Thirty years in, these Best of Denver winners are still the best in town

Thirty years in, these Best of Denver winners are still the best in town

This is our thirtieth Best of Denver edition. Over the years, we've given at least 15,000 awards. Some of the categories — Best Mobile Hot Tub? — have disappeared, reflecting how trends come and go in a boom-and-bust-and-boom town; other honorees, such as the Winter Park Ski Train, simply reached the end of the line. But some winners — many of them multiple award winners — are still around, and still deserving of celebration. They've become Colorado Classics.

1984: John Elway. Our very first Best of Denver gave a prize to a newcomer to town: the Denver Broncos' brand-new quarterback, who'd had a very discouraging season after gracing the cover of Westword during his first days at training camp in 1983. Even so, we made a winning play and gave John Elway the Best Future award. "A Hall of Famer, for sure," we predicted. Today Elway is making winning plays from the Broncos' head office and continuing to score fans with his eponymous restaurant chain.

1985: My Brother's Bar. The oil bust had hit, but there was plenty of grease on the grill that cooked up the town's Best Cheeseburger at My Brother's Bar, located on the dark, dusty edge of the Platte Valley in a building that had first opened as a saloon a century ago and remained the city's longest-operating bar through many owners and names. In 1970, the Karagas brothers bought the place, which went for a couple of years without a name and without much money. "It just dawned on us one day that we should call it My Brother's Bar," recalls Jim Karagas, who today still greets guests at My Brother's.

1986: Mayan Theatre. Just when demolition seemed imminent for the then-53-year-old movie palace, a landmark on down-and-out Broadway, the feisty Friends of the Mayan stepped up in late 1985 and saved the structure, preserving the historic facade and making it the Best Building Saved in the Nick of Time. Today the Mayan remains a true treasure, a piece of art that shows art (and also serves cocktails!) on three screens.

1987: Benny's Cantina. Benny Armas, a veteran of numerous kitchens around town (he got his start as a dishwasher at the Blue Bonnet), finally opened a place he could call his own in 1987, when it won Best Taco. In the 25 years since, Armas has expanded Benny's numerous times, finally moving to a spot at 301 East Seventh Avenue, where Benny's Restaurant & Tequila Bar still packs them in today, serving pitchers of potent margs and some of the town's hottest green chile — another Colorado classic.

1988: Chuck Morris. In 1988, Chuck Morris Entertainment was honored as Best Music-Biz Manager on a Roll. And 25 years later — the last six with Anschutz Entertainment Group — Morris just keeps rolling along, with bigger and better plans every year. And the accolades keep rolling in, too: In May, Morris will be honored as the subject of an original play at Curious Theatre Company.

1989: Wynkoop Brewing Company. In the fall of 1988, a geeky, unemployed geologist and a handful of partners with just a smidge more experience opened the town's first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, set in a ramshackle part of the city that had just been dubbed the Lower Downtown Denver Historic District. And the rest is, indeed, history. The brewpub industry exploded in Denver, and the Wynkoop, which scored Best Restaurant Art in 1989, with many more Bests to follow, keeps winning awards. As for that unemployed geologist, he left the restaurant business to make a dark-horse run for mayor — and today John Hickenlooper is governor of Colorado.

1990: Barry Fey. Already a legend as this town's foremost rock empresario, Barry Fey gained a new title in 1990: Best Classical Godfather. In 1989, when the Denver Symphony Orchestra was bankrupt and its board was ready to disband, Fey stepped in, rallied the city and saved the symphony. As thanks, the newly formed Colorado Symphony Orchestra put a plaque honoring Fey in Boettcher Concert Hall — a plaque that had disappeared by the time the symphony went through its next big crisis. But the CSO's new managers reissued it last year.

1991: Mercury Cafe. Marilyn Megenity has kept Denver cooking since back in the '70s, when she opened her first spot in Indian Hills; the next fifteen years were a movable feast as she moved her combo restaurant/club around Denver. But in 1990, Megenity finally bought a Victorian building at 2199 California Street that in 1991 was named the Best Club That's Returned From the Dead. Today the Mercury Cafe remains the center for an incredibly lively, entertaining and, most important, enlightened cultural scene.

1992: Lake Steam Baths. Denver's Jewish community was once centered on West Colfax Avenue, and few vestiges of that neighborhood remain today. But Lake Steam Baths, which was already 65 years old when it won our Best Massage Deal in 1992, continues to be one of this town's most liquid assets, soothing the soul through traditional spritz, exfoliating scrubs — and deli-style meals. There are different nights reserved for women and men — and, yes, you have to get naked.

1993: Chubby Burger Drive Inn. Back in 1967, Stella Cordova was working as a cook at the Chubby Burger Drive Inn when the owner said he wanted to get out of the business; he gave Stella — who was making 85 cents an hour — a great deal so that she could buy it. She kept the name but changed the menu to feature the Mexican food she'd grown up with, and Chubby's quickly became known for its hot, hot green chile. Soon, assorted offspring — Stella had ten children — and their offspring began opening their own variations on Chubby's, with or without Stella's okay. That proliferation prompted us to name her original spot on West 38th Avenue the Best Chubby's in 1993. Stella Cordova passed away in 2008, but her restaurant, a true Colorado classic, continues to cook.

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