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Portrait of author Rebecca Yarros
Rebecca Yarros. Photo courtesy of Katie Marie Seniors

Top Author: Rebecca Yarros

Before May 2, 2023, Rebecca Yarros was living a quiet life in Colorado Springs—well, as quiet a life as an author of 20 moderately successful romance books and mother of six can have. Then Fourth Wing, her 512-page romantasy debut that follows a 20-year-old woman who enters a cutthroat dragon-riding school, was released. In the swiftly rising genre, the elaborate world-building of fantasy and science fiction is combined with romantic tropes and steamy sex scenes. Yarros excels at both, and readers responded to her self-assured, sex-positive female heroine and inclusive supporting cast.

In fantasy, a literary realm long dominated by straight white men, more diverse representation is, apparently, welcome. Fourth Wing has sold more than two million copies globally and spent three months atop the New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller list. Fans flocked to release parties for the series’ second book (of an anticipated five), Iron Flame, this past November, and the next installment is due in January 2025. The surest sign that Yarros’ life won’t be calming down any time soon? An Amazon TV adaptation of the series is in the works. —Jessica LaRusso

Top Bar: Emerald Eye

Space shot of Emerald Eye
Photo by Sarah Banks

Much like making a great cocktail, crafting a great bar requires combining the correct ingredients in just the right amounts. Thanks to its flawless recipe, year-old Emerald Eye—opened by California-based Pouring With Heart, which also owns Seven Grand and American Bonded—is well balanced and well worth a visit. —Lindsey B. King

One Part Vibe: Emerald Eye’s palm frond wallpaper, green and yellow ochre color scheme, dim lighting, and roomy, circular booths set the tone for a good time. But like any superb watering hole, Emerald Eye can shift its mood to match the time of day and the disposition of its customers. On weekdays around quittin’ time, the garden-level bar’s soft tunes and stiff drinks welcome what-a-day vent sessions. On Friday and Saturday nights, though, a movable wall slides away to reveal a dance floor. The Larimer Square address only burnishes the bar’s allure.

One Part Menu: Assistant general manager Nick Zerance describes the bar’s beverage bent as “dark tropical” because, he says, tiki can feel hokey: “We don’t play on the Polynesian theme, and there are no fire drinks.” Instead, Emerald Eye focuses on less ostentatious sippers made with rum, agave, tequila, and mezcal. The two most popular tipples are the Whoa Blackberry—made with gin, St-Germain, house-made cranberry liqueur, rosemary tincture, lemon juice, blackberry and raspberry syrups, and dusted blackberry on the rim—and the vegan milk punch, a cocktail Zerance spent three weeks perfecting, made with coconut and rice milks, four rums, cinnamon syrup, and lime juice.

One Part Staff: Every apron-bedecked barkeep knows how to mix a good libation. But it’s not all about shaken or stirred; it’s about good service, reading the room, and being jazzed about the job. “We all get excited about using different flavor profiles and giving people a taste of something they’ve never heard of,” Zerance says.

Read More: The 23 Best Bars in Denver

Top Brewery: Westbound & Down Brewing Company

Beer from Westbound & Down
Photo courtesy of Westbound & Down Brewing Company

Until a few years ago, if you were enjoying Westbound & Down’s suds on draft, you had likely pulled off I-70 in Idaho Springs to wait out traffic at the historical downtown taproom. The brewery opened in 2015, quietly made very good beer, and even won the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) award for midsize brewpub of the year in 2019. But Westbound had bigger dreams, which it realized with the purchase of the former Endo Brewing space in Lafayette. Opened at the end of 2021, 4,000-square-foot Westbound & Down Mill (a nod to the on-site silo and the fact that most of the brewery’s production and canning now happens there) offers scratch-made pizza and 10 beers on tap.

Then, in late 2023, Westbound debuted a small, stylish tasting room off an alley in LoDo’s Free Market, making it even easier for Denverites to swill its latest creations—which is good, because three of them took home medals at this past year’s GABF, the most of any Colorado brewery. —JL

The Medal: Gold, West Coast–Style India Pale Ale
The Beer: Westbound Select
Tasting Notes: A product of the Idaho Springs brewery, Westbound Select is rarely available at the Denver-area locales. So if you come across the 6.7 percent ABV IPA—whose “explosive aromas of tangerine, peach, strawberry, and melon give way to a light dankness,” according to Westbound—order it.

The Medal: Silver, New Zealand India Pale Ale
The Beer: The Spirit of the West
Tasting Notes: Also a 2023 World Beer Cup winner (silver, international IPA), the Spirit of the West is an easy-drinking, 6.8 percent ABV dry-hopped IPA. Bold citrus flavors work to soften the bitterness associated with the style, making it a great starter IPA for people who don’t think they like IPAs.

The Medal: Bronze, American Cream Ale
The Beer: The Coloradan
Tasting Notes: This 4.9 percent ABV Mexican lager brewed with flaked maize may have brought home some hardware, but it’s not too fancy to come in a mug with a wedge of lime. Squeeze it in, close your eyes, and pretend your toes are in the sand of your favorite beach instead of perched on a bar stool.

Top Cocktail Menu: Desert Social

TK cocktail at Desert Social
Photo courtesy of Desert Social

We’re not always down with trendy ingredients in our cocktails. Fat-washed spirits are weird. Absinthe tastes like Good & Plenty. Seafoam isn’t awful, but is it an improvement over the salted rim? In contrast, aloe liqueur—a low-calorie spirit made most famous by an 11-year-old California brand called Chareau—tastes fresh, is only slightly sweet, and has a velvety mouthfeel. That’s partially why we love the cocktail menu at Desert Social, which opened in late summer 2023 along South Broadway.

A member of the family-run food-and-beverage empire behind Ni Tuyo, Adelitas, and La Doña, the former dive bar (you might remember Bowman’s) is now a breezy hangout with a Southwestern desert vibe that deploys aloe liberally. The spirit shines in the hibiscus-hued aloe margarita, but ordering the agua de casa, a ranch-water-style beverage with Derrumbes San Luis Potosí mezcal, Chareau, lime, and Topo Chico, is the pro move. —LBK

Top Happy Hour: Cochino Taco

Happy hour spread at Cochino Taco
Photo by Abby Connolly, courtesy of OCN Eats

Cochino Taco doesn’t have happy hour or even happy hours: The local Mexican chain dubs its daily discount drink period “Happy Time.” It’s a fitting moniker because, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., patrons can snag a medley of drink specials, including $4 drafts, $6 margaritas, and a variety of playful cocktails—such as the Ahoy Chamoy, a boozy take on the savory-sweet fermented fruit sauce often found in Mexican street food—ranging from $5 to $7. Pair Cochino’s creative drinks with its equally ambitious small plates, such as the Doritos nachos (which are exactly what the name suggests). Warning: By small plates, we mean small. But at $5.50 to $6 each, you can afford a second helping.

The only downside is that with seven hours of cheap drinks and locations in Englewood, Edgewater, and Arvada, there’s plenty of opportunity for your boss to catch you playing hooky when she walks in to do the same. —Nicholas Hunt

Top Kid-Focused Entertainment: The Museum for Black Girls

Museum for Black Girls exhibit
Photo courtesy of the Museum for Black Girls

Charlie Billingsley celebrated her 31st birthday in 2019 by setting up a selfie museum honoring Black women at her friend’s clothing boutique in Aurora. Billingsley and her aunt Von Russ then took the experience on the road to Houston and Washington, D.C., but it wasn’t until last year that the duo found a home in their hometown. Thanks to a Downtown Denver Partnership initiative that provides temporary rent-free space on the 16th Street Mall, the museum brought its whimsical fusion of gallery chic and Instagram cool to the Denver Pavilions in October 2023.

Inside the 6,000-square-foot venue, portraits of Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and local dance legend Cleo Parker Robinson sit next to works from local artists such as Shakerra Monét. The pieces rotate every three months or so, but one permanent element is Billingsley’s “Grandma’s Kitchen,” an immersive set designed to look like, well, her grandmother’s kitchen. “This is a place for inspiration and celebration,” Billingsley says. “We like to say that we want guests to come in feeling loved and leaving with love.” —Barbara O’Neil

Top Place To Go Dancing: Stay Tuned

On a recent Sunday at 6 p.m., Stay Tuned was packed with dozens of gyrating dancers bobbing their heads and bouncing to beats by Derek Plaslaiko, a techno DJ based in the Pacific Northwest who’s known for his marathon sets. (This one would last only six hours.) That the scene is popping off when most normies are winding down their weekends might seem strange to the uninformed. But reimagining the local dance scene is exactly what club owners Sam and Tricia Maher and creative director Alex Whittier envisioned when they opened the Ballpark hot spot this past December.

Whittier, a longtime Front Range electronic music show producer, says Denver has become too used to loud-but-bad sound systems, aggressive alcohol culture, and a VIP mentality that inhibits community-building. So he and the Mahers made their space with dancers in mind. The term “high fidelity,” for example, may have fallen out of favor since the 1970s, but that’s how Whittier describes the sound system at Stay Tuned. “Hi-fi means you can both feel the bass and still have a conversation with someone next to you,” he says of the 22,000-watt speaker system from Void Acoustics, a favorite supplier for top clubs in Ibiza.

Stay Tuned isn’t huge. Whittier estimates the 2,158-square-foot space can fit 175 people comfortably (it helps that there’s no VIP section). The intimate setting makes a four-foot-diameter disco ball, previously owned by the band Cake, a statement piece. Elsewhere, suspended orbs cast colored hues on wall-hugging benches, where revelers can take a breather, and across a cement dance floor that Whittier says is perfect for doing the Dougie or the Bernie, thanks to its slick but not-too-slippery finish.

While alcohol is the only refreshment on tap at many clubs, the Mahers, who also own the Overland vegan restaurant Somebody People, commissioned a Mediterranean-themed pop-up called Pickpocket for Stay Tuned that includes such items as a beer-battered tofu “fish” sandwich. Dancers place orders along a curvy bar top and can pair their bites with Champagne-spritzed cocktails or mocktails such as the ginger berry fizz. Perhaps the most obvious nod to dancing’s pre-eminence here? One of the first things patrons encounter when they enter the venue is a hydration station. —Chris Walker

Top Theater Company: Theatre Artibus

The Bluebird production at Theatre Artibus
The Bluebird production at Theatre Artibus. Photo courtesy of Michael Ensminger Photography

In 2018, Meghan Frank’s family purchased the Savoy Denver, an 1889 red-brick building in Five Points. The former social hall became the home of Theatre Artibus, a company founded by Frank and her husband, Buba Basishvili (pictured), that delivers physical theater at its most piquant, precise, and poignant. “The story lives in their bodies and faces,” says Jeff Campbell, the founder and executive director of Denver’s Emancipation Theater Co., “and it takes a lot of talent to convey a narrative with that approach.” But as stewards of the Savoy, Frank and Basishvili are eager to share its stage with other companies from around the region.

As a result, the theater has become a secret gem for witnessing some of the most compelling and diverse art in the city, including this trio of shows that shined at the Savoy. —Lisa Kennedy

The Bluebird: Basishvili packed a lifetime of quandaries about dreams, belonging, and immigration into April’s The Bluebird, based on a poem by Charles Bukowski. Full of captivating pantomime, the one-person Theatre Artibus show soared under Frank’s direction and sailed on original music by the Walsenburg-based band Homospouses.

In the Pocket: The Ballad of Bobby Trombone: Set at the Rossinian Hotel in Five Points during the Jazz Age, this February 2023 play by Emancipation Theater Co. captured the history of a storied place even as the piece touched upon a decision facing so many contemporary artists as their cities become too expensive: Should I stay, or should I go?

Undone: The Lady M Project: In March 2023, Boulder’s Local Theater Company put on a Lady Macbeth–worthy show, posing fresh questions about power and privilege. But audiences were perhaps most affected by the opening pantomime of a hanging actor, an indelible image that could only have been achieved in a space built for physical theater.

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