Whether you’ve been joined at the hip for 1,596 days, on your first Tinder date or nervously preparing to propose, everyone knows you’ll be judged on your prowess to pick a place that’s nothing short of perfect for the occasion. And you don’t want to screw up. From intimate enclaves basking in the ambient glow of a fireplace to sensual cocktail bars and splurge-worthy dinner destinations, there’s a Denver date spot to fit every romantic situation. Here we present a Cupid-approved guide for getting to the heart of the matter.
Ace, Eat, Serve
A killer patio, vibrant atmosphere, potent cocktails, wicked-good Peking duck, delicious soup dumplings and table tennis. That’s all you need for a really good time at Ace, Eat, Serve, an Uptown powerhouse of food, libations and playful revelry. It’s the sort of place that’s conducive to just about every kind of date, from meeting for a casual drink at the bar to snagging a booth for a more intimate dinner to testing each other’s table tennis prowess in the game room. If dinner works out, head back for weekend brunch to sip bloody Marys and share a Japanese pancake and Chinese five spice-powdered donuts.
Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club, in the heart of the River North Art District (RiNo), sets the stage for one of Denver’s most Cupid-worthy venues for coupling love with live music. This isn’t a place for jeans and a T-shirt or to hear cringy musicians missing notes, but somewhere to dress up, sip a throwback blood and sand cocktail, share a plate of glistening oysters and watch fantastic local and national titans, mostly of the jazz persuasion, take their place on the large stage. The room’s magnificent sound system is conducive to soft conversation, though the most intimate tables are stowed on the mezzanine overlooking the stage and low-lit bar and dining room. The season-inspired, three-course “Dinner and a Show” menu, stamped with cider-braised pork belly, duck leg confit, arctic char and croissant bread pudding, captures the spirit of the jazzy space and sounds.
Low-key, snug and downright alluring, Table 6, a popular bistro in Capitol Hill, basks in captivating warmth and tender intimacy. The menu, galvanized by the seasons, is illustrated with starters like roasted beet baba ghanoush, woodsy wild mushroom soup with thyme-studded whipped mascarpone and tater tots matched with a celery-and-carrot salad. Main dishes seesaw from yam and acorn squash enchiladas blanketed in green chile and oyster mushroom salsa to duck confit buttressed by braised endive, toasted walnuts, dates and Roquefort. The deeply diverse, unpretentious and showstopping wine list is so breathtaking that you may want to ask the sommelier if he’s taking investors.
If you dart through what’s called the “Kettle Arcade” inLarimer Square, you’ll find Bistro Vendome, an everything-it-should-be Parisian sanctuary that evokes enchantment inside the irresistibly charming dining room where knees knock and lips lock across the small tables. The soul-soothing menu, courtesy of executive chef Arianna Didziulis, is equally alluring, beckoning diners with a knockout steak tartare, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and apple cider-braised pork belly enlivened with bourbon-roasted pears, pickled red onions and collard greens. The affordable and seductive wine list—complete with bubbles—keeps the conversation flowing. It’s a romancing experience at every turn—even in the months when the beguiling courtyard patio, potted with blooms, is closed because of Mother Nature.
For creative American cuisine with a splinter of Paris in the air, there’s Denver’s beloved Mizuna, chef-owner Frank Bonanno's captivating flagship restaurant in Capitol Hill. Blissfully romantic, graceful and bathed in soft light, the cozy dining room is orchestrated by a cordial and studious staff skilled at matching wines with beautifully prepared dishes like beef Wellington and the pièce de resistance: macaroni and cheese, creamy with mascarpone and punctuated with succulent bites of butter-poached lobster. This is a restaurant that’s timeless, and while the tab will swell your credit card balance, it's a dining experience that’s earned its place among the best in Denver.
The Family Jones Spirit House
Situated in Lower Highland (LoHi), the Family Jones Spirit House is, quite simply, a bombshell of beautification. The soothing space, graced with purple-surfaced stools, plush old glory blue banquettes, walls mounted with pots flush with juniper, soaring windows and a sunken bar, is perched below the mezzanine, which showcases a skylight-illuminated copper still. There’s a hybrid bar/kitchen—the team calls it “bitchen”—that dispenses a short scroll of sharable small plates: curried red lentil dip, a season-dependent charcuterie-and-cheese platter and fava bean hummus. Dishes are offset by a superb beverage scroll that favors botanicals and housemade spirits and liqueurs. Can’t decide on your poison? Build your own flight of up to eight spirits from the vast collection of liquids, including batched cocktails.
From James Beard Award-winning luminaries Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca Food and Wine—Boulder’s lauded Northern Italian temple of gastronomy—comes Tavernetta, a sensational regional Italian restaurant based at the boot of Kimpton Hotel Born.The menu, created by Frasca alum Ian Wortham, reaches deep into salumi, cheese, fish-and-meat-forward dishes and unassailable pastas that seesaw between a hearty lamb ragu to a tagliatelle rich with fresh Maine lobster flesh and weaponized with Calabrian chilies. The gorgeous space, complete with a fireplace lounge, a trio of patios, a centerpiece open kitchen and pasta station that buzzes with activity and walls mounted with Slim Aarons portrait photographs showcasing Italians on ritzy holidays, suggests a lost world of wine-soaked lunches and romantic dinners and sojourns to fantastical faraway places.
Rioja, a high-powered Mediterranean and Spanish restaurant, cemented the stardom of James Beard Foundation best chef winner Jennifer Jasinski, whose sleek restaurant, complete with a transparent kitchen and chef’s counter, transformed Larimer Square into a lofty dining destination that equates to a smashing night on the town. Exalted for its pristinely fresh ingredients, season-embracing dishes, plate artistry, hand-crafted pastas, extensive brunch menu and thoughtful pastry program (including a fantastic house-baked breadbasket), Rioja is a proverbial sweetheart of local and national celebrities, the food cognoscenti and just about everyone else who appreciates true artisanship coupled with a robust wine program and imaginative cocktails.
Chef-owner Caroline Glover vacillated before unleashing her beloved small-plates restaurant in the sprawling Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. But since its debut, the petite nirvana of culinary excellence has knocked the socks off just about everyone who's set foot inside the plant-filled space puddled with sunshine. Named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants of 2017, Annette embodies everything you could possibly want from a dining experience: an elevated casual vibe, fresh ingredients that are never manipulated, full-throttled flavor combinations (think ricotta cavatelli with maitake mushrooms, roasted shallots and salsify), a wood-burning grill that permeates the air with perfumed smoke and a small but enormously satisfying wine scroll. Glover also grows many of her ingredients on a plot at a nearby community farm, which means every dish is steeped in seasonality. The cocktails are heavenly, too.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another steakhouse in the city that has the funky old-school charm of Bastien’s, a decades-old steakhouse in City Park that pays homage to the Rat Pack, properly chilled vodka martinis and flashback plates channeling better days. With apologies to those who eschew sugar, the dish to live (and die) by is the iconic sugar steak, preferably paired with a grilled Caesar salad and a loaded twice-baked potato, best enjoyed on a chilly evening, in an intimate booth under the romantic twinkle of lights. If you’re longing for a sweet date night that’s warm, unfussy, relaxed and nostalgic with Frank Sinatra crooning through the speakers, then Bastien’s has all the trappings of an amorous rendezvous.
Even back when the tables were so close together that you’d inevitably become acquaintances with your neighboring diners, even when chef-owner Alex Seidel—now a James Beard award-winning chef—wasn’t a household name, diminutive Fruition, a New American restaurant bookending Cherry Creek and Capitol Hill,was the destination for couples celebrating their courtship. It still is. In fact, it’s better than ever. Over the past several years, Seidel, who owns a swatch of other Denver restaurants, as well as Füdmill, an artisan baking company, has purposefully refined his menu to push progressive flavors, polished the already exemplary service and face-lifted the interior, the result of which makes this splendid temple of culinary magic even more bewitching. Don’t miss the beef tartare, rustic housemade tortellini with braised lamb shoulder and fresh truffles or the bavette steak with roasted onion jus. And while wines are on the steep side, the collection is a grape geek’s cloud nine.
Snuggle up to your sweetheart, sip from a bottle of bubbles and proclaim your courtship in this beautifully romantic nest in Washington Park headlined by three local restaurant pros, including superstar chef Ty Leon. One of the city’s most coveted destinations for approachably refined Italian cuisine, Olivia is all about intoxicating handmade pasta dishes such as black truffled spaghetti paired with butter-poached lobster flesh, unassailable stewardship from the waitstaff, a wondrous wine collection to get the heart racing and cozy quarters frolicking with amorous couples.
North City Park dwellers flock to this lovely neighborhood spot streaked with natural sunlight and intimate warmth, a befitting stage for chef-owner Peter Ryan’s spirited New American cuisine that’s a paean to all things seasonal, perhaps most profoundly in his lyrical vegetable dishes that double as sonnets to ingredients plucked from the earth. Thanks to stellar starters like chile-and-citrus charred parsnips with blood oranges and thyme-spiked curd, main dishes such as the Moroccan-spiced pork shank sidekicked with charred cauliflower and date-studded harissa, genuinely gracious service and a riveting wine syllabus, you’ll book another reservation. Stat. The Plimoth is really that good.
Just one in an armory of terrific restaurants umbrellaed under the Culinary Creative Group, A5 Steakhouse, in Lower Downtown (LoDo), is restaurateur Juan Padro’s interpretation of the all-American steakhouse. But A5 distinguishes itself with retro-cool elements—a living fern wall behind the island-themed bar, for example—and conscious transparency via the steak segment of the menu, wherein every cut of steer is bookended with the name of the farm or ranch whence it originated. And even the steaks themselves reveal surprises. Where else can you find a bavette, tri-tip, Japanese striploin and Denver steak on the same menu? If you’re looking for cliched creamed spinach or creamed corn, know, too, that chef-partner Max Mackissock doesn’t roll that way. Instead, starters and sides tilt toward season-intensive ingredients, innovative preparations and groovy rifts on familiar favorites. To wit: In lieu of traditional crab cakes, prepare to behold Mackissock’s “crabby toast,” a striking medley of Jonah crab jumbled with cucumbers and yuzu kosho aioli straddling a custardy Japanese-style French toast topped with togarashi-dusted potato chips. A poster child for a reimagined steakhouse experience, A5 is a splurgy date spot with swooning ambiance, first-class service, superb steaks and a brilliant wine and beverage list.
When a restaurant’s tagline reads “Taco dirty to me,” you just sorta know it’s the kind of place that’s got flirtatious flair in the air. And Cantina Loca has all that and more. The newest endeavor from ridiculously talented celeb chef Dana “Loca” Rodriguez (Super Mega Bien, Casa Bonita and Work + Class), the Lower Highland (LoHi) showcases the best of Mexican street food: cod ceviche, queso fundido, delicious fried tacos swelled with cheese and smashed potatoes, housemade chorizo wrapped in still-steaming blue corn tortillas and flavor-bombed al pastor Colorado lamb tucked inside a banana leaf and paired with both blue and white corn tortillas, a heavenly avocado sauce and salsa. Entice your date to embark on a tasting tour of Rodriguez’s own line of small-batch tequilas and mezcals and raise your glass to good vibes, great ambiance enlivened with sultry Latin music and, obviously, your date. Also. Don’t even think about forgoing the caramel-laced flan. Bonus: If your date is going really, really well, Espadin, the swanky building just adjacent to Cantina Loca, hosts a collection of lovely Airbnbs. Just saying.
The Perfect Landing
Stowed away on the second level of Centennial Airport, The Perfect Landing is the antithesis of a frenetic airport restaurant. There’s no racing through security lines and no heavy bags to wheel through tight spaces, and the only chance of a missed connection is if your date stands you up in favor of a flying lesson. The softly illuminated restaurant, with its large windows peering over multi-million-dollar private planes (and fighter jets!) on the runway, is prime real estate for starry-eyed date nights, especially against the backdrop of a terrific pianist and vocalist whose seemingly bottomless song repertoire spans generations. Reserve a window seat to admire a Colorado sunset, share fresh oysters and the excellent Newport potpie buoyant with seafood and map out your jet-setting sojourn.
Sunday Vinyl Kitchen & Wine Bar
Fronting the train platform of Denver Union Station, this swanky European-style wine bar, where esoteric wines from parts still unknown intersect with varietals from California and Oregon, is the latest heartthrob from the tandem behind Tavernetta, Frasca Food & Wine and Pizzeria Locale.The bottle manifest is nothing short of brilliant—and so is the vinyl theme that permeates the space. Pulsating with an astounding sound system—McIntosh turntables and state-of-the-art speakers—and an impressive vinyl-only collection that spans genres, Sunday Vinyl is unlike any other venue in Denver. Jostle for a marble-surfaced table overlooking the train tracks and share fresh oysters with green apple granita, deviled eggs or snow crab tartlets rom chef Charlie Brooks, whose experience includes a spell at New York’s Gramercy Tavern. For the record, this is one of the coolest places in the city for a memorable romantic date.
Barolo Grill, a beguiling Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek, is for beautiful bottles of wine, unassailable pastas and sultry braised duck; for exquisite service and fine-tuned tasting menus sketched with experimental flavors bereft of borders. For one of the loveliest dining rooms in the city, where tables are still sheeted with white tablecloths propped with polished silver, the lighting is gentle and warm and the amorous table for two, snuggled against the glow of the fireplace, symbolizes classic romance. Put it on your bucket list.
Bistro Le Roux
Chef and restaurateur Lon Symensma is arguably one of Denver’s most talented kitchen magicians, unleashing whiz-bang-boom flavors at every turn, and Bistro Le Roux, his smashing restaurant on the 16th Street Mall, might be his best effort. The elegant space, ambient with crystal chandeliers, flickering candles, frosted windows, tufted booths and banquettes hued vintage blue, handsome dark woods and antiqued mirrors, sweeps diners away with its sensuality. The European-leaning menu offers the opportunity to fall deeper in love, thanks to sharable plates like Wagyu steak tartare paired with shatteringly crisp, latticed potato chips, brilliant cauliflower crème brûlée and butter-kissed oysters Rockefeller. An all-European wine list, coupled with smashing cocktails and decadent desserts, including tableside baked Alaska, ensures a flirty rendezvous.
By Lori Midson
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