Here you are in Denver thinking, “What the hell am I going to do with my day?” You could go to the mountains, maybe climb a fourteener at 4 AM and make it down in time to stop in Idaho Springs for some legendary Mountain Pie at Beau Jo’s. Or walk the 16th Street Mall, taking in the sights of the city while enjoying the soothing sounds of vagrant stoners hacking through Grateful Dead covers on the pleasantly-decorated pianos scattered along the street. Maybe a stop at the Brown Palace Hotel for a $12 cocktail at a booth where a former president once sat?
The traffic on I-70 is terrible, so getting into the hills will take half the day. And I’m going to take a wild guess here: You’re more the Lonely Planet type than a Conde Naste subscriber. Forget overpriced drinks and walking tours. This is what you need to do: Get yourself a bicycle.
Once you’ve secured your ride, do a quick leg stretch and open up the Maps app on your phone because it’s time to do some biking. And some drinking. This is how Denver should be explored.
Both of these activities can be found in abundance in the Mile High City and while each is fine on their own, I’ve found that the two go together like peas and carrots (or cannabis and green chili, to be more local-centric). “But I’m new here, and I’m not sure where to start!” Well, no worries, my friend. Shannon and Jacqueline have entrusted me with the duty of laying out the best places to go on two wheels no matter where you’re at in town, and we’re having two drinks at each stop because the best things in life come in pairs.
Colfax is the longest continually running street in America. But don’t try to bike on it; you’ll look like an idiot. Head one block north or south and cruise on the neighborhood roads. The bars are eclectic, full of live music and very interesting people.
You can claim you were just hanging out at the café getting some work done without lying! They’ve got bike techs that can tune up your ride while you enjoy a couple pints. I say start with the Pineapple Express Blonde from Dude’s Brews and follow it up with a Denver’s Pride Pilsner from Hogshead Brewing. As the name suggests, this place was made for biking.
I don’t know about you, but I like a side of punk rock with my stiff drink. Bonus: This place has a side patio to store your bike — or just lock it up to the railing out front.
I’ve never left Streets of London without at least one new random number in my phone. On one occasion I showed up alone and left at last call with a group of five people I’d just met to get some late night grub up the street after spending the evening playing NOFX songs on the jukebox. When you arrive, order a Happy Meal to set the mood, then for round two pick the booze of your choice and drink it neat. There’s no need to water anything down at Streets.
The old warehouse districts of Denver are perfect for getting around on a bicycle. The streets are wide and rarely can a sidewalk be seen, providing enough space for your entire crew to pedal from spot to spot. Among the craft breweries, bars, and music venues of the area are a couple of stand-out highlights:
Biking to the Ginn Mill is perfect because you’ll want to go during rush hour when the streets of Denver are as clogged as the 101. The new bike lanes leading through the downtown grid will put you ahead of the traffic. In almost unheard of fashion for anywhere near downtown, the Ginn Mill has $2 you-call-its at happy hour and they don’t limit it to well drinks. I always start with a gin and tonic on the back patio and then follow it up with a craft beer.
Only in Denver can you bike to a Major League Baseball game, lock up your cruiser right outside the stadium, and buy a ticket to go directly to the bar. No seats involved — admission to The Rooftop will cost you $10 and that includes your first drink at either the Rio Grande on the bottom level, CHUBurger up top, or the full-service bar right next to it. The best way to start is with the Rio’s legendary margarita. Any seasoned Denverite knows that at Rio’s restaurant location downtown they’ll promptly cut you off after three of said margaritas...and I’m pretty sure it’s because there's Everclear in them. For round 2, head upstairs to the full bar and order Blue Moon Brewing’s Coors Field house beer. Watching baseball never tasted so good.
The hipster haven of South Broadway is dotted with retro clothing boutiques, music clubs, and street food that has been brought inside and should, therefore, be called building food. Undeniably, the best bike for the area is the fixie.
Bowling, games, gourmet food, craft cocktails. Punch Bowl Social has got it all and they're open for breakfast. Park your bike right out front. Odds are that if you’re here, you’re staying in the neighborhood so everything that can’t be found inside (like your friend’s couch) is a short push away.
The AC is a trifecta of amazing that serves delicious food and drinks from early in the morning until early in the morning, and even later if all you want is pizza. Denver Biscuit Company resides inside and serves up breakfast while Fat Sully’s pizza serves giant slices all day and night. The crowd is unusually unpretentious here — it’s like the hipsters got caught up a few blocks north and never bothered to venture past the Hi-Dive.
Washington Park itself is terrible for biking unless you like to go around and around in a circle, weaving between hordes of pedestrians and long boarders while never accelerating past 10 MPH. But the neighborhood surrounding the park is perhaps Denver’s most chill area. Families, young professionals, and millennials all mix together to create an eclectic — even if gentrified — vibe. The bars are spread out and often found next to homes on otherwise quiet and residential streets, each place with its own distinct feel. A solid place to ride my Critical Cycles cruiser.
The favorite hangout of Wash Park West’s bike enthusiasts is popping most nights during the summer. They serve as a base for all kinds of biking and running events so you’ll fit right in when you ride up on that fixie. The Pub is a great place to slam a PBR and a shot of whiskey, then move on.
You may have seen the pedal bike taverns slowly working their way through the neighborhood like a giant yellow 15-headed tortoise — The Spot is a favorite stop for these leisurely booze cruises. If you have the opportunity to get on one then do it, but if not, your two-wheeler will do just fine for transport. Guinness seems to do the trick here, at least to get warmed up. The transition into a 1554 from New Belgium is super smooth, too.
Tennyson Street is a hotbed of activity ever since gentrification took hold of the neighborhood. This area used to be called the North Side, and while some of the culture still remains, a lot of what once was has been replaced by trendy rooftop patios and grass-fed burger stops. The entire area is doable on a bike in only about fifteen minutes, and there is certainly no shortage of liquor licenses to keep your whistle wet along the way. It can be a bit hilly in parts, especially if you head down to LoHi (Lower Highland) so I recommend a well-balanced hybrid bike that performs well on hills.
Berkeley Inn is the neighborhood’s stand by. This place has watched the neighborhood change from its days as the base for the Denver Crime Family to its modern incarnation as the home of the Denver Transplant Family and has the bullet holes to prove it. Try to be pedal in around early evening because you might catch some free live music before the late bar scene crowd stumbles in. Oh, and the drinks are always cheap.
After tabbing out at the Berkeley, hop back on your bike and head north to the Oriental. This place is classic — an old-school music venue with crazy awesome eastern décor and a homey, family-run feel. They show an assortment of live music, special events, live films, and concert screenings, and the occasional Denver Broncos game — so you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy.
Even if you do give in to the temptation to crawl the 16th St. Mall, bring a bike. The city just spent a boatload of money installing bike lanes on the major thoroughfares through the downtown area and ever since, getting around is a breeze and is a great opportunity to break out that beach cruiser.
This place didn’t make Esquire’s list of the 18 best bars in America for nothing. One thing they missed, though, is how easy it is to bike here from anywhere in central Denver. It’s far enough off the mall that the tourist crowd isn’t present but still in the heart of the city, so stick with local beer at Shelby’s.
The Paramount is an interesting place. It’s kind of like man-bear-pig — It’s half 50’s-style rock and roll diner, half hip downtown hot spot, and half casual drinking lounge. The Long Island Iced Teas are sweet and to die for here, and they come in a glass large enough that you’ll be glad you parked your bike on the lamp post right out front because otherwise, you’d have forgotten where it is.
And of course, don’t miss the Denver Cruisers meetups
From mid-May through September, Wednesday evenings are the best night of the week. Hundreds (thousands, maybe) of bike-and-booze crazed, costume-donning party people take to the streets in a massive ride, culminating in the bike mosh pit known as the Circle of Death at Civic Center Park.
Once you’ve joined the gang, there is no going back. You’ll be hooked for life.
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