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By Tom Murphy
While living in New York a few years ago, I started keeping track of what I played on the jukebox in the three bars I frequented. I'm not entirely sure what inspired me to first jot down song names in my notebook, but it got to the point where I became obsessed, and my obsession spilled over into a blog where I'd write about any strange characters I'd met and then end the entry with my playlist for the night.
At one bar, it was usually Nick Drake, Nick Cave, Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones. At a bar a block away, it was Tom Waits, Serge Gainsbourg, Chet Baker, Lou Donaldson and the Pixies. One night, after I put on a Pixies song, a guy at the bar started telling me how much Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was influenced by the Pixies' "Debaser." According to this guy, when Kurt Cobain wrote "Teen Spirit," he was trying to write a Pixies song. (Play those two songs back to back, and you'll see that this guy was on point.)
Another time, a girl walked up to the jukebox, leaned over and pressed a few buttons — and "Let It Loose," from the Stones' extraordinary Exile on Main Street, came on. I thought that I could fall in love with a girl who liked that song. Yeah, it was just one tune, but when you have a deep personal connection with a song and discover that someone else does, too, you wonder how much more you have in common. Still, maybe I put too much importance on what people play on jukeboxes.
When I stepped into the brand-new Continental Club (475 Santa Fe Drive), there was just the sound of people talking — which was intolerable, because this place has one hell of a jukebox. I was itching to feed that box my dollar bills, but I needed a drink first. So a bartender known to many folks around town as Dumptruck — he's also an announcer at Denver Roller Dolls bouts — hooked me up with one of the night's specials: a can of Hamm's and a shot of Jim Beam for $4.
In the meantime, a guy who'd been playing pool beat me to the jukebox.
"Is this Helmet?" asked another guy sitting at the bar.
No one had an answer, but once the vocals kicked in, he answered his own question. Yes, it was Helmet. After the guy finished programming his songs, I walked over to the jukebox, scrolled through the discs and decided to start my set with Minor Threat's "Filler." I've got this notion that sometimes you can't only play the stuff you like; you have to scope out the people around you and compromise on something that they might like as well. Since there were some punks in the joint, I dropped a few songs I'd grown up with: early-'80s punk like Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys — all records I'd bought with my lunch money at Wax Trax when I was going to middle school down the street at Morey. I added some Iggy Pop, the Clash, Man...or Astro-man? and Johnny Cash, then closed with the Louvin Brothers' "Satan Is Real," which I'd never heard, but the title was intriguing.
While the Johnny Cash song was playing, one of the pool players came up to the bar and asked Dumptruck for some singles so that he could play something heavier than Cash. I'm pretty sure he played the Ministry tune, not so sure about Devo. That might've been the gal sitting a few seats from me.
One thing for sure: The Continental's jukebox is dialed in. I'll definitely be back for dollar PBRs (the all-the-time special) and further tunes exploration. And the bar is bringing in live acts, too, including Hammerlock and Lyin' Bitch & the Restraining Orders on Saturday, January 19.
Club scout: Tabor Cowden, owner of Hush (1403 Larimer Street), has made a few changes to the club's interior and reopened it as Open Bar. As the new name suggests, after paying the $5 cover, you get free beer and well drinks from 9 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays. Sounds like a winning concept.
Ten blocks away, the Old Curtis Street Bar (2100 Curtis Street) has fired up a new weekly night. It's the Curtis Hustle, with James Yardley, formerly of May Riots and Hawks & Doves, and guest DJs spinning psych, Brit rock and more every Thursday night. And one block over, the Loft (821 22nd Street) just kicked off Privilege Fridays with DJ Chief Rocka spinning hip-hop, top 40 and mash-ups. If you want to get started a little earlier, Duane Taylor Entertainment has started a Friday happy hour at the club, where upscale folks can relax, network and get two-for-one top-shelf drinks from 5 to 9 p.m. And starting Thursday, January 17, the Loft will host Upscale Thursdays, with DJ Dif'rent spinning neo-soul, classic hip-hop and old-school.