Denver’s Cocktail Scene

I recently did a week-long vacation in Colorado. The first couple days were up in the mountains, but the last three were in the city of Denver. I’d never been there before, so of course the first thing I did was use The Google to figure out where the good cocktails were at.

I only had time to hit a few of the top places, but the ones I got to were impressive. I took a bunch of pictures, but one of the problems with cocktail blogging is that most drinks just look like something sorta brown in a glass. I could show you pictures of five different drinks and tell you they were all the same, and you wouldn’t know the difference. So I’ll spare you that.

But there is one picture I have to share. You ready for this? It’s epic.

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Boom! Do you realize what you are seeing there? It took me a minute. My first question to the bartender was “Is there a beer called Chartreuse?”

Nope. That’s just good old fashioned Chartreuse Liqueur. On tap. Seriously. It was at Roosevelt Co. Ltd. It’s a 60/40 mix of green to yellow. Did I mention it’s on tap? That might be the only place in the world that has such a thing. I imagine that tap handle had to be custom. And I don’t envy whoever has to keep that system clean. But wow is it glorious. I can’t remember what drinks I had there because I was already half in the bag. I just know they all had that Chartreuse mix, and they were all great. I do know that I taught them what an Industry Sour was and had them make one for us. The bartenders were quite friendly and seemed enthused to be talking to cocktail lovers. Unfortunately they directed us to another bar owned by the same people called Front Porch which was, cocktail-wise, just awful. (No cocktail list, a Manhattan was shaken and served on the rocks.) So if you go to Denver hit up Roosevelt for the Chartreuse but skip their sister bar.

Earlier that night we had also visited Green Russell. The cocktails were great. Mine had this weird ice cube in it. (Ok I lied, here’s one kinda brown drink in a glass pic.)

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It’s a 2” cube that looked hand cut, but wasn’t clear. I couldn’t figure out what was going on there. I didn’t really care, the cocktail was fantastic and the ice didn’t crack or behave oddly. It was just very odd that the cube had much less air than if it came from a mold (and besides, it clearly looked hand-cut) but wasn’t clear. I thought it must not be from a Clinebell or it wouldn’t have the air inside. I got into a half hour discussion about ice with the manager. It turned out the ice was from a Clinebell, they just had been having some odd effects due to the machine being in a cold spot (the weather was freezing) and maybe freezing too quickly. I was the only one of the four of us who got a cube that wasn’t clear, and my friends were laughing that they ran into the only person in Denver, and probably one of maybe twenty in the whole freaking world, who would notice it.

Either way the bar manager was knowledgeable, the cocktails were great, and the food we got (bone marrow and chocolate peanut butter pie) was fantastic. It may have been my favorite of the three cocktail bars.

A close second would be where we went the last night, Williams & Graham. Yet another speakeasy themed place. I realize there are only like three possible cocktail bar themes, but is anyone else getting tired of speakeasies? I know, I know, Edison bulbs are cool, but does EVERYWHERE have to have them?

Anyway, that place was excellent as well. Want another picture of something kinda brown in a glass? I know you do, you bastards. Here’s the Royal Regiment. Boulevard Calvados, Rittenhouse Rye, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, and Amaro Nonino. Kind of a twist on a Boulevardier, but with apple.

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We had several drinks there and all were excellent. The service was fantastic, and had I gone there first it might have been my favorite place, but by that point I’d spent the trip pointing out how every bar and restaurant we went into looked the same and I think the un-shaded light of Edison Bulb filaments had addled my brain.

As someone who has been there, done that with the cocktail world, what I look for now isn’t just a place that does everything right. Green Russell and Williams & Graham certainly do, and don’t get me wrong, they’re great. And it isn’t just something a little unexpected and new, like the Chartreuse Tap and cool cocktails that go with it at Roosevelt.

What I’m in search of is an epiphany. Something that makes me think “holy shit, I didn’t know a drink could be like this!” Remember the first time you had a Negroni? Or the third time you had a Negroni, when you finally actually liked it? Like that. None of the three above places gave me that. (In all three, we ordered at least a few bartender’s choices, so they had the opportunity.) I can’t fault them, that’s really hard to do these days. Cocktails are pretty established. I’ve had maybe three beers I felt that way about in the last decade (one of them on this trip, but this ain’t a beer blog bro) so it’s just a sign of the industry’s maturation.

The last time I had a cocktail that made me rethink the way drinks were made was the While My Za’atar Gently Weeps at Longman and Eagle. I drank that and told my friend, Marcia, that I was inspired. (Which reminds me, note to self, play around with spices more in cocktails.) That’s what I’m looking for. That feeling. Where something’s not just original, and not just perfect, but both.

While not a revelation, I did have a fantastic beer cocktail, which was a first for me. I’ve had decent beer cocktails before, but never one I feel the need to repeat. I keep trying a Michelada every time I see one on the menu and always leaving underwhelmed. But Euclid Hall (a great restaurant, by the way) had one called A Man’s Lady, that was gin, Aperol, simple, grapefruit, Peychaud’s, and IPA. I suppose this one is kinda pink and in a glass, so here’s a picture.

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Anyway, I was impressed overall by Denver’s cocktail scene. It was good. It ain’t Chicago or New York, but it’s a little better than my home town. And the food and beer there are surprisingly awesome.

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