Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
One of the last of the endangered Colfax dive bars, the Lion's Lair has been a celebrated punk-rock venue for almost thirty years. But it's also been host to something even more brutal and hardcore: open-mic comedy. A vital training ground for Denver standups, the Lion's Lair is where local legends such as Ben Kronberg and the Grawlix performed their earliest sets and where the current generation of aspirants go to have their dreams nurtured and crushed in equal measure. Founded over a decade ago by Troy Baxley, the open mic has cycled through a series of guest hosts but always maintained its spirit of benevolent chaos, a tradition carried on by current stewards Roger Norquist and Westword's own Byron Graham. A cultural institution that harks back to a bygone Denver, the Lion's Lair open mic is unusually fraught with absurd occurrences, like a mid-show seance or a comic being heckled by his future wife. Sign-up begins at 10 p.m. every Monday night.
You expect to check out books and movies from the local library, but did you know you can also check out experiences? If you have a Denver Public Library card, you can visit the DPL's website to book a free pass to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver or the History Colorado Center up to thirty days in advance. Each museum offers different plans for families, but they typically start with free admission for two adults; at the DMNS, the one-day membership also includes discounts on ticketed exhibits and IMAX shows. You're more of the outdoorsy type? You can also check out a free, one-week Colorado State Park pass and activity backpack at any DPL branch. Way to go.
Readers' Choice: City Park Jazz
The National Center for Atmospheric Research offers plenty of ways to expand your brain while exercising the other muscles in your body. Noon tours on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays provide primers on atmospheric science and current NCAR research, and free tablets loaded with audio, videos and additional content are available as well. Visitors can also conduct self-guided tours of the facility's sprawling campus; our favorite jaunt is the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, which offers signage explaining wind, cold fronts, climate zones and even the notorious brown cloud along a nearly half-mile loop. But you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing: All of these options are free.
Readers' Choice: Coors Brewery
Natives and transplants alike can get a crash course in all things local by exploring History Colorado's tours (two- to six-hour jaunts around the metro area that might involve walks, bikes or buses) and treks (overnight trips to areas fifty miles or more away from Denver). Many facets of the state's history and culture await: walking tours of Denver alley art or its lesser-known parks; an overnight canoe trip on the Colorado River; a visit to Sugar Beet Days in Sterling; tea at Cherokee Ranch Castle; the wineries of Grand Junction — the list goes on, and with a little advance planning, so can you.
Who says the best things in Denver have to be shiny and new? Riverside Cemetery is the city's oldest functioning cemetery, located between the Platte River, the train tracks and the industrial Northside. But what makes this spot, where many of Denver's founders are buried, so remarkable is the diversity of tombstones. Sure, there are plenty of standard rectangles, and the more recently people were buried, the less interesting their markers seem to be. But go back in history and you'll see remarkable horses, life-sized sculptures of city founders, a decidedly not-religious tree stump, puzzling babies, a tombstone to a Serbian soldier that looks something like a hot-air balloon, and so much more.
Lakeside Amusement Park's storied past never fails to amuse its faithful fans. A true place of mystery on the northwest edge of town, Lakeside has always played second banana to the tonier Elitch Gardens (inasmuch as an amusement park can be tony), but that's what makes it so charming: It's a place stuck in time, a neon anachronism that's slowly crumbling (physically, even, after a car recently crashed into a parking structure next to the welcoming Lakeside tower). Author David Forsyth endeavored to put that charm and mystery into words by digging deep into the park's history for Denver's Lakeside Amusement Park ($34.95, University Press of Colorado), a fun read that uncovers Lakeside's untold stories.