It’s five o’clock somewhere. Or so day-drinkers like to say, usually while ordering a stiff pour of bourbon. Prohibition may have failed, but the lasting legacy of the temperance movement is this notion that hitting the hard stuff before the end of the work day requires a disclaimer.
Of course, one meal in particular steadily chips away at the idea. Brunch has engendered its own menagerie of cocktails — a growing assortment of drinks that legitimize the wake-and-partake lifestyle. Because with the right combination of spirits, it’s always 10 o’clock somewhere. Especially if that somewhere is Hillcrest, which has become the city’s undisputed epicenter of boozy brunch.
These days the longest brunch wait belongs to Snooze. General manager Nick Papantonakis says, “We have a lot of day-drinker partier types around here, more than normal.” In terms of alcohol, he says Hillcrest routinely outsells each of the Colorado chain’s dozen other locations.
On the Snooze menu they’re called Morning Cocktails, and Papantonakis says when the restaurant opened in 2011 the list was small and simple: mostly mimosas and Bloody Marys. Champagne and juice mimosas, of course, are the most popular drinks going before noon, though Prosecco and peach Bellinis seem to be having a moment. But let’s be real — these barely rate above soft drinks. Hillcrest demanded more, and a number of stiffer drinks have made it onto the Snooze menu. Among its most popular is the Orange Snoozius, a riff on the screwdriver that adds orange liqueur and whipped cream to vodka and OJ, and tastes like the shopping-mall mainstay Orange Julius.
So, maybe brunch drinkers really just want their cocktails to match their breakfast mentality. Orange juice is a breakfast staple, so including that in any cocktail seems to work. Cereal is also a breakfast staple, so Garage Kitchen and Bar offers a lineup of “Brunch Shots.” Served in miniature bowls, each shot mixes a handful of popular breakfast cereal with rumchata, a cream liqueur resembling milk, and a second liqueur chosen to match the cereal. So, Cocoa Puffs gets Crème de Cacao, while Golden Grahams pairs with Goldschläger. They look like breakfast, but they’re shots.
On the other hand, beer drinkers needn’t settle for beermosas or micheladas. Garage offers an oatmeal stout for brunch, which if nothing else sounds right. The newly opened Breakfast Republic closes at 3 p.m., yet features a 15-beer taplist, ranging from Belgian tripels to double IPAs. Owner Johan Engman says, “Three years ago I would have called myself crazy, but I added beers on draft at my Fig Tree Café…and they were selling from 8 in the morning, on.”
Point is, people will drink anything for breakfast if you present the option. “There hasn’t really been a good sense of continuity throughout history as to what does and does not constitute a morning drink,” says Jason O’Bryan, author of the booze blog DrinksandDrinking.com. “The original cocktail, which is what we know as an old fashioned — that was originally a morning drink.”
So, rather than ask what is a morning drink, we look at what isn’t an evening drink. O’Bryan points out there is one drink that only works during daylight hours. “When people order it at night,” he says, “it just feels wrong.” The Bloody Mary.
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No breakfast-cocktail discussion can ignore the Bloody Mary. Some of the city’s best — and most audacious — may be found at Great Maple. Owner Johnny Rivera knows he has a reputation to live up to. His first two Hillcrest restaurants — Hash House a Go Go and the neighboring Tractor Room — have long set the Bloody bar in the neighborhood.
“The muse is kind of booze and nourishment,” Rivera says, arguing the point of a breakfast cocktail is to cure hangovers — as in, “medicinally what would make me feel better.” The salty tomato sangrita replenishes, while the vodka adds a little hair of the dog. “The science of brunch for me is it’s the continuation of the party.”
Consequently, most of Great Maple’s eight turns on the Bloody Mary come with a provocative edible garnish. The Pickle Mary glass sports an impossibly big pickle. Not to be outdone, a grilled octopus tentacle reaches from the depths of the One Armed Mary.
Tentacles aside, not everyone wants to go Bloody. Adam Lockridge, bartender at Prepkitchen, also sees brunch cocktails as morning medicine but steers brighter, more along the lines of the appropriately named Corpse Reviver #2, a century-old morning cocktail he makes with gin, Cocchi, Cointreau, and Absinthe.
“My hangover cure is not the savory or the viscous,” he says. “It is citrus… You put an ounce of gin in your body with some lemon juice, you’re going to feel better.” For that Lockridge cites another morning classic — the gin, lemon, sugar and champagne on the French 75.
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A French 75 also appears on the Liquid Brunch menu at Park & Rec. Bartender Trevor Easter says, “We consider them more of a well-balanced mimosa… So, how do we take these iconic drinks and make them slightly different?” Here, by giving customers the choice to add crème de cassis, strawberry liqueur, or grapefruit cordial for added depth.
It all sounds good and drinks well. But my first morning beverage must include coffee, and my favorite morning craft cocktails have found a way to include it. Back at Prepkitchen, Lockridge came up with the Dark Horse Old Fashioned, which mixes cold-brewed coffee with spiced rum and bitters. “It’s boozy,” he says, “but it tastes like toffee. You could pour this on top of pancakes.”
Meanwhile, Snooze bartender Julie Nelson may have summed up the breakfast drinking experience with an off-menu creation she calls a Hooligan: whiskey, pure cane syrup, orange liqueur, cold brew, and half-and-half. Or, as she says, “Everything you need in life.” Part of a nutritious breakfast.