Aperitivo Today, Amaro Tomorrow – The Bittersweet Allure of Italian Spirits

Journey into the world of pre-dinner elixirs and post-meal delights. From the sophisticated rituals of aperitif hour, setting the stage for an exquisite dining experience, to the comforting embrace of digestifs that gracefully conclude a meal — here is a rundown of some of Denver’s best takes on the complex flavors found in our favorite Italian spirits. 

Marmalade Lounge

Just as the sign says. Photo courtesy of Marmalade Lounge on Instagram

Where: 5665 Olde Wadsworth Blvd, Arvada

The Lowdown: What the world needs more of are hair salons with cocktail bars in the basement. Insert Marmalade Lounge, where you can order right from your chair with a stylist or pop in the alley entrance for happy hour as you stroll through Arvada. Either way, this slightly hidden cutie serves up some perfectly crafted cocktails as a welcomed addition to the bustling Olde Town.

Give the Beets by Dre a try, featuring golden beet-infused gin, sweet vermouth, Aperol, and Cava for a light spritz, or The Ghost of Anna with Aviation Gin, Luxardo Bitter, Carpano Bianco Vermouth, and a lemon twist, which is both an aromatic and fresh Negroni variation perfect for pampered sipping. Hairdryers and shaker tins – a chic convergence of style and taste.

Spuntino

Negroni and bear-oni. Photo courtesy of Spuntino on Instagram

Where: 2639 W. 32nd Ave. Denver

The Lowdown: Fitting right into the W 32nd crowd, you can find Spuntino – which literally translates to snack – ready with inviting arms and basically scratch-made everything. Though they have been on many “Best Italian” and “Best Wine” lists, something that cannot be skipped is their fantastic selection of Amaro and Italian spirits – some of which are housemade.

Start your night with the house Negroni, with Spuntino Aperitivo, Campari, St. George’s ‘Terroir’ Gin, Franco Cavallero Vermouth, and a Negroni Bear – sure to build an appetite for all of the pasta that’s coming. In the mood for something nontraditional? Order the La Fata Morgana – Plantation Dark and Atlantico Blanco Rums, Lazzaroni Amaretto, Amaro dell’Etna, Mint, and Lime – for a smooth yet wonderfully complex after-dinner cocktail or pair it with the Salumi e Formaggi for a great start to your meal.

The Wild

Cherry Garcia – better bring another. Photo courtesy The Wild Facebook

Where: 1660 Wynkoop St, Suite 100, Denver

The Lowdown: Coffee, cocktails, wine and beer – oh my – all in one place? Sure enough. At The Wild, you will find yourself a stone’s throw away from Union Station, which makes it a perfect stop if you’re picking up some out-of-towners or heading out yourself.

Start with a cup of Middle State Coffee, or go right for one of their selectively creative cocktails. If you are heading in from Union, opt for the Cherry Garcia – with bourbon, Licor 43, Ciociaro Amaro, cherry, and lemon – and enjoy a tantalizing blend of bitter, sweet, and tart. Catching a ride out of town? You deserve the Easy Sailor, with navy strength gin, Amaro Montenegro, Cocchi Di Torino and Dolin Blanc. Hop a train to nowhere, or stay and snack away with one of their many sharable options, like sardines with olive oil.

Fort Greene

Photo ops are everywhere. Photo courtesy of Fort Greene on Facebook

Where: 321 E 45th Ave, Denver

The Lowdown: Come for the wallpaper and retro esthetic stay for the imaginative and stylish drinks. RiNo is lucky to host Fort Greene and its incredibly fun atmosphere. Being nearly across the street from Globe Hall keeps this cocktail bar in the lineup for pre-show or post-show sips.

If you are in after dinner and need a digestif to keep the party going, Lovers in the Parking Lot should set you right – featuring Madre Mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, Espolon Reposado, orange bitters and a Leopold Fernet Rinse – a rich, velvety base complemented by a slight mezcal smoke, it’s certainly a lovers dance of flavor. In the mood for something more earthy? The Tomcat combines Barr Hill Tomcat Gin, Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro, Angostura bitters, and Cynar for a bevy that is rooted, warming, and slightly exotic. It’s a great prop for that selfie you know is happening.

Death & Co.

All the right moves. Photo courtesy Death & Co. on Facebook

Where: 1280 25th St, Denver

The Lowdown: A standard favorite amongst cocktail fans, Death & Co. notoriously provides unique, thoughtful and masterly crafted cocktails. At the bar located in The Ramble Hotel, you can find everything from the classics to inventive cocktails with ingredients you may never have heard of.

Introduce yourself to a Best Kept Secret that joins Lillet Rose, Blanc Vermouth, vanilla, plum, and fennel with seltzer to present an aromatic, herbal, and fruity cocktail to sip with joy. Feeling a bit sophisticated? Order a Dead Flowers St. George x Death & Co Single Barrel Aged Gin, Amaro Nonino, Liquore Strega, Lemon and Absinthe for a vibrant and elevated cocktail that flirts with herbal and botanical notes, slightly mint and bitter, and oh so complexly balanced.

Panzano

To you and yours. Photo courtesy of Panzano Instagram

Where: 909 17th Street, Denver

The Lowdown: It wouldn’t be right to finish an amaro list without including one more modern Italian spot that’s serving it all up. While the first draw, of course, is to dine at Panzano for their sizable antipasti – such as the arancini with mushroom, black truffle, pecorino cheese and garlic aioli – and secondi, like the nearly as good as Nonna’s Veal Saltimbocca, paired with sundried tomato polenta, prosciutto, mustard greens, capers and marsala veal demi, just make sure as you begin to pair dinner, you make it past the impressive wine list and pick out one of many Amaros like Ischia Sapori Rucolino Amaro to sip along with the meal.

The options range from light & floral to bold & bitter, including non-Italian options; Panzano is the spot to play seek and sip, learn about a new amaro – expand your palate and enjoy the experience. Can’t decide yet? Order a spritz tower for the table – Salud.