In an age where the franchise rules supreme, sometimes you just want to go somewhere everyone knows your name. The imperfections, the grit, the grease – these are all things that make the American dive bar stand out defiantly against the sterility and blandness of big chains and overpriced watering holes. For those living in the Mile High City area, there’s no shortage of hole in the wall bars to have a drink. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best dive bars in Denver for you to experience.
Before we introduce our list, we felt it was appropriate to define what exactly we mean by “dive.” We’re thinking Aunt Sue’s throw back curtain, with the faded flowers and grit. We’re thinking flooring that’s
1. Nob Hill Inn
Self professed: “Denver nightlife classic and it’s second oldest bar!”
The Nob Hill Inn is a local dive off Colfax with tons of personality. This fine establishment has been owned and operated by the Plessinger family for over forty years. Because of its history as a family business, there’s a unique touch found here which can’t be found at a larger, chain establishment. That’s really the beauty of the best dive bars in Denver, though, right? The traditions and rituals at Nob Hill have been passed on from father to son, keeping the spirit of the pub alive and intact. It’s the type of place you will find someone always up for a conversation. There’s also an old electronic dartboard in the back corner.
One blog shares some gritty details and history of the unique establishment if you care to learn more: “A Night and Morning at Nob Hill Inn…”
While many other dives in the area have come and gone, Nob Hill Inn remains–a testament to its timeless and lasting appeal.
2. Candlelight Tavern
Sports, alcohol, bar games, and greasy food- the Candlelight Tavern has all of the hallmarks of a good dive joint.
There’s no gimmick here which makes the Candlelight Tavern stand out from other choices on this list, however, it arguably doesn’t need one. The presentation might be standard, but the execution is second to none. It’s got a very old school vibe and attitude, it’s a place you come to drink. This one offers the classic, fan-favorite dive bar food consisting of greasy grub, friendly hospitality (think family reunion nightcap), plus a full gamut of bar games. This place definitely makes the best dive bars in Denver.
It’s located off Pearl Street nearing Wash Park.
3. Lakeview Lounge
When it comes to any eating establishment, dive or not, it’s all about location, location, location. As one can expect given it’s name, Lakeview Lounge occupies some pretty prime real estate overlooking nearby Sloan’s Lake.
While the interior is what you’d expect out of a dive joint, the outside patio is what sets Lakeview apart from the rest. Those who prefer outdoor seating arrangements will find Lakeview Lounge more than accommodating. It’s a great Denver dive bar to drink at if you find yourself in the Edgewater/Sloan’s Lake neighborhood. Interestingly, the majority of establishments that made our list don’t even have a website. If that’s not a tell-tale sign of dive bar, I don’t know what is.
4. Don’s Club Tavern
The owners claim that famed poet Jack Kerouac probably stopped by for a drink at some point during his time in Denver. Given how long this place has been around and how well known it is to locals, even without evidence the chances of this claim being true are likely enough to warrant mention. While this place is definitely far from undiscovered and has become a popular watering hole for people from all over Denver, it retains it’s divey charm.
Those looking to visit a historic and prototypical American dive will no doubt find Don’s Club Tavern a great source of inspiration.
5. Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar)
While the sign outside says Bar Bar, technically the true name place is the Carioca Cafe. Not that it matters much, as regulars and locals will know where you’re talking about regardless the name you use.
These days the Carioca Cafe is a normal bar just like any other, but it was supposedly home to more illicit pleasures during era of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. It was a haven for miscreants, revolutionaries, and beatniks to gather and socialize away from the watchful eye of “the man.” This hip and edgy spirit lingers on and earns Carioca a spot on our list, even if it’s conformed to the times.
6. PS Lounge
The PS Lounge is one of the last of a dying breed. Make sure to hit up an ATM before you show up as the PS Lounge is a strictly cash only affair. In an increasingly cashless society this might turn off many trendier visitors, however they would be missing out on a very special experience. The PS Lounge isn’t just a place to get a drink, it’s a community. It’s been a staple of East Colfax for a very long time, and unquestionably one of the best dive bars in Denver.
The hospitality and friendliness of the staff at the PS Lounge is unmatched and will leave you feeling like a part of a family you never knew you had.
7. Skylark Lounge
The Skylark Lounge looks much the same as when it first opened it’s doors in 1943. This old-timey vintage charm continues to draw in fans of the old school rockabilly aesthetic. This dive bar on South Broadway not only has regular live music on the first floor and a very large island bar for patrons to get cozy with a drink, but a large second floor with pool tables and dartboards to enjoy. There’s also a nice little bar upstairs too.
Whether it’s live music or a stiff drink among friendly people, you can count on having a good time at the Skylark.
8. Sancho’s Broken Arrow
Dives are usually the haunt of choice for rockers, punks, and all other manner of thick skinned mischief makers. Sancho’s Broken Arrow has long been more of a hippy joint.
Having thought to have died alongside disco and bell bottom jeans, the hippie subculture merely changed with the times. Modern peace freaks will be taken with the laidback atmosphere found at Sancho’s. This place has been around for a very, very long time and has managed to keep the same hippy vibe for decades.
9. Lion’s Lair
You’ll know you’ve found the Lion’s Lair when you see it. Its beautiful and unorthodox facade stands out even during the day, leaving a very loud mark on the local geography. The inside retains just as much personality as the outside, with a cramped but cozy layout perfect for socializing and listening to live music.
Home to many original rock and punk performances over the years, the Lion’s Lair has been an important concert spot in the local music scene.
10. Berkeley Inn
Cheap cocktails, beer and a shot specials, giant Jenga, and pool. What more could you really want in a Denver dive bar? This fine establishment has been pouring drinks off Tennyson Street for a very long time and is a great place to enjoy some booze and friends.
While the rest of Tennyson has changed drastically over the last few decades, the Berkeley Inn has remained the same and that’s why it’s such a great place to be.