Denver may be known for craft beer, but plenty of cocktail spots also reign the drinking scene. From secret bars in dark basements to an izakaya filled with rare, expensive Japanese whisky and a distillery making all the goods in house, here are five places you won’t want to miss.
Though this tiny bar in the Berkeley neighborhood doesn’t shine with a vintage air or reside in a basement, it’s one of the most unusual ventures to open in Denver over the last year. After all, the modern, clean-cut space is themed around trees in a cool, educational and delicious way.
The name Tatarian is a nod to the region’s roots as the home of a specific maple tree. To further this motif, the bar offers a thick menu that reads like an arborist’s text book: each page showcases a fantastic tree and a drink that represents it.
Order the Methuselah (named for a 4,849-year-old bristlecone pine) to savor a fragrant libation made with Absolut Elyx vodka, grapefruit and elderflower liqueurs and housemade orange bitters.
Or try the Pando, a drink made with gin, Campari, strawberry vermouth, rosemary syrup and prosecco that gets its name from a grove of quaking aspens in Utah known as the Trembling Giant — this 47,000-tree forest is actually one single living organism.
If you find yourself falling for one of these creative pours or the incredible photography found on the menu’s pages, buy a copy of the book on your way out — naturally, each sale benefits the Arbor Day Foundation.
Following the popularity of Sushi Ronin, chef-partner Corey Baker opened this casual concept in early 2018. While the fresh fish and other Japanese staples prove seductive, it’s the clandestine bar in the basement that really makes Izakaya Ronin stand out.
Built in a historic building in the RiNo neighborhood, this late-night moguri izakaya (speakeasy/kitchen) exudes an Asian industrial chicness, with red lights illuminating the artsy bar and bottles of brown and silver spirits lining the shelves.
The idea, Baker says, is to come late (it doesn’t open until 8 p.m.) to eat bowls of steaming ramen, nibble on wagyu kushiyaki, sample sushi straight from the Tsukiji Fish Market and sip a carefully crafted cocktail, such as the barrel-aged Boulevardier.
Also on the drinks menu is a large selection of premium sakes, wine, Japanese beers and 25 variations of whisky, including rare and expensive offerings such as Hibiki 21-year.
The Family Jones Spirit House
For those seeking a true taste of Colorado, this distillery and restaurant highlights the best the Centennial State has to offer. Because of laws regarding how a distillery can serve alcohol, everything alcohol-related in this LoHi (Lower Highland) hot spot has to be made in house.
That means the crème de violette and orange bitters get whipped up right here, as do the non-spirits-related ingredients, such as arbol chili tincture and black pepper syrup. The latter two can be found mixed with Mo Jones (a silver rum) and yellow bell pepper in the Heat of the Moment.
Another winning tipple from the menu is the Salted Grapefruit Spritz, a refreshing blend of Jones house gin, Jones house blanc, grapefruit and Topo Chico sparkling water.
As you imbibe, order off the curated dinner menu that features seasonal fare ranging from stuffed Key West shrimp with guacamole and buffalo hot sauce to duck leg confit with carrot spaetzle and red curry.
Indulge at the low, horseshoe-shaped bar or take a seat in one of the stylish velvet booths — either way, you can see the sparkling bronze still glittering through a glass wall on the second floor, presiding over the space each evening.
When this hidden bar first opened adjacent to Halcyon, a hotel in Cherry Creek , in August 2016, you had to be a member — or friend of a member — to drink there. The rules have relaxed a little, though you still have to enter through the alley, and the only way to get a reservation is to text the phone number (720-925-8598) after 3 p.m. on the day you want to visit.
Though it’s not the easiest of tasks, heading here is well worth it, thanks to barman Daryl Pryor and his team, who have created a menu full of well-executed classics and signature concoctions. All beverages are made with premium liquors and are served in unique glassware, be it cut crystal or vintage stemware.
The menu is organized by spirit and includes tasty options, such as the Palmetto (Cruzan single-barrel rum, vermouth and orange bitters) and the Diamondback (Rittenhouse Rye, Laird’s Applejack brandy and green chartreuse).
As you sip, nosh on a selection of cocktail party fare made by the upstairs restaurant, Departure.
Expect a quiet and atmospheric evening as the music volume remains low, the lights start to dim and servers somehow become even more amicable.
And, for those still looking for exclusiveness, the bar does offer memberships, which will dial you into the special tastings of rare spirits and allow entrance into the reserve cellar.
While the Latin-influenced fare of this airy Highlands restaurant pulls in hungry diners, it’s the bar that really put Señor Bear on the map. The colorful spot’s drinks menu features flights of mezcal and tequila, local craft beers, Spanish and South American wines, and a solid cocktail list.
Make sure to try the Congelado, a daily changing frozen tipple. Just be warned, the alcohol runs strong with this one, though you might not notice due to the icy, smooth fruit and spice notes that permeate the cup.
Pad your stomach with flavorful options from chefs Max MacKissock and Blake Edmunds, such as coconut spare ribs, albacore tuna ceviche with roasted lemon dressing, and brócoli saltado, a vegetarian take on classic lomo saltado (Peruvian steak stir-fry) that pairs stir-fried broccoli and oyster mushrooms with french fries that you wrap up in chive crepes.