Food & Drink

The Denver Bartenders You Absolutely Need to Know

Published On 11/02/2016 Published On 11/02/2016
Green Russell
Green Russell | Ryan Fitzgerald
Courtesy of Haylee Ortiz

Haylee Ortiz

Mister Tuna

Address and Info

Five Points

Like many on this list, Haylee Ortiz has deep experience in the Denver bar scene. A current board member of the Colorado Bartenders' Guild, Ortiz has racked up awards for her work behind the bar at some of the area’s finest establishments, including OAK at Fourteenth, Session Kitchen, and Baur’s. At the latter two, she served as bar manager. These days, you can find Ortiz at Mister Tuna, Troy Guard’s latest and greatest restaurant and bar. Not only does the cocktail menu at the Hawaiian-influenced concept challenge and excite, it emphasizes service. And Ortiz plays her part, as exemplified in her “black book,” where she keeps guests’ favorite drinks for return reference.

Courtesy of Merlin Mitchell

Merlin Mitchell

Green Russell

Address and Info

Larimer Square

To call Merlin Mitchell a wizard is no understatement. Originally from Tallahassee, Florida, Mitchell attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he earned his mechanical engineering degree and took up bartending. Since relocating to Denver in 2014, he has worked at exactly one location -- the Green Russell, Frank Bonanno’s chef-driven bar in Larimer Square.

After nearly two years behind the bar there, Mitchell took over as bar manager in August. Since then, he has carried the proverbial torch of the reputable speakeasy. Need evidence? Pop in for a taste of the recently updated fall menu and have Mitchell and his team point you in the direction of your new favorite cocktail.

Carl Zoch

Jack Bethel

The Nickel

Address and Info


Although he spent half of this year managing the bar program at Downtown’s Squeaky Bean -- which has racked up accolades for its cocktail program -- Jack Bethel currently works at as the assistant food and beverage operations manager for the Hotel Teatro and adjoining Nickel restaurant. And while many guests became familiar with Bethel’s endlessly creative mind and gregarious disposition while sitting in a barstool at the Bean, his next step makes complete sense. At the core of his philosophy he believes that there is “a drink for every disposition,” and he fearlessly leads his Teatro team to excel in all things hospitality. While Bethel’s concoctions have always utilized the most cutting-edge of culinary techniques and fluid sciences, his emphasis on the final product includes stripping away all pretense and presenting an approachable -- and delicious -- beverage for your consumption.

Adam Larkey

Chad Michael George

The Way Back

Address and Info

Highland Park

Chad Michael George is no stranger to the Denver bar scene, or to accolades. George has worked in the industry for more than 17 years, and cut his teeth in town at the legendary Williams & Graham. This year, however, has arguably been his biggest year to date, between the opening of his own bar and his mention as one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Mixologists.” Inarguably one of Denver’s preeminent talents, George’s skill and passion is manifested in The Way Back, his stylish, sexy bar and restaurant that opened in March. The Highland haunt, which is co-owned by Kade Gianinetti (of Method Coffee Roasters) and Jared Schwartz (of American Grind food truck), epitomizes the Denver food and beverage scene as of late. Much like George himself, The Way Back pays close attention to hospitality. Or in other words, the little things that make going out enjoyable in the first place.

Stuart Jensen


Address and Info


By now, the Stuart Jensen story is well-known around town. After working in kitchens throughout the area -- notably, the high-profile ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro and TAG -- he transitioned to work behind the bar. After working as a bartender at Green Russell, he became the bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provision (when it opened in early 2015), a position he held until just a few months ago. These days, Jensen is a partner at Curio, the bar inside the newly opened Denver Central Market. While Jensen initially started as a consultant, in October 2016 it was announced he would become the bar’s third owner, in addition to the husband-and-wife team Katsumi Yuso Ruiz and Stephen Julia. Curio serves as the central hub of the communal area of the market -- and Jensen is superbly qualified to play the role of greeter.

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1. Mister Tuna 3033 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216

RiNo’s Mister Tuna is an American restaurant, specifically inspired by Hawaiian-style wood-fire grilling. With favorites like the King Crab with local apple, brown butter, and black lava salt, Chef Troy Guard’s menu includes raw bar, appetizer, and entrée options that emphasize produce, cheeses, and meats. The 3,500-square-foot space is lined with garage doors on one side and a large, open kitchen on the other, with a bar stretching the length of the room. The beverage program includes six beers on tap and a series of meticulously crafted cocktails for your sipping pleasure.

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2. Green Russell 1422 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202

Only accessible via a secret door through a small pie shop, Larimer Square's Green Russell serves some of the best cocktails in Denver in a cool, speakeasy-like locale. This moody, elegant establishment has been serving up Prohibition-era cocktails since 2011. Named after Colorado gold miner William Green Russell, the joint is rooted in old-school sensibilities, but still appeals to the modern palate with its selection of made to order libations.

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3. The Nickel 1100 Fourteenth St, Denver, CO 80202

A rooftop hive and in-house pickling service elevate The Nickel's American menu to finely tuned standards. Prices are relatively high but barrel-aged cocktails, Colorado craft beers, and posh snacks like crispy quail and boiled peanuts justify the fancy experience. Most of the dishes are made on a wood-fired grill, which like the menu itself, changes seasonally: cherry wood might be fueling your lamb ribs one month, and peach wood the next.

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4. The Way Back 4132 W 38th Ave, Denver, CO 80212

Highlighting the regional cuisine and flavors of Colorado, this Berkeley area resto and bar is a hip and friendly neighborhood favorite with the bonafides to back it up. Led by a trio of industry vets -- Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti, and Jared Schwartz -- whose resumes include stints at cocktail havens Williams & Graham and Linger, The Way Back's sure to impress with its selection of eclectic yet satisfying takes on Midwestern and American flavors.

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5. CURIO Central Market, 2669 Larimer Street, Denver, CO 80205

First on your list at the Denver Central Market in RiNo should be Curio Bar, a social drinking spot with a central location in the communal marketplace. Curio serves simple, yet tasteful, cocktails in a friendly, bright, and open atmosphere, complete with light wooden tables and copper dishware. Drinks are made with freshly squeezed juices and farm fresh fruits and herbs, which is only fitting, as the brains behind the project are Katsumi Yuso Ruiz and Stephen Julia, who also own Green Seed, the produce shop at The Central Market.