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The Bitter Bar: A Step Toward Tradition

The Bitter Bar: A Step Toward Tradition

Wesley Adams • September 23, 2015 • Lifestyle • 

In Boulder’s sea of university drinkers it’s easy to find yourself swimming in craft IPAs and Moscow Mules. However, a well-made Old Fashioned will always be my drink of choice. With just sugar, bitters, whiskey and water, I’m charmed by the technique required to perfectly craft a traditional cocktail like an Old Fashioned. James Lee, owner of The Bitter Bar, beautifully illustrates that expertise.

I was first acquainted with The Bitter Bar via multiple Boulder bartenders, which is a rarity in a competitive food and beverage industry. That in itself was like a Vegas-neon sign pointing me toward the West End of Walnut Street. So, with my insider-knowledge close to the vest, I made my way to the swanky, speakeasy-style bar.

A corner table at Boulder's The Bitter Bar

Warm lighting and unique decor set a comfortable tone at The Bitter Bar.

All guests are welcome to enter through the back door, fittingly lending itself to the ambiance of the old hidden saloons from the Prohibition era. Cozy and comfortable décor made me feel like I was coming back home for the first time. A “welcome” from the genuine staff set the tone that I hadn’t been away for long. I knew, though, that the aesthetic would only carry the baton for so long. The moment had arrived as I took a short pause to consider the process and ingredients that I’ve known to go into the Old Fashioned, which I’d been eagerly anticipating.

Boulder, CO - Lounge area in The Bitter Bar - elegant, classy decor

Bitter Bar Lounge

The simplicity of a cocktail like this one doesn’t allow room for error in portions, nor in the quality of ingredients, but instead accentuates the precise blending of subtle notes that, when paired properly, can change the way cocktails are enjoyed. Enter James Lee. After an opportunity to fully acclimate to the elegantly un-elaborate cocktail, I was approached by the artist responsible so he could ask me what I thought.

James Lee. Owner-Operator, Busser and Dishwasher. The Bitter Bar in Boulder, CO

James Lee. Owner-Operator.

With memories of underwhelmingly inconsistent Old Fashioneds being washed away with each sip of this perfect prototype, I was elated to meet the provider of such a drink. After cordially introducing himself, James went on to illustrate the underlying complexities of what is a truly simple method. I had to stop him almost immediately when he mentioned that there was rye whiskey used in his mix. This was contrary to my traditional experiences of using bourbon, so my interest was piqued.

The Bitter Bar - a reflection of prohibition rye in Boulder, CO

Reflection of Rye

James explained that he uses rye whiskey as opposed to bourbon because it is akin to the method of making drinks prior to the Prohibition era. Bourbon had not become popular until after this time, and wasn’t part of the speakeasy cocktail scene that James so affectionately models. And with regard to the drinking experience, it made perfect sense. The remaining ingredients are understated when the sweetness of bourbon comes into play: a potent metaphor for the classy feel of a place like The Bitter Bar being lost in the wash of happy hour Margaritas and craft beers. These nuggets of information, like the reasoning behind the rye whiskey, help to not only advance one’s knowledge of a great drink but also to develop a palate for what separates this experience from your run-of-the-mill watering hole.

The Bitter Bar - Drink the most delicious Old Fashioned in Boulder, CO

It’s a quality over quantity state of mind for The Bitter Bar, and James makes sure that it’s “easy to come in but actually easier to leave.” Which is such a refreshing reversal of the usual retention-at-all-costs approach. You’re welcome to come take whatever space you’d like, with however many guests you’d like, for any amount of time. It’s a holistic approach to being comfortable and cozy that emanates a sense of ownership for each individual guest. And being avid participants of the bar-going experience themselves, you feel the sincerity in the welcome to the farewell from James and The Bitter Bar staff.

The Bitter Bar. 9th & Walnut in Boulder, Colorado. 303.442.3050.

Open everyday from 5pm-11pm.

The Bitter Bar
An original picture from the set of The Hustler hints at the subtle intricacies The Bitter Bar achieves.

Drink Hard Liquor and Speak Easy


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  1. I love the coziness and the ‘speak easy’ atmosphere that The Bitter Bar offers.I can’t say that I personally have come across a bar, that offered the comfort and easy to relax feeling,that the Bitter Bar offers.A combination of sincerely welcoming staff and the care that is put into the placement of each piece of furniture,each picture and all that makes the Bitter Bar what it is.A comfortable place to meet with friends and enjoy the beauty around you,as you then get to enjoy a drink that is made the way it was originally intended.Something you undoubtedly never tasted,quite like this before. I would love to have such a welcoming,at home feeling bar to go to and unwind at the end of the day.I hope to see it in person some day.

  2. I’d like tto share five ips I’ve learned along the way to go from free to fee.Probably not, however your virtual assistant can. There’s
    nothing of real substance there to guard.


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