I’m in Denver this week for work and figured it’d be a good opportunity to see what, if any, good cocktail bars the Mile High City has. I polled some friends and spent some time searching around online and eventually found a spot called The Cruise Room. The Cruise Room is a martini bar located in the Oxford Hotel that dates back to 1933. Here’s the history, according to their website:
Just off the main lobby of The Oxford Hotel is the legendary Cruise Room Martini Bar. The Cruise Room is downtown Denver’s first bar and opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Boasting Art Deco décor, this bar is original in its entirety. The Cruise Room was fashioned after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary. Original chrome and neon reflect onto the wall panels depicting light-hearted “toasts” from around the world. The free jukebox entertains guests in this quintessential martini bar. Order a drink from the classic cocktail menu or enjoy a handmade martini!
I loved the space — it’s a decent sized room with high ceilings and warm orange lighting. The art deco panels are interesting and the bar is mostly comfortable booth seating.
While the Cruise Room may be Denver’s first bar, the menu from opening day is long dead. When they say that this is a martini bar, they’re not joking. The menu had about 30 different “martini” recipes. I use scare quotes because the general interpretation of cocktails at the Cruise Room was vodka (usually flavored) with a sweet liqueur and something else sweet. Sadly, I’m not talking about homemade infusions or antique liqueurs, but lots of bottlings invented in the last decade or so. Other than the traditional Martini, there was almost no gin on the menu and the only rum I recall seeing was new flavored light rums. In short, the menu didn’t have a lot that interested me.
Anyway, on to the drinks. I figured I would go rogue and go off-menu to test the place out. I ordered a Martinez, but the bartender had no clue what it was. So I got a Martini with a twist. I’ll say this: it was a great Martini.
The most interesting drink on the menu was the featured cocktail, The St. Germain Cocktail. It was made with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, champagne, and topped with soda. The addition of soda water struck me as interesting — I’ve never encountered a champagne cocktail that included soda water. The drink arrived and I was even more confused. Every cocktail served in the Cruise Room came in the glass part of a Boston mixer, filled with ice, and a four-prong strainer. The bartender would pour about half of the drink and leave the rest in the ice. This practice included the St. Germain Cocktail, which was shaken together and served in a cocktail glass, not a champagne flute. It wasn’t what I expected, but it still tasted great so I won’t complain. I love St. Germain and folks I was with did too.
I closed the night with a Gin and Juice — made simply with gin and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, garnished with an orange wedge. This is the perfect example of how great fresh fruit juice is and why it’s critical for making cocktails. I never would have ordered this drink if it was canned grapefruit juice, but the presence of a giant hand lever juicer on the bar drew me in. It was a nice, tart way to end a somewhat disappointing experience with a menu that I wasn’t crazy about.
Maybe it’s just me (but talking to other cocktail bloggers, I know it isn’t), but vodka cocktails just don’t do it for me. Flavored vodkas don’t excite me, particularly when fresh juices, syrups, liqueurs, and bitters could do the same thing. I think these flavored vodkas and super sweet liqueurs take the craft out of cocktails. I just am not interested.
All that said, I had a good time at the Cruise Room. It’s a really nice space and I still have three great cocktails, even if I would be hard pressed to find one more on the menu that I would have wanted to try.