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Top of the Town

We scoured the city to come up with nearly 200 deserving winners that make Denver such a killer place to live.

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Additional reporting by: Georgia Benjou, Daniel Brogan, Elena Brown, Patrick Doyle, Julie Dugdale, Amanda M. Faison, Natasha Gardner, Luc Hatlestad, Kazia Jankowski, Lindsey B. Koehler, Carol W. Maybach, Cara McDonald, Brian Melton, Robert Sanchez, Geoff Van Dyke, and Anne Vickman
Photography by Bryce Boyer, Brendan Harrington, Claudia López, and Matthew Staver

Click here to read our Web-only compilation of Top of the Town All-Stars, the most frequent winners since 1997.

The tastiest taquerías, the sweetest shops, the sharpest stylists…
Every year we give you our list of the absolute best stuff in Denver. It’s a culmination of 12 months of research—sampling, taste-testing, shopping, and guinea-pigging our way across this entire city in search of the best. As always, we also get input from you; more than 63,044 individual votes were cast on our online ballot this year (nice work!). We do all of this for one reason, dear reader: to keep you in the know—to get you dialed in on Denver. So the next time you’re absolutely craving some chicken masala (page 109), or need the name of a good tailor (page 122), or are on the hunt for that perfect throw pillow (page 127), you’ll know exactly what to do. And with 200 winners, this just might be our best Top of the Town yet. So read on. Thank us later.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lots of people wonder how Top of the Town really works. Here, we answer some of your most common questions.

How does 5280 choose the Top of the Town winners?
Generally, each of the categories (spa, sushi, etc.) has two winners: the readers’ and editors’ choices. Readers’ choice winners are picked democratically—whichever takes the most votes from our online ballot wins. The editors pick winners based on 12 months of research. During this process we pay for all meals and services, and we do our research anonymously.

Don’t your advertisers automatically win?
Absolutely not. Top of the Town results are entirely based on your ballots and our research; there is no connection between advertisers and winners. Period. While some winners may later choose to advertise or happen to be advertisers, it is in no way a requirement. Sure, we could make a few folks happy by “selling” winners, but in the long run we’d lose a lot more than we’d gain—like our integrity and our credibility with you, the reader.

How can I vote?
Easy. Go to www.5280.com, create an account, and cast your ballot. We’ll have the ballot online in February and March, so stay tuned next year.

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For some of your categories, I’ve noticed there is only an editors’ choice—no readers’ choice. Why is that?
In some categories, the readers didn’t come to a consensus. In those instances, we publish only the editors’ choice.

I have a business that deserves an award. How can I win?
Tell your customers to get online and vote for you next year. (Remember: The ballot goes online in February.) And to help you spread the word to your customers, we’ll post a Top of the Town “tool kit” on our website during that time, with downloadable marketing material and links to our site and ballot.

DINING

Wine List

EDITORS Table 6

We appreciate that Aaron Forman, owner and sommelier of Table 6, supports small, family-oriented wineries. But we like his wine list philosophy—keep it fun and unpretentious—even better. To wit: Forman combats the usually snooty reserve list by taking pictures of wine labels and placing them in a photo album that’s brought to the table on request. “I think people are very visual and sometimes a little shy about pronouncing the names of wine,” he says. Kudos to that. 609 Corona St., 303-831-8800, www.table6denver.com

Ice Cream

EDITORS Gelazzi Gelato Italiano Café

We find it impossible to walk through Larimer Square without a visit to Gelazzi for a cup of pure heaven (cinnamon-sprinkled tiramisù and smooth hazelnut, anyone?). This Italian gelateria whips up a fresh array of tempting flavors every morning with milk instead of cream—meaning far less fat and fewer calories than regular ice cream…sweet! The owners visit Italy several times a year to bring back authentic ingredients, and they’ve created a decadent “gelatini” menu (gelato and liqueur) worth indulging in, too—happy hour is 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. 1411 Larimer St., 303-534-5056, www.gelazzi.com

READERS Bonnie Brae Ice Cream
If the shop is open there’s a line, and it usually stretches down the sidewalk. This neighborhood haunt is everything an ice cream spot should be—genuine, cheery, and full of homemade deliciousness in flavors like malted milk ball and deep-dish apple pie. We even heard that they once hosted a free-for-all ice cream giveaway during a power outage, so keep your fingers crossed. 799 S. University Blvd., 303-777-0808, www.bonniebraeicecream.com

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Steak

EDITORS Elway’s
Over the past three years, Elway’s has emerged as the best steak house in Denver. The service is excellent, the side dishes and desserts are heavenly (particularly the tuna tartare with guacamole, and the warm chocolate soufflé), but it’s the steak that stands out. Elway’s porterhouse, lightly dashed with the restaurant’s homemade seasonings, is the best steak we’ve eaten—ever. Juicy, flavorful, delicious. And now, with a second location (in the Ritz downtown, no less), there’s double the goodness. Note: The menus at each location vary. 2500 E. First Ave., 303-399-5353; 1881 Curtis St., 303-321-3107, www.elways.com

READERS Tie: the Capital Grille and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
Both the Cap Grille and Del Frisco’s know the key to winning the hearts (and stomachs) of red-meat-loving Coloradans: impeccable service and excellent, savory cuts of steak. The Capital Grille: 1450 Larimer St., 303-539-2500, www.thecapitalgrille.com; Del Frisco’s: 8100 E. Orchard Road, Greenwood Village, 303-796-0100, www.delfriscos.com

Pizza

EDITORS Parisi
Parisi has pulled off a neat trick: serving high-end, delicious pizza in a casual atmosphere without seeming coy or contrived. The wood oven-baked pies are uniformly excellent—even when you take them home—with crispy, thin crusts and fresh ingredients that will whisk you off to Tuscany during even the snowiest of winter nights. We love the simplicity of the margherita, with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil; for heartier fare, you can’t go wrong with the “salsiccia & funghi,” better known in these parts as Italian sausage and mushroom. 4401 Tennyson St., 303-561-0234, www.parisidenver.com

READERS Proto’s Pizzeria Napoletana
Since Pam Proto and her business partner Rayme Rossello first opened shop nine years ago in Longmont, they have been serving up some of the best, most authentic Neapolitan pizzas along the Front Range. At our favorite Proto’s in the Confluence Park area, while away a warm summer evening at one of the sidewalk tables with a bottle of wine and the fantastic Pontiff Pie, topped with olive oil, garlic, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and feta cheese. Multiple locations, www.protospizza.com

Diner

EDITORS Rocky Mountain Diner
What other true diner—in that neon-signage, pleather barstool kinda way—serves up a roast duck enchilada plate and a sheepherder salad with goat cheese crostini? (Both delicious, by the way.) Of course, we also love RMD’s traditional staples, like homemade biscuits and chicken-fried steak, which are prepared on the mark. It’s pretty much a madhouse during lunch, so prepare to wait your turn. In the meantime, check out the giant retro jukebox as you ponder the daily blue-plate special on the chalkboard. 800 18th St., 303-293-8383, www.rockymountaindiner.com

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READERS Steuben’s
With good ol’ mac ‘n’ cheese and sides like hushpuppies, plus the Tuesday-night meatloaf special, Steuben’s certainly cleans up in the comfort-food category. But even better are the retro-fab 1950s decor, the knowledgeable and honest servers, and the pleasantly eclectic menu surprises. (Think habanero honey-fried corn on the cob.) It’s a gastronome’s version of the greasy spoon. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001, www.steubens.com

READERS Tie: Barolo Grill and Crú: A Wine Bar
While readers covet Barolo Grill’s venerable wine list for its depth and precision, they also enjoy sipping on Crú’s flights and wines by the glass. Either way, we say bottoms up. Barolo Grill: 3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040, www.barologrilldenver.com; Crú: 1442 Larimer St., 303-893-9463, www.cruawinebar.com

Italian

EDITORS Osteria Marco
With Osteria Marco, a polished Italian tavern on Larimer Square, chef Frank Bonanno has shown us that he can pull off low-key eats as well as he does fine dining. His restaurant hits all the notes with a simple menu of artisanal cheeses and meats, fresh salads, traditional pizzas, and stacked panini, plus an affordable, all-Italian wine list. Our perfect meal: the chefs’ assortments of meats and cheeses, a lemony arugula salad, and the show-stopping carbonara pizza. 1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855, www.osteriamarco.com

READERS Pasta’s Italian Restaurant
Our readers adore this family-friendly Littleton spot owned by Chris and Holly Stoleson. Stop in for the baked cavatappi, a jam-packed meatball sammy, bubbling pizza, or the spicy mussels alla diavola, and you won’t go home hungry. Nor will you break the bank. 9126 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, 303-933-2829, www.pastasitalian.com

Mexican

EDITORS Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant
With green chile so spicy it sets your mouth on fire, Santiago’s is for diners with a serious—and seriously robust—palate. If you’re daring, try the chicken and carnitas (marinated pork) burrito, smothered in the hot stuff. The tacos, which are equally delicious, are a notch down on the spiciness scale. Bonus: The locally owned, fast-casual chain boasts 20 locations, so you’re never too far away from the next delicious dinner. Multiple locations, www.eatatsantiagos.com

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READERS Benny’s Restaurante y Tequila Bar
Year after year, this Denver staple receives accolades for its sweet-tart margaritas, salty chips, and sour cream-laden burritos. Don’t miss dining on the year-round, indoor patio. With a margarita in hand, it’s an easy place to while away several hours. 301 E. Seventh Ave., 303-894-0788, www.bennysrestaurant.com

Barbecue

EDITORS Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q
Seems like every time you turn around there’s a new ‘cue joint—and a few of them are even pretty good. But none of them combines tender, succulent meat with spot-on sides like Jim ‘n Nick’s. OK, yes, it’s a chain. But who cares when the pork tastes this good? We recommend ordering either a pulled pork plate with collard greens and baked beans or the beef brisket with mac ‘n’ cheese and mashed potatoes. Oh, and don’t forget some of that perfectly blended sweet tea to wash it all down. 8264 E. 49th Ave., 303-371-1566; 24153 E. Prospect Ave., Aurora, 720-274-5300, www.jimnnicks.com

READERS Brothers BBQ
With its eighth location opening in March, this perennial Top of the Town winner has the barbecue market cornered here in the Mile-High City. And it’s little wonder folks love this little-restaurant-that-could. Started in a refurbished garage at the intersection of Leetsdale and Monaco in 1998, Brothers has always offered top-shelf comfort food like seasoned ribs, smoked pork, and hearty beef brisket. Multiple locations; www.brothers-bbq.com

Chinese

EDITORS Chopsticks China Bistro
For three years, we’ve driven right past this nondescript Chinese restaurant on the corner of Federal and Mississippi. Never again. Not after we’ve tried the juicy pork steamed dumplings, tender eggplant with basil, and fluffy white rice. Now we’ll be dropping by every time we want an adventurous Chinese dinner, with a hint of American familiarity. 2990 W. Mississippi Ave., 303-936-1506

READERS Little Ollie’s
Sesame chicken is to Chinese restaurants what burgers are to diners—the telltale choice. Little Ollie’s crispy, sweet sesame chicken outshines the soggy dishes at other restaurants. 2364 E. Third Ave., 303-316-8888, www.ufeedme.com/littleollies

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Thai

EDITORS Chada Thai
Step off 17th Avenue into this quiet Thai cafe and time slows down. Here, diners linger over fresh and unpretentious meals, remembering that the best way to try foreign food is when it’s home-cooked. Chada’s authentic spicy zucchini, eggplant, and chicken Thai curry combines fresh vegetables and creamy coconut milk in a tasty but humble way. 2005 E. 17th Ave., 303-320-8582

READERS Thai Basil
As this ever-growing local chain spreads throughout the state (the newest location is in Colorado Springs), more and more Front Range diners couldn’t imagine going anywhere else for fresh mint and cucumber spring rolls, Thai iced tea, or savory curried chicken in peanut sauce. Multiple locations, www.thaibasil.us

Indian

EDITORS Masalaa
The moment you cross the threshold of this southern Indian restaurant, you’ll forever kiss those tepid, mealy buffets good-bye. Masalaa’s all-vegetarian spread is warm, authentic, and full of dynamic flavors. Mashed potatoes fill buttery crêpelike dosas, and carrots harmoniously combine with cauliflower and lentils in the mixed vegetable korma. 3140 S. Parker Road., 303-755-6272, www.masalaausa.com

READERS Little India
There’s nothing quite like scooping up tender bites of chicken tikka masala with warm naan flatbread. These staples—made in a clay tandoor oven—have come to represent the classics of India, and Little India has them down to a science. Multiple locations, www.littleindiadenver.com

Sushi

EDITORS Sushi Tora
Boulder’s Sushi Tora may not have the high gloss of Sushi Den—but that’s no matter when you’re focusing on a silky cut of toro and the gorgeous No. 9 roll, with delicate shrimp tempura, salmon, and avocado. Hint: If you’re dining on the weekend, make sure you have a rezzie—Boulderites love their sushi, and Tora is their crown jewel. 2014 10th St., Boulder, 303-444-2280, www.sushitora.net

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READERS Sushi Den
Who can argue with Sushi Den’s unbelievably fresh fish offerings? For that, we give thanks to the owners’ youngest brother, who makes weekly trips to the fish market back in Japan. The quality makes it worth holding out for a seat at the sushi bar, so as not to miss the chefs preparing the ever-fresh nigiri or the fiery New Style sashimi appetizer. 1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826, www.sushiden.net

Deli

EDITORS Salvaggio’s Italian Deli
If you don’t mind driving a few miles and standing in line with trustafarians, Boulder’s Salvaggio’s is the only place we’ve found that serves a deli sandwich that’s both authentic and tasty. Sure, the ‘wiches can be a little pricey (a foot-long pastrami with homemade, hand-sliced mozzarella will run you $11), but the food is worth it. No, really. The fresh Boar’s Head meats and cheeses are sliced on the spot, and the pillow-soft rolls are baked fresh daily. Multiple locations

READERS Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli
So many sites, so much selection. No wonder Heidi’s is consistently your top choice. Come for the Cajun turkey and avocado on wheat; stay for the delish smoothies. Multiple locations, www.heidisbrooklyndeli.com

Burger

EDITORS Tie: Elway’s, Ted’s Montana Grill, and SmashBurger
There are just too many darn good burgers out there; we couldn’t settle on one winner this year. Here, our three favorites. If you’re willing to pony up $12.50, you can’t beat Elway’s flavorful Smash Burger. (Little tip: The Cherry Creek version is more consistent.) For those on a midrange budget, Ted’s Montana Grill serves a variety of tasty beef or (for a few dollars more) bison burgers with a wide range of toppings. And if fast food will do the trick, try the other SmashBurger, a local mini-chain whose Angus beef burgers far surpass any of the better-known national franchises. Elway’s: 2500 E. First Ave., 303-399-5353, 1881 Curtis St., 303-312-3107, www.elways.com; Ted’s: Multiple locations, www.tedsmontanagrill.com; SmashBurger: Multiple locations, www.mysmashburger.com

READERS Cherry Cricket
This Cherry Creek North institution has long been a favorite for its no-frills, juicy burgers and its simple, friendly neighborhood atmosphere. Grab a patty and a beer, and watch the game. 2641 E. Second Ave., 303-322-7666, www.cherrycricket.com

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Brunch

EDITORS The Kitchen
Our favorite time to pull up a seat at this bustling Boulder bistro, known nationally for its sustainable kitchen and use of local ingredients, is not at dinner hour, or even for lunch. Instead, we like to drop in on a weekend morning, after a hike up nearby Mt. Sanitas, for a golden brioche toast laden with Long Family Farm ham, absolutely buttery hollandaise sauce, and two poached eggs. Only then can we rightfully linger over each savory bite. 1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973, www.thekitchencafe.com

READERS Snooze
On Saturday and Sunday mornings long lines wind out Snooze’s door, cluing in passersby that they’d better get in line quick. If you successfully snag a seat in the hip, brightly lit dining room, put in an order for the pineapple upside-down pancakes or the smothered breakfast burrito. You’ll know why every weekend loyal diners weather the wait—this is yuppie brunch at its best. 2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700, www.snoozedenver.com

Breakfast Sandwich

EDITORS (None)
After sampling more than a dozen egg sandwiches, we’re sad to report that we couldn’t find a decent one in the city. Seriously—not a single one. Our readers couldn’t come to a consensus either. Listen up! Breakfast sandwiches should be easy: a scrambled or fried egg, a slice of cheese, crispy bacon or a sausage patty, all stacked on a roll or toast. Microwaved eggs need not apply—use a griddle, people. If you know a great egg sandwich, e-mail us at tot@5280.com. We’ll do an update if we find a worthy one.

Fried Chicken

EDITORS Tom’s Home Cookin’
We’ve come to realize that fried chicken is as much about presentation as it is about crispiness. And for us, the simpler the presentation the better. This soul-food standby gives you a perfectly Southern-fried chicken breast, a couple of sides, and bread, all packed into a Styrofoam container by a perpetually cheery staff and sold to you for less than 10 bucks (cash only). Done. 800 E. 26th Ave., 303-388-8035

READERS Steuben’s
This upscale Uptown diner has hung much of its reputation on its classic Southern-fried recipe. This version comes with mashed potatoes and gravy and a biscuit—just like mom (or at least someone’s mom) used to make it. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001, www.steubens.com

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Soup

EDITORS Fuel Cafe
Have you ever considered licking the bottom of a soup bowl? We did after trying the soup made by chef Bob Blair (formerly of Parisi) at this new breakfast and lunch cafe in River North’s TAXI development. The soup changes daily, meaning that one day you could slurp down the fennel potato with orange crème fraîche, and the next day you’ll enjoy a Tuscan bean soup with sausage. This ultra-hip enclave is just minutes from downtown, making it a perfect spot for quick business lunches. 3455 Ringsby Court, 303-296-4642, www.fuelcafedenver.com

READERS Three Sisters Cafe & Catering
Even before you open the door of this downtown cafe, you can smell soup. Not the heat-up-in-the-microwave variety, but the kind that has been simmering and bubbling for what must be hours on a stove. Inside, the constantly changing lineup of eight varieties does not disappoint. From spoon-bending chowders to light, veggie-based broths, you’ll find something to warm you up during the winter months and something to fill you up in the summer. Call ahead to listen to the specials on the soup line (303-313-2171), updated daily, so the other hungry souls behind don’t have to wait while you deliberate. 1717 Stout St., 303-991-8772, www.threesisterscafeandcatering.com

Cheese Steak

EDITORS and READERS Pat’s Philly Steaks and Subs
In a town with no shortage of cheese steak options—we must have a lot of Philly transplants or something—5280 readers and editors agree that Pat’s is the best. With one caveat: While Pat’s minced beef is perfectly blended with subtle spices and just the right amount of cheese, and never overwhelmed by those infernal vegetables (peppers and onions), a cheese steak that combined Pat’s filling with the Wazee Supper Club’s just-right hoagie rolls would be truly sublime. Multiple locations, www.patscheesesteaks.com

Small Plates

EDITORS Z Cuisine À Côté
French chef Patrick DuPays created this restaurant—with a rotating menu and an affordable list of wines by the glass—in honor of the Parisian wine bar. In the evenings the tightly packed tables hum with chatter, clicking glasses, and praises for the sweet caramelized French onion soup and the tartine À la Parisienne—an open-faced ham, béchamel, cheese, and fried egg sandwich. 2245 W. 30th Ave., 303-477-1111, www.zcuisineonline.com

READERS The 9th Door
Spain invented tapas, so it’s little wonder that the downtown hotspot serving up that country’s cuisine should dish out some of the city’s best small plates. For traditional Spanish tapas, try the patatas bravas (golden fried potatoes with three sauces). For a more modern twist, order the aguacate (flash-fried avocado). 1818 Blake St., 303-292-2229, www.the9thdoor.com

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French Fries

EDITORS Neighborhood Flix Cinema & Café
The sesame-ginger sweet potato fries at Colfax’s trendy new dinner-and-a-movie film house are so scrumptious that we’ve been told they outsell the popcorn. The sweet-and-salty flavor combo in each mouthful leaves you wanting more the minute you’re done, and the gingery tang punches up the subtle earthiness. Order them alone and munch your way through that new indie flick, or share a basket with your date before dinner. But be forewarned: These fries are dangerously addictive—as in, entrée…? What entrée? If you do make it to the entrée, the gumbo is great. 2510 E. Colfax Ave., 303-777-3549, www.neighborhoodflix.com

READERS Steuben’s
Salty, but not overseasoned. Crispy, but not overcooked. Greasy, but not dripping. An added touch: The fries arrive at your table piping hot in a quaint little tin pail lined with wax paper. Plus, they don’t skimp on the serving—the pail is full of fries down to the bottom, not stuffed with crumpled paper at the halfway point (a technique we’ve noticed elsewhere). 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001, www.steubens.com

Patio Dining

EDITORS Bistro Vendôme
Sure, almost all the outdoor dining options on Larimer Square are superb. But this Jennifer Jasinski French bistro is top-notch in terms of sheer experience. Steak frites, white twinkly lights, couples whispering to each other over a full-bodied bottle of Chateaux Something. Tucked back there in the courtyard, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Paris. Well, almost. So, bon appétit! 1420 Larimer Square, 303-825-3232, www.bistrovendome.com

READERS Lola
Patios and people-watching go together like guacamole and chips (all of which, of course, can be found at Lola). With more than 150 tequilas on hand, sit back and enjoy the city sounds as well as the coastal Mexican cuisine from famed chef Jamey Fader. 1575 Boulder St., 720-570-8686, www.loladenver.com

Bakery for Sweets

EDITORS The Shoppe
Seems like cupcakes are still the big thing for desserts. So what’s new and fun in that category? The Shoppe on East Colfax. It’s a “cereal and cupcake” joint (how’s that for the ultimate in comfort food?) that stays open till 2 a.m. on the weekends, just in case you’re having a major craving late at night. Emma Skala, the on-site pastry chef and co-owner, creates more than 15 fabulous flaves (including vegan and gluten-free versions), all made from scratch. Grab a red velvet with cream cheese frosting and eat it on the in-store couch. There will likely be some old-school cartoons for you to watch while you’re munching. 3103 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-3969, www.theshoppedenver.com

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READERS Happy Cakes
This beloved bakery, a favorite among Highland residents and Martha Stewart (it made a best-of list on the Martha website), makes wonderful cupcakes. We like the libation-inspired flavors like the Margarita and Jack and Coke. Brides looking to tap the bakery for wedding-tier cupcakes should hurry—Happy Cakes often books up far in advance. 3815 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-3556, www.happycakesdenver.com

Cookie

EDITORS Wen Chocolates’ Gingersnaps
We make regular pilgrimages to this Platte Street shop for chef William Poole’s gingersnaps. Made from a secret family recipe, these gourmet treats are at once spicy, molasses-y, and creamy (thanks to the dip of white chocolate). 1541 Platte St., 720-891-4622, www.wenchocolates.com

READERS Paradise Bakery & Café
Paradise can satisfy just about any cookie craving. Take your pick of chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, ginger molasses, sugar, oatmeal raisin, or chocolate with white chocolate chips. Hint: We’ve found that if you promise to bring Paradise cookies to a company meeting people show up on time. Multiple locations, www.paradisebakery.com

Cup of Coffee

EDITORS The Unseen Bean
Armed with a talking roasting meter and what he calls “blind-roasted passion,” Unseen Bean owner Gerry Leary—blind since birth—brews some of the most deliciously complex roasts we’ve tried…maybe ever. Check out his newish coffee shop off Pearl Street next time you’re up north doing some shopping. We suggest getting a bag of Malawi beans to go—smooth with a dark chocolate aftertaste. 2052 Broadway, Boulder, 303-447-2326, www.theunseenbean.com

Restaurant Ambience

EDITORS Second Home
Though the fine-tuned American cuisine is one reason to go to Second Home, ogling the décor is another. Fashioned after a mountain lodge (but not in a wagon wheels and antlers kind of way), this Cherry Creek restaurant wraps diners into its glamorous wooden space. Planks on the floor, ceiling, and walls gleam with sophisticated warmth, while metallic details recall firelight. The effect: cozy yet sleek, modern yet inviting. Plus, huge south-facing windows not only spill natural light, they also offer a view of the pretty people lounging on the plush patio. 150 Clayton Lane, 303-253-3000, www.secondhomedenver.com

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Waitstaff

EDITORS Opus Restaurant
Each time we dine at Opus in Old Town Littleton we leave feeling cared for, coddled, and revived. During the car ride home we recount the meal—the flawless dishes prepared by chef Michael Long, the beautiful wines poured in exquisite glassware, and the noteworthy service. Dishes arrive with aplomb but are whisked away unnoticed, water glasses are quietly kept full, and flatware magically appears. The waitstaff, obviously proud of the Opus experience, provides a level of service that is second to none. Plus, a little stroll around Old Town makes the evening just that much more pleasant. 2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787, www.opusdine.com

The Perfect Meal

If we could hop restaurants between courses, this would be our ultimate fantasy dinner.

Amuse Bouche: Opus
Whether it’s a taste of roasted bison with smoky cheddar popcorn crisps or a nibble of pistachio-encrusted Gorgonzola cheesecake, chef Michael Long’s amuses are artistic and bursting with flavor—all in one tiny bite. 2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787

Appetizer: Restaurant Kevin Taylor
Restaurant Kevin Taylor’s foie gras appetizer tastes of perfection: Seared foie gras takes the starring role, while caramelized cashews and a butterscotch gastrique harmonize on the sidelines. 1106 14th St., 303-820-2600

Soup: The Kitchen
The Kitchen’s simple tomato soup combines San Marzano tomatoes with onion, sea salt, artisan butter, and cream. Add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over the top and this is a dish you’ll order every time. 1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973

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Salad: Fruition
It’s rare we find a salad that needs neither salt nor pepper, but the Fruition salad—watercress, grilled asparagus, avocado, red onion, and crispy fried shallots—offers spot-on tang, freshness, and richness in each forkful. 1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962

Entrée: Frasca Food and Wine
Frasca elevates simple ravioli by stuffing it with house-made ricotta, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers and pairing it with Cure Farms spinach. It only gets better when chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson adds fresh lobster meat. 1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966, www.frascafoodandwine.com

Dessert: Duo
Pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom’s chocolate torte arrives crowned with a balancing fleur de sel caramel ice cream. 2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141

The Taco Strategist

Here, we honor the city’s best and most authentic taquerías.

El Trompito Taquería
The Draw Tacos are served up simply at this strip-mall joint—warm corn tortillas wrapped around tender cubes of grilled chicken, marinated pork, or juicy beef. Our favorite is the shredded chicken taco ($1.75 each).
Tip Stop by the toppings bar and load up your tacos with crispy cabbage, lime wedges, spicy onions, and more. 1540 W. 70th Ave., 720-540-3483

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Tacos Jalisco
The Draw Tender bits of steak, crisp pieces of bacon, and soft sautéed onions and peppers practically spill out of this restaurant’s popular tacos de alambre ($8.75). Melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream add the final touches.
Tip The tacos are super-filling, so skip lunch on the day you plan to go. 4309 W. 38th Ave., 303-458-1437

Taquería Patzcuaro
The Draw When we want spicy, we head to this Highland staple and order the tacos albanil ($7.50), with slices of golden potatoes, sautéed onions, and juicy steak. Tip When you get a bite with jalapeño, don’t panic. Sit tight until the potatoes and steak provide balance. 2616 W. 32nd Ave., 303-455-4389, www.taqpatz.com

Los Carboncitos
The Draw A midday meal at this locale is straight out of Mexico. The house favorite is the taco al pastor ($1.50), whose slow-cooked pork filling comes topped with finely diced pineapple. Tip Order an icy rice and cinnamon horchata drink to sweeten the deal. 3757 Pecos St., 303-458-0880, www.loscarboncitos.com

Bargain Bites

Our go-to spots (by neighborhood) for dining well on a shoestring budget.

Congress Park/City Park:

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Encore Restaurant
Sure, Encore’s filet mignon tops out at $29, but most of the menu (which boasts high-end, beautifully crafted eats) comes in under $15. What to order: The burger ($9) is topped with Gruyère, bacon, blue cheese compote, and arugula, and served with fries and a mustard drizzling sauce. 2550 E. Colfax Ave., 303-355-1112, www.encoreoncolfax.com

Park Hill:
Satchel’s Market
Located on the north edge of Park Hill, the well-worn Satchel’s Market serves up breakfast and lunch offerings for $10 or less. What to order: The voluptuous sammy ($8.50) with triple-cream cheese, prosciutto, and sautéed pears. Comes with a small, organic salad. 5021 E. 28th Ave., 303-355-2137, www.satchelsmarket.com

Downtown:
Biker Jim’s Sausage Cart
At this downtown street-food hotspot, a five-spot buys you chips, a drink, and one of Biker Jim’s piping-hot gourmet sausages. What to order: Peppery reindeer or Southwestern bison. Or stop by on Wednesdays and nab yourself a pheasant sausage. Be sure to try them topped with cream cheese and grilled onions. Corner of 16th and Arapahoe streets.

Cherry Creek:
Tambien
Tambien joins the ranks of the Cricket by bringing affordable and tasty eats to ever-expensive Cherry Creek. What to order: The mole rojo ($13) or the fajitas ($16). Portions are generous and can often feed two. 250 Steele St., 303-333-1763, www.tambien-restaurant.com

Belmar:
The Oven
We love the Oven’s wood-fired pizzas made with fresh, natural ingredients like house-made mozz and sausage from Marczyk Fine Foods. What to order: Pop in for the lunch special ($10.95) and snag a nine-inch signature pizza, field green salad, and drink. 7167 W. Alaska Drive, Lakewood, 303-934-7600, www.theovenpizzaevino.com

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DIVERSIONS

BrewPub

EDITORS Bull & Bush Brewery
Glendale’s Bull & Bush Brewery doesn’t make the classic brewpub mistake: a myopic focus on the beer. Trust us, the beer is excellent—we’re huge fans of the Man Beer, a balanced American IPA, and the Tower ESB, a strong extra special bitter—but the Bull & Bush is actually an enjoyable place to hang out—even if you’re not drinking. It has the crowded, cozy fellowship of an English pub, blended with American elements—namely, flat-screen TVs and good food—that make time disappear. Our only complaint? You can’t get a six-pack of Man Beer at the liquor store. 4700 Cherry Creek South Drive, 303-759-0333

READERS Wynkoop Brewing Company
Despite opening 20 years ago, the Wynkoop Brewing Company hasn’t lost it. Tasty suds like the Railyard Ale and the spicy Patty’s Chile Beer—not to mention the savory grub, pool tables, and great events like “Beer Drinker of the Year” and the Impulse Comedy shows on the weekends—keep loyal customers returning time and again. 1634 18th St., 303-297-2700

Cocktails

EDITORS City, O’ City
When the vegetarian-food mecca WaterCourse Foods moved out of its old digs on 13th Avenue and over to 17th, we anxiously waited to see what new venture would appear. We never expected it would become one of our favorite spots for imbibing cocktails, but it has. In this hipster bar classic cocktails are making a comeback, so order an old standard or sample the daily special—a cocktail riff created nightly by the bar staff. The place is often overcrowded, but if you can manage to nab a seat at the bar they will let you stay for as long as you like. 206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443, www.watercoursefoods.com

READERS The Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel
For more than 70 years, the Cruise Room has been synonymous with cocktails. Shaken, stirred—it doesn’t matter. We just love what they serve in their Z-stem martini glasses. From the Vanilla Bean, which smells like a cookie, to the Classic, which can be finished with a twist or olive, you can’t go wrong. 1600 17th St., 303-825-1107, www.theoxfordhotel.com

Art Installation

EDITORS “Toxic Schizophrenia,” Museum of Contemporary Art
This sculpture of a biker-style heart tattoo—complete with a dagger dripping droplets of blood—contrasts with the Museum of Contemporary Art’s polished and reflective building on Delgany Street. And maybe that’s just the point British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster wanted to make with the piece—to showcase street culture and capture their own rebellion. Located at the museum’s entrance, the electrical sculpture (titled: “Toxic Schizophrenia”) is best seen at night. 1485 Delgany St., 303-298-7554, www.mcartdenver.org

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READERS “I See What You Mean” (aka: Big Blue Bear), Denver Convention Center
What’s big, and blue, and quite the Peeping Tom? The Big Blue Bear. 700 14th St., 303-228-8000, www.denverconvention.com

Neighborhood

EDITORS Berkeley
OK, the architecture is more hit-or-miss than favorites like Wash Park or Park Hill, but Berkeley is a neighborhood that still feels real—a genuine mix of old-timers, hipsters, artsy types, young couples, ethnic enclaves—flanked by two city parks and tied together by a growing dining and retail scene. The eight-block span of Tennyson Street that runs through the area plays host to one of Denver’s cooler First Friday scenes and serves as home to a growing number of galleries, indie businesses, boutiques, and restaurants (local faves Parisi, BigHoss Bar-B-Q, and DJ’s Berkeley Café, for starters). Bonus: For northwest Denver, affordable-ish single-family home options abound, as do new row homes and scrapes.

READERS Highlands (West Highland and Highland area)
It’s official: After years of crying “Wash Park!” our readers have shifted their love to this huge ‘hood anchored by the up-and-coming 32nd and Zuni district, along with the established and hopping Highlands Square. The Highland area lays claim to some of the hottest new restaurants and boutiques in the city, and boasts great front-stoop culture, an engaged community, plenty of parks, and easy access to downtown and the foothills—not to mention a decent real estate scene in an otherwise shaky market.

Hotel Bar

EDITORS Second Home
This new upscale watering hole at the back of the JW Marriott lobby in Cherry Creek (former home of Mirepoix) is just the spot for a cozy fireside chat with a glass of Napa Cellars Merlot or a breezy raspberry gimlet on the patio. The microbrew selection and reasonably priced wine list complement the tempting bar menu—comfort food with a delicate twist, like beer-battered baby artichokes and BBQ lamb riblets with green apple slaw. While the unpretentious service, warm decor, and comfy seating make for a relaxing experience, the space is elegant enough for a more formal soiree as well. 150 Clayton Lane, 303-253-3000, www.secondhomedenver.com

READERS The Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel
Sipping a cocktail in the Oxford Hotel’s 1930s art deco lounge is like stepping back in time—to the day after Prohibition was repealed, to be precise. You can almost feel the history when you order one of the infamous martinis—a surreal reddish glow illuminates the historic panels lining the narrow room, which is modeled after a lounge on the plush Queen Mary ocean liner, circa 1936. Pssst: We swear those ghost stories are true. 1600 17th St., 303-825-1107, www.theoxfordhotel.com/cruise-room.htm

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Sports Bar

EDITORS Blake Street Tavern
It’s fairly easy to park (except sometimes during Rockies’ games), the TVs are everywhere and intelligently organized into nooks of varying sizes (particularly useful during football season if you are a transplant and want to watch something other than CU or the Broncos), the menu is fresh and tasty, and the waitresses are, well, cute. Need we say more? 2401 Blake St., 303-675-0505, www.blakestreettavern.com

READERS Chopper’s Sports Grill
This wide-open pub features ample TVs (though not always ample seating and parking, depending on the event), a broad menu, and a Cherry Creek location that’s a welcome distance from the LoDo crush. Tip: If it’s too full and you still want to watch the game, the nearby Bull & Bush (our choice for Top Brewpub) is a great alternative with a good TV setup and a great pub-style menu. 80 S. Madison St., 303-399-4448

Dive Bar

EDITORS and READERS Don’s Mixed Drinks
If you’ve been to Denver’s best dive bar, count yourself as worldly. If you know that the bar’s real name is Don’s Club Tavern, count yourself as in-the-know. If you’ve lived here for more than a year and have never been, count yourself as a bad person. 723 E. Sixth Ave., no phone number

Bar for Live Music

EDITORS El Chapultepec
Before there was LoDo, there was El Chapultepec, a dive-y bar dishing up bad Mexican food and good jazz for the beatniks and down-and-out customers. Today, the clientele has changed—you’ll find a mix of postgame Rockies fans, middle-aged couples after dinner, and hipsters avoiding the LoDo party scene—but the bar and the jazz are still thankfully the same. 1962 Market St., 303-295-9126

READERS Herman’s Hideaway
The folks at Herman’s Hideaway have been introducing customers to bands ranging from reggae to hardcore since the early ’80s. They’ve also done it on the cheap—covers rarely cost more than $10—so you’ll still have some cash to buy a few beers and enjoy the show. 1578 S. Broadway, 303-777-5840, www.hermanshideaway.com

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Gay Bar

EDITORS Charlie’s
There’s a country-western dance floor on one side, and a black-light, techno-pop dance room on the other. It’s home to the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, and also home to the Monday-night underwear special (show up in your skivvies and get half-off drinks, boys only). No where else in Denver can you find a place more little-bit-country, little-bit-rock-‘n’-roll—and everyone gets along just dandy. But be forewarned: Restrooms are not necessarily gender-specific. 900 E. Colfax Ave., 303-839-8890, www.charliesdenver.com

READERS JR’s
With incredible weekly specials (Thursday nights it’s 50-cent drafts and half-off wells), one can get into all kinds of trouble, especially considering there are two bars, pool tables, and Rihanna videos blasting everywhere. Bonus: You just might get in a conversation (we did) with gay men about which celebrity women they would sleep with, if they had to. 777 E. 17th Ave., 303-831-0459, www.myjrs.com

Happy Hour Menu

EDITORS and READERS McCormick’s Fish House & Bar
Combing the city for the utmost happy hour menu, we found some incredible treasures: wings for a quarter, 2-for-1 sushi, and a 14-inch gourmet pizza for just $5. But nothing compared to the deals we found at McCormick’s. Its famed $1.95 menu has delicious steamed mussels and fish tacos. High rollers can get an ahi tuna burger and fries for around $3. That’s less than what it will cost you to park downtown. 1659 Wazee St., 303-825-1107, www.mccormickandschmicks.com

First Date

EDITORS Neighborhood Flix Cinema & Cafe
Dinner and a movie is the classic first-date scenario, right? The problem is that this classic date lacks innovation. That was, until Neighborhood Flix—Colfax’s neighborhood bistro meets art film house—opened its doors in the Lowenstein Center. Now you can sip on a cocktail, chat over a dinner, and watch a cool indie film, all in one place. And, if things go well, flip up the armrest and cuddle during the movie. Now that’s a lot more romantic than the local cineplex. 2510 E. Colfax Ave., 303-777-3549, www.neighborhoodflix.com

READERS Vesta Dipping Grill
While the décor sets the mood, the menu, which pairs a trio of dipping sauces with entrées, is the reason this spot is so darn date-friendly (interactive food—gives you something to play with). 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970, www.vestagrill.com

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Summer Festival

EDITORS Colorado Renaissance Festival
Here at 5280, we’re all about big, freakin’ legs of meat. So what better place to get your chomp on than at the Colorado Renaissance Festival in Larkspur? Grab a turkey leg, buy a jester’s hat, and keep your boyfriends/husbands away from those saucy wenches. www.coloradorenaissance.com

READERS Cherry Creek Arts Festival
Really, what did you expect? Whether it’s lookin’ or buyin’, this festival is tops for checking out the best of the regional art scene. Spend a day winding around booths or checking out the townsfolk. Slap down some cash and walk away with some original, regional culture. www.cherryarts.org

Theater Round-Up

Theaters abound in Denver, but these are our hands-down favorite destinations for catching a show.

Best place to see a semi-obscure band
With a tiered, mostly standing-room floor, an open balcony, good sound, and a self-contained mosh pit, the Bluebird hosts a wide variety of acts that are on their way up the fame ladder or cozily ensconced in their cult-following years. 3317 E. Colfax Ave., 303-377-1666, www.bluebirdtheater.net

Best place to see a borderline superstar band
Its sound quality varies, and it can get mighty hot during a crowded summer show, but the Fillmore’s size, history, and street cred still make it the place most busting-out bands would like to play. 1510 Clarkson St., 303-837-0360, www.fillmoreauditorium.com

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Best place to see an outdoor show
Red Rocks. Duh. www.redrocksonline.com

Best art-house movie theater
Its ancient seats can get butt-bruisingly uncomfortable, but the Mayan still has Denver’s best selection of indie films shown in old-school surroundings. For more comfort, check out the new Neighborhood Flix. Mayan: 110 Broadway, 303-352-1992; Neighborhood Flix: 2510 E. Colfax Ave., 303-777-3549

Best place to see performing arts (or an indie film once a year)
Whether you’re an opera/ballet season ticket holder or seeing the opening-night movie at the Denver Film Festival, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House is Denver’s most beautiful venue—with luxurious seating and sweeping design. 950 13th St., 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org

Best place to wear a cowboy hat and feel totally in place
Even if country music isn’t your thing (which it should be…you live in Denver, after all), the Grizzly Rose is a must-see music venue. A mechanical bull, Coors in the bottle, and real-life cowboys (both urban and rural) abound. Plus, there’s the sing-along tunes. 5450 N. Valley Highway, 303-295-1330

Colorado-rama

The best of the square state.

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Export: Dale’s Pale Ale
Lyons’ Oskar Blues has gotten a lot of love over the years, gathering attention in the New York Times, Men’s Journal, and even on The Today Show. Unlike other spotlight grabbers—ahem, Britney Spears—this attention has actually been earned. Quite simply, Dale’s is the best beer—can or bottle. It’s hoppy, strong, but eminently drinkable. And now that Oskar Blues is distributing across the country, the rest of America gets to savor our finest beverage.

Flower: Denver Daisy
The eponymous new Black-eyed Susan, named for the celebration of Denver’s 150th Anniversary (Nov. 22) makes its debut this summer.

Song: Rocky Mountain High
Last year, John Denver’s can’t-help-but-sing-along ballad became one of Colorado’s official state songs, thanks to state Senator Bob Hagadorn of Aurora, who got a resolution passed through both state houses. This, of course, earned Hagadorn attention from The Colbert Report. But before the jokes recommence: John Denver himself said the song refers to the high you get from the mountains.

Breakfast: Anything but the Denver Omelet
It pains us to admit it, but it’s true: The one food named after our city is plain gross. Who orders this for breakfast, anyway? Cheddar, ham, green peppers. Bo-ring. Besides, none of the ingredients are particularly Denver-y. Now, if it came with buffalo sausage, some salsa, a dash of sour cream…You writing this down, Snooze?

Snack: Elk jerky
Go into any gas station in Colorado and you’ll find plenty of jerky. But the best in the state is the elk jerky you’ll find on the side of the road in the high country from some guy selling it out of the back of a semi-sketchy van. Next time you think, “That looks good,” pull over.

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Postcard-Worthy View: Independence Pass
The drive up Highway 82 is tight and narrow, but the top-of-the-world view at the summit is why postcards are printed.

PEOPLE

Athlete

EDITORS and READERS Matt Holliday
Sure, we’re only three months away from this year’s Fall Classic, but the Rockies’ remarkable playoff run in 2007 will not soon be forgotten. And the catalyst for it all was Matt Holliday, the 28-year-old bomber nationally known for his lip-first slide to end the playoff-play-in game versus San Diego. Not only did Holliday pound 36 homers and drive in 137 runs in 2007, en route to National League MVP consideration, the now-fifth-year outfielder has assumed the mantle of one of Major League Baseball’s true elite.

Politician

EDITORS Michael Bennet
Though the bookish superintendent of the Denver Public Schools system wasn’t elected to office—and hasn’t shown any inclination to run for one—we think he’s one of the savviest politicians in the city. In April, he used the newspapers to unveil his proposal to use student progress to reward and punish principals and teachers—neatly sidestepping objections of the teachers’ union. Bennet, who was the former chief of staff for Mayor Hickenlooper, also publicly supported the appointment of Republican Bruce Benson as president of the University of Colorado at a time when most Democrats were attacking him. Bennet‘s not immune to missteps—he was blasted for closing Manual High School in 2006—but he’s a quick learner. Last fall, he reopened Manual, placing Rob Stein, the widely respected former principal of Graland Country Day School and a former Manual grad, at the school’s helm. If he’s able to enact his plan for the Denver school system—and it succeeds—he’ll be able to run for any office he wants.

READERS John Hickenlooper
Our humble, boyish-looking, slightly goofy mayor continues to earn the love of Denverites—he’s won our readers’ choice award five years in a row—for his progressive, pragmatic style of politics. Under Hickenlooper’s leadership last year, Denver voters approved ballot amendments earmarking nearly $550 million to rebuild the city’s infrastructure and enhance its cultural institutions. It appears that the mild winter this year—along with beefed-up snow removal crews—removed the bad taste from 2006-2007’s disastrous snowstorms. Next month, the mayor—who’s been tagged as a rising star in the party—gets to show off his city to the rest of the nation’s Dems. We’ll all be watching to see how he’s received.

Loudmouth in Need of a Muzzle

EDITORS and READERS Douglas Bruce
Let’s be honest. “Loudmouth in Need of a Muzzle” is just a family-friendly way of saying “Jackass of the Year.” Put that way, it’s hard to think of a more worthy nominee than Douglas Bruce, the convicted slumlord and anti-tax crusader (see story on page 76). Not content with crippling the government’s ability to do what it’s obligated to do with his now-discredited TABOR amendment, Bruce wrangled an appointment to the Colorado Legislature, where he promptly began embarrassing the state at every opportunity—kicking a photographer and slandering legal Mexican workers as “illiterate peasants.” Douglas Bruce, on this issue readers and editors speak with one voice. You, sir, are a jackass.

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Author

EDITORS Eli Gottlieb
You could say it’s been a good year for Boulder-based writer (and 5280 contributing editor) Eli Gottlieb. His second novel, Now You See Him, was published in February and received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, was optioned to Hollywood producer Jeff Sharp, whose previous credits include Boys Don’t Cry and You Can Count on Me, and, as of press time, has been on the Denver Post’s local best-seller list for more than 10 weeks. We could go on, but let’s just say: The guy can write. From Now You See Him: “This sense of continuity felt like a unique accomplishment, and if there was real ease when we finally fell into each other’s arms, there was a touch of relief as well—relief at the thought that the entire humiliating audition of running to and fro in the world with your heart in a lockbox, praying for a living soul to find the key, was over.” Precise, generous, humorous, and poignant—Gottlieb can do it all.

Theater Company

EDITORS Curious Theatre Company
For 10 years this theater troupe has tackled taboo modern themes: economic disparity and corporate evil, to name a few. Which means either you’ll end up weeping over the implications of driving lessons or you’ll bust your gut laughing about the misfortune of corporate millionaires. Some of the best performances lie in the middle, in purely masterful performances like The Denver Project, which weaves the art of hip-hop and beat-boxing into a powerful commentary on the homeless. 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org

Local Band About to Get Big

EDITORS The Flobots
With a quirky, funky sound, a broadening fan base, and a summer tour schedule that will see them sharing the stage with numerous big-name acts, the Flobots are about to follow the Fray and DeVotchKa into the national music spotlight. The band’s unusual mix of hip-hop, rock, and classical influences was on display on the Carson Daly show in May, and they followed that with opening gigs for Cypress Hill, the Kooks, and others. Catch these locals this month at the Mile-High Music Festival. www.flobots.com

Artist

EDITORS Dale Chisman
What do we love about Dale Chisman’s abstract paintings? He has, in a series of brushstrokes, the ability to create both calm and chaos that coexist in shape and color. These are paintings that can be studied endlessly, each time giving up something new. And that’s certainly the reason this Denver painter’s pieces are part of the permanent collections of the Denver Art Museum, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Kirkland Museum. Right now he’s working on pieces for a 2009 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. www.dalechisman.com

Humanitarian

EDITORS Tim Marquez
The son of two public-school teachers, Colorado native Tim Marquez has never forgotten his roots. Last year, Marquez (an oil executive) and his wife, Bernadette (a nurse), put up $42.5 million in stock to establish the Marquez Foundation, which addresses educational and health-care issues. If that weren’t enough, the couple donated another $50 million in 2006 to create the Denver Scholarship Fund, which aims to give scholarship money and laptop computers to all Denver Public Schools grads who need assistance.

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Radio Talk-show Host

EDITORS and READERS Jay Marvin
Jay Marvin’s isolation as one of only a few left-wing voices on the local radio dial reminds us just how laughable the idea of the vast liberal media has become. And while Marvin (mornings on AM-760) wears his liberal views on his sleeve, he differs from his conservative rivals in another important way—he remains one of the last radio yakkers willing to have a conversation.

Entrepreneur

EDITORS E. Stanley Kroenke
If you watch sports in Denver, chances are that you’re either rooting for a Stan Kroenke-owned team (Avalanche, Crush, Mammoth, Nuggets, Rapids, or even the St. Louis Rams) or catching the game on Stan Kroenke’s television station (Altitude). In the last two years, the Missouri-native-cum-Denver-sports-mogul (and son-in-law to the late Wal-Mart cofounder Bud Walton) pulled the trigger on the deal that brought Allen Iverson to the Nuggets and built a soccer-only stadium in Commerce City for his Rapids. (By the way, have you checked out those adjacent rec fields?) A major player in the real estate market nationwide, you can find Kroenke’s projects throughout the metro area, such as the Pepsi Center (where he also has a home). Plus, he’s been chosen to create a line of merchandise for Denver’s 2008 Democratic Convention Host Committee. He just keeps going and going and going.

Columnist

EDITORS Al Lewis, Denver Post
OK, so the goatee’s gotta go (we kid only because we love), but Denver Post business columnist Al Lewis can’t be beaten in the fave-columnist category. What other journalist can wax poetic on the stupidity of Sharper Image, on the sex life of a local judge, and on the kicking ability of a certain Colorado Springs Republican (“Doug Bruce kicks like a little girl.”)? Yeah, we thought not. He’s a straight-talker, and if you’re not reading him you’re missing something special. http://blogs.denverpost.com/lewis/

READERS David Sirota
A transplant from Montana, Sirota is the up-and-coming voice for populist Democrats nationwide. Though the Los Angeles Times recently referred to him as a “liberal activist and former congressional aide,” Sirota’s columns run in at least two newspapers statewide and have put policies of both President George W. Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton in its crosshairs. In addition to his newspaper-writing duties, Sirota is a blogger and a best-selling author. His newest book, The Uprising, was released in May. www.davidsirota.com

Best Blog

READERS The Denver Egotist
We have to admit that it’s hard not to ignore our readers’ choice, the Denver Egotist (www.thedenveregotist.com). Committed to “helping Denver suck less,” particularly Denver’s advertising and marketing communities, the anonymous Egotist often crosses the line with criticism that forsakes being constructive for pettiness, but at its best he/she speaks truth to an all-too-complacent creative community.

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SERVICE

Florist

EDITORS Bouquets
We hate getting phoned-in flowers. You know, gerbera daisies with some sprigs of willow, or blah mixed blooms with the odd iris to keep things interesting. You want interesting? Bouquets’ arrangements (ask for the tropical and exotic) are as fearless as they are lovely—kangaroo paws pairing with forsythia and palm fronds. There’s an Ikebana-esque sensibility to the precise choices and fierce editing of blooms, as well as sculptural modern containers (no frumpy fluted-glass vases here). Multiple locations, 303-333-5500, www.bouquetsonline.com

READERS The Perfect Petal
This hip Highland shop wins hearts with ever-changing store windows and some of the most artful displays of floral and home accoutrements in the metro—readers love ducking into this sweet florist/boutique for strange succulent houseplants, funky pottery, letter-pressed thank-you notes, and even vintage jewelry. 3600 W. 32nd Ave., 303-480-0966, www.theperfectpetal.com

Tailor

EDITORS Y&Y Tailoring and Alterations
The best thing about Y&Y, besides the friendly, efficient, and impeccable service, is the private fitting space. With a large mirror and several curtained-off dressing rooms, the try-on area is completely separate from the entryway where customers stand in line. No twirling about in front of strangers, no standing awkwardly in your too-big bridesmaid gown while Joe Schmoe from down the street picks up his suit jacket. And, for a totally doable price, pants always come back cuffed exactly as they were when you brought them in and requested four inches off the bottom. 2645 E. Second Ave., 303-377-9887

READERS Cherry Creek Tailoring and Alterations
Husband-and-wife team Hamdi and Kiraz Sahin of Turkey have been stitching away for 23 years in Cherry Creek, building themselves a faithful clientele. From the front counter you can see the back room where the craft happens, sewing machine and all, and feel confident that your suit/skirt/trousers/gown are going to come back like they were custom-made for you, just like you envisioned. Don’t be afraid to put a rush order on your request—they’ll be honest about the turnaround time. 211 Clayton St., 303-321-6278

Dog Groomer

EDITORS Vanity Fur
Located in South Hilltop, this huge pet salon has four certified groomers and more than 1,000 clients. The salon is lauded for its quick turnaround, so if you plan to stay, no need to bring a book. Besides, the wood-and-glass French doors allow you to watch Fido get beautified. Grooming starts at $38 (for small dogs) and includes two baths, nail trim, haircut, and paw cleaning. 5075 Leetsdale Drive, 720-974-5064, www.vanityfurpetsalon.com

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READERS Takoda’s Pet Depot
Some kids had lemonade stands; Laura Thornburg had a dog-grooming stand. The former show-dog handler is now the head groomer of Takoda’s. She returns naturally groomed dogs with a scissor-finish trim. Splurge on the Comfort Spa treatment, which includes a choice of animal cologne. 7735 West Long Drive, Littleton, 303-932-7387, www.takodaspetdepot.com

Customer Service

EDITORS Ritz-Carlton, Denver
Sure, we expect ace service, what with the posh price point that accompanies all things Ritz-Carlton, but the arrival of the hotel in our fair city has brought a fresh level of excellence to downtown. The minute you cross the threshold, the refrain “my pleasure” is on the lips of every staff member. From valet to desk to hotel shop, even (and especially) to the service at Elway’s restaurant within, the level of calm, sophisticated attention is top-notch—and never snooty. Overheard from one happy guest on our latest visit: “Where do they import these people from?” 1881 Curtis St., 303-312-3800, www.ritzcarlton.com

READERS Nordstrom
Everyone’s got a Nordstrom story—the clerk who overheard you worrying about a hot date, hand-picked three perfect outfits, and brought them to your fitting-room; the sympathetic barrista at the café who gave your squalling toddler a nip of hot chocolate in his own tiny cup. Front to back, these folks know how to care for people. Multiple locations, www.nordstrom.com

Salon

EDITORS and READERS Luxe Salon
This LoDo institution pleases with a hip locale and concept, but what we bank on is Luxe’s consistency—evidenced by years of excellent client feedback and a roster of longtime industry pros with extensive training and top-notch credentials. Of note, too, is the relaxed and professional vibe in the salon. A visit is pleasant and client-centered, neither too clubby nor too ordinary, and service is low-pressure but attentive. Bonus: The junior staff is well trained and capable. 1743 Wazee St., 303-296-0166, www.luxesalon.com

Barbershop

EDITORS Al’s Barber Shop
This is not your father’s barbershop—there are no old-timers hanging out and debating the relative merits of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and there are certainly no Playboys lying around (believe us, we looked). Instead, tucked among the swank Larimer Square eateries, Al’s offers a hip, urban environment with blond wood floors, exposed brick, and classic tunes from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Not least, the “barbers” (all women when we were there recently) know how to cut hair—they are fastidious, down to the straight blade they use to clean up your neck fuzz. It may be a little more expensive than your father’s barbershop (a cut with shampoo and conditioner runs $35 before tip), but, as they say, you get what you pay for. 1425 Larimer St., 303-534-1583

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READERS Floyd’s 99 Barbershop
You really can’t go wrong at Floyd’s, with its friendly staff, clean cuts, and rock ‘n’ roll-poster decor. (Fun game: While waiting for your appointment, count how many of the bands on the posters were popular when you were in high school.) You want a buzz cut? Try Floyd’s. A faux-hawk? Ditto. And they’ll do a pretty darn good job on more conservative trims—if that’s your thing—for a price that won’t break the bank. Multiple locations, www.floydsbarbershop.com

Hairstylist

EDITORS Dana Huskey, Buhok Modern Hair
After 10 minutes in Dana Huskey’s chair we were already planning to schedule our next appointment. She had quickly analyzed the mess we were calling a hairdo and strategized a plan for updating our look. An hour and a half later, we were in silent awe as this detail-oriented, 17-year veteran fine-tuned our strands like she was working on a piece of art. Our hair as art? You bet. And that’s why we’ll be going back in six weeks. 3195 Blake St., 303-295-2300, www.buhokmodernhair.com

READERS Matthew Morris, Matthew Morris Salon
Some might balk at the months-long waiting list for an appointment with Matthew Morris, but his legion of die-hard fans just provides testament that the anticipation is well-worth it. Morris brings Big Apple fashion to Denver’s streets, crafting ‘dos that are runway-worthy and hiking-trail compatible. 277 Broadway, 303-715-4673, www.matthewmorrissalon.com

Colorist

EDITORS Jeffery Miller at Flirt

A co-owner of Flirt salon, Jeffery Miller has a knack for using color to complement skin tone, eye color, and hairstyle, rather than just covering up gray. Plus, we found when he goes a bit lighter around the visage it really brightened us up. But with his skillful color technique and charmingly sweet personality, don’t expect to get a last-minute appointment; Miller’s top clients know his schedule fills up fast. 1039 S. Gaylord St., 720-570-3540

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Massage

EDITORS Elixir
Not all massages are created equal. Anyone who’s ever had a bad one can attest to that. But what makes a good massage a great massage? Affordability, a comfy setting, good use of pressure, and customizable options. We found all four of these elements at Elixir, an unassuming massage-focused spa in LoDo. The hour-long signature massage costs only $65, the treatment rooms are completely cozy, and massage therapist Lisa Stacey took time to ask us our preferences (we wanted her to concentrate on the upper body) while adjusting her pressure throughout the treatment to suit our desk-weary muscles. 1518 Wazee St., 303-571-4455, www.elixirinlodo.com

READERS Woodhouse Day Spa Denver
Located just off 17th Avenue in Denver’s Uptown district, the Woodhouse Day Spa caters to an eclectic crowd of young urbanites, brides-to-be, and suburban moms taking a day in the city. That diverse clientele, much like our ultra-knowledgeable readers, understands that at Woodhouse a spa-goer can find peace, relaxation, and a darn good full-body massage. We usually go with the old standby—a one-hour Swedish massage ($80)—but the sports and joint relief and neck and shoulder relief massages certainly don’t disappoint. 941 E. 17th Ave., 303-813-8488, www.denver.woodhousespas.com

Manicure & Pedicure

EDITORS Ten20
Sex and the City reruns on a giant screen. A Diet Coke-filled mini-fridge. M&M’s everywhere. Oh, yes, and the manis and pedis. Have you died and gone to chick heaven? Nope, you’ve just made your way up Highway 36 to Boulder’s first-class nail spot, Ten20. Situated at the corner of 20th and Pearl streets, this funky-clever business boasts cushy chairs for pedicures, tall tables for the manis, and a swanky retail area, all of which have a perfect view of the giant TV screen. We got a French mani and pedi that looked elegant, but it was the detailed filing and cuticle removal that will bring us back for more. 2005 Pearl St., Boulder, 720-565-1020, www.ten20.tv

READERS Tootsies, the Nail Shoppe
This retro-cool nail salon, complete with Audrey Hepburn posters and fancy teal walls, is hard to beat for more reasons than one. We appreciate the salon’s focus on hygiene—no jets in the pedi tubs, and new files for every customer. We also love the fact that the manis and pedis seem to last a week longer than the ones we’ve gotten at the quickie places in town. Note: They’ve opened a new, equally adorable location on Tennyson. 1021 S. Gaylord St., 720-570-0971; 4230 Tennyson St., 303-433-0898, www.tootsiesnailshoppe.com

Facial

EDITORS The Retreat on Larimer
What makes a great facial? First, your aesthetician should talk to you about your skin, examine it, and then treat it according to its condition (this part isn’t necessarily enjoyable…extractions, ugh). Then comes the relaxing part. Creams, moisturizers, and hydrating masks massaged into the face, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. If you find yourself nodding in and out of sleep during this stage of the facial, your therapist is doing something right. At the Retreat on Larimer, a two-year-old hideaway just north of downtown, they get it all right. Licensed aesthetician Jaclyn Losie performs the spa’s 90-minute signature facial ($110) so capably that, even after an hour and a half, you’ll be begging for more. 2111 Larimer St., 303-292-4600, www.theretreatonlarimer.com

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Eyebrow Wax

EDITORS Brows on Upper 15th
We threw the ultimate test at this perennial favorite: We hid our tweezers for two months and walked into our appointment with a pair of very unkempt eyebrows. Amber, our unlucky aesthetician, pondered the situation for a full two minutes before setting to work. The result? Graceful but effortless-looking brows. And, if that weren’t enough to win us over, the staff’s patience when we showed up atrociously late did. 2540 15th St., 720-855-3021, www.browsonupper15th.com

READERS Studio Urban Wax
The aestheticians at Studio Urban Wax are all about making you feel comfortable. So next time you head in to clean up your brow line, bring along your iPod—they totally don’t mind if you’re not in the mood to chit-chat. 40 S. Broadway, 303-325-3479, www.studiourbanwax.com

Bikini Wax

EDITORS Studio Urban Wax
Getting a bikini wax is one of those necessary evils. Then we walked into Studio Urban Wax’s new location. The spacious room—no claustrophobic cubicle-like rooms here—was filled with natural sunshine, and the easygoing conversation of our waxer, Rebekah, meant that the dreaded bikini was actually quite pleasant. We left with such a confident grin that when we met up with a friend a few minutes later she couldn’t believe we’d just been waxed. 40 S. Broadway, 303-325-3479, www.studiourbanwax.com

READERS Wax in the City
With discreet online booking, a no-tipping policy, and three locations—in LoDo, the Tech Center, and Boulder—it’s no surprise that Wax in the City is your pick for a bikini wax. And their extended hours (as late as 7 p.m.) ensure that you can often nab a same-day emergency appointment. Multiple locations, www.waxinthecity.com

Health Club

EDITORS Pura Vida Fitness & Spa
If you’re going to sweat, you might as well do it in style. At Pura Vida, Cherry Creek North’s new athletic club, you can do nearly anything—Pilates, spin class, yoga, kinesis, treadmill, free weights—in a setting with flair to spare. The sleek, four-level club dresses out in pale blue and brown hues, which accent the clean white walls adorned with contemporary art. But while the decor is fabulous (even the locker rooms have panache), it’s the first-class equipment (TVs on every treadmill) and accessible yoga and Pilates classes (many of which are included in membership) that really get your heart pounding. 2955 E. First Ave., 303-321-7872, www.puravidaclub.com

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READERS Denver Athletic Club
It’s really hard to disagree with you on this one, folks. The Denver Athletic Club, with its combination of elegance and hard-core fitness, feels exactly how you’d want your gym to feel. Plus, there’s rarely a wait for machines, the pool always has an open lane, and the café serves up killer smoothies. 1325 Glenarm Place, 303-534-1211, www.denverathleticclub.org

Shoe Repair

EDITORS Westerfield Cobblers
When we took a long lunch to drop off our broken boots, the friendly owner, Frank Westerfield, offered a practical, affordable solution for fixing our beloved shoes. It’s no wonder 5280’s fashion editor takes her shoes here, and nowhere else. <em.1512 Larimer St., 303-534-2034, www.westerfieldcobblers.com

READERS Dardano’s Shoes
After three generations of reheeling, restitching, and resoling the shoes of Denver, the Dardano family is pretty confident that if it’s broke they can fix it. 1550 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-692-9355, www.dardanos.com

Car Wash

EDITORS Waterway Gas & Wash
Quick and thorough, with locations everywhere in the metro area, Waterway is the place to take your car before putting it up for sale. Pay the extra money for the mat shampoo. Multiple locations, www.waterway.com

READERS Fire House Car Wash
Great service + great wash = Denver’s best destination for your extra-filthy vehicle. Multiple locations

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Veterinary Clinic

EDITORS Alameda East
Excellent general-practice care can be found at Alameda East, but it might be better known for the famous crew from TV’s Emergency Vets (you watch Animal Planet, right?), as well as the top-flight grooming services, “lodge” boarding options, physical therapy programs, and world-renowned advances in animal prosthetics. 9770 E. Alameda Ave., 303-366-2639, www.alamedaeast.com

READERS Firehouse Animal Health Centers
Locally based chain Firehouse Animal Health Centers wins high marks from our readers—the hip, friendly practices offer well-rounded care (including dental) as well as a special mobile animal health service, with hospitals-on-wheels making house calls for routine check-ups as well as at-home euthanasia. Multiple locations, www.myfirehouse.com

Adventures at the Spa

You’ve done the usual manicures and massages. Ready for something a little more daring?

Flotation A New Spirit Wellness Center & Spa
($40 per hour) This therapy definitely leans on the New Age-y side of spa treatments, but there’s no denying the relaxation it affords. Climb into a futuristic-looking, compact car-size, soundproof tank filled with a foot of highly concentrated warm salt water; then lie back and float. It’s said to renew energy and alleviate pain. That all may be true, but we simply thought it felt cool. 4907 W. 29th Ave., 303-477-1652, www.anewspirit.com

Marma Point Head Treatment: Spa Universaire
($62 for 30 minutes) According to Ayurvedic tradition—the ancient healing system of India—there are more than 40 pressure points on the face and scalp. In this half-hour “massage,” a therapist’s light touch stimulates these “energy centers,” which they say helps clear the mind and “cleanse blocked energy.” Or, it just might put you to sleep, which is good, too. 475 W. 12th Ave., 303-629-9070, www.spauniversaire.com

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Reiki: Reiki School of Denver
($100 per hour) While you lie on a comfy spa bed, the administrator gently places her hands on your body, allowing “universal life-force energy” to flow from her into the areas that most need it in your weary bod. And, though it could be the power of persuasion, it feels like you’ve just had an hour-long deep-tissue massage. 303-800-4482, www.reikidenver.com

Raindrop Therapy: Aspenfalls Spa
($100 for 75 minutes) The treatment, which gets its name from the droplets of essential oils (spruce, fir, cedarwood, and ylang ylang) that are applied from about six inches above the neck and back, sends a tingling sensation throughout the body. The light massaging motion easily lulled us to the edge of sleep. But the piney aroma of the oils kept us awake just enough to enjoy it. 880 Happy Canyon Road, Castle Rock, 303-660-1511; 5425 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village, 303-221-5995

Party People

If we were planning an event (and we often are), here’s who we’d call for help.

Venue: The Lab at Belmar
The art gallery meets cultural learning center meets community space at the Lab is home to diverse lecture series and international exhibits. Use the elegant space for your next party and you can be assured that your guests will have plenty to talk about. Though, since it’s in the ‘burbs, you might want to arrange for taxi rides home. 404 S. Upham St., Lakewood, 303-934-1777, www.belmarlab.org

Food: Big Bang Catering
When this Boulder-based company—which was featured on celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Food Nation—caters an event, the preparation starts months beforehand: The vegetables, herbs, and flowers used in Big Bang’s dishes are grown on its 35-acre, organic Pastures of Plenty farm. P.O. Box 4361, Boulder, 303-447-8900, www.bigbangcatering.com

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Liquor: Sip Fine Wine & Spirits
The last time we popped into Sip to grab a bottle of wine for dinner, we couldn’t help but eavesdrop on owner Jim Rice’s end of a phone conversation with a catering client. We already knew that we loved this intimate wine store’s wide selection of varietals and prices, but when we saw how friendly and accommodating Rice was, we were sold on using him for our next soiree. 1920 Market St., 303-298-9463, www.sipwinedenver.com

Invites: The Paper Lady
Rosie G. Wiedenmayer really is the paper lady. She searches far and wide for the trendiest, sweetest, most modern paper products so that when you walk in the door of her Wash Park store, all you have to do is point at your favorite and nod. She’s a one-stop shop for all types of invites, from formal weddings to informal baby showers. 2125 E. Mississippi Ave., 303-722-6877, www.paperladyonline.com

SHOPPING

New Boutique

EDITORS A. Line Boutique
This Greenwood Village boutique still has that new-store smell, but we’re confident it will soon become a regular shopping destination for Denver women. The store has an elegant, urban vibe (architecturally, the ceiling arches recall a New York subway) and you won’t find any pushy salespeople here—just gorgeous updates on classic pieces. The ever-expanding list of designer labels—including Catherine Malandrino, Rag & Bone, and Tibi—has owners Mary Alice Malone and Sarah McLaughlin already planning to annex the adjoining space, with an opening planned for September. 5375 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village, 303-773-8200, www.aline-online.com

READERS DS Additions
Walk into Cherry Creek’s DS Additions and it feels like you’re walking into a friend’s closet. And really, that is what you’re doing. Co-owners—and friends—Danielle Goldyn and Samantha Holloway (the “D” and “S” in the name) opened the store last fall to share their style with Denver women. It’s a good place to find that finishing touch—a shiny clutch or delicate necklace—but the clothing options are limited. 2432 E. Third Ave., 303-322-3531, www.dsadditions.com

Bicycles

EDITORS and READERS Wheat Ridge Cyclery
Let’s say you love bikes (like we do). Now, let’s say, sometimes, even though you already have a pretty cool bike (or bikes), you like to slip away on the weekend and ogle ridiculously beautiful carbon-fiber steeds and check out the latest bib shorts and ultra-light helmets. Where do you go? Turns out we all go to Wheat Ridge Cyclery—so it’s a good thing it’s got 40,000 square feet. From the massive selection of road and mountain rides, to the expert—and nonsnooty—staff, to the fit studio, Wheat Ridge is a bike geek’s paradise. If you haven’t already, sneak away on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and see for yourself. 7085 W. 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge, 303-424-3221, www.ridewrc.com

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Eyewear

EDITORS DisRespectacles
This Platte Street store feels like a hip art gallery, not a prescription glasses store. That’s because the New York chain’s Denver outpost makes eyewear an art form. Let manager Heidi Tanner (right) show off her talents by asking her to pick styles off the wall for you. She’ll take a few risks, but you’ll find a trendy-sophisticated pair to perch on your nose. 1550 Platte St., 303-458-0500, www.disrespectacles.com

READERS Europtics
From lightweight designer frames made of surgical steel to sport-friendly Oakleys, Europtics’ huge selection of eyewear is good for Colorado’s schizophrenic lifestyle interests. The busy staff is helpful and honest, gently pointing out flaws and telling you when they love a pair. Multiple locations, www.europtics.net

Contemporary Furniture

EDITORS Studio Como
It’s Euro-modern with a Denver twist at Studio Como (the “Como” is short for Colorado Modern). Owner Brad Fentres opened the furniture and kitchen showroom this December in the former P Design Gallery space in Walnut Street’s emerging art district. And it’s in this supremely sleek store—with requisite exposed brick and concrete floors—that he’s introducing Denver to some of Europe’s more approachable contemporary lines. Look for wooden chairs by De La Espada and sofas from Cassina. 2590 Walnut St., 303-296-1495, www.studiocomo.com

READERS Room & Board
Sure, Room & Board is a chain…but it’s one of those really good chains. There are only a handful of showrooms across the country, and each store looks and feels independent (the Cherry Creek shop was designed by Denver’s Roth + Sheppard Architects). Plus, the furniture is architecturally interesting, not trendy or catalogue-y. 222 Detroit St., 303-322-6462, www.roomandboard.com

Bookstore

EDITORS Boulder Book Store
This gem of a bookstore has been locally owned and operated since David Balduc opened it on Pearl Street in 1973. Today, its three levels of paper-bound treasures, creaky wooden floors, and quirky-brilliant clientele pretty much solidify its reputation as a literati institution—one that draws author readings by the likes of Chuck Klosterman and Barbara Ehrenreich (even, shameless plug, 5280 contributing editor Dougald MacDonald). 1107 Pearl St., 303-447-0064, www.boulderbookstore.booksense.com

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READERS The Tattered Cover Book Store
This Denver bookstore (now with three locations) keeps sweeping the vote year after year, and for good reason: It rules the literary school. In addition to thousands of books and magazines, Tattered Cover boasts lectures, film previews, author readings, and children’s events on topics ranging from quilting to space exploration. Plus, you can always find cozy seating and in-store coffee shops for that escape into an urban wonderland of words. Multiple locations, www.tatteredcover.com

Women’s Clothing (Affordable)

EDITORS Sarah
Don’t you just love it when someone stops you on the street and asks, “Where did you get that?” It’s a feeling only surpassed, really, by the thrill of a great bargain. That’s why Wash Park boutique Sarah is one of our favorite places to shop. The adorable store features a great mix of showstoppers by exclusive designers (Trinka Turk) and basics by well-known affordable labels (3-Dots). We love exploring the racks for the good finds, which make the mini-splurges all the more satisfying. Hint: Sign up for Sarah’s e-mail newsletter to stay in the know on monthly sales. (At one sale we got a pair of Billy Blues dress pants for 75 percent off!) 1067 Old S. Gaylord St., 303-482-2299, www.sarah-denver.com

READERS Nordstrom
We have to admit, we thought it was a bit odd when you guys voted Nordstrom as both the affordable and splurge option for readers’ choice. But then we thought about it, and you’re kinda right. Nordstrom has a great cross-section of price points, great for any budget. We love trolling the teeny-bopper Brass Plum section for the season’s more disposable, “right now” trends at great prices. Multiple locations, www.nordstrom.com

Men’s Clothing (Affordable)

EDITORS Players

Most guys don’t like shopping, and we think we know why: They don’t know how to do it. But at Players, a man gets some help. The store’s knowledgeable staff is on point to assist even the most style-challenged; for those requiring extra attention, they even offer after-hours personal wardrobe consulting (at both locations). But even better, the handsome selection of tailored-but-modern sport and business wear is priced well for the quality. That means you can stock up every time you go (translation, less shopping time). We think a guy could get used to a store that makes buying clothes this easy. 1501 Wazee St., 303-752-9377; 5425 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village, 303-752-9377, www.playersclothing.com

Women’s Clothing (Splurge)

EDITORS Max
What keeps Denver’s fashionable women going back to Max, year after year? Owner Max Martinez—and his uncanny ability to deliver the biggest names in high-end and contemporary fashion. From young designers like Phillip Lim to established ready-to-wear labels such as Miu Miu, Martinez cultivates a mix and a vibe that make us feel like we’re shopping in New York City. 3039 E. Third Ave., 303-321-4949; 1177 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-449-9200; 609 E. Cooper Avenue, Aspen, 970-544-3445, www.maxfashion.com

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READERS Nordstrom

Nordstrom’s debut in Cherry Creek last year took Denver shopping up a notch, offering brands like Proenza Schouler, Burberry Prorsum, and Andrew Gn. Indeed, as Nordstrom makes the march toward luxury, we gladly follow. Multiple locations, www.nordstrom.com

Men’s Clothing (Splurge)

EDITORS Andrisen Morton Men

A favorite for the business crowd, this Cherry Creek mainstay is well known for its fine array of Italian suits. But also turn to AMM for your sportswear needs, including looks from Bruno Cucinelli and Robert Talbott. Bonus: This fall, the former shoe department becomes an entire space dedicated to the coveted Italian line Isaia. 270 St. Paul St., 303-377-8488, www.andrisenmorton.com

READERS Nordstrom

Our readers really love their Nordstrom—even the boys. And for good reason: From casual to sportswear and even suits, a guy will get the look he wants. Multiple locations, www.nordstrom.com

Fine Jewelry

EDITORS Art & Soul Gallery
Gorgeous jewelry is probably the last thing you’d expect to find at this Boulder art gallery—and that’s just the way owner Debbie Klein likes it. When you walk in, of course, the first thing you notice is the artwork—colorful contemporary pieces adorn every wall. But take one look in the cases and let the drooling commence. Klein selects lines based on their quality, design, and craftsmanship. Hence, the treasure trove of today’s hottest designers: Alex Sepkus, Stephen Webster, and Gurhan. Klein’s artistic eye has even made Art & Soul a favorite of eclectic brides-to-be looking for something extraordinary. 1615 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5803, www.artandsoulboulder.com

READERS Hyde Park

Known for its attentive customer service and sumptuous selection of classic and contemporary fine jewelry, Hyde Park is always a reader favorite. Whether it’s a chic Mikimoto pearl necklace, Kwiat sparkling diamond earrings, or a delicate gold and semiprecious stone bracelet by Marco Bicego, Hyde Park has something to please almost everyone’s taste and budget. 3000 E. First Ave., 303-331-7756, www.hydeparkjewelers.com

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Jeans

EDITORS The Blues Jean Bar
When we sidled up to the bar at the Cherry Creek branch of this West Coast chain, we presented the impossible: our own description of the perfect pair of jeans. The bartender/salesperson didn’t even bat an eye but pulled three different styles off the bar and sent us to the dressing room. First pair? Perfect fit. Second pair? An even more perfect fit. Third pair? Well, we purchased those. The dressing rooms are each equipped with hand mirrors, so you can check out your derrière before heading out to the three-way to model. And, as a nice touch, the staff is quick to pull out a pair of heels or flip-flops so you can make sure your favorite shoes will work with your new favorite pair of jeans. 250 Fillmore St., 720-542-3756, www.thebluesjeanbar.com

READERS The Garment District
If options are what you want, it’s options you’ll get in this denim hotspot on South Colorado Boulevard. With dozens of styles to choose from (Rock & Republic, Citizens, Seven), you’ll find a pair of jeans for a night on the town and a trip to the coffeeshop. Once you’re stocked up on denim, don’t forget to browse the stellar selection of purses, shoes, and accessories to complete your outfit. 2595 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-757-3371, www.garmentdistrict.com

Women’s Shoes

EDITORS Two Sole Sisters
We might sound like shoe divas with an obsession for all things south of the ankle, but we are totally enamored with this sparkly new shop on East Pearl Street in Boulder. Intrigued by the teal, ankle-wrap sandals beckoning from the front window display (Jeffrey Campbell, $98), we popped in to the three-month-old boutique to find a lovely selection of cute flats by Biviel, flirty stilettos by Oh…Deer, and a Brazilian fair-trade line called Corso Como, whose kicks are not only fashion-forward, they’re also straight-up comfy, thanks to the gel inserts in the foot-bed. Socially responsible, waaaay hot, and walkable? Have we died and gone to heaven? 1703 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-0404, www.twosolesisters.com

READERS Strut
All wedge-o-philes know where they belong: That’s right—in the shoe-and-handbag heaven we call Strut, where classy peep-toe pumps and bold ‘n’ sassy platforms call to you from the shelves. From this season’s way-hot gladiator styles (try Dolce Vita or Cocobelle) to that perfect pair of wedge-heel, ankle-strap kicks (Frye has several options), this sunny Tennyson Street shop is where it’s at for shoe lovers who can’t resist gotta-have-’em foot candy—especially when the already-affordable selections (those sexy, mid-calf boots you drooled over all winter) go on sale. 3877 Tennyson St., 303-477-3361, www.strutdenver.com

Ski and Snowboard Gear

EDITORS and READERS Colorado Ski & Golf
After the Gart family sold their stake in the Gart Sports chain—which was later gobbled up by Sports Authority—they started Colorado Ski & Golf to focus not just on selling to customers but also on serving them. That service, which includes a guarantee to match competitors’ prices and happiness with gear, has won eight consecutive gold medals from SKI magazine—and helped the Gart family expand from one store to four. Multiple locations, www.coloradoskiandgolf.com

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Wedding Gowns

EDITORS Andrisen Morton Bridal
We’re all about personal flair when it comes to our wedding looks—unexpected color or subtle, beautiful detailing—and that is the very essence of Andrisen Morton’s bridal department. We love the Carolina Herrera selection (in particular the strapless fan bodice), the removable-skirt concept (floor-length becomes mid-length for the reception), and the sweet trumpet-shaped gown with flattering pastel lace at the waist. Other classics like Vera Wang and fresh couture like Amsale make for an appealing variety and elegant overall experience. 210 St. Paul St., 303-321-0404, www.andrisenmorton.com/bridal

READERS Anna Bé
Ode to Anna Bé: We love you because of your beautiful, hip, tasteful gowns and affordable-yet-elegant designers. We love you because of your savvy vibe and laid-back ambience. We love you because bling is not part of your vocabulary. And we especially love you because we don’t feel like cupcakes on a pedestal when we try on your gowns. 3215 Zuni St., 720-855-1111, www.anna-be.com

Maternity

EDITORS Decade
Tucked in the back room of our favorite eclectic gift haven are racks and tables of maternity garb brimming with sweet empire-waist tops, sassy printed tees, comfy lounge and yoga pants, and baby-doll-esque tanks. Affordable designers like Juliet Dream and Maximum Mama make shopping for nine months (technically 10 months, right moms?) a breeze. A must-have: the Warm-Weather Survival Kit for Maternity, which includes a sleeveless top, cap-sleeve dress, basic skirt, and pants in soft, black cotton-spandex—all packaged into one adorable, ready-made box-to-go ($152). 56 S. Broadway, 303-733-2288

READERS Belly Maternity
You are spot-on in choosing a shop where the maternity wear is cute and trendy enough to covet as everyday wear (i.e., when you’re no longer dressing for two). The tasteful frocks and bold, patterned tunic tops, gathered and cinched in all the right places, look like they could hang in any high-end fashion boutique. Look for Olian, Jules and Jim, and T Bags. Plus, we are digging the under-the-tummy Chip & Pepper jeans that’ll make you the cutest preggy in town. 3003 E. Third Ave., 303-320-1150, www.bellymaternity.com

Baby Boutique

EDITORS Bugabee Baby Boutique
Thornton mom Heather Landois opened her independent baby shop at FlatIron Crossing last year (and just relocated into a newer storefront near Dillard’s in June). Blessed with great taste and good buying instincts, Landois stocks the store with beautiful and contemporary pieces for the nursery—like Dwell Studios crib sets. Plus funky-fun threads for baby—like tops from Bella Serra Baby (a Denver company). Bonus: Most of the lines she carries are sustainable or green, and many are local. 1 W. Flatiron Circle, Broomfield, 303-464-1720, www.mybugabee.com

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Pet Boutique

EDITORS Ciji’s Natural Pet Supplies
Snow booties? Check. Natural kitty chow? Check. Park Hill’s favorite pet store has nearly anything your four-legged friends might want. And without getting too pointed, this place is refreshingly different from most modern pet boutiques in one important way: It’s all about the animals and not the people. Meaning, you won’t find rhinestone-studded, pink-satin outfits for your pug. Plus, friendly owner Bonnie Simpson always greets your mutt with a tasty treat from the biscuit-filled glass case. 2260 Kearney St., 303-322-8000

READERS Mouthfuls
For the second time in three years, this Berkeley neighborhood pet shop has garnered high praise from our readers. And we know why: The store is full of its own delightful products (Doggone Fresh Breath Mints for dogs), as well as a variety of other pet paraphernalia. We like the treat tasting bar (think candy store for animals), the loaded bakery case, and the Barker’s Dozen Food program, which gives you a free bag of food for every 12 you purchase. Honorable mention: Takoda’s Pet Depot in Littleton gave Mouthfuls a run for its money. Readers love the big-box-like convenience (it’s a regional chain) with a little-box feel. Mouthfuls: 4224 Tennyson St., 720-855-7505, www.mouthfuls.net; Takoda’s Pet Depot: 7735 W. Long Drive, Littleton, 303-932-7387, www.takodaspetdepot.com

Traditional Furniture

EDITORS Nielsen-Metier
It might be new to Santa Fe Drive, but Nielsen-Metier is one of the city’s most well-established showrooms, with more than 15 years in the Denver design business. Owner Richard Nielsen made the leap from the Design District last summer and so far has been very well received in the art district. Look for the same brands—Pierre Frey fabrics and Summer Hill furniture, to name a few—elegantly arranged in the new space (a former motorcycle garage). Ask about owner Richard Nielsen’s gorgeous canvases that the Santa Fe artists have been scooping up since he first put them out for sale a couple of months ago. (We hear that Nielsen is thinking about phasing out the furniture to focus on artwork sales. So shop there now while you can.) 965 Santa Fe Drive, 303-722-0072

Eclectic Furniture

EDITORS Ashley Campbell
Your husband wants everything modern. You prefer something just a tad more feminine. You’re having a really hard time finding a compromise, so everything in your house is beige. Sound familiar? Ashley Campbell’s got your back. Her eye for style is completely gender-neutral, focusing on one thing: elegance. Plus, she’s an interior designer, so she can help settle disagreements, lickety-split. 262 Fillmore St., 303-996-6195, www.ashleycampbell.com

Home Accessories

EDITORS Homefest
Mike and Lindy Di Paulo opened Homefest 11 years ago as a sister store to their wildly successful Fort Collins location. Today, the beautifully staged home-goods emporium is something of a mainstay for the Littleton and Cherry Hills set. And there’s only one reason they’ve stayed so popular in today’s Crate & Barrel/Williams-Sonoma world: selection. Find Le Jacquard Français linens, Arte Italica flatware, and candlesticks of every imaginable shape and size—plus an enthusiastic and helpful staff. 6002 S. Holly St., Greenwood Village, 303-741-3920

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READERS Crate & Barrel
We walked into Crate & Barrel one day looking for candles and left with two throw pillows, a new set of red-wine glasses, plus an avocado slicer (the last item, admittedly, was an impulse buy). The point is: Anything you need, they’ve got…and then some. Multiple locations, www.crateandbarrel.com

Music Store

EDITORS and READERS Twist and Shout
Despite its way-too-cluttered space, less-than-intuitive organization, and listening stations that are awkwardly positioned and work only about half the time, Twist and Shout still has the broadest selection of well-priced new and used CDs, vinyl, and DVDs. But the door is open to any challengers that want to step up. 2508 E. Colfax Ave., 303-722-1943, www.twistandshout.com

Children’s Bookstore

EDITORS Simon Says Read
Located in Stapleton Town Center, this independently owned kids’ bookstore carries a plethora of books for the wee ones. The store hosts birthday parties and story times, as well as an everyday 20 percent discount on best sellers for grown-ups. Parents with strollers will appreciate the open floor plan; all will appreciate the super-friendly and accommodating staff. 7349 E. 29th Ave., 303-333-7323, www.simonsaysread.net

READERS The Tattered Cover Bookstore
Harry Potter parties, young poet contests, story times, banned books essay contests…this bookseller has it all for little readers. Multiple locations, www.tatteredcover.com

Living Room 201

Sure, you’ve got the basics—the sofa, the coffee table, the entertainment hutch—but your living room feels like it needs a little something…special. Here are a few of our favorite stores for glamming up your home.

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Occasional Chairs: HW Home
From upholstered wingbacks to leather clubs to salons, HW Home has an accent chair for any style. All of HW’s pieces are made with fine craftsmanship, which, of course, you’ll pay for. But they’ll last you a lifetime. Multiple locations, www.hwhome.com

Lamps: Conrad Lee Gallery
This Broadway newcomer has absolutely gorgeous home accessories (both refurbished antiques and new), but its selection of one-of-a-kind lamps—handcrafted by storeowners Jim Johnson and Paul Franke—and the sconces are what really wow us. 238 N. Broadway, 303-722-1005, www.conradlee.com

Wall Art: Piñon Fine Art
We’ve learned to count on this elegant Littleton gallery for some of the best landscape oils by Western artists. You’re bound to find the perfect canvas for that empty spot above the fireplace. 2510 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-733-3133, www.pinonfineart.com

Rugs: Swank Space
This Highland mainstay moved to Cherry Creek North where it fills the urban-casual niche nicely. We like the well-edited selection of contemporary rugs—great for a playful splash of color. The prices are good, too. 270 Columbine St., 720-855-0725, www.swankspace.com

Frames: 5 Green Boxes (The Big Store)
This furniture store (an offshoot of the Platt Park boutique by the same name) is one of our favorite places to find that artistic, conversation-worthy accent piece. The frames, especially, are super-unique. 1705 S. Pearl St., 303-282-5481, www.5greenboxes.com

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Throw: Pillows One Home
If you’re looking for traditional florals, this is probably not the place for you. But for a more architectural/contemporary splash of color, go to One Home. Ask for designs by Boulder company é bella. 2445 E. Third Ave., 720-946-1505, www.onehomedesign.com

Green Buys

Our favorite eco-conscious finds from five homegrown companies.

Pangea Organics: Facial Scrub in Egyptian Geranium with Adzuki Bean & Cranberry
This Boulder-made exfoliator (see story on page 30) is made from all-natural ingredients—including the packaging. Just remove the label, soak the box in water, bury it in soil, and voilÀ—an herb garden. $32, Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage, www.pangeaorganics.com

OlovesM: Bernie small bag
Look for this hip handbag from a line of eco-totes and clutches that Aspen-based mom, entrepreneur, and yoga enthusiast Merle O’Brien created using discarded landfill-bound plastic scraps from yoga-mat manufacturers. $45, Baudines in Tamarac Square, www.olovesm.com

Apparel of the Earth: Truffle Tank
We heart this beautiful summer basic from the Arvada-based online eco-retailer; we also dig that it’s made from sustainable hemp fibers. $46, online at www.appareloftheearth.com

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Totem Industries: Brush Pullover
You can’t go wrong with a soft, fleecy midlayer with thumbholes for brisk fall days—especially when 92 percent of it is made from recycled soda bottles. $80, online at www.totemindustries.com

Pixie Mate: Original Mate Latte Mix
This yummy drink concentrate is made from Yerba Mate—a South American tea that packs a crash-free caffeine buzz. Best part: The Boulder-based company supports sustainable agriculture with its growers. $4.59, Whole Foods, www.pixiemate.com

Plan Your Summer

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