If you’re someone who frequents Gastown, wears oversized glasses ironically, has at least a half sleeve of tattoos, or simply possesses a potent appreciation for craft cocktails, then Denver, Colorado is a must-visit destination.
Just a quick 2 hour 45 minute direct flight from Vancouver, the Mile-High City has become a haven for hipsters. Here we explore three of the most delicious neighbourhoods in this up-and-coming cocktail destination.
Lower Downtown (LoDo)’s Dairy Block
Home to almost 100 restaurants, bars, clubs, and galleries, Lower Downtown (LoDo) is buzzing with energy. Despite the abundance of trendy locales to choose from, the Dairy Block, a micro-district which was once home to Windsor Dairy, is undoubtedly the high-spirited focal point of this neighbourhood (double entendre intended).
Converted from an 1800’s firehouse to a lively patio and lounge, Deviation Distilling is downtown Denver’s only craft gin (and whiskey) distillery. However, it’s their Barista Series that offers a pick-me-up for coffee connoisseurs and whisky enthusiasts alike. This bourbon-based coffee liqueur has three options: Americano, Mocha or Aztec or you can try all three as a flight.
If you’re more partial to whiskey without the espresso, just around the corner, Seven Grand features 650+ whiskies including an extensive selection of Colorado-made bourbons, ryes, and single malts. Think of this destination as a whisky library of sorts during the week, frenetic nightclub on weekends.
Across the alley from each other, Run for the Roses and Poka Lola Social Club offer unique cocktail experiences in the Dairy Block. Run for the Roses is an underground cocktail lair that pays homage to cocktail clubs of yesteryear. Either choose your cocktail intentionally or as the luck of the draw via a decks of cards which acts as their menu. With more than 52 unique cocktails of varying styles, spirits, and intensities to choose from, there’s something for everyone.
Poka Lola Social Club, on the other hand, which is located in The Maven Hotel (an absolutely must-stay boutique hotel), is truly an everyperson’s cocktail bar that celebrates turn of the century American soda fountain culture. Premium spirits are featured in unpretentious, cheeky cocktails such as ‘Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe’ or ‘Bar Snacks’ which is a bartender’s choice of a beer and a shot.
River North Arts District (RiNo)
Also known as RiNo, this neighbourhood’s is ‘where art is made,’ and this motto unquestionably extends into their cocktail and spirits culture.
The Block Distilling Co. is an artisan, small-batch distillery and tasting room which features unique cocktails made from their vodka, gins, whiskeys, and liqueurs. The distillery undoubtedly has a hand-crafted feel, which makes sense as co-owner Kraig Weaver quite literally constructed the space and interiors himself. You’ll notice that there’s something unconventionally delightful about the space which extends into the ethos of their spirits and cocktails. Try the Night Sweats Straight Bourbon, which is made from yellow, red and blue corn, millet and malt is encased in a stunning square bottle adorned with a golden marigold motif to represent their commitment to donating $10 from each bottle to The Marigold Project.
Just a few blocks away, cocktail institution Death & Co, opened their Coloradan offshoot in The Ramble, a boutique 50-room hotel. Upon entering into the main lobby, you will be captivated by the opulence of the space. Chandeliers cascade from high ceilings, luxurious velvet couches offer cozy corners for imbibers, but it’s the bar that you must sit at if you’re a true cocktail nerd. Despite the grandiose aesthetic which contrasts the low-lit, intimate interior of Death & Co’s original New York location, the outstanding hospitality and cocktail creativity remains the same.
If you’re unable to get seated immediately at Death & Co, put your name on the waitlist and hop across the road to either Cart-Driver for wood-fire pizzas and aperitivo-style cocktails or Los Chingones for tacos and margaritas. Cart-Driver is nestled away in a small but mighty shipping container. However, it’s their back outdoor patio that’s the perfect place to dine al fresco. Los Chingones also boasts ground-level and rooftop patio options to enjoy $5-or-less Happy Hour bites and sips.
Just like in Notting Hill or You’ve Got Mail, your meet-cute awaits at Williams & Graham, a craft cocktail bar hidden behind the bookshelf in a seemingly quaint bookshop. Unfortunately, no books are for sale here, but falling in love with one of the dozens of cocktails offered is inevitable. Despite having over 50 cocktails on their menu, ranging from seasonal serves to over-the-top, elevated classics, their sweet spot is in ordering a ‘Dealer’s Choice.’ Allow their talented team to concoct something custom for your palate.
Next door to Williams & Graham, Occidental Bar claims to serve ‘the best vodka soda’ which is their subtle way of saying they make damn good cocktails. In what looks like a dive bar, this punk blaring, sports-game watching, dark lit, counter-culture canteen makes well-crafted, brazen beverages like the Muffin Top (rum, amaro, yellow chartreuse, and orange bitters) or Black Parade (bourbon, mezcal, amaro, cinnamon, and mole bitters).
The high-point of the Highlands is undoubtedly The Family Jones Spirit House. This distillery and tasting room is gobsmacking. Industrial elements intersect with rich wood details and deep blue velvet booths. The sunken, curvilinear bar is almost like a seat at the altar of their hallowed pot still which overlooks the space from the second floor. The essence of the distillery is about the relationships between farmer and distiller, distiller and chef, chef and bartender, and bartender and guest. Each relationship starts with a handshake. And these hands are showcased on each unique label on their spirits, liqueurs, and bottled cocktails.
—by Reece Sims