Williams & Graham: A Relaxed Take on the Speakeasy
Despite its reputation as a beer-crazed city, Denver has mastered the craft of the cocktail — and Williams & Graham is the home of some of the best mixologists around. Nearly seven months after opening, this bar is still one of the hottest tickets in Denver. Co-founders Sean Kenyon, of Steuben’s and Euclid Bar, and Todd Colehour, former executive at Kona Grill, have capitalized on the Prohibition-era trend and opened an old-fashioned speakeasy with a modern day attitude.
The 1920’s themed bar masquerades as a bookstore to passersby on the street; upon entering the bookstore, you can actually buy cocktail books and other titles by noteworthy drunken authors, plus bar tools and gadgets. The clerk will then slip your name through a slit in the bookshelves, which then opens up like a door to lead you to the bar. The dark, cozy space enhances the Prohibition-era style with a relaxed vibe that eludes the pretension of other bars in this same vein.
“I'm of the strong belief that people want to walk in and enjoy themselves without the restrictions of a stiff atmosphere,” said founder Sean Kenyon in an interview with Eater. “In the era of speakeasies the rules existed before the door. Once you got in, all bets were off. It was the art of getting in — then everything goes.”
Kenyon’s favorite after-shift cocktail is the Vieux Carré, which he described as “a Manhattan on another level.” It’s made with rye whiskey, cognac, quality sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two types of bitters. The South Park is another hot pick for summer, made with Spring 44 Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon, agave, Angostura Bitters and fresh mint. Not solely focused on the more creative, signature cocktails, the bartenders at Williams & Graham know how to make a mean classic cocktail. For those who like to stick to what they know, try the Moscow Mule or the Old-Fashioned.
Despite Williams & Graham’s wild popularity, its owners have stayed humble and focused on the customer. “Our goal is to always be a neighborhood bar with exceptional hospitality,” said Kenyon. “There's a reason we're still packed with 14 inches of snow on the ground. People come back to visit bartenders, not to revisit drinks.” But if you want a shot at getting in without an enormous wait time, Kenyon suggests arriving before 7 p.m. or after 10 p.m.