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history of denver, as it relates to drinking

The Interesting History of Denver, as it Relates to Drinking


The history of Denver, as it relates to drinking, extends to the city’s first permanent drinking establishment. The city’s first saloon opened its doors when Denver was still considered a frontier town. At that time, the location had already gone through the gold boom and had developed into a goods and supply hub for miners who had money to spare. Within its first 50 years as a city, Denver welcomed more than 400 saloons. Drinking has been a large part of Denver’s unique culture ever since.

A handful of Denver’s original historical drinking establishments still stand. For instance, the Buckhorn Exchange, founded in 1893, holds the distinction of being issued the state’s first liquor license. The bar was erected to serve migrant railroad workers, but exists today as an iconic Denver landmark that is a National Historic Landmark. A total of five American Presidents have dined at the Buckhorn Exchange, where they were given the distinct pleasure of being seated among the bar’s 575-piece taxidermy exhibit.

Gone are the days in Denver when one could only legally consume alcohol via a doctor’s prescription. Today, the city ranks fifth in the United States among the number of craft breweries per capita. There are currently approximately 15 craft breweries per 500,000 Denver residents. The numbers increase significantly each year. However, the older historical establishments retain the allure of their history.

If you are interested in finding out more about the drinking history of Denver, along with more recent and delightful microbrewery discoveries, please contact us to schedule a Denver Microbrew Tour, where our seasoned professional tour guides will entice you with interesting beer trivia as you sample local offerings.


history of denver, as it relates to drinking

History of Drinking in Denver: Traveling Back in Time Never Tasted So Good

The next time you drink a cold one in Denver, know that you are swallowing some hard-fought history. Legalized marijuana wasn’t the first time this Wild West city fought for its right to party. The similarities between both the liquor and marijuana battles lend to the cliché; history repeats itself.

In his book Moonshine and Murder: Prohibition in Denver, author James E. Hansen II describes the decades long battle between temperance groups, the city of Denver, and the state of Colorado. According to Hansen’s account, the battle began in the 1860’s, with Denver rejecting every attempt by the state and local temperance groups to “go dry” until well into the 20th century.

And if you consider all the interesting historical details about Denver’s loving relationship with beer to begin with, the sixty year battle makes a lot of sense. Or suds.

Traveling back in time never tasted so good.

Here are 6 interesting facts about Denver’s longstanding relationship with beer.

  1. Miners and pioneers brewed and sold beer right out of their tents and the back of their wagons since the city’s founding in 1859.
  2. Denver’s first city government was formed in a saloon called Apollo Hall located at 1425 Larimer Street; the building still stands today.
  3. After stowing away aboard a ship from Hamburg to New York City, Adolph Coors made it to the Wild West and founded the Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado (roughly thirty driving minutes west of Denver) in 1873. The brewery still uses the same original 44 natural Rocky Mountain springs to this day.
  4. In 1907, state legislature enacted a local option bill which permitted Colorado cities to decide whether or not to go dry. Denver resisted, and voted to keep their spirits.
  5. In 1914, Colorado decided that “no person or group could manufacture or import, except for medicinal or sacramental purposes, any intoxicating liquors”. Though the measure was successful throughout most of the state, Denver rejected prohibition once again with a local vote landslide. Note that liquor was legal if it was for medicinal purposes. Sound familiar?
  6. After 1916, Denver was forced into prohibition just like the rest of the country. Like many cities during Prohibition, the rules only applied to the people, never the officials who imposed them. Gahan’s Saloon, located at 1401 Larimer Street was known as the “Soft Drink Parlor” which was code for a liquor-flowing speakeasy that was frequented by cops, politicians, and reporters.


That same independent and entrepreneurial spirit that fought for the right to enjoy a beer or some liquor, still lives on in Colorado’s capital city. These days, Denver is known as the “Napa Valley of Beer”; and brews more suds on any given day than any other city in the United States.

Thirsty yet?

The Denver Microbrew Tour is a history-packed guided walking tour of historic lower downtown Denver and its world-famous microbreweries. Contact us today to learn more about how we can share even more cool history about the Mile High City – and buy you a pint.

You’ll Need a Beer or Two After You Hear This Lost Piece of Denver History


More people than ever are choosing to move to Denver because of its amazing beer, weather and access to recreation. One of Denver’s can’t miss spots is Cheesman Park. It’s a beautiful and seemingly serene place where Denver residents can play sports, enjoy picnics or just take in the beautiful views of downtown Denver. But if most people knew Cheesman Park’s dark history, they might not see it as such a relaxing place.

In the late 19th century, Cheesman Park was a huge cemetery called Mt. Prospect Cemetery. Many Chinese immigrants as well as members of the Society of Masons were buried there. In 1890, congress authorized the city to vacate Mt. Prospect Cemetery and for the land to be converted into a park. Families were given 90 days to remove the bodies of their loved ones to other locations. Many fringe type people buried in the cemetery weren’t moved because they had no families to speak of, so in 1893 Denver contracted undertaker E.P. McGovern to remove the remains. McGovern was to provide a new coffins for each body and then transfer it to the Riverside Cemetery at a cost of $1.90 each.

To make more of a profit, McGovern dismembered many bodies and crammed as many as 3 bodies at a time into child sized coffins. Body parts and bones were literally strewn everywhere in a disorganized mess. Onlookers helped themselves to items from the caskets. Many Denver residents believe that Cheesman Park is haunted, and some have complained of experiencing erie pockets of cool air when walking through the park in the middle of summer.

Ready for a few beers now? The Denver Microbrew Tour is a guided walking tour through downtown Denver, Colorado’s historic LODO (lower downtown) and Ballpark Neighborhood districts. The tour includes beer samplings at severalmicrobreweries and a localtap room, everything you could want to know about beer, a coupon for a pint of your favorite beer on the tour, and local Denver history. For more info on The Denver Microbrew tour, contact us today!


Law and thirst shaped Denver’s beer history


By the time the frontier settlement of Denver was just two years old, following an initial mad dash to scoop up gold at the Platte River, there were already 35 saloons built and pouring. Pioneer Denver figured out just about everything in a local bar. Because constructing churches, schools and other community meeting halls lagged behind, Denver had no choice but to invent itself over drinks. The first city government gavelled itself to order at a saloon called the Apollo Hall, in the original Larimer Square. That was just respectable enough to get things going. However, the city fathers appear to have had the sense that some restraint might be in order, so an early law stipulated that booze couldn’t be sold on the streets or out of wagons and tents.

In the 20th century, a chain reaction started that would propel Denver to a unique status in the American craft beer revolution. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill to adjust the legislation that had ended prohibition. The earlier repeal allowed citizens to legally make wine at home again starting in 1933, but it failed to mention beer, so home brewers were still practicing their hobby underground, with limited access to ingredients, supplies and recipes. At the time of the legalization of home brewing, a Boulder, Colorado resident and experienced brewing enthusiast named Charlie Papazian launched a homebrew newsletter, followed by writing a beer recipe book and then by forming national associations for both amateur and professional brewers, both based in Colorado. These steps led eventually to the massive gathering known as the Great American Beer Festival, still held annually in Denver. By welcoming top beers and brewers from other regions to town for this elite brewing competition every year, Denver’s local brewers may have gained an advantage in understanding brewing quality and diversity without having to get on an airplane themselves. Taste local examples with us and see if you agree.

The free-flowing history of Denver, as it relates to drinking, is full of delightful tales that we love to tell on our beer walking tours. Whether you are a visitor or a proud resident, a seasoned beer appreciator or a craft brew novice, contact us to walk Denver for a taste of beer history, along with guided sample flights that will let you find the current local brew you love the best.


History of Denver: Spotlight on the City’s Marvelous Marats

In honor of Larimer Square’s Quinguagenary, we wanted to highlight two of the unusual folks that once called the area home, Count Henri Murat and his wife, Countess Katrina. They were wealthy immigrants who made an impact on the history of Denver. The Count’s family roots started in France and the Countess was born in Heidelsheim, which is located in Baden, Germany. She married twice and Henry was her second husband.

history of Denver

We can show you where the El Dorado Hotel’s patrons likely drank in Larimer Square.

A small snippet about their lives was previously published in the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine (Vol. 51, p. 83). It paints the Count as a flamboyant figure who went through his family’s money like most craft brew fans go through a pint. When he and the Countess traveled to Denver in the 1850s, they helped establish the El Dorado Hotel and a small barber shop. Historians say that they were the first businesses of their kind to become established in the area of Larimer Square.

According to the Palmer Lake Historical Society’s records, many famous figures from American History called on the Murats over the course of their business’ lifespan. Among them were former U.S. Vice-President Schuyler Colfax and Horace Greeley. The intriguing couple also reputedly had very good relations with the city’s common folk.

The Countess, by all historical accounts, was a resilient woman with a deep love for American patriotism. She outlived the Count and later worked with a Sioux Indian (Wapolah) to create the area’s first, patriotic flag. The DAR historians claim that it was made from a French petticoat belonging to Mrs. Murat and muslin purchased in Denver.

Over the years, others have claimed that the flag was made from the woman’s underwear. Nonetheless, the flag and the woman who helped make it remain a vital part of Downtown Denver’s history. As for the Countess, she passed away in 1910. Both she and her husband were eventually buried in Riverside Cemetery, where they obviously remain.

To learn more about the people who helped make the history of Denver so unforgettable, please contact us for a Denver Microbrew Tour. We’ll show you were the El Dorado Hotel’s patrons likely drank in Larimer Square before heading back to their rooms for the night.

How John Hickenlooper Made Denver History

Many residents in and around Colorado know the name John Hickenlooper to belong to their state’s governor. Especially in the Denver area, some may still recognize him as the former mayor of the Mile High City. But Hickenlooper means so much more to the state of Colorado and the history of Denver, and much of that has to do with his early professional journey.

history of denver, as it relates to drinkingMention the name “Wynkoop Brewing Company” to residents of Denver, and their eyes will light up. It’s the first brew pub to open its doors in the historic downtown of Denver after prohibition ended in the state of Colorado, serving its first beer to the public in 1988. In the 27 year since, the Wynkoop has turned into one of the largest microbreweries in the entire United States.

Today, the pub is located within convenient walking distance to Coors Field, and offers hearty pub fare along with live music and comedy and, of course, self-brewed beer. The facilities even include a BCA-sanctioned billiards parlor upstairs, completing the unique and comfortable feeling that keeps guests coming back to the Wynkoop.

But it’s how one of the two landmark microbreweries in downtown Denver got started that really deserves attention. Guess who was the person who brewed and served the first beer, all the way back in 1988? That would be beloved ex-mayor and current Colorado governor John Hickenlooper. Considering the Mile High City’s rich history and array of different brews, we hardly think so.

Of course, the Wynkoop Brewing Company is just one of the many beer-related locations worth exploring in and around Denver. For a tour of this and many other famous microbreweries, pubs and their stories, contact us.