The Denver Guide
LA may be filled with New Yorkers seeking better weather and quality of life, but for real progress in the area of work/life balance, you’ll want to book a trip to Denver. After all, how can anyone justify hanging around the office past five when there are three hundred days of sunshine and some of the country’s best skiing less than two hours away? In addition to the ski resorts, the front range is an easy drive from sight-seeing and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, fly fishing and rafting in Routt National Forest, and the sand dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Southern Colorado. The laid-back, active style and unmatched natural amenities have made Denver one of the country’s fastest growing cities for the past several years. On your way in from the airport, keep an eye out for all of the cranes looming above the city: In the past ten years, there’s been a complete transformation of the downtown area, a process that was bolstered by a redevelopment of the historic Union Station—now home to several new restaurants, a sleek bar, and a new hotel. Luckily, the food and culture in the Mile High City have more than kept up with the influx of newcomers—expect plenty of future updates to this guide, as great restaurants and hotels continue to open at an inhuman pace. And since nearby Boulder, a thirty-minute drive or bus-ride north, is a gateway to accessible hiking and home to a dynamic food scene of its own (note Frasca Food & Wine, which is often cited as the best restaurant in the state), we’ve included our favorite picks there, just for good measure.
Avanti Food & Beverage3200 Pecos St., LoHi | 720.269.4778
Think of Avanti as a grown-up mess hall: seven distinct dining options are packed into one large, industrial, split-level space, which range from a shawarma joint to a spot where you can pick up a pan-fried trout sandwich and grits to a pizzeria with surprising variety. But this is really more of a watering hole first, where you can choose from one of twenty draft beers or opt for a cocktail, and choose a spot in their lounge, indoor dining area, or spacious rooftop deck. Because of its views, Avanti really shines when it’s warm and you can take advantage of the outdoor stadium-style seating.
B&GC249 Columbine St., Cherry Creek | 720.925.8598
True to form, this new clandestine Cherry Creek speakeasy isn’t easy to spot from the street—you have to walk down an alley between Second and Third Avenue before you find a nondescript sign that just reads “Stair 3.” There’s a gold Art Deco doorbell that gives a better indication of what greets you in the basement beneath: a sophisticated cocktail menu from Brendon Wise, the beverage director of Sage Hospitality (the group that owns the adjacent hotel B&GC, The Halcyon); a dark space (but well-lit bar), cognac leather booths, and more gold Art Deco flourishes. Drinks like Aviatrix (Plymouth gin, sparkling rose, plus other good stuff), New Money (Bourbon, smoked vermouth, amaro, house bitters), and tight-lipped bartenders await. It's also worth noting that the stylish Halcyon Hotel is a decent (new) option if you have business or friends in Cherry Creek—there aren’t too many options nearby.
Bar Fausto3126 Larimer St., RiNo | 720.445.9691
Jonathan Power (The Populist; Crema Coffee House) and Koan Goedman (Huckleberry Roasters) teamed up to open Bar Fausto, a cocktail/charcuterie spot in Denver's River North Art District (RiNo) in 2015. The open 2,000-square foot Bar Fausto is a fun take on an industrial space—a white cinder block wall is painted with strips of vibrant colors; the blue host stand looks like it was lifted out of a hipster lobby hotel. The focus here, the large, modern bar, serves an expanding list of specialty cocktails—which are known by numbers (#42, #43, and so on) as opposed to name. There's also a tight selection of beer and wine to choose from. While Fausto is more bar than restaurant, on the food side, there's antipasti items, cheese and salami, salads, crudo, bruschetta, plus a couple of more substantial plates if you come hungrier.
Cooper Lounge1701 Wynkoop St., LoDo | 720.460.3738
A Union Station highlight, the sophisticated Cooper Lounge is located on the mezzanine level of the renovated transit hub. Its balcony set-up is good for people watching into Union Station's Great Hall, and on the opposite side, you can look out onto Downtown Denver beyond Cooper's stunning arched windows. The upscale cocktail list and throwback-glam space feels celebratory in nature.
Denver Beer Company1695 Platte St., LoHi | 303.433.2739
With more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the country, it's no surprise that Denver's bar scene is dominated by beer gardens. Conveniently located on Platte Street (to get there from Downtown you'll cross over the lovely Confluence Park), Denver Beer Company has a big open patio that's lively without being rowdy, particularly on sunny weekend afternoons. Dogs are allowed, and they usually have a food truck pulled up in case you'd like to snack while you drink. The menu usually has a mix of old standards and seasonals, but we're partial to their signature Graham Cracker Porter, which is available year-round.
Hop Alley3500 Larimer St., RiNo | 720.379.8340
Tommy Lee from Denver's popular noodle bar, Uncle, named his second spot in honor of Denver's original Chinatown—Hop Alley's small, creative food menu takes cues from a range of Taiwanese, Cantonese, Sichuan, and Hunan flavors. We like to come for drinks most, though—the cocktails are likewise inventive: In addition to their original concoctions, Hop Alley puts their own spin on classics—like an old fashioned served with amaro, madeira wine, and smoked tea. The eclectic beer/wine list matches suit.
My Brother’s Bar2376 15th St., LoHi | 303.455.9991
This is the oldest still-operating bar in Denver, and it's famously the place where Jack Kerouac used to hang out here when he lived in Denver (an experience he wrote about extensively in On the Road). Basically, it's been in this location since long before LoHi became a trendy area to live and work. The inside is dark and cozy, and especially comforting on wintry nights. The menu's nothing special (this place is really about the ambiance), but we recommend snacking on popcorn from the popcorn machine in the back corner (an affordable 50 cents for a basket) and ordering a hot dog, which comes with a full bar cart with all the fixings you could want. Photos: pjroldan
The Bitter Bar835 Walnut St., Boulder | 303.442.3050
The Bitter Bar is laid-back Boulder's slightly dressed-up version of the cocktail lounge—although it's by no means formal. The bartenders are fun and inviting, and they serve some of the best drinks in town. They've got a few a mainstay cocktails on tap, a signature list, and some really quality brews that you're not likely to see elsewhere.
Williams & Graham3160 Tejon St., LoHi | 303.997.8886
It's easy for speakeasy's to feel gimmicky, but not so at Williams & Graham, where you'll walk through an old bookcase to get to the intimate bar. The cocktails here are delicate and thoughtful, and while that's definitely what they're best known for (bartender Sean Kenyon has been internationally recognized for his program), the food holds up—particularly the burger, which comes topped with port salut and caramelized onions. They don't take reservations, so arrive early.