The Five Best Cocktail Bars in Denver

Looking to wet your whistle around the Rockies? Welcome to Cocktailsville, Colorado.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

A lot of cities in America got badly hit in 1920 with Prohibition, but with Denver, it started early and strong. As soon as December 31, 1916, when Colorado established their state-wide Prohibition, merely looking for a drink became a back door dealing and a scramble for loopholes. You see, Denver was a mining town blessed with ever-flowing glacial waters from the Rocky Mountains; the golden nectar buoyed not only the economy but the general attitude. In this time, moonshine was mixed and quietly distributed, contraband whisky was being disguised as olive oil and shipped across the Wyoming-Colorado border while thousands of dollars in medicinal and religious alcohol were exploited by the thirsty masses. Speakeasies aren’t just a trend in Denver (although it is still a trend), they’re an homage to a past life. The revivalists place them underground, lit by an inconspicuous red arrow, or behind faux bookstores; others serve vintage drinks in punch bowls and antique glassware; all stock their bars with both the finest handpicked liquors and die-hard master mixologists. Go underground in the Mile High City and check out these five cocktail bars in Denver.

Attention to detail and a home underground at the Green Russell

Photo via their FB page

True to its Speakeasy theme, the Green Russell is a hidden bar underneath a pie shop in Larimer Square that serves bar food and expertly hand-crafted cocktails. The staff wear fedoras and resemble Prohibition-era rumrunners and the house rules seem a little stuffy for a social setting ("engage in lively but quiet conversation" and "if you need to use your cell phone, enjoy the privacy of our telephone booth" being two of them), but there’s no denying the thorough care applied to the crafting of each cocktail. The ice is crystal-clear due to a reverse osmosis purification process and hand-shaped, herbs are freshly pulled directly from their grow room, and the mixologists at each of their three bars will be happy to concoct something new and unique if you give them some flavor suggestions.

Colt & Gray just stepped up to the neighborhood bistro

Photo via their FB page

Advertised as a neighborhood bistro or gastropub, Colt & Gray are much more than that. Smart and upscale, having mastered the bar trinity of cocktails, wine and beer programs – beer lovers can delight themselves with curated American craft drafts; winos can uncork a long list of seasonally changing bottles from across the pond to California and cocktail lovers need only glance at the expert cocktail list to fall head over heels with this place. Classic Manhattan-drinkers and adventurers alike find no faulty drink here, especially not when they opt for a "Barman’s Choice," which allows their talented and dedicated staff to handcraft a new and unique cocktail based on the guest’s preferences. Paired with any of their succulent small plates, diners will be wishing Cold & Gray were their neighborhood bistro.

Bring your friends to Steuben's

Photo via their official website

You’re not going to want to miss happy hour at Steuben’s. The food is so divine, even Guy Fieri had to schlep over to Denver and the neighborhood prices include some great deals. However, despite all of these delicious deals, the cocktails still claim the attention of Steuben’s afterwork crowd, especially the Moscow Mule. Since Steuben’s has a history deeply rooted in 1960s Boston and still somewhat evokes that time period, its vintage cocktail list fits in without seeming contrived – the Moscow Mule is made with Sobieski Vodka, fresh squeezed lime and ginger beer and comes served in a copper mug; the Steuben’s Rock & Rye infuses orange and lemon zest, clove, cassia bark, horehound and is garnished with rock candy. Drinking with a group? Steuben’s offers two kinds of big-bowl punches, including the Scorpion Bowl with a ton of rum, peach liqueur and other fruity goodness served in a volcano bowl which is set aflame with Goslings 151 rum.

The Arvada Tavern is ready for any occasion

Those who haven’t been around Arvada in a few years will remember The Arvada Tavern as just another dive bar in an area replete with dive bars. However, under new ownership, the tavern has rebirthed itself as one of the leading cocktail bars in the city, a dealer in fine whiskies, and one of Arvada’s most cherished neighborhood joints. Alongside their classic and innovative hand-mixed cocktail menu (expect summer-ready caipirinhas and rosemary daiquiris, classy French 75 and a whole list of other cocktails for any occasion made with local and hand-picked liquor bases), the tavern offers totally unpretentious but still delicious comfort dishes like salisbury steak served with asparagus, mushrooms, onions and roasted garlic potatoes.

The portal through time looks like a bookstore at Williams & Graham

Photo via their official website

Going into Williams & Graham feels like stepping back in time to the Prohibition era, if people were really into plaid shirts during the Prohibition era. Visitors enter through their bookstore façade, are greeted by a host and taken through a secret bookshelf passageway into the soft glow and dark wood of the bar. Suddenly everyone knows who you are, because the host seems to have slipped your name to the wait staff. Their commitment to cocktails are dazzlingly apparent, from the hyper-specific section titles of their menu (agave spirits get their own page, separated by Tequila Blanco & Plata, Tequila Reposado and Tequila Añejo) to their inventive cocktail list – newbies go for the Blackberry Sage Smash, a sweet and delicate mix of Johnny Drum Private Stock bourbon or single barrel Knob Creek, fresh blackberries, sage, lemon and sugar; while pros ask the tender directly for a unique mix.

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