What if a dive bar fell in love with fancy cocktails? If a laidback, come-as-you-are divey sort of watering hole took one sip of a sophisticated drink—you know, the kind with house-made syrup, fresh-squeezed juices and your new favorite liqueur—and fell head over heels into a taboo romance? Just what would this forbidden, high-low love look like, you ask? Well, it’d look a lot like Yacht Club.
“It feels like we built a clubhouse for ourselves,” says Mary Allison Wright, who owns the Cole neighborhood bar with husband McLain Hedges. “It’s just fun.”
Yacht Club, you might remember, began inside Denver’s OG food hall, The Source. Then it was called RiNo Yacht Club, but when their lease ran out in February 2019, they closed up shop, looking for a more permanent location for the offbeat, adventurous bar. Luckily, they didn’t find one, and so they managed to at least partially dodge the COVID bullet, not opening this iteration of Yacht Club until December 2021.
And this iteration is a doozy. Quirky, cool, comfortable and unexpected, it really is the perfect meld of complex cocktails and fine wines with a cozy, low-key—if WWE projected onto the wall can be considered low-key—atmosphere.
“Why do you have to choose when you set out for the night? We wanted a great dive bar, but where you can get a cocktail or a nice bottle of wine. It’s a build-your-own adventure. You don’t have to choose,” Mary says.
So yes, at Yacht Club, $3.50 Miller High Lifes and $9 Jack & Cokes with a hot dog deals bump up against the likes of drinks made with curry leaf and liqueurs you’ve never heard of, and a way better selection of wines by the glass then you’d expect at a place with skeleton paintings on the wall.
The cocktail menu is broken into Club Standards (staples brought over from the original Yacht Club), Club Bangers (playful, seasonal drinks), All Suds, No Duds (classic drinks stretched with tonic or soda to change the dynamic in a new way), Soft Bangers (a half dozen non-alcoholic options), and Daiquiris (the frozen kind). Then there’s a dedicated wine list, beers, and—don’t you worry—dive-worthy shots.
The food is fun, too. Yacht Club is the first non-grandma’s house establishment at which I’ve seen a cheeseball on the menu. Named after McLain’s grandma Lorraine, it’s a yummy sphere of cream cheese rolled in pecans with the killer addition of crushed pineapple and roasted red pepper. And guess what? They also put the cheeseball spread on a hot dog and top it with celery remoulade, pickled peppers and more of those pecans.
Mary and McLain even created their own fictitious hot dog legend, Hollywood Frank the Hot Dog King, because of course they did. And of course those hot dogs actually use the best-quality franks from local, small-batch River Bear meats.
Just another example of marrying high with low, the fancy with the not-so-fancy, dive bars with cocktail hot spots. Yacht Club is everything and nothing all at once, and that’s exactly what it should be.
Yacht Club: 3701 Williams St., Denver; YachtcClubBar.com