To compliment my list of stoner food in the city, Denver also has some truly “unique” cocktails. From crazy liquor combinations to garnishes galore (and my personal favorite, the Pickle Shots from Retro Room), here are the most creative libations you’ll find when it comes to drinking in the Mile High. Perhaps these are partially why the Denver dating scene is so meh?
The signature shot of the Refinery, a buzz bomb is a shot of Cherry vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. It would go down easy like a jolly rancher if it weren’t for the weird flower you have to imbibe first. Called a schezwan button (just like the Chinese food), the bud has a grassy, earthy taste you chew and swallow. Almost immediately, your mouth experiences a buzzing / numbing sensation like a holistic version of novocaine. In India, the flowers are used to flavor chewing tobacco and in Colorado, it does give you an electrifying sensation that lasts for a few minutes. Akin to the tingling sensation of a 9-volt battery, it’s cool to try, but I’m not really sure why people would ever do it more than once.
Retro Room is best known for its pickle shots and scorpion shots (that you can add to any of their delicious infusions), is also a machismo bar where bros love to challenge each other to down the dead scorpions. And in case you were in need to a trim, Retro Room also offers men’s haircuts. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but it’s a good place to pregame.
Bloody Marys not just for Breakfast
The main Blackhawks bar in town for my fellow Chicagoans in Denver, Wyman’s #5 is known for serving pretty legit deep dish pizza…and a bloody mary garnished with a White Castle slider. Since the closest actual White Castle to Denver is located across state lines, whether they source those delectable little patties from the frozen foods section of the grocery store or somehow air lift them in is a mystery I don’t want to know the answer to.
Once You Pop, You Don’t Stop
There are no two buts about it; Troy Guard loves cooking with pop rocks. From his hamachi pop rock creation at Tag to drinks at Los Chingones, there’s something about those magical little candies that add an extra layer of flavor and flair. My favorite cocktail has since been retired, an iced Fireball with pop rocks that somehow tasted like an alcoholic chai latte, but he’s also had variations that sound just as deadly like a tequila, pop rocks, Mexican coke fiesta in your mouth.
A delicacy found all over town, indulge in your inner child with the boozy Grasshopper at Steuben’s (if you can stand to get Oreo crumbs all over your nose, it’s impossible not to), or opt for the Kentucky Woman at TAG Burger Bar, which is a little treat made of bourbon, milk, sea salt caramel, and strawberry ice cream. Yes, it is as good as it sounds.
If you thought tiki bars only came with beachfront locales, think again. Adrift (owned by the Little Man team so you know it’s gonna be bomb) is a hidden gem on South Broadway that serves flaming punch bowls in custom-made skull glasses and delicious frozen drinks. The Chi-Chi is my personal favorite, which is made of vodka, macadamia nut liqueur, pineapple juice, coconut, and demerara. Their new tropical brunch also has an interesting spam and eggs plate to pair it with (tastes like pork belly, I promise!).
The Absinthe Fountain
This one time, on a really bad date, I ordered the absinthe fountain at TAG solely to entertain myself. Technically an after dinner drink; it’s actually a “put you on your ass” drink. That’s all you really need to know about that – it’s there and it’s deadly.
Purple Margarita (aka. the Rocky-rita)
If you’re looking to root-root for the home team, the Purple Margarita at Rio on the Rocks is the signature drink of the Rockies. Like everything else at the Rio, there is a limit of three because they will knock you on your ass. No one knows exactly what flavor it is, but hey, it’s a slushy purple drank. Plan to get in line early because drinking is a favorite pastime at Coors Field (it’s certainly more interesting than the baseball game). Pro Tip: If you don’t have a ticket to the game, Blake Street Tavern down the block also makes a version of them.
Playful food and serious drinks, mimosa towers are a signature creation of the Lobby that keep the whole table happily hydrated. Available with standard OJ, more exotic flavors like pineapple or grapefruit, or super hippy-dippy with kombucha, they are indeed bottomless beverages. And you can rejoice because brunch isn’t just on weekends. They’re available any day of the week until 3 p.m. as long as you bring at least five people.
Denver is finally getting into the freakshake game thanks to Punch Bowl Social in Stapleton. Their “milkshake lab” has 11 different party time shakes with outrageous toppings like cupcakes and cookies. For the most Instagrammable, try the rainbow-colored Cotton Candy Dreamland or Party Like It’s UR Birthday, but be warned, they don’t come cheaply with each costing between $10-18.
Hockey Woes (RIP)
Sadly this is no longer offered, Pepsi Center bring it back!
My absolute favorite drink in Denver came with an air of exclusivity, being that you could only get it in the Land Rover Club, the club-level seating at the Pepsi Center for an Avs or Nuggets game. Called a White Water Whiskey, it was made of Breckenridge White Whiskey, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and simple syrup, which sounds like a disgusting combination a drunk Canadian would come up with but somehow manages to hit the perfect balance of sweet and savory. I could literally down them like water and one day will mess around with the proportions long enough to make my own version.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the most Instagrammable food and drinks in Denver.