Every drinker has a preferred style of bar, whether that’s a comfortable neighborhood classic, a sultry lounge or a loud and lively party. Denver saw a little of everything open in 2019, broadening the range of destination watering holes across the metro area. Here are the ten best bars to open in the past twelve months, in alphabetical order.
1526 Blake Street
The craft cocktail scene was feeling a little stale in Denver before Brass Tacks opened in February, making it fun to hang out in bars again. Owners Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, Stephen Julia, Zach Spott and Stuart Jensen didn’t dispense with quality ingredients or obscure spirits; they just packaged them in cocktails on tap and in bottles that look good, taste good and don’t rob you of fifteen minutes of your life as you watch someone scurry around for ingredients and then studiously stir concoctions. There’s amusing food to match, with an $8 cheeseburger, a Viet-Cajun boil, and a dirt-cheap breakfast sandwich you can score as early as 10 a.m. (practically daybreak for industry folks).
Hazel Art Bar
1581 South Pearl Street
Was this Platt Park bar the last to open in 2018 or the first in 2019? Why quibble, when you can instead drop in to enjoy drinks served alongside art by local artists. Owners Tom and Tori Schumacher designed the space, named after Tori’s great-aunt, as a haven for art lovers and anyone interested in creating something of their own. Enjoy wine, beer or cocktails while taking a class; there’s even a cigarette machine that’s been converted to dispense art kits so that you can make your own masterpieces.
2240 Clay Street
While the June opening of Hidden Idol could be considered a move, the tiki bar formerly located in the upstairs space at the now-shuttered Southside Kitchen reinvented itself for its new home in Jefferson Park. Choose from nearly twenty fruity, boozy and coconut-y cocktails, with perhaps a Spam-and-pineapple slider or two to absorb the alcohol. While Hidden Idol isn’t as hidden as it once was, it’s better than ever.
2018 Tenth Street, Boulder
Boulder got a new tiki bar, too, thanks to the owners of Arcana. Just around the corner from the busy Pearl Street Mall, Jungle still feels like a secret retreat, where tropical plants and wicker furnishings ease the transition to island time. Drinks come in vessels shaped like conch shells, parrots and octopuses, and some are even set aflame as they’re served. (So watch those ’80s bangs, Heather Locklear!)
1336 27th Street
Back in April, Nocturne owners Nicole and Scott Mattson, along with wine veterans Joel Kampfe and Troy Bowen, opened a new kind of wine bar: one that ditches stodgy convention for something a little more intriguing and adventurous. They’ve assembled a lineup of small-vineyard natural wines, along with a supporting cast of bites and cocktails, in the intimate space that was previously Greenlight Lab. Brighter paint, white tile behind the bar and raucous music welcome wine lovers or the wine-curious, who are immediately set at ease with a menu that boldly proclaims the best thing about drinking wine is that it’s “fucking fun.”
2209 Welton Street
There are laws that must be obeyed, and there are laws that just make sense. “Make a friend, buy your neighbor a drink” belongs in the latter category. You can practice following this rule at Rita’s Law, Rita Price’s bar that opened in June in Five Points. Credit Price’s dedication to hospitality for the lived-in quality of her bar, where you’re likely to be recognized by the staff if you return more than once or twice. Come during the day for coffee and pastries, then head back for beers or cocktails over food from Katie Milano’s school-bus kitchen on the back patio.
554 South Broadway
The music never really stopped at 554 South Broadway, where Syntax Physic Opera transitioned to the Broadway Roxy under new ownership earlier this summer. Along with the new name came a new menu and bar program worth a visit, even if you’re not staying for a show. New owner Paula Vrakas brightened up the space and added a slate of reasonably priced classic cocktails to accompany gypsy jazz, DJs and other live music. Go early if you prefer a tranquil setting, or stay for the entertainment if you need a joyous night out.
Run for the Roses
1801 Blake Street
In this subterranean Dairy Block spot, the cocktail roster presented as a deck of cards, the “parlor snacks” and the rows of encyclopedias behind the bar could all come across as a little too precious. But owner Steven Waters brings it all together with equal parts fun and sophistication. Find your way into the bar (it’s not a speakeasy; it’s just hard to locate) using the elevator inside Free Market, then peruse the deck for your favorite drink, or just draw blindly for a surprise. If you become a regular, consider purchasing a lock box for $300 a year to get a different treat from the bar deposited each month.
Thank Sool Pocha K Pub
2222 South Havana Street, Aurora
A great party often includes a cookout, and at this lively Korean pub, you can grill your own meats or form your own savory rice balls (food-service gloves included) while tossing back round after round of Korean beers or soju, a light but sneaky distilled drink that comes plain or in a number of fruit flavors. The lively pub is nearly always packed with young people out for a good time, so the staff is quick with the drinks and helpful explaining some of the less familiar Korean bar snacks. Korean fried chicken is perfect for a night out, but after a bottle or two of soju, you might be feeling a little more adventurous; go with saucy chicken feet or sea snail salad with chilled noodles.
2590 Welton Street
Most martini drinkers don’t even want to hear the words “cotton candy” uttered anywhere near their dry, dry cocktail, but at the Welton Room, cotton candy martinis are one of the specialties on the inventive menu. But these aren’t sickly-sweet concoctions; the small amount of sugar in the airy puffball dissolves in the booze, leaving a subtle blend of flavors instead of a sticky mess. Liquid nitrogen plays a role, too, adding scented gas or flash-frozen ingredients to many of the cocktails. Classic and pre-Prohibition mixed drinks are available, too, if that’s your preference. Everything’s served up with a sense of fun and wonder, making this bar an experience worth sharing with friends.