By Randall H. Borkus
As a tax lawyer/entrepreneur, I travel around the US a lot on business, and that recently took me to the mile-high city of Denver. With all my meetings completed for the day, I found myself in need of a serious pour of good whiskey, which is why I sought out Whiskey Bar. Not “The Whiskey Bar,” but just Whiskey Bar.
Named for its business, Whiskey Bar is located at 2201 Larimer Street in the historic Ballpark neighborhood, one of Denver’s oldest and most storied districts. Larimer Street was named after General William H. Larimer, who led a group of pioneers from Kansas to Denver in 1858, and is often thought of as Denver’s founder.
Whiskey Bar occupies the first floor of the Thorndyke/Burlington Hotel Building, which dates back to 1890. Frank Edbrooke, the second licensed architect in Denver, designed the Burlington. Edbrooke also designed Denver’s famous Oxford Hotel and Brown Palace Hotel, both places I’ve enjoyed visiting in the past, so one might say I’m fond of his work.
Like many historic areas, the Ballpark Neighborhood and its flagship hotel, the Burlington, saw their share of hard times. After serving as a convenience store, pharmacy, and finally a flop house in what was once considered a shady part of town, the hotel sat empty and deserted for a long time. In the 1990s the building was acquired for redevelopment, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Burlington became home to Whiskey Bar, gradually expanding to take over the whole first floor.
This is a great local bar for serious drinking, serving no food. The atmosphere is a whiskey lover’s paradise, a place of booze, a few games, and not much else, with a brick interior decor with ceiling fans and old wood beams. “If you want wine we have a box of red and white. We have three bottles of tequila, rum vodka & gin,” said barkeep Dave Berry.
They have a happy hour from 4-7 pm every day with a u-call-it menu of drinks starting at $3. The bourbon menu is deep, and add to that the rye whiskey, Irish whiskey and some choices for Scotch drinkers. Their menu easily passed the 400 selections mark.
I walked in to be greeted by Berry, and asked in reply if he had anything worthy for rye whiskey lover. So the show began.
I started with a Mitcher’s 10 Year Old Rye. The nose was sweet with honey and wood spice. The mouthfeel was warm and embracing, with a cornucopia of wood spice, cinnamon and honey overtones. I began to describe the finish to my new friend Dave, as he and I began a two-hour discourse on whiskey and life.
From there, the highlights included Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye, a 7 Year Old Willet Rye, and the grand finale was the new Bookers Limited Edition Rye (!!), which immediately reminded me of Michter’s 25 Year Old.
Booker’s is a complex rye whiskey. The nose danced with cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper layered with oak spice, dried fruit, and hints of vanilla and a bit earthy goodness. The palate was full of oak spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and citrus peel. This fades into a oaky earthy flavor in the back of the throat. The juice has a thickness to it, an oily feel that explodes with sweet oak spice and a full earthiness on the finish. My summary opinion: wow!
After this stroll down Rye Lane, I left for dinner only to return a few hours later for an Elijah Craig 21 Year Old night cap and then an Uber ride home.
What to expect from Denver’s Whiskey Bar: exceptional service, lots of whiskey to choose from, and a deep knowledge of Kentucky-made juice behind the bar.