Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Denver

Published On 12/05/2013 Published On 12/05/2013

The cocktail scene in Mile High has never been stronger -- pun intended. Creative takes on classics like Old Fashioneds and martinis have been reinvented using fresh new garnishes, artisanal bitters and syrups, and bartenders who know how to mix drinks like dispensaries know how to sell you edibles. If you’re looking for where to find Denver’s best cocktail bars, your search is over.

Green Russell

LoDo

We’d be remiss not to mention Frank Bonanno’s underground hideaway as one of the town’s pioneering cocktail bars. Tucked in the underbelly of Larimer Square, the 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, thanks to its ever-changing seasonal menu and adaptable, inviting bartenders.

Steuben's Uptown

Steuben's

Uptown/Arvada

While Denver’s favorite upscale diner (now diners, thanks to the recent Arvada outpost opening) is a tribute to some of the country’s most beloved regional classics (lobster rolls! meatloaf! fried chicken!), Steuben’s bar program is anything but quaint. Boasting a full menu of classics -- including severely underrated selections such as the Martinez and Blood & Sand -- Steuben’s also features a loaded cocktail menu from which the staff will happily help you choose.

Williams & Graham

Highland

Any Denver drinker worth his or her salt knows and respects the hallowed grounds of 3160 Tejon St. Recognized as the Best American Cocktail Bar in 2015 by the Spirited Awards (basically, the Academy Awards of the spirits industry), this Prohibition-themed speakeasy, helmed by Sean Kenyon, set the bar high when it opened in 2011. Expect a menu of expertly crafted drinks that emphasize classic flavors with a twist.

Bar Fausto

Bar Fausto

River North

Yet another newcomer to town, Bar Fausto comes courtesy of the team that brought you Crema and The Populist. And while the latter has a formidable bar program in its own right, cocktails are the name of the game at Bar Fausto. If you’re looking for something unique, opt for the bar’s list of no-frills originals, which eschew puns and witticism for a more convenient numerical system. Drinks rotate seasonally, but some have become permanent fixtures, including #4 -- a heavy sipper of E.H. Taylor bourbon, green Chartreuse, Cognac, and amaro.

Union Lodge No. 1

Central Business District

Sure, some of the bartenders sport overalls and handlebar mustaches, and the menu is unapologetically rooted in the 19th century. But Union Lodge No. 1 is anything but stuffy. Instead, this 34-seat watering hole is comfortable, cozy, and, above all, authentic. Don’t believe us? Order a Ramos Gin Fizz, marvel at its foamy head, and know that you’re enjoying the drink the way it was intended to be served.

Acorn

Acorn

River North

Touted by many as one of Denver’s perennial fine-dining destinations, Acorn is inarguably a trifecta of outstanding food, drinks, and service. However, we’ll go out on a limb and say that Bryan Dalton’s bar program is as equally impressive as the small plates that Steven Redzikowski’s kitchen churns out. With a staff that thoroughly understands cocktail history, yet is willing to rewrite traditions, the space is consistently cool and collected, and, dare we say, a Denver institution by now.

The Cruise Room

LoDo

Serving up cocktails since before they were cool is The Cruise Room, located in Downtown’s historic Oxford Hotel. Modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary, the bar holds a special place in Denver’s history, as it was opened one day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Order a Red Widow -- peach vodka, Champagne, St. Germain, and jalapeño -- and be sure to ask your bartender about the hotel’s infamous ghost stories (one of which involves the bar itself).

Black Eye Coffee CapHill

Black Eye Coffee

Capitol Hill

Opened in late 2015, Black Eye Coffee’s second location is one of many coffee-to-cocktail concepts opened in the past year or two. And what a concept it is. From its Art Deco-inspired décor to its creative cocktail programs, the inspired, intentional space makes it easy to transition from work to pleasure. Categorizing its cocktails from featherweight to heavyweight (and then some), the bar makes it easy for patrons to choose between flavors and forwardness. Torn between caffeine and booze? Opt for a boozy pour-over, which pairs single origin coffee with various spirits.

Ste. Ellie

Highland

Yes, it's another speakeasy, but hear us out on this one. Unlike other iterations on this list, Ste. Ellie operates as a subterranean extension, yet independent entity, of Colt & Gray. While the upstairs eatery boasts a qualified bar program of its own, its sister restaurant takes the cake with its chic vibes and creative cocktails. “Repeat Offenders” such as the Left Shark -- a tropical concoction of rum, green Chartreuse, lime, grapefruit, pineapple, and coco creme -- truly showcase the bar’s balance between professionalism and approachability.

Finn's Manor

Finn's Manor

River North

Bringing a touch of New Orleans to Mile High, Finn’s Manor is sure to put a spell on you. The labyrinthine spot houses an expansive patio, an array of food-pod options, and a killer bar program. In addition to its curated international beer list, Finn’s Manor boasts an impressive whiskey (and whisky) selection. Cocktails rotate, but offerings such as Finn’s Fashioned -- which swaps the bourbon found in an Old Fashioned for Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac brandy -- exemplify the bar’s ability to play with flavors, and do it right.

The Way Back

Highland

Although a newcomer to the Denver cocktail scene, The Way Back is led by a trio of industry vets -- Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti, and Jared Schwartz -- whose resumes include stints at Williams & Graham and Linger. The space is sleek and sexy, and the drinks are inspired and inventive. To wet your whistle, consider Carroll Gardens, a merging of the classic Brooklyn and Vieux Carre cocktails, or Counter Clockwork Orange, made with rum, orgeat, sweet potato purée, and lime.

Editor's note: an author of this article is employed by Green Russell, though rest assured Thrillist's other Denver denizens concur it belongs on this list regardless.

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Trenton Reed is a full-time copywriter and freelance food writer who enjoys a cocktail or two. Follow @_trentonreed on Twitter and Instagram.

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1. Green Russell 1422 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202 (Lodo)

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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2. Bar Fausto 3126 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

At this industrial hangout, the list of classic and original libations is well-curated and concise; the selection of wines by the glass, though tiny, makes a major impact with everything from Schiava and Spätburgunder, to Hungarian Bull’s Blood. Small plates like the daily oyster crudo and bruschetta topped with housemade ricotta also score.

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3. Williams & Graham 3160 N Tejon St, Denver, CO 80211 (Highland)

Williams & Graham, a bar styled to look like a Prohibition-era speakeasy, offers up an eclectic selection of specialty cocktails, liquors, beers and wines. Additionally, there's a food menu that includes a variety of sandwiches, snacks and small plate dishes. You'd be remiss to skip this spot that was recognized as the Best American Cocktail Bar in 2015 by the Spirited Awards (basically the Academy Awards of booze).

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4. Steuben's 523 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80203 (Uptown)

Taking its name from a hot jazz spot and restaurant in Boston from the 1940s, Steuben’s in Denver hopes to recreate classic American regional fare and your new go-to happy place. The upscale diner offers hearty dishes like meatloaf and fried chicken, but its cocktail menu is anything but down home. Featuring a loaded cocktail menu plus a wide selection of classic libations, you'll be able to find the perfect drink to whet your whistle.

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5. Union Lodge No. 1 1543 Champa St, Denver, CO 80202 (Cbd)

Cobblers, crustas, blazers, fizzes, knickerbockers: you’ll definitely have some fun just pouring over the well-annotated menu at this urbane 34-seat spot in the CBD. Focusing on pre-Prohibition cocktails, Union Lodge is kind of place where bartenders are "mixologists" and the decor hearkens back to a vintage Americana vibe. The extensive menu got you reeling? Order a Ramos Gin Fizz, marvel at its foamy head, and know that you’re enjoying the drink the way it was intended to be served.

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6. Acorn 3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216 (Five Points)

A buzzy, industrial-chic small plates spot, Acorn in River North is offers shareable plates, as well as innovative libations (think alcoholic shaved ice). The eclectic, epicurean-inspired menu features oak-fired game (waygu beef, pork shoulder, and chicken), fresh seafood plates, and roasted vegetable salads. An extensive wine list and cool, artisanal cocktails are also worth checking out.

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7. The Cruise Room 1659 Wazee St, Denver, CO 80202 (Lodo)

Located in the historic Oxford Hotel's lobby in downtown Denver, The Cruise Room appears almost exactly as it did in 1933. The whole place is styled after a lounge room on the Queen Mary and waitresses are dressed in the requiste flapper girl garb, which makes Cruise Room's legendary martinis and whiskey cocktails taste truly authentic. Order a Red Widow -- peach vodka, champagne, St. Germain, and jalapeño -- and be sure to ask your bartender about the hotel’s infamous ghost stories.

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8. Black Eye Coffee 3408 Navajo St, Denver, CO 80211 (Highland)

This totally Instagrammable Highlands area brewhouse is slaying the Denver area coffee game with its seriously strong roasts (they don't call it Black Eye for nothing), hip ambiance, and refreshing cafe menu. Dine in and take your pick from lunch menu items like avocado toast and fancy grilled cheese, all of which look good next to a piping hot cup of Black Eye's pour-over blend. A hip hop soundtrack and funky, reclaimed vintage aesthetic make Black Eye a cool and relaxing hang.

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9. Ste. Ellie 1553 Platte St, Denver, CO 80202 (Highland)

This speakeasy-style cocktail bar under Colt & Gray emits more of a party vibe than an air of seclusion. Plus there’s something kind of awesome about the fact that the restaurant’s own butchering and meat-curing facility operates just down the hallway. So before you take a sip of your bartender’s choices or grower Champagne, be sure to raise a toast to good salami, which you can sample on the cheese and charcuterie board.

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10. Finn's Manor 2927 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205 (Northwest)

Equal parts bar and landing strip for a rotating fleet of food trucks, Finn's Manor serves up signatures like house-made shot cocktails and boozy snow cones, as well as a geeked-out gamut of Belgian beers and farmhouse ciders. The vibe brings a bit of New Orleans cool to the Mile High with its bespoke, Bourbon-heavy bar creations. Options rotate but reflect the bartenders' playful approach to classic, speakeasy style libations.

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11. The Way Back 4132 W 38th Ave, Denver, CO 80212 (Highland)

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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