Because sometimes you want something totally different. Sometimes it’s a rare tequila or an unusual cocktail, say, infused with gem essences and served below a glowing chakra wall.
Other times, it’s a unique ambiance, like a speakeasy hidden underneath a historic hotel or a bar stocked with movie props.
Boulder’s got all that, and more.
Here are six of Boulder’s most unique bars.
1. For unique decor: The Dark Horse
The Dark Horse is a long-time Boulder bar and grill (dating back to the ‘70s) that is decorated from floor to ceiling in unique movie props, antiques and all kinds of quirky doodads.
Here you can you see a fire hydrant, tons of rainbow-painted wagon wheels, a lantern, jukebox, taxidermied buffalo head, old mirrors, and license plates, all for decoration, all in the same place.
Add to that a menu that includes Rocky Mountain oysters (er, if you don’t know, these are not oysters) and you’ve got an only-in-Boulder night on the town.
2. For the intentions: Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place
This is a true only-in-Boulder bar experience. Shine serves what it claims are the first energetically curated beverages to hit the cocktail scene. They call them potions, and they’re crafted with special herbs as well as gem essence, flower essence, and sound frequencies, all with a specific intention.
The premise: the science of Masuro Emoto, which found that the environment of water affected its molecular structure.
Regardless of whether you believe in the intentions of your cocktails or not, the potions are certifiably delicious and can be served with alcohol or without. (There’s a big sober nightlife scene in Boulder.) But unlike the sugar bombs that give you a huge hangover, these so-called Mindful Mixers aim to be healthy and care for your body instead of tear it down. On the menu you’ll find drinks with names like The Drunk Monk Steamer and the Deviant Fairy.
Beyond the potions, the atmosphere here is different than a typical bar. One wall features glowing chakra symbols and an illuminated heart with wings.
Also, Shine is run by triplet sisters and says it’s one of the only award-winning, women-owned breweries in the country.
Events here aren’t just live music or centered around drinking. Their dance parties target families (yes, kids) and support women-driven nonprofits.
3. For the rare spirits: Tahona Tequila Bistro
Tahona offers tequila that you can’t find elsewhere. In fact, this bar has 134 different kinds of tequila, with unmatchable diversity and quality. Some of the brands can’t be found anywhere else in the state, Tahona says.
“They simply stopped production and we have bought everything we could find,” says John Ryan, manager.
Other tequila is infused in-house with fresh fruits and veggies or aged in small oak barrels.
Tahona serves some of the best margs in town, all made with hand-squeezed, fresh lime juice. That means the staff here personally squeezes about 180 limes per day.
If you don’t find just what you want, ask a bartender. They’re extremely experienced and innovative. They are happy to walk you through the tequila-making process and offer flavor profile suggestions.
Furthermore, this husband-and-wife owned business wants people to hang out the old-fashioned way. You know, talking. There are no TVs in sight.
Local tip: Not all of Tahona’s best cocktails appear on the menu. In fact, a few are reserved just for people in the know. Ask about the Six-Blade Knife, The Tinarita, The Colin Coin and the Oath Keeper.
4. For the quality: The Bitter Bar
The Bitter Bar is run by notable bartender, James Lee, considered one of the best in Boulder and the nation. The Bitter Bar specializes in craft cocktails and is considered one of Colorado’s top cocktail bars. It also serves wine and even rare beers.
It has one of Boulder’s best happy hours (more like happy three-hours), from 5-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, when all of the happy hour cocktails are on a draft system, all hand-batched and then force-carbonated.
Local tip: The Bitter Bar’s most popular drink is the Tin Man: bourbon, elderflower liqueur, lemon and ginger. The bar calls it an amped-up, floral version of a whiskey sour.
5. For its innovative garden-to-glass program: Boulder House
In warmer weather, Boulder House boasts its own rooftop garden where it cultivates fresh herbs specifically picked to pair with its large selection of bitters and infused liquors. Cocktails made fresh are called garden-to-glass.
Try the coconut mojito (fresh lime and chocolate mint muddled, brown sugar simple syrup, coconut-infused rum and soda water), or the No Name (apricot- and lavender-infused gin, lemon juice, thyme simple syrup, soda water and a fresh lavender sprig).
Grab your glass and hang out on the open-air rooftop, next to the very garden that contributed to your drink, with a full view of the Flatirons. If you can pry your eyes away from the mountains you can find board games or listen to small acoustic bands or relaxed DJs up there.
Local tip: Boulder House is one of Boulder’s newest nightlife options (only a year old), so it’s not yet packed. Inside, it claims to be the only bar in town that resembles a nightclub, with the biggest dance floor in Boulder.
6. For its special history: License No. 1
License No. 1 (formerly the Catacombs) is a dim and sultry bar located underneath the historic Boulderado hotel. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time into a speakeasy. As such, it serves classic cocktails (Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Southsides), plus some modern mixes.
What really makes License No. 1 so cool is it was one of the first bars in Boulder to receive a legal license to serve hard liquor in 1969 after the end of the Prohibition.