Thanks to Coors and more than 100 craft breweries, Colorado has developed a reputation as a serious beer state. But in between pints, a bustling cocktail scene is emerging as well in Denver and nearby Boulder. Bartenders like Mike Henderson, Bryan Dayton, Anika Zappe and Sean Kenyon are part of a new group of mixologists shaking up delightful drinks.
This trend isn’t without historical precedent: During the Colorado Gold Rush, Denver, like many other mining towns, was full of saloons serving flush prospectors well-mixed cocktails, Champagne and expensive European spirits.
While that boom is long over, you may still strike gold at one of these seven Rocky Mountain bars.
The Bitter Bar is a hybrid of a modern speakeasy and a lounge whose thoughtful and informative menu is managed by passionate, enthusiastic mixologist Mark Stoddard. Every city should have a classic cocktail bar, and Boulder’s doesn’t disappoint.
What to Drink: Vieux Carré (cognac, rye, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, house-made five-spice bitters)
Colt & Gray modestly bills itself as a pub serving great food and drink in a comfortable environment. But it goes way beyond that description. Head bartender Kevin Burke has put together a great cocktails program, and the bar makes its own sodas, bitters and infused spirits.
What to Drink: P&P (Pimm’s No. 1, Peychaud’s Bitters, lemon juice, cucumber, house-made blackberry soda)
This James Beard Award-winning restaurant is one of the region’s most celebrated, serving cuisine inspired by the Friuli region of Italy. Until recently, Bryan Dayton, president of the Colorado chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, was in charge of the bar. He has left Frasca with a stellar drinks program that focuses on aperitivos and digestivos.
What to Drink: Frasca Negroni (Death’s Door Gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Regans’ Orange Bitters)
You have to love a bar that serves Margaritas in pint glasses, stocks a range of more than 250 tequilas and mezcals and offers a menu of great Mexican food. Whether you want a shot or a cocktail, the capable bartenders are up to the task.
What to Drink: Picoso (jalapeños, El Tesoro Platinum Tequila, lime juice)
This hip, renovated service station, whose décor now includes a wall covered in old rotary telephones, is named after jazz legend Jimmy Smith’s famous track. Root Down, the brainchild of former Waverly Inn co-owner Justin Cucci, may sound too cool for school, but it delivers, with local-produce-driven food and cocktails.
What to Drink: Soju Sunset (pineapple-and-mango-infused soju, lime juice, smoked-poblano agave syrup, basil)
Award-winning mixologist Sean Kenyon runs the bar at this Uptown haunt (pictured above). Designed like a diner for hipsters and decorated with drinks memorabilia, Steuben’s is named after a famous mid-century Boston hotspot. It offers a phenomenal range of spirits and more than two dozen cocktails to sip on while enjoying some of the city’s best comfort food.
What to Drink: Blackberry-Sage Smash (Knob Creek Bourbon, sage, blackberries, lemon juice, simple syrup)
It’s impossible to resist ordering a cocktail at this Larimer Square restaurant. The bar is covered with bowls of fruit, stacks of fresh herbs, racks of exotic spices and teas and a range of homemade syrups. The bartenders have worked closely with the chef, and the result is an incredibly interesting and inviting cocktail list.
What to Drink: Business Thyme (vodka, Dimmi, kiwi, thyme, orange flower water, lime juice)
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.
Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and director of trade outreach and brand education for Pernod Ricard USA. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.