1000 Osage St.
Buffalo Bill, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan ate here. Although vegetarians and animal-rights activists call it a nightmare, Denver’s historic Buckhorn Exchange is a dream come true for aficionados of wild game – on the wall or on your plate. The food (alligator, buffalo, elk, rattlesnake and Rocky Mountain oysters), authentic décor and music by Roz Brown are heavenly for fans of Western history and the old-time saloon. Established in 1871 by Theodore Zeitz at 2672 Market St., the business was moved in 1893 to its current location. Renamed the Rio Grande Exchange, it courted railroaders at the Denver and Rio Grande’s Burnham Shops across the street. The Roofgarten, with its chuck-wagon service, overlooks the rail yards and downtown skyline. RTD’s light-rail streetcars stop right in front, for an easy trip into Denver’s liquid past. Check out their State of Colorado Liquor License No. 1 at the stand-up bar, upstairs. Cruise Room/Oxford Hotel
17th and Wazee Sts.
Named for the saloon on the cruise ship Queen Mary, this 1935 redesign of an 1890 Victorian tavern boasts the best Art Deco décor and the best martini in town. Snuggled into the lobby of the elegant Oxford Hotel, it hosts many ghosts, including Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood and the poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril. He held cocktail-hour seminars here to discuss bawdy limericks, play the mandolin and pass out free samples of his poetry, such as these closing lines from “Stories of Three Summers”:Dare I believe more dreams than I can prove?
We never never know until long after
If even then
For centuries are only flicks
Over the granite mountainsEl Chapultepec
1962 Market St.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, this bar opened on July 4 to celebrate. Since the 1970s, it has been Denver’s great jazz joint, serving bebop, burritos and beer. Lower Downtown Denver’s hottest spot has a lively atmosphere that other area watering holes are striving for with their studied, million-dollar interior designs.. This is a tiny, un-rehabilitated joint with no cover charge and no reservations, whose crowds, jazz and mystical vibes often spill out onto the sidewalk.
Mori Sushi Bar and Tokyo Cuisine
2019 Market St.
Mori’s serves superb Japanese food. But, for decades after World War II, intense prejudice against the Japanese led this place to call itself the Cathay (i.e., Chinese) Dining Room. Although they began serving Japanese food in 1948, it was not until the 1990s that Mori’s came out of the closet. The first floor has a classic dark, smoky bar behind a large, red-lacquered gateway. Inscribed, “It’s Your Responsibility to Cut Yourself Off Before We Do.” Mori’s is located in the 1887 digs operated by Madam Jennie Rogers, listed in the 1892 Red Book guide to Denver brothels as “Offering all the comforts of home…Strangers welcome.”
My Brother’s Bar
2376 15th St.
Denver’s oldest saloon still serving booze on the original site was opened by Maria Anna Capelli in 1873 as the Highland House, a block from today’s Confluence Park. As the first Italians to reach Denver, the Capelli’s fed and housed their compatriots—mostly poor immigrants. Italian day-laborers, railroad workers and miners were welcomed with pasta, vino and songs of the old country. The red-brick building successively became Paul’s Place, Whitie’s Restaurant and Platte Bar. Jim and Angelo Karagas bought it in 1970. They renamed it My Brother’s Bar and made it the legendary tavern noted for its lack of television, exquisite hamburgers, wide variety of tap beers and classical music.
Nallen’s Irish Pub
1429 Market St.
Colorado’s finest Irish pub is the work of County Mayo-native John Nallen. “I opened on California St. in 1992, moved down here in 1995. Now we’re between two popular restaurants with take-out, so we can concentrate on wet-goods. Nallen’s is a haven for Irish people, who hold most of the jobs here and do much of the storytelling and singing. A clock inside gives the time in Dublin. “Never heard of green beer,” Nallen says of the St. Patrick’s Day novelty in the U. S. “We serve Guinness, not green dishwater.”
221 W. 13th Ave.
The royal red British phone box and Union Jack outside make it easy to find. Inside, you can savor ales, bitters and stouts galore; fish and chips and other pub fare; as well as copies of the London Times and London Telegraph. This old Mission-style apartment house has been converted to a cozy home away from Mother England for Anglophiles, furnished with fireplace, dartboards and paintings of English scenery. The music is British, be it popular or traditional. And late at night, when the crew is deep into their cups, they have been known to sing “God Save the Queen.”
Punch Bowl Tavern
2052 Stout St.
To slip into the Punch Bowl’s high-backed, private booths is to return to a 19th-century saloon. This tiny, 18-foot-wide barroom located in an 1885 cottage is one of Denver’s oldest. The booth-backs feature Colorado murals by Noel “Chief Sundown” Adams. Originally named for boxers and their fans who patronized the bar, the Punch Bowl now attracts downtown office workers, slinky secretaries, studly judges, lawyers and FBI agents from the nearby Federal Building. Jimmy Spinelli and Paul Kakavis bought the place in 1972 and introduced terrific burgers and lavish onion rings. Current owner Benny Roy Lisenby added Cajun food from his native Vidor, Texas. Benny married Shirley, the most beautiful waitress of all, and together they have run the place happily ever after.
Ship Tavern/Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th St. at Broadway
Situated in the prow of Denver’s grand old hotel is the Ship Tavern, a cozy, chestnut-paneled refuge built by Claude Boettcher in 1938 as a place to drink and display his nautical artifacts. The Tavern was a men-only bastion of stuffiness until Denver journalist Sandra Dallas protested the custom in 1974. Nowadays any and all are welcome. Try the sweet brown Ship Tavern Ale or their trademark macaroons, clam chowder and high-class pizza. Explore the 1892 hotel’s nine-story atrium, and be sure to sample the water fountains – the brown’s naturally purified H20 is drawn from two 850-foot artesian wells.
Wazee Lounge and Supper Club
1600 15th St.
Of more than 50 myriad LoDo bars and restaurants, this was the first stylish reincarnation in what was Denver’s Skid Row. Jim and Angelo Karagas bought it in 1974. The kept the old name, but redid the interior in Art Deco style. The chandeliers were once Milwaukee streetlamps and the benches once graced the old downtown Elks Lodge. This friendly, funky place specializes in beer, pizza, wine, sandwiches, conversation, folk music and art. The Karagases sold it in 1998 to John Hickenlooper of the Wynkoop Brewing Company. John said he could think of only one improvement: bringing in Wynkoop Beers. Otherwise he promises to keep things the same, including the monthly buy-it-off-the-wall art exhibits.