in Duroc pork chop, emerge from the kitchen in an elegantly presented fashion. The Lower Downtown (LoHi) speakeasy sits next door to Occidental, another cool cocktail haunt from Kenyon that rocks a punk-themed vibe.
Squatting below Cherry Creek’s swanky Halcyon Hotel, B&GC is kind of like the popular girl you want to best friends with but gaining admittance into her inner circle takes determination and patience. And so it goes with B&GC, where you first need to send a text (720-925-8598) to request a reservation, wait a day, maybe two, before you get a response and then, if you’re in, try to decipher a puzzling set of directions that eventually leads you to a brass doorbell. Ring it and wait for a host to lead you through a labyrinth of corridors and stairways until, finally, there you are, mingling with the cool crowd. Despite the pomp and circumstance of it all, B&GC is superbly elegant and seductive, and the cocktails are flawlessly rendered, especially the boozy, scotch-forward B&GC Sazerac. That said, the bartenders are genuine masters of their craft, and the best course of action is to share your favorite spirit and allow them to whip something up. You won’t be disappointed.
Colorado's Signature Cocktail: Tree Line
Nearly a decade ago, the Colorado Distillers Guild and the Colorado Bartenders Guild (along with co-sponsor Westword and MCA Denver) hosted the Colorado Cocktail Contest. The goal? To encourage the state's best mixologists to create a signature Centennial State cocktail. The competition was fierce, but Marnie Ward of Denver's now-closed Avenue Grill emerged victorious with the Tree Line, a cocktail made with Leopold Bros. whiskey and herbal liqueur. The recipe:
2 Bing cherries
2 oz. Leopold Bros. American Small Batch Whiskey
.5 oz. Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur
.5 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
Muddle cherries, lemon juice and simple syrup; add whiskey and liqueur; add ice and shake. Serve up. Garnish with a round slice of lemon peel (to replicate the Colorado sun). Cheers!
Get into the spirit with these other cocktails from Denver’s bars and restaurants
Green Russell, Larimer Square’s moody speakeasy, pours a potent Evergreen Terrace, a seasonal drink of Clear Creek Douglas Fir brandy, Italicus Bergamot liqueur, St-Germain, yellow chartreuse, Fino sherry, chareau and fresh lemon and lime juices.
The Royal Sovereign
Pop into the Ship Tavern in the historic Brown Palace Hotel & Spa by Marriott for the Royal Sovereign concocted with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Aperol, Pedro Ximenez sherry and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
Wilma and Pebbles
You can’t go wrong with any cocktail at downtown Denver’s Union Lodge No. 1, but the Wilma and Pebbles — remember "The Flintstones?" — is dually playful and sophisticated with its medley of Family Jones Juniper Jones gin, Campari, Cocoa Pebbles whey, Italian vermouth and lemongrass bitters.
Wok on the wild side at ChoLon Modern Asian and sip an Old Saigon perfected with Peach Street Colorado bourbon, fresh sprigs of Thai basil, Luxardo cherries and orange bitters.
Duo Restaurant, a lovely season-driven restaurant in Highland, pours a Dapper Apple with Leopold Bros. New York apple whiskey, Bear Creek spiced rum, salted caramel syrup, fresh lemon juice and apple cider. This is how we drink our dessert.
If tequila is your passion, Hudson Hill, in Capitol Hill, delivers with its Holy Molé, an agave-forward cocktail with Reposado tequila, mezcal, Averna, ancho chili and chocolate bitters.