Top of the Town 2009
A peek at our must-read annual round-up of who's who and what's what in the Mile-High City.
- Top Dive Bar
- Top New Bar
- Top Brewpub
- Top Sports Bar
- Top Singles Hangout
- Top Movie Festival
- Top Rainy-Afternoon Activity
- Top Theater Company
- Top Gay Bar
- Top Nightclub
- Top Bar for Live Music
- Top First Date
- Top Art Class
- Top Cooking Class
- Top Summer Festival
- Top Sports Event You Can Actually Get a Ticket To
- A Light Rail Pub Crawl
Lincoln's Road House
The slightly schizophrenic menu—meatloaf cheeseburger, pot roast burrito, and shrimp Creole bruschetta—at Lincoln's Road House is telling of its varied clientele. A biker bar at heart, this Platt Park joint also welcomes suits, area locals, and anyone looking for a good time. So pull up a stool, grab a cold Coors Light, and stop by for free live music on Fridays and Saturdays. 1201 S. Pearl St., 303-777-3700
Don's Club Tavern
Better known as Don's Mixed Drinks, this Denver dive bar mainstay has been kicking it since 1947 with strong drinks, old furniture, and ice-cold beer. Although Little Pub Holdings (owners of Wyman's and the Spot Bar and Grill, among other bars) purchased Don's in 2004, it looks like they haven't put a cent into the joint. For that, we thank them. 723 E. Sixth Ave., no phone
It's rare that our first visit to a bar earns the pub an instant spot on our go-to drinking list, but in Jonesy's case it was love at first beer. The self-proclaimed "gastro-pub" pairs upscale versions of home-style grub (truffle fries and lamb sliders, for instance) with the best selection of Colorado beers outside of Argonaut Liquors, including Avery White Rascal, Odell's Double Pilsner, and Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. 400 E. 20th Ave., 303-863-7473
Tavern Wash Park
For a city that has pretty darn good weather, we have a decided lack of outdoor patios. That is, unless you look toward the Tavern pubs, particularly the newest incarnation in Wash Park. The kid brother to the elder Uptown, Downtown, and Lowry locations, Tavern Wash Park has both a front patio—giving you a gander of Old South Gaylord Street—and a quieter back patio. Inside you'll find what you expect from the Tavern bars: loads of dark wood, big comfy booths, and a friendly mix of neighborhood inhabitants. 1066 S. Gaylord St., 303-733-0350
Vine Street Pub
We like everything about Vine Street Pub, the latest outpost from the Mountain Sun breweries collective up in Boulder. Intriguing house beers (the Java Porter in particular), great "guest" beers from across Colorado and the country (try anything from Oregon's Deschutes Brewery), and tasty pub grub (like the blackened chicken sandwich) combine to create an excellent neighborhood bar experience. 1700 Vine St., 303-388-2337
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Planted in Lower Downtown before the term "LoDo" was ever spoken, the 'Koop was the seed that helped our then-nascent bar scene grow. Today, this legendary brew bar—originally opened by Mayor John Hickenlooper—remains a touchstone for our much more mature (and oh-so-hip) nightlife landscape. Want to learn more about this LoDo legend? Read in "Classically Denver." 1634 18th St., 303-297-2700
Yeah, we know this English pub is not your typical American sports bar. But hear us out on this one: The British Bulldog is the place to go if you're a soccer fan in Denver. It also has some mighty fine imported beer and a riot-worthy sliced sirloin sandwich. The Bulldog leans toward dark and cramped, meaning it's the perfect place to get your drink on when the doors open at 7 a.m. for the weekend's first English Premier League game. Don't judge us, wanker, it's noon somewhere in the world. 2052 Stout St., 303-295-7974
Chopper's Sport's Grill
Dude, the place has televisions in the bathrooms. Televisions. In the bathrooms. That alone is worth a nod. But we're betting that you stay for the killer nachos and juicy hamburgers—or the 18 beers on tap. For more background on this Cherry Creek sports mecca, visit "Classically Denver." 80 S. Madison St., 303-399-4448
In February, Adam Lerner left the Lab at Belmar (the super-cool art museum and public-forum organization in Lakewood) to accept the directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver—a move that means good things for Denver's culturally savvy singles. Now, Lerner's innovative, interactive programming is in the heart of the city, and events like Mixed Taste (quirky lectures on random topics such as tamales and literary memoirs) make for easy after-work get-togethers. 1485 Delgany St., 303-298-7554
With 13 pours on tap, a menu of tasty bar food (Kobe beef sliders, chicken nachos), and TVs at every vantage point, the Tavern is an accessible spot to throw back. Which is why Uptown's young professionals pack the bar for Tuesday trivia, Friday happy hours, and Sunday game days. 538 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-9210
Each April, Aspen Film celebrates the genre of short filmmaking during its five-day Oscar-qualifying festival. These 40-minute (or less) flicks—like this year's She Who Measures and This Is Her—showcase quick and inspired themes. Pairing about 60 of the world's best short films (drama to documentary) with filmmaker and viewer discussions, the Shortsfest makes Friday nights with a blockbuster and popcorn seem so passé. Multiple locations, Aspen, 970-925-6882
Starz Denver Film Festival
Eleven days and 213 films. This was the tally of the 2008 Starz Denver Film Festival, and those numbers highlight what this regional festival is known for: more flicks than any other festival in the state. But the 31-year-old celebration of film feels approachable, offering evening and weekend screenings and a fair share of filmmaker Q&As, so you can drop by, catch a film, and then discuss it with the director. Multiple locations, 303-595-3456
Culinary Connectors Tour
Culinary Connectors takes reservations for its Denver-based restaurant and market tours up to an hour and a half before departure, so foodies can spend their drizzly afternoons learning to make ice cream at Red Trolley, sampling charcuterie with chef Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, Luca D'Italia, Osteria Marco, and Bones), or talking cinnamon at Savory Spice. 303-495-5487
Denver Art Museum
Step into the angular, vaulted entrance of the Denver Art Museum, and whatever the dismal weather outside, you're bound to forget about it. After all, in just the last year, fascinating exhibits on hand-crafted quilts, Western oil paintings, and rock posters have graced the walls and viewing spaces of this remarkable museum. 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, 720-865-5000
While you won't find fancy costumes or elaborate sets at this grassroots theater company, you can expect captivating shows. Paragon gets to the crux of good theater: thoughtful plays and evocative acting. Classics like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie ring with nostalgia, and comedies like the offbeat Love Song will have you laughing out loud. Even the Colorado Theatre Guild has taken note, awarding several Paragon actors its "Best Of" recognitions. Paragon performs at the Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St., 303-300-2210
Curious Theatre Company
Curious Theatre founder and producing artistic director Chip Walton travels regularly to New York City to scout new plays, and when he finds one he likes, he brings it to his well-oiled company. Thanks to Walton's travels, in the 2008-2009 season Denver saw Speech & Debate, a quirky off-Broadway hit, as well as Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class. For next year, Walton has already lined up several regional and world premieres. 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524
If dancing is your thing, there's really no better place than Tracks. Each of the club's two dance floors is packed nightly with young lovelies (both male and female) swaying to the latest house music. Grab a drink from one of the three bars and choose your groove. Be forewarned: The egalitarian bathroom system is...um...interesting, but people don't seem to mind the gender mixing once they've had a few cocktails. 3500 Walnut St., 303-863-7326
JR's Bar and Grill
With two floors (each with a bar), a huge balcony overlooking 17th Avenue, and a relentless supply of Britney Spears music videos, JR's has just about everything. Add great drink specials—Thursdays offer half-off wells, drafts, and bottled beer; Wednesdays boast $1 well vodka drinks and a shirtless staff—and there's little wonder why our readers dig the occasional crazy night at JR's. 777 E. 17th Ave., 303-831-0459
Suite Two Hundred
Yes, we know there's a line to get in. We're also aware that the drinks are a little pricey. But, honestly, if you're going out to a club, why not be where the action is? Suite Two Hundred opened last summer and has quickly become one of the hottest clubs in town. On a recent night, we partied with half of the Nuggets' bench as well as hockey god Peter Forsberg. Quick tip: Come early and dress to impress, or you might spend your night on the sidewalk. 1427 Larimer St., 720-560-4433
You could probably find a sound system comparable to Beta's, but you'd have to travel to Europe to do it. The club, which opened in March 2008, was the first in the United States to blast the world-renowned Funktion One Dance Array 4 Speaker Stack, a sound system most clubs would give one of their best beefy door guys for. And this downtown nightclub frequently hosts some of the country's sickest DJs, who take turns blasting the state-of-the-art system. 1909 Blake St., 303-437-3011
The Q Worldly Barbecue
Great barbecue—like the kind at the Q—can only get better with a side of down-home music. Every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, the corner stage at this garden-level meat purveyor explodes with the soulful sounds of blues, jazz, and bluegrass. On a warm summer evening, grab a seat on the terraced patio and soak up the tunes as they float through the open windows at the front of the eatery. Oh yeah, and don't forget to order the pulled pork sandwich doused with Memphis-style sauce. 2817 E. Third Ave., 303-399-7227
The Soiled Dove Underground
Swanky space. Groovy tunes. Cold beer. Bet the last place you'd think of finding all three of those things would be the Lowry neighborhood. But it's true. Tucked under the Tavern Lowry, the Soiled Dove Underground hosts eclectic shows (think Jackopierce, Leon Russell, the Paula Nelson Band) in a theater-style setting with plenty of space to get down and get funky if the mood strikes. 7401 E. First Ave., 303-366-0007
A Lower Highland Jaunt
The newer, trendier section of the Highland neighborhood—Lower Highland or LoHi—has a walkable grid and plenty of cozy spots to fill a date night. Start with glasses of wine on the rooftop terrace at Vita (1575 Boulder St., 303-477-4600), where you can soak in views of downtown. Then walk hand-in-hand a few blocks over to Root Down (1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200) for a dinner of shareable entrées (the veggie sliders are delectable) and creative drinks brewed up by the ace mixologists. Stroll back down the hill for a sugary nightcap of homemade ice cream or sorbet at Little Man Ice Cream (2620 16th St., 303-455-3811). Cruise halfway across the I-25 footbridge, take in the view, and consider your next move (wink, wink).
Vesta Dipping Grill
Locals love this sexy yet lively eatery for its sumptuous menu of snappy apps, entrées with mix-and-match dipping sauces, and decadent desserts. The atmosphere is just bustling enough that you can either enjoy the din or use the clamor as a reason to snuggle just a tad closer. 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970
If you're still stuck in the film era (you know who you are), it's high time you made your way into the age of digital photography. And, if you let the fine folks at the Denver Darkroom help you, your transition will be seamless. Sign up for the series of three digital classes (you'll need a digital SLR camera) to learn the basics of camera operation, picture composition, and Photoshop techniques. Work your way through the third class, and we promise you'll be pleasantly surprised at how professional your images look. 4037 Tejon St., 303-298-0164
Art Students League of Denver
Just walking through the doors of this Grant Street building makes you feel artsy, like you've somehow magically acquired the talent to create. Fortunately, even if you can't produce wall-worthy art now, after a few classes at the Art Students League you'll be turning out fine sculptures, gorgeous oils on canvas, and ethereal watercolors. Check out the roster of classes online and choose one that makes you want to break out the beret. 200 Grant St., 303-778-6990
Culinary School of the Rockies
You can't help but feel like you're in good hands with Culinary School of the Rockies' esteemed professional culinary program conducting classes in the next room. Playing around in the giant, stocked kitchen and seeking out ingredients, gadgets, and technique advice, home cooks collaborate to accomplish their cooking tasks in classes like Totally Tapas and Classic French Bistro. Multitasking is essential, mistakes are taken in stride, and the end result—a veritable feast around a long, family-style table—feels like a well-earned prize. 637 S. Broadway, Suite H, Boulder, 303-494-7988
The Seasoned Chef
For 16 years this cheerful and immaculate kitchen has offered hands-on classes like Take-Home Tamales, Rollin' Sushi, and Handmade Truffles. Students interested in more than a one-time specialty feast can try the Culinary Techniques Series to learn long-term skills such as knife handling, baking at altitude, and sautéing. With a roster of diverse and highly accredited instructors that hail from Denver's best restaurants, bakeries, and culinary institutions, lessons here are always top-notch. 999 Jasmine St., Suite 100, 303-377-3222
Aspen Summer Words and Jazz Aspen Snowmass—together
Need a culture fix? Head to Aspen. The annual weeklong Summer Words soiree celebrates all things literary with author readings, panel discussions, and writing retreats moderated by an army of literary notables. Add to the mix Jazz Aspen Snowmass' multiweekend showcase, which offers a diverse lineup of jazz musicians and ensembles, from Jamie Cullum to Smokey Robinson. Our suggestion, if the timing is right (2009's June dates overlapped): Do a little of both—creative inspiration by day, rhythm and blues by night, all enhanced by the timeless allure of Aspen. Multiple venues, Aspen. Aspen Summer Words, 970-925-3122; Jazz Aspen, 970-920-4996
Mile High Music Festival
Last summer's inaugural weekend music extravaganza at Dick's Sporting Goods Park bowled us over here in the Mile-High—not to mention the scores of fans who traveled hundreds of miles to see the likes of Tom Petty, Dave Matthews, and John Mayer. The sun was hot, the lines were long, the beers in demand...but, all said and done, nearly 100,000 folks left their cares behind to groove at Colorado's largest-ever national band explosion. Headlining in '09 are Tool, Widespread Panic, and the Fray. July 18 to 19, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, 303-727-3535
Junior College World Series
Grand Junction has hosted the Junior College World Series for the better part of five decades, and it might be the most exciting baseball in the state. (Sorry, Rockies.) If you get there on the tournament's opening day, you'll see more than 30 innings of top-notch baseball. A 19- game pass for a week's worth of games is $30 for adults and $25 for students and seniors. Games start in late May. 970-245-9166
Cheer up, Rox fans. There's an upside to having a professional baseball team that isn't so hot this year: You can always get a ticket. Show up early and get autographs, then stalk the left-field bleachers for batting-practice home runs. For anyone with kids in tow, keep in mind that the third-base side of Coors Field is the best if you're looking for a shady place to sit.
All Along the Light Rail
By Patrick Doyle
A night of bar-hopping after work is always fun—a drink here, a second down the street, and before you know it you've hit five bars and have a (beer) pitcher full of stories. But here's the rub: You can't drive home, and cabs tax the wallet. With that in mind, we suggest the Light Rail Pub Crawl: Grab an RTD day pass ($6-$12), follow our ingenious map of rail-adjacent watering holes, and quaff your way home—the safe way.
Pepsi Center Although the ski lodge--like Blue Sky Grill only serves drinks when the Pepsi Center is open, it's one of our favorite spots to imbibe. Hop off the train, grab a Molson draft, and rub elbows with game-goers. Stadium closed? Walk over to the always-open Brooklyn's in the Pepsi Center parking lot.
Union Station The classic (and stiff) cocktails at the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel have been keeping taxis in business since 1933. Order a dry martini or a Manhattan. If the Cruise Room is packed, head next door to McCormick's, where bartenders make the same drinks in a more casual environment. Hop on the light rail at Union Station.
16th Street Mall and California Most of the bars in the business district lack a genuineness we crave in our bars; thankfully, there's a bastion of cool at the laid-back Appaloosa Grill. Happy hour microbrew drafts like Blue Paddle and Denver Pale Ale ring in at $3.
10th and Osage Just south of downtown, the light rail pulls in across the street from the legendary Buckhorn Exchange, a steak house that's been in business since 1893. If you need to soak up some of the alcohol, grab the rattlesnake or fried alligator tail appetizer. Your drink of choice: whiskey.
Louisiana and Pearl Street Hop off the southeast line at Louisiana and Pearl, walk a block west, and pull up a bar stool at Hanson's Grill and Tavern. Grab a velvety Guinness or a pint from the rotating New Belgium tap.
Downtown Littleton At this point in your evening, your final destination should reflect your mood. Looking for a glass of wine to wind down? Kate's Wine Bar in Old Town Littleton offers more than two dozen wines by the glass. Want to keep pounding until the bars close? Grab some longnecks at Old Towne Tavern (across the street from Kate's) and watch a game. Just be sure to hop the last light rail home: 2:09 a.m. for a southbound train; 12:50 a.m. for a northbound one.
Orchard Way Down south, the new Village Shops at Landmark offer a bunch of restaurants and bars, but we recommend the latest outpost of Lime for a fine coin-style margarita. The last southbound train typically leaves the station at 2:16 a.m.; northbound at 1:03 a.m.