My first road trip of 2020 took me to Colorado in July. Since we hadn’t left the house for anything but groceries, I was going stir crazy. My husband’s aunt and uncle have a condo in Estes Park, so we were off! On our way home, we stayed a night in Denver and made it to two cocktail bars that I had been long stalking on Instagram. We visited Death & Co., which was fantastic, and the best speakeasy in Denver that I’ve ever been to, Run for the Roses. The Mile High city is a popular destination for conferences, and my husband and I both have family there, so I have been to quite a few bars over the years. Run for the Roses is a standout that I can’t wait to get back to.
What Makes a Bar a Speakeasy?
As you may know, speakeasies arrived on the cocktail bar scene with the ban of alcohol during Prohibition. They were secret places where you could buy alcohol despite it being illegal. Because they were not above board, people whispered or spoke softly to keep things quiet, hence the name. What you might be wondering is why there’s been a resurgence of these establishments, as the sale of booze is no longer illegal in most places. After Prohibition ended in 1933, most speakeasies went with it. However, in 1999 Milk & Honey opened in New York City and the concept once again took off.
Speakeasies today harken back to the ambience of those bars and range from super hidden to sitting in plain sight. Some of them use passwords and others have hidden bookcase entrances. They all share a certain hideaway quality, like one of my favorite bars in Kansas City which discourages you from using your phone. Modern speakeasies are legal but their history and clandestine vibe make them a fun format for a bar. And although there are roughly ten in Denver, Run for the Roses is my pick for best speakeasy in Denver for a couple of reasons. I lay them out below.
Drinks at Run for the Roses
My favorite menus include a great variety of classics and inventive new drinks. It bodes well for an establishment when the bartenders have the chops to pull off both. Not only can you be sure to get great cocktails, but you can also be sure they have something available off-menu if you don’t see something you love. The drinks at this great speakeasy in Denver were exceptional. Such an incredible range of flavors and combinations.
From the left: Dust Commander (Hine VSOP Cognac, Giffard Banane, lemon Rudolf Jelínek amaro, Jägermeister “mini Meister; Exhibitionist (Blade & Bow Bourbon, Flor de Caña 7-year rum, Cynar, cherry, Dolin Dry Vermouth); and Demons Be Gone (Bank Note Scotch, honey ginger, Batavia Arrack, lemon, Del Maguey Vida mezcal. My husband also had a Hanky Panky that he loved.
The Cocktail Menu at Run for the Roses
Maybe the only good thing about the pandemic was how inventive bars got with menus. Presenting the information in a way that is clean and creative has kept me constantly impressed. (This woodblock QR menu in Costa Rica is one of my favorites.) Run for the Roses usually uses these playing cards as their menu. Because of COVID, you can either buy a card deck to take home or use the large-format printed menu. I did both. I love the categorization of the drinks by base spirit. For example, the 2s in the card deck are all vodka cocktails. It’s clever and organized, plus there’s such a fantastic variety. They also have some incredible vintage spirit drinks. (Zoom in on the lower left corner of the large menu.)
What to Know Before You Go
At the time of writing this, Run for the Roses and most bars in Denver are still closed. You should check their website for hours and an update on opening. They have offered to-go cocktails from time to time during the pandemic if you are local.
In normal operating times, they take reservations. The bar is located under the Dairy Block in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. Once you find the sign for the bar, you’ll take an elevator down to the basement floor, walk down a hallway and hang a left. The entrance is pictured at the top of this post. No password is required. The menu is 99% drinks, so you might want to grab a meal before or after your visit.
If that doesn’t sound like the best speakeasy in Denver to you, let me know. I love a challenge and I always keep an open mind to give places a second chance. I’ll be back in Denver soon, so let me know what your favorite is. Cheers!