The 12 best spots in Denver for celebrating right now

Wild Alaskan halibut with fire-roasted yellow corn at Water Grill Denver. | Credit: Water Grill

The Mile High City was made for toasting milestones. Yet special occasion spots are anything but one-size-fits-all in this sunny, scenic metropolis. Toast a promotion with an easygoing gathering, complete with bao buns, dim sum, and cocktails, at a laid-back LoDo joint. A cozy Italian restaurant downtown makes an ideal perch for marking an academic achievement. Pay homage to a loved one at one of the city’s most revered hotels, which makes a stately, celebratory backdrop for afternoon tea—and up the ante with Champagne.

There are so many reasons to celebrate. Focus on the festivities and leave everything else to one of these top 12 Denver spots, ideal for bringing in special occasions.

Que Bueno Suerte (Platt Park)

Toast that promotion, graduation, or birthday with a margarita in hand. The cocktail is the perfect prelude to modern Mexican plates at Que Bueno Suerte, which include queso fundido, chorizo nachos, house-made tortillas, and a long list of street-style tacos. Drinks are heavy on tequila and mezcal, but balanced with flavors of chiles, lime, cucumber, and ginger. The setting—bright, open, and festive—is conducive to a party. Look for food and drink specials on holidays and occasions such as Father’s Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Mother’s Day.

Water Grill Denver (LoDo)

The rich leather interiors at Water Grill Denver. | Credit: Water Grill

There’s something especially celebratory about seafood, and the menu at this downtown restaurant embraces it with enthusiasm. Water Grill’s setting includes leather booths near a roaring fireplace and more casual seats along the long raw bar. There’s an additional room that pays homage to the restaurant’s nautical side. No matter where diners sit, the same great service and food can be enjoyed throughout. Tuck into oysters Rockefeller, king crab legs, lobster straight from the live tanks, smoked hamachi nachos, and a huge selection of fresh shellfish from the raw and on-ice list. Everything is flown in fresh. Not only do you get stellar seafood, but it feels even more special when you score that last catch of the day.

Mimosas (Five Points)

There’s no reason brunch can’t be a special occasion meal, especially when mimosas are involved. This roomy and colorful breakfast spot in Five Points can accommodate any party size, inside and out. Order plates of New Orleans-style beignets, fried green tomatoes, chicken and waffles, avocado toast, shrimp and grits, and other comfort food favorites. Back to those mimosas: Choose from over 10 kinds, including the classic. Or get creative with a cognac-laced version, the bellini with peach puree, or a flight of three types. Mimosas also serves high-end Champagne by the bottle, available with any of the juices.

Spuntino (Highlands)

The entrance to Spuntino. | Credit: Spuntino

When a place feels as special as chef and co-owner Cindhura Reddy’s Highlands spot, it’s bound to level up any celebration. The insides are cozy and intimate, with dark wood accents. There’s also a long bar to sit at and chat with co-owner Elliot Strathmann about his beloved amaro program and well-curated Italian wine list. Tap into his knowledge for the best drink to go along with Reddy’s spectacular Italian food, which comes with both a Colorado and an Indian twist—a hat tip to her heritage. The menu changes with the season, with items such as toasty arancini (with Hatch green chile and white cheddar) and housemade Colorado lamb keema sausage with tamarind rice, toasted peanuts, and spice-preserved tomato.

Bao Brewhouse (LoDo)

The laid-back setting at owner Michael Swift’s downtown Chinese-inspired restaurant has a solid party feel, making it a great backdrop for any lively celebration. The space is split into two sections: the second-floor tea room and the downstairs taproom. The former is more elegant and serves craft cocktails and beautifully plated meals such as Peking duck, colossal crab rangoon, and Kobe beef short rib dumplings. The latter offers five bao (stuffed buns) options, plus skewers, noodles, and dim sum, as well as different mixed drinks, draft beer, and hard kombucha.

Sushi Ronin (LoHi)

Take your special occasion further by booking a seat at one of the best sushi restaurants in the city. This sleek spot is accented with dark woods and soft lighting, thanks to dozens of warm, yellow bulbs hanging from above. Reserve a table or take a seat at the lively sushi counter, where you can watch the chefs create rolls and sashimi. When ordering, let the chef take the reins with the omakase menu, you’ll get whatever is freshest that night. Rest assured, all the fish is flash frozen as soon as it’s caught and prepped with care, so you’re all set ordering a la carte, too.

Jovanina’s Broken Italian (Downtown)

A view of the open kitchen at Jovanina’s Broken Italian. | Credit: Rachel Adams

The casual elegance of Jake and Jennifer Linzinmeir’s downtown Italian joint is extra special when celebrating. The light is low and warm, the seats cushy, and the mood vibrant without feeling chaotic. It’s homey but has a touch of class that puts it well above grandma’s kitchen. Diners can celebrate with prosciutto-wrapped scallops, handmade spaghetti with sweet corn, or whole hot honey chicken. For a true treat, book the chef’s counter. It only seats two, making it intimate for diners while giving them a close look at the wood-fired pizza, burrata plates, and fresh pasta the kitchen turns out.

The Fifth String (LoHi)

During the pandemic, chef Amos Watts took over the former Old Major space in LoHi, where he used to be executive chef, and rebranded it as The Fifth String. Since 2020, this celebrations-worthy spot has drawn locals and remains as popular as its former avatar. What also remains is the rustic, wood-heavy decor. Padded seats and a wine fridge now line the space where the charcuterie was once displayed. While the foundation looks similar, the food showcases Watts’s New American and Italian flavors on a menu that includes a raw bar, a 24-ounce prime t-bone steak, and tallow candle bread, a “candle” made from rendered beef fat, herbs, and fleur de sel, served with housemade bread. Order a la carte or opt for a three-course prix-fixe menu that includes an appetizer such as hamachi crudo or fried green tomatoes, and a main course like the New England sea scallops or chive and black pepper gnocchi; dessert, which includes butter cake with lemon curd as an option, is sure to sweeten your special day.

El Five (LoHi)

This LoHi hotspot, which opened in 2017, remains so in demand that it’s almost impossible to walk in. Plan accordingly. El Five’s popularity didn’t waver even after the pandemic, and it remains a coveted place for milestones. For starters, the view of downtown Denver and the colorful sunsets from the fifth-floor balcony make swoon-worthy backdrops. The food also stands for beauty and elegance, tapping into the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean begins. Unless you’re ordering one of the four paella dishes, the plates are small, and all dishes are meant for sharing. Must-tries include smoked burrata on a bed of pureed peas; Lebanese garlic dip with olives, almonds, pomegranate, and housemade pita; and butter-poached lobster with green sorrel puree.

Afternoon Tea at the Brown Palace (Downtown)

Ring in a birthday, Mother’s Day, an engagement, or any other occasion with elegant tea service in one of Denver’s oldest venues. Since 1892, when the luxurious Brown Palace Hotel opened, afternoon tea has been a highlight of the hotel’s offerings. Today, the service is held on the ground floor of the atrium, Tuesday through Sunday from 12 pm to 4 pm. Sit back in one of the lush chairs and choose from an array of loose-leaf teas and the optional glass of Champagne. Then enjoy fresh scones with Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches, and tiny pastries, all while taking in the hotel’s vintage grandeur. Make sure to reserve a spot for that special occasion; it’s a popular service, especially on weekends.

Buckhorn Exchange (Lincoln Park)

Any meat lover living or visiting Denver should make a trip to the Buckhorn Exchange to celebrate. Opened in 1893, it’s an iconic spot and one of the few restaurants to hold landmark status. Walls are adorned with animal heads, and the menu specializes in steak and game (read: it’s not vegetarian friendly). This is the place to be if you want to try alligator, rattlesnake, elk, or buffalo steak. Make sure to book a reservation—seats fill up fast, and on weekends it’s near impossible to get a table without one.

Fruition Restaurant (Cherry Creek)

Chef/owner Alex Seidel’s intimate farm-to-table restaurant turns out carefully plated dishes, best suited for a casual celebration. You’re in expert hands with Seidel, a locally loved chef whose accolades include multiple James Beard Award nominations. His Cherry Creek restaurant stands out as an approachable but special neighborhood spot since 2007. Mark an occasion here with a Berkshire pork chop with creamed corn and brown butter or buttermilk fried maitake mushrooms. The entire menu is packed with both shareable plates and larger portions. A thoughtfully curated wine list amps up the meal, no matter what you are toasting.

Freelance journalist Linnea Covington lives and eats in Denver, the best place for green chili and epic hikes with fantastic sandwiches.

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