Photo: Max Schwartz

7 Bars That Prove Denver Is the Next Great Cocktail City

Denver Restaurants + Bars
by Amanda Gabriele Apr 18, 2019

Denver is a wonderful city to visit for many reasons. It’s beautiful, it has some of the best recreational cannabis dispensaries in the US, and it has an excellent restaurant and bar scene. Over the past few years, it’s also become a destination-worthy cocktail city.

Along with classic bars that have been around since Prohibition, it seems like a new cocktail haunt is opening every other week in Denver. The city’s cocktail community is tightly knit, and it’s clear that there is a lot of support in the industry. “The Denver bar community has been nothing short of amazing from the moment we landed here,” says Tyson Buhler, the national beverage director for Death & Co. “From lending their spaces and resources during our pre-opening training, to the continual support and graciousness we’ve received, the community here in Denver is truly second to none. It’s a very exciting thing to watch a scene grow with a city that is rapidly expanding.”

While there are too many amazing Denver bars to mention on this list, these seven spots serve some of the best drinks in town. Denver is America’s next best cocktail city, and these places prove why.

Traveling to Colorado? Check out Matador’s Colorado accommodation guides to the best places to stay across the state: 

1. Death & Co Denver

Located in Denver’s flourishing RiNo neighborhood, Death & Co opened its Mile High City location in 2018. The bar is tucked inside the beautiful Ramble Hotel and offers two different drinking experiences. The first is the lobby bar, which features plush velvet furniture, crystal chandeliers, and a fun, boisterous environment with cocktail and food service running from 3:00 PM to 1:30 AM every day. There are too many great cocktails to choose from, but standouts include the Escadrille (made with Armagnac, rhum agricole, roasted almond, allspice, and lime) and Voodoo Dreams (Venezuelan rum, Scotch, banana, and lemon).

The food here is excellent, especially the vegan options like the Heirloom Bean Hummus and Crisp Maitake Bao Buns. If you’re more interested in an intimate Death & Co experience, make sure to book a reservation at Suite 6A. The space seats 20 guests at a time and features creative cocktails made with rare ingredients and unique presentations, as well as a curated small-plate menu.

2. Poka Lola Social Club

Poka Lola bar in Denver

Photo: Max Schwartz

Poka Lola is arguably the most beautiful bar in Denver and can be found in Dairy Block, a micro-district in Denver’s historic LoDo neighborhood. It serves as the lobby bar of The Maven hotel and is the kind of friendly, fun-loving spot that welcomes anyone and everyone to drink within its walls. Bar manager Peter Danyluck encourages his team to create signature cocktails and isn’t afraid to put them on the menu, making it a true team effort.

Poka Lola makes many of its syrups and liqueurs in house, and it has a signature bitters blend that goes into its signature Old Fashioned. Try the savory and tangy Lil’ Pick Me Up, which is made with gin, pickled peppers, and lemon juice. Poka Lola bottles its own cocktails, a favorite of which is The Fizzler, a well-balanced mix of rum, Champagne syrup, citric acid, and tonic. As far as bar snacks go, the French Onion Dip is one of the most satisfying choices and delivers bite after bite of crunchy, savory goodness. Come for happy hour when Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and glasses of rosé are $6.

3. Saint Ellie

With low ceilings and sleek but comfy furniture, drinking at Saint Ellie is kind of like hanging in a friend’s basement but with excellent drinks and delicious snacks. The creative cocktails are named after hip-hop songs and feature interesting infusions. Take, for example, the California Love, which is made with green cardamom-infused cachaca, tequila, cinnamon, pear liqueur, lemon, absinthe, and bitters. Shareable punches are often served on fire in a large penguin bucket, which just happens to be Gus, the mascot of Saint Ellie. The snacks here include dishes like sweetbread hushpuppies and a dry-aged bacon burger to keep your tummy happy well into the night.

4. Panzano Bar

Cocktail from Panzano in Denver

Photo: Max Schwartz

Kimpton Hotels are known for excellent dining and drinking options, and the Panzano Bar in the Hotel Monaco Denver is no exception. The expansive, light-filled space is a refuge from the surrounding financial district where you can sip and catch up with friends while taking in the neighborhood around you. Panzano has one of the friendliest staffs in Denver. The bar has an extensive amaro program (along with the largest amari collection in the city), and the folks behind the stick are on hand to walk you through the various styles and cocktails made with the liqueurs.

There are plenty of low ABV cocktails to help kick off your night, but Panzano Bar also has excellent barrel-aged cocktails if you want something stronger. One standout is the Graffito, a strong and stirred tipple made with Illegal Mezcal Reposado, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Gualco Soldatini Amaro, creme de cassis, and Varnelli Dell’Abrosita. Don’t miss Panazo’s happy hour, one of the best in the city, from 2:30 PM to 6:00 PM when aperitivo cocktails are priced at $7 and barrel-aged drinks go for $10.

5. B&GC

Right around the corner from Denver’s HALCYON, a Hotel in Cherry Creek is an unassuming alley. Take a stroll about halfway down and look for a sign that reads “Stair 3” near an antique brass doorbell. Give it a ring and someone from B&GC will greet you at the door and ask if you have a reservation, which is recommended if you want to drink in this former home of the Cherry Creek Post Office. The host will wind you through hallways and stairwells before you reach your destination: a beautiful Mad Men-era room that has excellent cocktails and impeccable service.

An expansive drink menu awaits, featuring a huge list of classic cocktails as well as some B&GC signatures. Try the Coatimundi, which is made with vodka, mezcal, macadamia nut liqueur, creme de cacao, Angostura bitters, and Wildfire bitters. In the unlikely chance that nothing on the menu appeals, the bartender’s choice option will ensure something is crafted specifically for you. Snack on smoked Marcona almonds and bacon-topped deviled eggs when hunger strikes.

6. Churchill Bar

The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa has been a vision of iconic luxury ever since it opened its doors in 1892, and it’s still one of our favorite places to stay when visiting Denver. While there are multiple places to grab a cocktail on property, you don’t want to miss Churchill Bar. Dark wood and leather welcome you into the space as the smell of sweet, dusty cigar smoke fills the air. Churchill features a customized humidor filled with a selection of more than 60 cigars, so there’s one for every palate.

If smoking isn’t your thing, the huge selection of spirits — including rare drams, vintage port, and fine wines — will entice you to come inside. The knowledgeable bar staff is happy to whip up classic cocktails like a Manhattan or Penicillin, and signature drinks like the Smoked Chet Baker (made with hickory-smoked Bacardi 8 Year, Carpano Antica, Brown Palace rooftop honey, Angostura, and orange bitters) give you a taste of Churchill Bar’s homemade creations. Be sure to order the Chermoula Hummus as well.

7. The Cruise Room

Art Deco design is the star of this classic Denver bar. It opened in 1933, making it the city’s longest-running watering hole that’s stayed open since its founding. Tucked inside the lobby of the historic Oxford Hotel, which opened its doors in 1891, entering into The Cruise Room is like taking an elegant step back in time. The wine-bottle-shaped bar is bathed in pink light and adorned with 1930s fixtures, artwork, and details. The order here is a classic Martini, which the bar staff will prepare to your liking whether that’s vodka or gin, dry or 50/50, and garnished with olives or a twist.

But even if you’re not a fan of Martinis, a large list of expertly made classic and signature cocktails means there’s something for everyone. If you’re feeling peckish, grab a plate of meatballs in spicy tomato sauce, the daily charcuterie plate, or the ridiculously tasty crispy fries, which are served with malt vinegar, jalapeno powder, and blackened foie gras aioli.

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