While we might be 1,115 miles from the Kentucky Derby, Denver still treats the annual horse race as if it was happening in our own backyard (and with the Denver Derby Party taking place in Sculpture Park, it might as well be). So even if you’re not in it for the ponies, we say grab your best bowtie and your biggest hat and give yourself an excuse to celebrate. You don’t even need a ticket to the sold out Derby party to participate—just do as the Kentuckians do and let the Bourbon flow. Here’s where you should drink on Derby Day in Denver.
For the Bourbon…
Union Lodge No. 1
Where: 1543 Champa St., Denver
The Low Down: At some bars, cocktails are more or less a vehicle for getting patrons drunk as possible. Often, their drink lists are so potent that you’ll be naming your hangover in honor of the hurricanes consumed the night before (pour one out for Hurricane Tito). This is not the case at Union Lodge No. 1. At the pre-prohibition-themed bar, cocktails are far from the booze-mobiles of your youth.
Crafted by skill and honed by knowledge, you can peer into American history through a glass of whiskey at Union Lodge. That’s because all the cocktails made at Union Lodge are exact replicas of their pre-prohibition ancestors and are made with only spirits served at that time. That means no wine, no vodka. But that’s okay—that means there’s more room for the good (brown) stuff. We recommend anything whiskey based—except the incredible Ramos Gin Fizz. Mint juleps will also be on the menu, but make sure to try out one of their many legacy brand bourbons as Union Lodge has all Kentucky bourbons produced before prohibition, including Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Four Roses, I.W. Harper, E.H. Taylor (including a small batch selection that we have our eye on) and of course, Jim Beam.
Where: 1553 Platte St, Denver, CO
The Low Down: It’s no longer a secret that the subterranean Ste. Ellie is a must for cocktail lovers—the seductive neo-speakeasy has become a staple amongst booze hounds on the hunt for rare and exotic spirits (case and point). So if you’re in search of some fine Kentucky whiskey, look no further. For Ste. Ellie’s Kevin Burke, he’s recommending their selections of Eagle Rare, including a small batch he claims is “way better than it needs to be,” and a 17-year old 2013 release. If you’re more of a Mint Julep drinker, you’re also in luck as Ste. Ellie makes a mean Julep. But be warned: Made with 114 proof Old Grand-Dad, they’re as delicious as they are strong.
Where: 2137 Larimer St., Denver
The Low Down: Everyone has that one bar where you always have a little too good of a time. We liken them to rickety old roller coasters—you’re always unsure why you’re there in first place but you go along for the ride anyway. In both cases, you’re likely to come out with at least a few bruises. We’re not saying that Star Bar is similar to aforementioned establishments that warrant their own FEMA budget. It’s just that at Star Bar, the booze is too good and the atmosphere a tad too intoxicating that it’s hard not to get lost in the moment. In other words, it’s the perfect spot to ditch the prim and proper aspects of Derby Day and get down to what really matters—the whiskey. This Saturday they’ll be pouring from their extensive bourbon list including their own selection of single barrel Knob Creek. Just make sure to hold onto your derby hats because this ol’ rollercoaster ain’t stopping.
The Way Back
Where: 4132 W 38th Ave, Denver
The Low Down: The Way Back may only be a month old, but the talent behind the bar are no novices. The team of industry vets include Chad Michael George formerly from Williams & Graham, which was named American Cocktail Bar of the Year in 2015. With rave reviews, the former Bark Bar has transformed into a sultry hideaway that is now slinging cocktails that are reportedly as seductive. For Derby Day, the crew will be making old fashioneds with bourbon drawn from their own hand-picked barrel of Knob Creek. But if you ask George, he prefers his with “the first bourbon made in Colorado, Peach Street Colorado Straight bourbon.” Also, the talented staff said they’d be happy to make you a “killer Julep” if your heart so desires.
For the festivities…
Where: 1100 14th St., Denver
The Low Down: For this Derby Day, the posh restaurant attached to the even posher Hotel Teatro is offering up an unbeatable deal with mint juleps at $5 a pop on both May 6 and 7. Located a stone’s throw from the day’s main attraction at Sculpture Park , it’s a great place if you want to be in the thick of things. Even if you don’t have a ticket to Derby Day, you better believe the people watching will be unbeatable.
Pro tip: make sure to snag a spot on their patio, weather permitting.
Where: 1330 27th St., Denver
The Low Down: While the julep deal at RiNo’s Nocturne may be slightly pricier than the Nickel ($7 per drink), you’re likely to bypass all the chaos happening in LoDo. An added bonus, the sleek jazz joint will have live music courtesy of the Annie Booth Trio by nightfall starting at 7 lasting until 11 p.m. Patrons should feel free to come dressed to the nines too, as hatted guests won’t feel out of place in the gorgeously restored warehouse.
Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge
Where:: 1512 Curtis St., Denver
The Low Down: Want to make a whole day out of the Derby? Check out Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge. The elegantly revitalized former candy store will offer a Derby Day brunch buffet from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with signature drinks including mint juleps ($10). Here, you can catch a live screening of the race on the big screen while you drink and dine. As a bonus, the restaurant will host its second annual “Damn Fine Derby Hat” contest. For reservations, call: (303) 615-4000, or visit: BaursResturant.com