Denver’s growing popularity in recent years has brought with it a laundry list of restaurant openings, trendy and hip eateries that cater to a cutting-edge crowd. At the same time, the Mile High City has stayed true to its history by treasuring a number of its most iconic eats. From classic diners to Old West establishments, you can still catch glimpses of the city’s past at its most historic restaurants. Whether you are saddling up for Rocky Mountain Oysters at the oldest restaurant in town or digging into a plate of pasta where former mobsters used to enjoy meals, these iconic Denver eats are sure to fill up your stomach and slake your thirst for a helping of the city’s past.
The Buckhorn Exchange
Located just 5 minutes from downtown Denver on 1000 Osage Street, the Buckhorn Exchange is easily the city’s most historic restaurant. It proudly holds claim to the title of being the city’s oldest restaurant, not to mention the proud owner of the first liquor license in the state of Colorado. Founded by the colorful Old West character Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz in 1893, the restaurant serves up many of those same Old West favorites from over a hundred years ago like steaks, elk, and the house specialty — Rocky Mountain Oysters. Dining at the Buckhorn Exchange is also a unique experience thanks to the 575-piece taxidermy collection adorning the walls, and an extensive stockpile of unusual memorabilia. This iconic Denver eatery has welcomed everyone from presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and JFK, to Hollywood greats like Roy Rogers and Bob Hope. The Buckhorn Exchange is even a National Historic Landmark — and one you won’t want to miss.
Sam’s No. 3
Got off your flights to Denver with the appetite for good food and a great story? For a true Denver diner experience, head to Sam’s No. 3. Started in 1927 by Sam Armatas, a Greek immigrant, the classic diner has expanded throughout its history to include three locations across the city. The downtown Denver location at 1500 Curtis Street sits across the street from the original spot, but packs in the history and hearty cuisine with over 100 items on the menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A true American diner, Sam’s No. 3 is known for its legendary green chili, but you can find all manner of classic eats on the menu. And best of all, Sam’s No. 3 is still in the same family that laid down those 1920s roots.
For a trip back in time to the 1940s, it’s hard to beat Gaetano’s in Denver. Serving up classic Italian fare (the kind every nonna knows how to make just right) from pasta to parmigiana, Gaetano’s boasts an old-school vibe on the edge of Denver’s Highland neighborhood, just northwest of downtown. What makes Gaetano’s so iconic and a must-visit stop is its history as the Denver mob’s headquarters. The restaurant was originally started by the notorious Smaldone family in 1947, perhaps Denver’s most well-known mob family. While it’s not still in the crime family, Gaetano’s offers a delicious slice of pizza as well as plenty of mob history, along with rumors … like the one about Frank Sinatra once having played poker in the restaurant basement.
Nestled into the 1892 iconic Brown Palace Hotel at 321 17th Street in the heart of Denver, Ship Tavern has remained one of the few constants in a city that’s always changing and developing. Opened in 1934 after the end of Prohibition, this iconic Denver restaurant takes its nautical vibe seriously. Its walls are adorned with sailing ship models, rum barrels, and even an old ship’s clock. With its vintage pub tone, you can order up steaks, seafood, prime rib, burgers, and much more.
You may also enjoy reading: The Best Fine Dining Restaurants in Denver Bar
My Brother’s Bar
Located on the corner at 2376 15th Street in Denver, My Brother’s Bar claims to be the oldest bar in the city. Opened in 1873, the name of the establishment has changed over the years but it has been operating as My Brother’s Bar since the 1970s when it was run by two brothers, Jim and Angelo Karagas. This isn’t your typical late night watering hole, however; My Brother’s Bar is only open for lunch, serving up sandwiches and classic burgers — specifically its famous Jalapeno Cream Cheese Burger. You can also find an extensive selection of draft beers.
Have you dined out at one of Denver’s classic restaurants? Share your favorite old-timey spot with us in the comments below!