Eve Parker, left, and her boyfriend Christopher Boyd, right, celebrate the fourth anniversary of the day they first met at the Miracle Bar pop-up in Larimer Square on Dec. 1, 2019 in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
If this were the start of a made-for-TV Christmas movie, I would be running late to catch a train from the city, heading out of town to spend the holidays at an estranged relative’s mountain cabin to finally work on that novel I haven’t been able to finish because of the demands of my vaguely defined newspaper position.
After breathlessly arriving at the platform, only to spill my coffee all over an attractive but arrogant stranger — who has his own reasons for being alone over the holidays, we’ll discover — I’d learn that he’s getting off at the same stop as me, and, wait, walking in the same direction to the same so-and-so aunt’s cozy cottage, where a mix-up of dates and destiny will leave us snowed in for a weekend together.
But this is not a Christmas love story. Which means, instead, I get stuck in Denver traffic before crashing another couple’s date night at Miracle on Larimer Square, one of a handful of cookie-cutter holiday drinking experiences popping up this season. My boyfriend has opted to stay home because, “I don’t get the appeal,” he says, shrugging.
By the time I arrive, we have 40 minutes left to sip on our Santa mug cocktails until the next reservation takes the table. And thus begins night three of a four-evening bender filled with sugary drinks, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and a ton of tinsel. The Christmas bar, in all its forms, is definitely a dream come true, but it is also very close to a nightmare.
“It’s like Disneyland!” one woman shouts in my ear over the din of the holiday soundtrack. My friends have relinquished their seats to move on to dinner, and I am standing solo at the decked-out bar sipping a mistletoe shot (rye whiskey and gingerbread spices) surrounded by a group of 15 or so birthday revelers.
They tell me they’ve made Miracle Bar a part of their celebration for the past three years, stopping at one Christmas-themed pop-up to distinguish this alcohol crawl from any other. The birthday woman wears a red jumpsuit with Rudolph’s head front and center. Her brother tells me they wouldn’t really get together and celebrate like this without the Christmas-themed backdrop.
Their excuse for real celebration, the ridiculous holiday tribute that is Miracle Bar, started in New York City before realizing its full capitalist potential and expanding as a seasonal franchise around the country.
It first exploded on the Denver scene in 2017 at Wayward restaurant, which has since closed. Last year, it moved to the Avanti food hall in Lower Highland. This year, Miracle Denver’s franchise owner Chad Michael George said the city could support three whole Christmas bars, including one “Sippin’ Santa” tiki-bar offshoot at the Arvada Tavern.
He’s right. With wait times reaching two to three hours on the weekends, it’s no surprise that this year, even more Christmas and holiday-themed bars are getting in on a month of extreme sales — and charitable donations.
In all, there are at least a dozen Denver-area bars transforming through the end of the year into oddly specific destinations like “White Claw winter wonderland” and “Sleigher” hardcore Christmas.
“I know there are plenty of Christmas nuts out there, so there are people that are going to want to go to all three (Miracle Bars),” George said.
Not a Christmas nut myself — but certainly a half-Jewish woman who enjoys the occasional Hallmark movie and the chance for a free holiday card portrait — I decided to accept his challenge and visit all three Miracle Bars, as well as the new Camp Christmas, which opened before Thanksgiving to plenty of critical holiday hysteria. Now that I’ve been to them all, let’s unwrap the magic.
Camp Christmas is an immersive experience, produced by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, taking visitors through extravagant Christmas-themed installations filling the 10,000-square-foot Hangar at Stanley Marketplace.
(Provided by Denver Center for the Performing Arts)
Camp Christmas at The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace
The draw: “If Jesus were a drag queen who took a month off from his sacred duties to throw a party for all of his drag queen friends, it would look a lot like Camp Christmas,” Denver Post art critic Ray Rinaldi wrote of Camp Christmas. If this description of the interactive exhibit, complete with two onsite bars serving seasonal cocktails, isn’t enough to warrant a visit, then I have no idea what gets you in the holiday spirit.
The downside: With ticket prices as high as $21 and drinks setting you back another $8 and up (and don’t forget the gift shop!), this family-friendly option can be costly for everyone to attend. When I visited on a weeknight, I lasted about 30 minutes before needing to step out of the herded crowd (follow the signs, pause for photos) to find fresh air and sustenance.
Head straight for: the pink room, for your keepsake family photographs on Jayne Mansfield’s living room sofa.
Bottom line: There is a little something here for everyone, including Christmas freaks, fashion fiends, kids and art historians. But the cost and crowds may deter the less zealous among us.
Camp Christmas continues through Jan. 5 at The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St., Aurora, starting at 10 a.m. daily, tickets from $8-$21 at denvercenter.org.
Koala La- La La, La La La La gin, pine, dry Vermouth, lime, eucalyptus syrup, orange bitters drink at the Miracle at Avanti Wolf Bar, a Christmas-themed pop up bar at Avanti Food and Beverage November 21, 2018. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Miracle at Avanti’s Wolf Bar
The draw: Views of the downtown Denver skyline are a bonus backdrop for this LoHi location of the Miracle Bar franchise. This is the one to take your out-of-town friends and relatives to with a reservation.
The downside: On the weekend night of my visit, wait times reached up to 2 1/2 hours for those without a reservation, which are only available online for parties of six or more. At all three of the Miracle Bars, including this one, visitors are asked to limit their time inside to 60 or 90 minutes to keep tables turning.
Head straight for: a photo corner that includes Santa Claus, a gold throne, blow-up reindeer and a life-size cutout of Buddy the Elf.
Bottom line: This is Avanti’s second year running the Christmas pop-up, so the machine should be well-oiled. But that can also mean the experience feels a little like Santa’s workshop churning out presents by Dec. 24.
3200 N. Pecos St., 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday and Sunday and until 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Walk-ins and reservations accepted, miracledenver.com
Miracle on Larimer Square
The draw: This largest of the Miracle Bars sits in the heart of Denver, off Larimer Square, with two separate rooms including both private tables and a more convivial standing bar area. This is the one that caters to everyone, from groups celebrating together to couples on a date and singles wanting to socialize.
The downside: It’s Larimer Square, so traffic and parking can be a nightmare. Expect to pay $15 for valet on Larimer Street plus $12-$13 more for each cocktail.
Head straight for: The standing bar area for a slightly different experience than the other Miracle Bars, where it’s table-seating only.
Bottom line: George has recruited a top-notch staff to run this genuine pop-up inside the former location of Milk & Honey.
1414 Larimer St., 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday and Sunday and until 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Walk-ins and reservations accepted, miracledenver.com
A Christmas Eve of Destruction (left) with rum, lime juice, nutmeg, Benedictine and Angostura bitters; and Festivus Flip, with Bourbon, rum, ginger-infused amaro, pomegranate and egg. (Josie Sexton, The Denver Post)
Sippin’ Santa at Arvada Tavern
The draw: Of all the Miracle Bars, this is the only one where you’ll find a unique tiki cocktail menu. The other two Denver Miracles offer the same standard Miracle drink selection, which is largely the same as last year’s. Plus, Arvada Tavern hosts its own tiki night every Tuesday, so the staff is well-versed in this style, and the drinks are a step above.
The downside: Its location in Olde Town Arvada might make it more of a trip for those on the south side of Denver.
Head straight for: those rattan chairs! Arvada Tavern’s second-floor speakeasy is the setting for this tiki-themed holiday bar, so you’ll be especially transported here, starting with the phone booth entrance downstairs. Once inside, the mix of tropical decor and holiday lights is more mellow than the other two sibling spots. At the back of the bar is a stage set with lounge chairs perfect for kicking back and ordering a frozen winter cocktail.
Bottom line: This is the outlier of the Christmas bar bunch this year, and the one to visit if you want a solid drink and different experience. Plus, if you go on an off night, you might just make it in without a wait or a reservation. Good luck and happy bar hopping!
5707 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday and Sunday and until 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Walk-ins and reservations accepted, miracledenver.com
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