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Erin Willis and Emily Van Fleet in The Wild Party at Off-Center. Photo by AdamsVisCom

Top of the Town 2018: Culture and Nightlife

An attention-grabbing cocktail scene. A growing number of live performance venues. Has there ever been a more entertaining time to live in the Mile High City?

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Cocktail Menu

Photograph by Sarah Boyum

Editors’ Choice
Greenlight Lab
RiNo’s seven-month-old Greenlight Lab, tucked discretely in the alley behind Denver Central Market, is a real-time laboratory from design firm LIVstudio. Customers test, and vote on, everything from the decor to the cocktails. The beverage menu, curated by bar manager Ty Webb (a veteran of the New York City bar scene), is split into two sections: The “beta” portion features trial selections such as a recent vodka concoction made with curry, cumin, and lime cordial. If you adore your beta beverage, weigh in via a comment card and it could land on the “approved” section, joining other customer favorites such as the Green Means Go (Montanya rum, pineapple-sage syrup, lime cordial, Falernum bitters, and soda water). 1336 27th St., 720-788-5320

Readers’ Choice
Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
1330 27th St., 303-295-3333

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Sports Bar

Editors’ Choice
Govnr’s Park Tavern
This old-school Speer joint has been a meeting place for sports fans since 1976, and unlike the Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche, Buffs, et al., Govnr’s has never had a down year. The bar’s 36 HD TVs mean that whether you support the Nuggets, the Red Sox (boo!), or collegiate men’s curling, you’re likely to find your game. The venue does hold special events for Chicago Bears (there are a lot of Windy City natives in the area, apparently) and Broncos fans. But the daily happy hour—two-for-one deals on well pours, draft beers, house wines, and other select drinks from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a dollar off from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.—is a victory for all. 672 Logan St., 303-831-8605

Readers’ Choice

Blake Street Tavern
2301 Blake St., 303-675-0505

New Brewery

Editors’ Choice
Alternation Brewing Company
Unlike most breweries, the founders of this almost seven-month-old operation don’t have a flagship beer. Or, really, any permanent pour. Instead, they alternate (hence the name) their 10 beer taps, usually adding one or two new brews a week. This means that nearly every time you walk into the South Broadway taproom, you’ll discover a different menu ranging from hazy wheat beers to funky sours. When we were there in March, for example, we enjoyed the smooth Farm Girl Ale, which featured notes of jalapeño. Sadly, that particular variety has probably departed by now. On the bright side, tasting a flavor combo that’s entirely fresh is something you can always count on at Alternation Brewing. 1539 S. Broadway, 303-802-5340

Readers’ Choice
New Terrain Brewing Company
16401 Table Mountain Parkway, Golden, 720-697-7848

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Patio

Editors’ Choice
Los Chingones RiNo
In fall 2017, owner Troy Guard began absorbing the space next door to RiNo’s Los Chingones, which formerly housed his SugarMill concept, in order to expand seating at the popular Mexican eatery. The unobstructed view of the Mile High City skyline from the restaurant’s second story is still there. But Guard added about 20 seats on the downstairs patio in a connected area he’s calling Los Lounge. Now, even more patrons can bask in the energy of bustling RiNo (you won’t find better people-watching anywhere in Denver) while enjoying full-flavored drinks (we recommend the blackberry paloma made with blackberry Izze), salsa flights, and mouthwatering seasonal tacos. Meanwhile, the upstairs level still features communal tables, a large bar that extends from the inside to the outside, and string lights for the occasions when your day-drinking session runs into the night. 2463 Larimer St., 303-295-0686

Readers’ Choice
Avanti Food & Beverage
3200 N. Pecos St., 720-269-4778

New Bar

Editors’ Choice
The Tatarian
Berkeley finally has a neighborhood cocktail bar, courtesy of the team behind Union Lodge No. 1 and the Arvada Tavern. The nearly seven-month-old Tatarian serves mixed drinks gorgeous enough to fill a coffee-table book. In fact, patrons can purchase the menu, which features the cocktail descriptions along with images of the plants that inspired them, for $15; proceeds benefit the Arbor Day Foundation, a conservation and education nonprofit. Former Arvada Tavern bartender and libation curator Josh Sevy creates concoctions as intriguing to the palate as they are to the eye, especially the eponymous Tatarian, a riff on an old fashioned made with smoky orange-Lapsang syrup. Thanks to these inventive tipples, the bar (whose name comes from a type of maple tree prevalent in the area) has already become rooted in the hearts of Denver’s cocktail crowd. 4024 Tennyson St., 303-416-4496

Readers’ Choice
Bar Helix
3440 Larimer St., 720-449-8587

Game Night

Editors’ Choice
Grandma’s House
Of course Grandma’s House hosts bingo on Tuesdays. How else could the brewery pay tribute to its namesake while also appealing to South Broadway hipsters? What’s novel is Wednesdays’ video-game tourneys, featuring the perennially popular Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart. (The winner takes home a growler of beer.) If games aren’t afoot, crafty events such as crocheting classes take over the taproom, which is decorated (naturally) with cross-stitch designs and wooden rocking chairs. If you happen to show up when no activities are planned, the massive collection of games—from classics like Monopoly to a vintage Happy Days board game—as well as 14 beers on draft still make Grandma’s House a good location for game night with friends. 1710 S. Broadway, 303-578-6754

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Readers’ Choice
Punch Bowl Social
65 Broadway, 303-765-2695; 3120 N. Uinta St., 720-500-3788

Bartender

Editors’ Choice
Benjamin Janarelli
Grandiosity is only bad if it’s paired with pretension. So, sure, Benjamin Janarelli, head bartender at South Broadway’s La Cour Denver’s Art Bar, makes drinks with lavish, often seasonal ingredients (rhubarb amaro, pistachio orgeat, and allspice jam, not to mention herbs grown in La Cour’s backyard garden) and incorporates local spirits such as Leopold Bros.’ absinthe. But Janarelli—who has also spent time behind the bars at Guard and Grace, Millers & Rossi, and Stoic & Genuine—never postures, making sure every type of drinker, whether he prefers house-made violet liqueur or Coors Light, feels welcome. 1643 S. Broadway, 303-777-5000

Readers’ Choice
Topher Hartfield, Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club

Artist

Jaime Molina’s Past the Tangled Present exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Editors’ Choice
Jaime Molina
On the side of the Dylan Apartments in RiNo, a mysterious man in a building-tall mural leaps into the air, wind blowing through his substantial beard. He’s no hipster. The unnamed figure is an invention of visual artist Jaime Molina (aka “Cutty Up”), who, along with his creative partner, Pedro Barrios, has inserted the character into roughly 10 public murals around town. Molina and Barrios employ him as a reflection of the neighborhoods in which he appears: In the RiNo piece, Molina hints that by the time the character lands, the area will be completely different. Molina, however, isn’t just animating the outdoors. Past the Tangled Present—his solo exhibit at the Denver Art Museum—runs through September 9. The show features murals with colorful patterns and 3D objects and renderings of his whiskered friend.

Readers’ Choice
Laura Krudener

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Place To See Art

Sarah Palmeri’s The Magazine Project at Understudy. Phoyo courtesy of Understudy

Editors’ Choice
Understudy
It’s not difficult to see the art at Understudy. In fact, the inside of the little window-walled gallery within the Colorado Convention Center is clearly visible from 14th Street. In fall 2017, the Denver Theatre District transformed what had been an awkwardly shaped, unrentable area into an “experimental art and culture incubator” that debuted with a musical and visual art celebration of hip-hop culture. Since then, the venue has hosted everything from dance festivals to mixed-media works examining the portrayal of women in magazines. Passersby can even pop in during open studio hours and get the story behind a work from the artist. This month that’s Ramón Bonilla, whose Illuminati DIA installation is inspired by the Denver airport’s myriad conspiracy theories. 890 C 14th St.

Readers’ Choice
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000

Music Venue That’s Not Red Rocks

Editors’ Choice
Levitt Pavilion Denver
This outdoor amphitheater, which embarked upon its first full season this summer, offers something even Morrison’s iconic stage doesn’t: ease. No traffic, no costly concessions, and, for the better part of the summer, no tickets. Planted in the middle of Ruby Hill Park, the Levitt is the result of a public-private partnership whose mission is to build community through music. In practice, that means the nonprofit will host 50 free concerts each summer, bringing a variety of musical genres—from country to Latin to R&B—to a hopefully diverse crowd that’ll post up on the lawn with picnic baskets. (For ticketed events, the Levitt’s capacity is 7,500, but the venue can hold up to 19,000 eager attendees during its free concerts.) So far this season, the Levitt has presented Della Mae, the Slackers, and the Posies. However, the late-summer lineup looks even better, with Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (July 6), John Fullbright (August 12), and Carbon Leaf (September 28) taking the stage. Unfamiliar with those acts? You won’t find a more convenient spot to gain an introduction.

Readers’ Choice
Ogden Theatre
935 E. Colfax Ave., 303-832-1874

Band/Musician

From left: Josh Fairman, Kevin Donohue, and Chris Anderson of the Boulder band SunSquabi. Photograph by Brady Cooling

Editors’ Choice
SunSquabi
For this Boulder electro-party-funk trio, 2018 represents a new high. (Yes, SunSquabi does provide the perfect soundtrack for stoned people; that’s not what we mean, though.) Not only did the group headline Red Rocks for the first time in May, but the six-year-old outfit also will appear at Denver’s Grandoozy festival, the three-day music extravaganza being thrown in September at Overland Golf Course by the promoters of Bonnaroo. There’s little wonder why the band would be a party favorite. SunSquabi’s upbeat, good-time tunes—which guitar, synth, and keyboard player Kevin Donohue likens to “Prince without words”—expand on the energetic, engaging live electronic legacies of Colorado heavy hitters such as Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic. And with the band planning to release a new album by the end of this year, we believe SunSquabi can only go higher.1330 27th St., 303-295-3333

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Readers’ Choice
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Festival

Editors’ Choice
Punkin Chunkin Colorado
Some fall lovers revel in the season by sipping pumpkin spice lattes. Others celebrate by launching the orange gourds almost a mile across the Arapahoe Park horse track in Aurora. At least, that’s what happens at Punkin Chunkin Colorado. The autumn festival (October 6 and 7 this year) typically attracts around 20 trebuchet-, catapult-,
and air-cannon-wielding teams, along with 30,000 spectators. Meanwhile, the crowd is treated to a cornucopia of foods and activities, including lawn games like giant Jenga for kids and pumpkin ales from (at least during past festivals) the likes of Dry Dock Brewing for adults. There’s also a pick-your-own pumpkin patch—so you can take home your own prized fruit and treat it as gently (or not) as you like.

Readers’ Choice
Cherry Creek Arts Festival
303-355-2787

Happy Hour

Editors’ Choice
Urban Farmer
This nearly year-old steak house close to Union Station ain’t cheap—and it shouldn’t be. Urban Farmer’s upscale take on the farm-to-table trend (it serves locally sourced food in a posh space) revitalized a spot once occupied by McCormick’s Fish House & Bar. That’s why its weekday happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., is such a revelation: You get to enjoy fancy food while paying low-end prices. The blue corn bread ($4), served with whipped butter and sea salt, is a must-order, and the beef sliders ($5), made from Colorado cattle, are perfect for sharing. Then there’s the booze. Old fashioneds made with Rittenhouse Rye are $5, as are local beers, while wine fans pay only $6 for house varieties that include red, white, and celebratory bubbly. There’s no better place to feel like you’ve finally made it—at least for three hours. 1659 Wazee St., 303-262-6070

Reader’s Choice
Postino Wine Café LoHi
2715 17th St., 303-433-6363

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Theater Company

Editors’ Choice
Off-Center
For an art form to remain relevant, it must adapt—not only its material, but also its medium. No local theater company understands that better than Off-Center, a seven-year-old branch of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Off-Center’s 2017-’18 programming featured traditional plays including This Is Modern Art, a contemporary work centered on graffiti artists that examines definitions of art as well as class and race. Then there was the continuation of its Mixed Taste series, a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, in which two speakers lecture about unrelated topics, such as air-traffic control and drag queen activism. Our favorite Off-Center shows, though, are its immersive productions. Last fall’s The Wild Party, about a flamboyant couple throwing a booze-soaked, flapper-filled shindig during the Roaring ’20s, was performed at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace. The 10,000-square-foot interior became the stage, with actors, audience, and a brass band sharing the space. The company also announced it will hold a series of microtheater performances this October and November at BookBar on Tennyson Street to bring theater to a broader audience. The Bard might have invented that bit about all the world being a stage, but in Denver, Off-Center is the one living up to it. 303-893-4100

Readers’ Choice
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1101 13th St., 303-893-4100

Author

Editors’ Choice
Elisabeth Hyde
In 2006, this Boulder novelist garnered a measure of fame after her whodunit, The Abortionist’s Daughter, became a best-seller. Hyde, a former lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, could have ridden that success into a typecast career as a thriller writer. Instead, she wrote 2009’s In the Heart of the Canyon about a fictional two-week trip through the Grand Canyon. And this past April, she released Go Ask Fannie, an emotional tale about three siblings struggling with how to care for their aging father while still dealing with grief from their mother’s tragic death three decades earlier. Despite her genre jumping, Hyde always produces character-driven books that ooze authenticity.

Readers’ Choice
Helen Thorpe

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