Blind tigers and pigs are popping up in the streets of Colorado’s capital. Don’t go running away just yet – these terms are just old-fashioned passwords to the Denver speakeasy newcomers that have opened in many of the city’s most popular neighborhoods.
These joints (pun intended, as you’ll discover in a moment) provide experiences that harken back to the 1920’s Prohibition era, when you had to ‘know a guy’ in order to locate the booze and good times.
Passwords and private memberships might not be the norm anymore, but finding these hidden hangouts can be a challenge without knowing where to look. We’re going to take a look at the dual Denver speakeasy scene, including a couple that, following Amendment 64 and the failed Initiative 300 which was meant to establish cannabis lounges, have ventured into the ‘green scene.’
Denver Speakeasy Scene, Part I: The Boozy Side
Speakeasies became the stuff of legend following the end of prohibition in 1933. But there’s been a resurgence of sorts here in Denver, especially in the city’s trendy neighborhoods such as The Highlands and down on Larimer.
These ‘hidden gems’ make for the perfect getaway from the club scene, and offer creative 21st birthday party ideas and classy nights out for milestone occasions like bachelorette parties as well. With a hip ambiance and quiet charm, however, even those of us over the hill can appreciate them.
Looking for a little something extra with your ice cream? Step through the doorway hidden behind the walk-in freezer at Frozen Matter ice cream shop, and you’ll find yourself in an innovative bar serving inventive cocktails.
Funky names include the Little Green Ghouls, Buddy! (for you Always Sunny fans out there) or the Bartender’s Choice, where you describe what flavors you enjoy, pick a spirit, and let them go to work! They’ve got a good list of beers and wines to choose from, as well.
In this small, dark retreat, prepared meats, cheeses, and nuts are also available in the ‘Astronaut Food’ area if you get hungry. Owners Gerry Kim and Josh Gertzen opened the space in 2016, and it quickly became popular with the locals. You’ll have to stop by and check out this outer-space styled speakeasy for yourself next time you’re in the market for a Denver speakeasy.
True to its speakeasy theme, this Prohibition-era cocktail bar asks patrons to “engage in lively but quiet conversation”, as there are tenants right above the space. You can find this underground hideaway — complete with luxurious booths, exposed brick and stone, and a telephone booth for cell phone use — on Larimer Street beneath a pie shop.
Its name pays homage to William Green Russell, a Colorado gold miner during the 19th century, and the drink offerings honor the art of artisanal cocktail crafting.
Fresh ingredients and small-batch spirits make for the perfect combination of unique cocktails or juices and elegant bar food-just what you’d expect from a ‘chef-driven cocktail joint’. Head to the Green Russel for a bold yet intimate Denver Speakeasy experience best suited for smaller groups, and don’t forget to “be kind and dress smartly.”
As you’ve probably figured out, it’s important to start with the name of a Denver speakeasy for an interesting story and some background information. Fort Greene is no exception.
Apparently, the owner of this joint met a French restaurant designer when she stayed at his Airbnb in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn who suggested that he create a restaurant with the same design as his living room. As a result, lucky folks spending time in Denver can enjoy cocktails one visitor described as “boozy magic” while sitting on comfortable couches in this hangout that puts on no airs.
This bar offers visitors a place to drink delicious cocktails and beer, make friends, and even “cut a rug” (that sounds like Prohibition-era talk, no?) while rocking out to live music or a DJ in the back room. Grab an order of fried cheese curds from their Wisconsin bar food menu (vegetarian options also available), order another cocktail, and relax — you’re in good company at Fort Greene. One caveat here: this is not an official speakeasy; the building is unmarked because the sign went missing and hasn’t been replaced yet.
Top Denver Speakeasy: Williams & Graham
We close our list of Denver speakeasy winners with a bang. You don’t get named the 2015 Best American Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards for serving subpar cocktails. You also don’t offer subpar cocktails when you have some of the city’s (and the country’s) top bartenders crafting them.
In classic speakeasy fashion, your path to the bar begins behind a swinging door disguised as a bookshelf. Once you’ve made it in, check the list of drinks to get a feel for the vibe and sense of humor the team at Williams & Graham brings to the table.
There’s Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica (Woody Creek Gin, Cucumber Beet Syrup, Lemon Juice) for The Office aficionados and Shrub One Out (Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Cantaloupe Basil Shrub, Prosecco)-a drink clearly intended for those with a more subtle sense of humor.
The food menu includes quality options ranging from hors d’ourves (Pretzel Bites, Deviled Eggs) to larger fish and lamb dishes, and they make a killer burger as well. At Williams & Graham, you can expect to have an authentic and enjoyable Prohibition-era speakeasy experience, right down to the sharply dressed staff. Just remember to show up early to get your name on the list, as this small bar-restaurant fills up fast.
Denver Speakeasy Scene, Part II: The 420-Friendly Side
It’s impossible to cover the Denver speakeasy scene without mentioning those that cater to a 420-friendly crowd. This is Colorado, after all. Recreational cannabis was legalized back in 2012, although without provisions for where to smoke it. While there are more dispensaries than Starbucks in the Mile High City, legal places to smoke week in Denver are scarce.
This is the new Prohibition – cannabis lounges must meet sky-high criteria in order to be licensed (such as compliance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, neighborhood approval, etc). So far, no licenses and no lounges.
That said, finding a place to smoke it legally often presents a challenge for tourists. That’s where My 420 Tours comes in. Whether it’s time for date night Denver style or a much-needed break from the bar scene, here’s the lowdown on ‘speakeasy-style’ options that allow for legal partaking, including hotels and party buses.
Here’s the lowdown on weed-friendly hotels in Denver. Most hotels don’t release their names online. This is because many of them are well-known chains and popular local boutiques that simply don’t want their brand name associated with cannabis-related services.
This means you usually can’t book directly with the hotel itself. Instead, book through a Denver pot tour provider like My 420 Tours, who will set you up with an in-room vaporizer to enjoy your bud legally.
Start by checking out this list of 420 friendly hotels, and ask the tour group if you’d like to hear some other options. You’ll learn the name of the establishment in the confirmation email. If you ask me, that’s about as ‘Al Pacino’ as it gets these days.
420 Party Bus Tours
If you can’t settle on a single spot to enjoy your cannabis, take it on the road with one of Denver’s mobile lounge tours. These buses are essentially mobile speakeasies that shuttle passengers to 420-friendly activities across town. And yes, we use the term ‘speakeasy’ actively – you can smoke on the bus.
My 420 Tours sets you up on a limo-style party bus boasting comfortable lounge-style seating, video monitors, and perhaps some trippy laser lights to really set the mood. You’ll meet other cannabis enthusiasts while touring Denver’s top dispensaries, grow facilities, and green-friendly businesses. Cannabis party bus tours are a great way to get a feel for the Mile High City while legally enjoying your favorite recreational activity.
Denver Speakeasy Scene – Bringing it all together
From the dimly lit cocktail dens tucked away behind secret doors to the entertaining 420-friendly lounges, Denver delivers a speakeasy experience like nowhere else in the country.
Now that you’re ‘in the know,’ book your Denver speakeasy experience, there’s no better way to party in (or with) the city’s trendiest ‘joints.’