poka lola denver
Poka Lola Social Club

People are moving to the Mile-High City in droves these days. Lucky for those of us who live here—and visitors, too—this has resulted in a flourishing bar and restaurant scene, and therefore plenty of spots to indulge in inventive cocktails. The best part: this is only the beginning.

From old favorites like Williams and Graham and the Green Russell to new ventures like the Poka Lola Social Club and B&GC, passionate bartenders and well-schooled beverage directors are showing us what this city is made of—and it sure does taste good.

As always, this is not meant to be a ranking or an exhaustive compilation of the best bars in Denver, but rather an alphabetical rundown of our favorite cocktail joints in the city.

Now, for the top contenders…

Adrift Tiki

218 S. Broadway (Baker) // adriftbar.com

Adrift Tiki Denver

Adrift Tiki

You’ve arrived once you see the tiki totem poles guarding the front door. Enter into an island setting, complete with a bamboo bar, tiki-inspired art, blowfish, and boats hanging from the ceiling. Head to the back, and you’ll find a porch with straw roofs and a large stone firepit, which is lit as daylight dims. The tiki-theme is accompanied by fun, approachable drinks (i.e. Suffering Bastard, Missionary’s Downfall) served in traditional glassware, so they look as good as they taste. And if you’re hungry, the island-inspired food rivals the drinks.

Bar Fausto

3126 Larimer St (RiNo) // barfausto.com

Bar Fausto is the rare cocktail bar that offers top-notch drinks, but with none of the associated snobbery. This spacious yet minimally-designed locale numbers its potions—the drink list is up in the 60s at this point—giving each one a clever description. A favorite is No. 56, a serious mezcal drink with Amaro Montenegro, Contratto Bianco, and house-made cumin bitters. Standing room is readily available by the bar if the tables are full.

B&GC

245 Columbine St (Cherry Creek) // bandgcdenver.com

In modern day fashion, access to this establishment—which stands for Boys and Girls Club—comes via text. Unlike many speakeasies, which feel like an overcrowded party, this cocktail haven is truly private. Few people know about it, and even fewer can actually find it. Accessed via an alley, guests must ring a gold doorbell to let the hostess know they’ve arrived. If you’ve got reservations, you’re allowed in. Once inside, the dim lighting and exclusive feel are enough to transport you to another place entirely. But this is not a bar to just see and be seen; this is a place to drink, and the serious cocktails on the 1950s magazine-style menu show that. Due to the small size, the bartenders never appear rushed to create the drinks, and every pour, shake, and stir is performed with precision.

Cooper Lounge

1701 Wynkoop St (LoDo) // cooperlounge.com

An oasis amidst the crazed hustle and bustle of Union Station, Cooper Lounge sits on a mezzanine of the second floor, overlooking the grand hall of the historical station. Everything about this place exudes elegance, from the smooth marble bar, to the gold-colored chandeliers and lamps, to the silver-plated trays on which each cocktail is served. Appetizers of the richer sort (think salumi plates and duck and prosciutto terrines) are available to accompany your beverage. If you sit at the bar, you can enjoy sweeping views of the city from the station’s 28-foot tall windows.

Curio

2669 Larimer St (RiNo) // curiobar.com

Curio bar Denver

Curio

Located inside the popular Denver Central Market, this bar seems understated at first glance, but its cocktail menu tells a different story. The modestly-priced drinks are approachable, opting for just a few ingredients to let each note shine. Sit inside at the busy market or outside on the porch for some good people watching, and enjoy your cocktail with a decadent cheese and meat plate from Culture, the vendor next door.

Finn’s Manor

2927 Larimer St (RiNo) // finnsmanor.co

The only brick-and-mortar part of this open-air marketplace is its watering hole, and that’s a good thing. Because without the polished wooden floors and the exposed brick walls in this charming, dimly-lit establishment, there would be nowhere to keep the 400 spirits—more than a fourth of which are whiskeys—that this cocktail lounge boasts. Outside in the courtyard are a variety of rotating food trucks, serving everything from Thai to barbecue, depending on the day. More than a bar, Finn’s Manor is an experience.

Green Russell

1422 Larimer St (LoDo) // greenrussell.com

Descend into the dark, dimly-lit tunnel that leads to the Green Russell, and you may start to grasp how a miner in the late 1800s spent his days in the Colorado mountains. Located below Larimer Square, the entrance to this speakeasy is past the hostess stand for Russell’s Smokehouse. The cocktails rotate seasonally, but a thorough directory of any concoction created since it opened in 2010 is available for bartenders. No matter the season, the most popular option is the Bartender’s Choice. Simply tell your barkeep what you like and don’t like, and they’ll take it from there, either referencing a favorite recipe or making something up on the spot. Whiskey lovers: be sure to come in Sunday through Tuesday when the beverage director brings out his personal stash of “rare, endangered and extinct” whiskeys.

Millers and Rossi

3542 Walnut St (RiNo) // millersandrossi.com

From the outside, Millers and Rossi looks like little more than a boutique art space. But once inside the 1920s-themed bar, creative cocktails abound. The rich red walls set the mood, and feature old movie posters displaying flicks like The Wizard of Oz and The Blue Moon, along with a neon sign that exclaims in casual cursive, “We are all animals.” There are several seating areas arranged with plush chairs and couches, as well as a square shaped bar. As for the gallery, it’s not just for show—the space features photography, paintings and other forms of mixed media by local artists. It’s worth taking a look around before or after enjoying your beverage(s).

Retrograde

530 E. 19th Ave (Capitol Hill) // facebook.com/retrogradednvr

Hidden in one of the most unlikely places, and fully embracing the speakeasy theme, Retrograde is accessed via a freezer door in the boutique ice cream shop Frozen Matter. Retrograde opened in mid-2016 and has remained a hit ever since, in part because of its discreet entrance, but also because of what lies past it. Once in the bar, the starry ceiling, illuminated bartop, and other eye-catching features give the impression that you’ve just stepped into another realm—perhaps that out of a classic sci-fi film. The ice cream shop and the bar are not separate entities. In fact, you can take your Frozen Matter treat into Retrograde if you please. Plus, the bar adds ice cream flavors to many of its drinks. They even have ice cream pairings for those wishing to drink their dessert and eat it, too. Still craving dairy? The “astronaut food,” more commonly known as a cheese plate, is available for snacking.

Roosevelt

1512 Larimer St (LoDo) // rooseveltdenver.com

roosevelt denver

Roosevelt

Located in Writer’s Square in the thick of LoDo, Roosevelt has a subtle way of blending the old with the new. Look up to find 120 teardrop bulbs hanging over the chic black bar, while the surrounding walls host shelves full of vintage-bound books and typewriters from the 1800s. Cocktail enthusiasts should arrive on the earlier side if they want to experience their drinks in quiet comfort. As evening turns to night, the crowd gets heavier and the orders range from stiff whiskey drinks to clubby vodka and Red Bulls. However, throughout it all, the talented bar staff puts out well-made cocktails in a timely fashion. And since Roosevelt currently boasts Fernet and Cynar on tap, it’s become a popular destination for industry folks.

Palenque Mezcaleria

13 E. Louisiana (Platt Park) // palenquemezcaleria.com

It’s easy to list stats and rankings when talking about this mezcaleria. After all, it sports the third largest collection of mezcal in the country. Impressive, sure, but that’s not what makes Palenque Mezcaleria special. What does are the informed bartenders and engaging staff who are eager to showcase this delicious spirit. The walls are filled with informative images like drawings of agave plants, photographs of the distilling process, and maps of different regions in Mexico. From the Mexican tub chairs to a shrine to Xochitlicue, the goddess of fertility, the bar pays homage to the liquor’s homeland. And if you come in on Mondays, you can pay your own respects for a discount, because all mezcal is half-off.

Poka Lola Social Club

1850 Wazee St (LoDo) // pokaloladenver.com

Poka Lola Social Club Denver

Poka Lola Social Club. Photo: Adam Larkey.

A new member to Denver’s cocktail scene, Poka Lola is an art-deco style parlor that sits at the center of the first floor of the Dairy Block in LoDo. Everything about this place, from the audio installations in the bathrooms to the vintage pinball tables bar-side, is endlessly entertaining. There are a few posh seating areas if you’re drinking in a group, but the place to be is the stunning bar, complete with a stained glass valance overhead. The reasonably-priced cocktail list is well-rounded with a “tropical” section for summer and a “fancy” category for more traditional options, but what sets it apart from other places is its soda fountain cocktails. Inspired by the trend from the mid-1900s, these drinks range from bitter to rich to sweet. Favorites include the Negroni Soda, with Campari, sweet vermouth, orange cream citrate, and juniper soda, and the Windsor Egg Cream with Fernet, chocolate, cream, egg white, mint, and seltzer.

Saint Ellie

1553 Platte St (Highland/LoDo) // saintellie.com

Saint Ellie is a basement parlor accessed via a glass door to the right of its sister bar Colt & Gray (itself a damn good spot). The menu includes a vast collection of seasonal cocktails like The Loneliest Monk with rye whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, and Underberg bitters, as well as classic favorites like the Old-Fashioned. If you’re hungry, food ranges from oysters and pig trotters to comfort food staples, like burgers and mac and cheese.

The Populist

3163 Larimer St (RiNo) // thepopulistdenver.com

The Populist, which has been impressing patrons since 2012, is crowded, but in a charming way. Touches like the copper bar and wood floors make it feel warm and intimate, and even the fully stocked shelves give off a cozy vibe that can’t be deterred by the standing patrons. That said, the spacious outdoor porch with its ivy wall, stone floor, and communal picnic tables is the place to be when the weather’s nice.

Union Lodge No. 1

1543 Champa St (Central Business District) // unionlodge1.com

Union Lodge Denver

Union Lodge No. 1

This surprisingly original barroom is located in a sea of chains off the 16th Street Mall. The venue is small, with only four high tables, a dozen bar seats, and a few small booths. The historical space dates back to the late-1800s and features exposed brick walls, an old cash register, and an original U.S. flag with 38 stars, since Colorado was the 38th state to join the union. The bar strives and succeeds at being an authentic “American Bar,” embracing traditions and recipes that were created before prohibition. True to the original cocktails from that time period, the Union Lodge No. 1 bartenders crush ice in a canvas bag, and serve up drinks like the Gin Fizz, Sazerac, and Sherry Cobbler alongside newer, seasonal cocktails.

Williams and Graham

3160 Tejon St (Highland) // williamsandgraham.com

Hidden behind a large bookcase in a tiny bookstore is Williams and Graham. Helmed by the talented Sean Kenyon, the bar has garnered many accolades over the years, including Best American Cocktail Bar at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. Once the “door” opens, you’re led down a hallway to a dark room filled with tables and a well-stocked bar. Peruse the cocktail menu to find something you like, or consult the extensive spirits list, broken into categories from vermouth and amari to scotch, agave spirits, gin, and brandy, to name a few. On the walls hang historical photos and articles from the prohibition era. Get there early if you want to see what lies past the bookcase, as a line of eager patrons forms quickly.

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