Denver hasn’t always been a year-round outdoor dining town. But it was only a matter of time and a global pandemic before the city’s patios transformed to accommodate Colorado’s colder months.
And transformed they have, spectacularly, and in a way that underscores the creativity (read survival instincts) of locally owned restaurants. Taking cues from mountain après-ski tradition and Front Range craft brewery culture, many Denver-area restaurateurs have outdone themselves with these outdoor options over the last year-plus.
As we speak, the city is renewing outdoor dining licenses through Jan. 31, which means nearly 100 (and counting) closed streets, sidewalk-side tables, tented patios and private dining structures will continue — all heated, of course.
So whether it’s for a special occasion or a normal night out, this year’s winter dining rooms have you covered. The following is a selection of the best that have been built — from Alpenglobes to yurts, bungalows and tents — for your winter wonderland fantasies lived out.
Stem Ciders’ Lafayette restaurant boasts some of the best views of the Front Range from its hilltop location. And you can still enjoy those views come winter, when the restaurant and cider house serves on multiple heated patios, with covered porch seating, backyard fire pits and a “Back Forty Bar” built for outdoor drinkers with specials like hot apple cider and warming cocktails. Try Tis the Ryeson with Stem’s Cocoa Caramel cider and rye whiskey. acreageco.com
A row of greenhouses greets shoppers and diners at Stanley Marketplace, where Annette is the dinner (and brunch) reservation to book this season for an indoor or outdoor meal of comfort foods (like your grandma’s but leveled up). And the yurt at Annette is a real holiday treat for a private dinner for you and up to 15 guests. To snag it for a whole evening, you’ll have to order a minimum of $1,000 ($1,500 on weekends) in food and drinks. Or you can reserve a two-hour slot with a minimum of $50 per person. E-mail [email protected] for the full shebang or call 720-710-9975 for the shorter deal. annettescratchtotable.com
This indoor-outdoor rooftop on a fourth story overlooking Pearl Street is about as scenic as it gets in the heart of Boulder at any time of year. Diners can order from one of the six food counters downstairs, or they can head straight up for perfectly charred slices of New Yorkese pizza, plus drinks from the rooftop bar. If you’re enjoying a meal outside, order a hot toddy and then a warm pretzel with parmesan and fennel from the pizza shop. boulder.avantifandb.com
Bar Dough (Highland)
Four romantic greenhouses sit outside this LoHi Italian restaurant, where the chef is serving a fixed-price menu of Piedmontese classics (think delicate pastas, lots o’ truffles and paired wines). Alongside the greenhouses are winter-season fire pits for cozying up with blankets, s’mores and alpine hot cocoas for a more casual night out. bardoughdenver.com
Barolo Grill (Cherry Creek)
The bungalow village outside of this 6th Avenue Italian food and wine staple is its own dining experience altogether. Go on a weekday for a la carte ordering or on the weekend for a four-course meal and wine pairings from the talented chefs and sommeliers. Over the holidays, splurge for shaved black truffles and stick around for the house cheesecake dessert. barologrilldenver.com
Frasca Food & Wine (Boulder) and Tavernetta (Union Station)
This Northern Italian staple on Boulder’s Pearl Street and its newer sister spot behind Denver’s Union Station really up the region’s outdoor dining ante with Alpenglobes (like life-sized snow globes) for intimate group eating. (Imagine glass fogging as the snow falls.) The fixed menu and minimum spends are already a splurge ($195 per person for Frasca and $300 per table at Tavernetta). But for the holidays, you can also go all out with a truffle tasting menu (for $275). Pro tip: For a more economical experience, you can head to Boulder’s Pizzeria Locale, next door to Frasca, which seats diners in the globes during weekend lunch and on Sunday and Monday evenings. frascafoodandwine.com; tavernettadenver.com; localeboulder.com
Forget Me Not (Cherry Creek)
Half of the see-and-be-seen front patio at this new Cherry Creek bar gets transformed during the colder months with a communal greenhouse including four tables for drinking hot or chilled cocktails and snacking on charcuterie boards. The rest of the patio remains open with fire pits and blankets and après-ski vibes. forgetmenotdenver.com
RELATED: 24 of Colorado’s coolest outdoor dining rooms, from yurts and chalets to bubbles and gondolas
Joy Hill (South Broadway)
The back roof of this neighborhood pizza and cocktail spot is a hidden gem (although you could argue that the word is out). Its owners really worked hard during the height of the pandemic, just after they opened for business, to perfect outdoor serving year-round. Now you can enjoy some of the best pizza the city has to offer in a setting that’s secluded, heated and protected from the elements, with the feeling that you’re at a friend’s backyard party (only with better food and drinks). joyhilldenver.com
Larimer Square (LoDo)
Lower Downtown’s centerpiece will be closed off and lit up once again this winter season, with room for shoppers to walk and drinkers to stand and diners to sit on street-filling patios from some of the city’s favorite restaurants (see Rioja, Bistro Vendome, Osteria Marco and more). With tents up and heaters and fire pits scattered around, this feels like the way winter dining was meant to be — a block-long slice of European Christkindl culture in the heart of the Colorado capital. larimersquare.com
Potager (Capitol Hill)
This neighborhood farm-to-table standby has the sweetest backyard patio during the warmer months and, lucky for its fans, a heated and covered enclave for dining in cold weather as well. Expect a secret garden atmosphere with string lights and (maybe snow-covered) foliage. Start your meal with seasonal oven-roasted vegetables and parmesan soufflé to set the temperature and mood. Reservations are encouraged for four or five days ahead of time. potagerrestaurant.com
Head for the alleyway entrance off of 27th Street when you’re wanting to dine outside but still be protected from the elements at this Larimer pizza restaurant. The back patio warms up quickly, and the alley window serves pizza and drinks seven days a week until late nights for anyone looking for a quick outdoor slice or to stay awhile with a pie and a beer or amaro to drink. Try the addictive garlic butter and chili honey knots this season, followed by the Diavolo pizza. You’ll warm right up. redeemerpizza.com
The Wolf’s Tailor (Sunnyside)
The canvas tents tucked behind this North Denver restaurant make for another singular experience. And the spaces really shine in winter, when a fireplace lights and heats the whole glamping setup. Expect house ferments, locally milled grains, wild game and seasonal foraged ingredients on an “entrust” menu (chef’s tasting) that costs $125 per person (parties of up to seven can be accommodated in the tents). This is the reservation for those who want to be truly surprised throughout an adventurous meal outside. thewolfstailor.com
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