What makes a great happy hour? For me, it’s about having a great food menu of small bites and a few good cocktails, beers, or wines to choose from. It should be a place where you can hear the people you’re with, not break the bank, and have enough options to keep a small group happy.
The places on this list offer food-centric happy hours, or small bites, around Denver. They also all have plenty of vegetarian options. Happy hours are definitely one of the things I’ve missed since moving abroad!
I tend to keep Linger in my back pocket for visiting when friends are in town because it is a bit pricey and it can be tricky to get a table. This unique restaurant/bar is set in an old mortuary and the menu is features elevated takes on international street food. My favorite drink here is the New Saigon, a gin-based cocktail with a big hunk of cucumber and a black pepper rim. Stunning. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I ordered anything else.
The food at Linger won’t let you down either. The bao buns, Impossible Burger sliders, and the cheese & shishito peppers are my go-tos. As for the space, the bar seating is interesting–there are small, two person booths along a window that offer a view of Denver or the giant milk jug from the ice cream place next door. If you can get a table upstairs on the patio, the view is even better–it’s a great place to watch fireworks on the 4th of July, if you can score a reservation.
Linger is a great example of a place that might be past your price point for dinner and drinks, but their happy hour offers a way to sample a few of the menu highlights without breaking the bank.
Linger is located at 2030 West 30th Ave, Denver, Colorado 80211. Their happy hour is Monday-Friday 4pm to 6:30pm.
Related Post: How to Travel with Friends
This is a Denver institution, offering a fully plant-based menu that focuses on comfort food. Trust me, you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy Watercourse Foods! As far as the happy hour menu goes, the standouts, in my opinion, are the buffalo cauliflower wings. They’re so craveable–packed with flavor, perfectly cooked, and served with a ranch sauce you’ll be stunned is vegan. The nachos and the margaritas are also great to round out your order.
Watercourse first opened in 1998 and is part of the same restaurant group as City O’ City, Denver’s other vegetarian staple. True to form, they’re willing to put their values to work in the restaurant and the community. Staff at Watercourse are paid a living wage and the restaurant supports a variety of community-based organizations including Black Lives Matter and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
Watercourse Foods is located at 837 East 17th Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80218. They a daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm.
Related Post: 70 of My Top Travel Tips
If it’s a remotely nice day outside, and it typically is in Denver, make your way to Kaos and ask to sit outside. Kaos offers the best outdoor seating of any restaurant I’ve been to in Denver, think “curated garden outside a charming cottage.” The eclectic, rod iron tables and chairs, vine-covered walls and archways, and potted plants make for an idyllic outdoor patio experience–and they have pizza! Honestly, it’s the perfect mix of things in my book. If you happen to visit in the wintertime, the indoor seating is set in a Victorian cottage, which is memorable in its own right.
As for the food, the pizzas are solid. With options for everyone and the choice to build your own if nothing is striking your fancy. I typically opt for the Jalapeno Business or the margarita pizza, depending on my mood. They also offer gluten-free crust options for an upcharge.
Unfortunately, I’m breaking my own rules slightly here because Kaos does not, in fact, have a happy hour or small bites food menu. I included them anyway because the drinks are quite cheap on happy hour and they have a great selection–you can find $2-6 draught beers here from breweries like Gravity or Ratio. My logic here is that if you get a drink or two, the total price will be on par with the others on this list.
On the subject of drinks, Kaos has a huge selection of beer and wine, many of which I’ve never heard of before. If you don’t believe me, you can check out their menu here. In the winter they have covered outdoor seating, so as long as it’s not freezing outside, you can enjoy their outdoor seating.
Kaos Pizzeria is located at 1439 South Pearl Street, Denver, Colorado 80210. They a daily happy hour from 2pm to 6pm.
Related Post: 59 (More) of My Top Travel Tips
Of all the places on this list, Los Chingones in Denver’s River North district is certainly the place I’ve frequented the most. It’s not even a contest, really. It’s easy to get a table, the food is solid with lots of vegetarian options, and the drinks are decent. This little restaurant/bar is adjacent to my favorite yoga studio in Denver, BIG Power, and offers a solid $5 happy hour menu. When it’s warm out, they’ll open their garage doors and turn most of the restaurant into a sort of patio. If it’s a slow afternoon, you can even get a little work done while you enjoy your happy hour drinks and snacks.
My go to order is chips and guacamole, the daily quesadilla (vegetarian edition), and a coin margarita. If you’re really hungry and want to eat off the regular menu, the prices are reasonable – I’d go for the cheese enchiladas ($10) or the beet and jicama salad (not currently on the menu, but I hope they bring it back!). As a bonus after your visit to Los Chingones, you’ll already be in RiNo. You can wander over to Bierstadt Lagerhaus, a German-themed beer hall, or the Larimer Lounge for live music!
Los Chingones is located at 2463 Larimer Street, Denver, Colorado 80205. Their happy hour is Monday-Friday 3pm to 5:30pm.
Barcelona Wine Bar
My favorite thing about this restaurant is absent-mindedly telling people about your plans to go to Barcelona… and then having to tamp down their enthusiasm significantly when you explain that you are, in fact, only going to visit a restaurant in Denver and not to Europe. My other favorite thing about Barcelona is that they have great olive oil and they’ll give you as much of it as you want and fresh bread to dip in it.
Aside from those things, this is a solid tapas spot that offers enough options to keep everyone in a group happy, despite not having a real hour. I included them anyway because they have relatively cheap wine–as little as $3.75 for a 3 oz pour–and tapas (which are already happy hour sized).
You can keep your visit to Barcelona pretty cheap if you’re careful–get a half glass of wine and a cheese or two to eat with your bread and olive oil, and you should be out of there under $25. If, however, you’re not careful, it’s pretty easy to run up a large bill here–it is, after all, tapas.
Related Post: The 6 Best Coffee Shops in Denver
Have you tried any of these restaurants in Denver? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments!
*A note on chains/restaurant groups
You might have noticed that all of these restaurants are part of restaurant groups, and Barcelona is part of a small restaurant chain. As someone who believes in independent restaurants and tries to support them, I want to explain myself here.
When I made this list, I thought about every happy hour I’ve been to in Denver and tried to pare it down to the true highlights. This is the list I came up with. My takeaway? It’s really hard to operate a restaurant in Denver–the cost of living, inventory, and rents are high! Even our most independent-feeling restaurants in Denver, like Vine Street Pub & Brewery, Watercourse, and City O’ City have multiple locations.
If this is a topic you’re interested in, you might enjoy this article by Christopher Muller about a similar phenomenon in Boston.
Further, if you’d like to read about a bar that is definitely independent and has no other locations, I love the Grizzly Rose–another Denver institution, in my opinion.