Whatever you do, don’t call Run for the Roses a speakeasy.
Even though this newest addition to the popular downtown Dairy Block is off an alleyway, down an elevator or a flight of stairs, at the end of a dark hall and behind a ticket window, the bar’s owners don’t want to mislead customers once the spot opens on May 2.
While “speakeasy” conjures images of unmarked doors and secret passwords, Run for the Roses hopes to be anything but that.
“Just come,” said owner Steven Waters. “We’re lucky to have you.”
Luck is a common thread at this basement-turned-bar that bills itself as a destination for everyone in the way of the old-school watering holes. Run for the Roses is, of course, named for the Kentucky Derby, and it’s located below the former Celtic Tavern, which, for 16 years (until it closed in 2016), was a destination for off-track betting.
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Going back to 1920, the site was also home to stables and the Windsor Dairy. Now, Waters and his crew have scattered traces of history around their plush new cocktail lair, with jewel-toned easy chairs and the walls climbing in roses.
Printed on a watercolor playing card deck are 52 classic drinks for $13 apiece, from Albertines to Diablos. They’re served alongside throwback bar snacks like deviled eggs and $20 caviar (served with creme fraiche, chives and potato chips).
Waters combed through The Savoy Cocktail Book and Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, among other relics, for recipes that he then modified.
Some drinks, like the dry martini with gin, vermouth and orange bitters, or the paloma with tequila, grapefruit and lime, are meticulous but straightforward. Others, like the Mucho Macho, are more playful — the return of the Cosmopolitan, this time with vodka, triple sec, grenadine, lime juice and limoncello. Around 75 wines in full and half-bottles and glasses are there for non-cocktail drinkers.
On the snack food menu, you’ll want to go straight for the late-night breakfast sandwich with house spam made from Western Daughters pork, a fried egg, cheddar cheese and ketchup. The banana split should be good for two to share with its Blue Bunny ice cream, Maraschino cherry juice, citrus marmalade and dark chocolate.
Waters hopes customers will get comfy on couches playing rounds of card games or at the 15-seat bar thumbing through recipe books and adding their own preferred orders for future visits.
And if it plays out, this atmosphere should balance high and low like few other spots in Denver. At the very least, you won’t have to wait long for a high-quality beverage. Ease of access and service are two tenets the team at Run for the Roses prides itself on, Waters said. So you’ll get in, and you’ll have your drink. Now, all you have to do first is find it.
Starting Thursday, May 2, Run for the Roses will open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday at 1801 Blake St. (Look for the sign in the alleyway, across from Milk Market.) For more information, head to rftrbar.com or call 720-573-9155.