On the Town

As years go, 2002 might be facing something akin to a sophomore slump. There are no sci-fi film classics about 2002; no dire apocalyptic scenarios are attached to it. Two years in, we've grown fairly comfortable with life in the Oughts. Despite past predictions, we're not flying around in spaceships. We just date our checks a little differently.

When the year 2002 officially presents itself at midnight on December 31, it will surely arrive with the requisite popping of corks, the kissing of spirit-coated lips and dizzy, mangled readings of "Auld Lang Syne." But it might not carry the same power to induce normally well-mannered individuals to party like it's, well, 1999. After two years of mandatory millennium mania, we might all be due for a slightly more low-key approach to welcoming our old friend January 1 back to the calendar.

Consider what we've been through: December 31, 1999, brought with it a nervous excitement -- a strange combination of giddiness over a new century and trepidation about what that transition might bring. Soon after the clock struck and we'd found our partners for the obligatory midnight smooch, we rushed around searching for the nearest electronic device to tell us whether or not the Y2K bug would indeed wreak havoc on our Palm Pilots and, thus, our lives. When that New Year's Day came and went without so much as a minor municipal power outage, we began thinking ahead, to December 31, 2000. As purists had pointed out, the real new millennium did not begin until 2001, a notion heeded by the City of Denver. Last year we made up for our lackadaisical contribution to the global Y2K party schema by throwing a downtown bash that transformed the 16th Street Mall into a kind of carnival midway, complete with street performers, food and a gigantic fireworks display that might well have been visible from space.

Still, a new year is a new year. Celebrations are in order. Fortunately, the city's party purveyors have made sure that there is still plenty of fun to be had, even if it won't be accompanied by the rocket-red glare of a million exploding fireworks, and even if you have to look a little harder to find it. This New Year's Eve, after all, is more than that rare chance to get shnockered on a Monday night (although that is a nice bonus). It's a time to think earnestly about renewal and regeneration, concepts that have never felt more welcome than they do right now.

Aw, who're we kidding?

HOW LO YOU CAN GO

LoDo has been through a lot. In ten years, it's been transformed from an industrial no-man's-land into a hipster oasis, a playground for the rich and lovely as well as those who prefer their hangouts to come with a modicum of grime. On New Year's Eve, LoDo packs more action per square block than the Olympic Village -- perfect for those who abhor the idea of being stuck in one place for an entire evening. Raise a champagne glass in any of the area's stylish clubland offerings, from the swanky Club Sanctuary (2040 Larimer, 303-296-2424) to Mattie's House of Mirrors (1946-A Market Street, 303-293-8555), a former brothel turned chill-out lounge where you can check out the clientele -- and yourself -- in the wall-to-wall mirrored panels that surround the interior. In the three-club Danceplex (2301 Blake Street, 303-382-1976), you can go back in time with the groovy dancin' cats at Polly Esther's, where a vibey, '70s-style mass will welcome the New Year in far-out fashion ($55 per individual/$100 per couple; reservations recommended).

If you prefer your music to emanate from human beings rather than turntables, check out the cool saxophone stylings of the Laura Newman Quartet at El Chapultepec (1962 Market Street, 303-295-9126), arguably Denver's most timeless jazz joint. Irish rockers the Indulgers fiddle away the night at Fadó (1735 19th Street, 303-297-0066), where a special 5 p.m. toast honors the arrival of the witching hour in Ireland, while the Soiled Dove (1949 Market Street, 303-299-0100) hosts a rocking double bill from Xiren and On Second Thought.

If you feel energetic enough to explore the areas farther downtown, hop on the 16th Street Mall Shuttle, which will run at all hours and is, as always, free. The shuttle has recently added stops at Wazee and Wynkoop streets, which gives you about three extra minutes to wake up before moving on to the next bar. As you move to downtown proper, you can linger on the sidewalks where the neon signs are pretty -- and so are the people. If weather or heating systems permit, check the outdoor patios at Marlowe's, the Paramount Cafe and the Rialto Cafe -- the sophisticated triumvirate that frames the stretch from Glenarm to Champa streets on the mall. (While at the Rialto, make a mental note for Tuesday morning: This theater-themed restaurant serves some of the best Bloody Marys in town.)

Around the corner, Leftover Salmon continues a New Year's tradition with a headlining appearance at the Paramount Theatre (1631 Glenarm Place, 303-534-8336; advance tickets recommended). At the Sherman Street Event Complex (1770 Sherman, 303-778-0916), Lannie Garrett and Her Big Band welcome the new year as they revel in the music of a different era. Get swingin'!

OUT AND ABOUT

LoDo doesn't have a monopoly on nightlife in Denver. The entire town comes alive on New Year's Eve, which means you can spend the evening traipsing from one side of the city to the other, providing you've got a patient cab driver or a well-highlighted bus schedule. (From 7 p.m. Monday night to 6 a.m. Tuesday, RTD will allow passengers to ride all buses for free, including its light-rail and Sky Ride routes. Maybe you could use a ride out to the airport and back as your sober-up time.)

The Golden Triangle neighborhood boasts some of the city's more happening clubs, all of which are sure to be transformed into hedonistic dens come New Year's Eve. Which is what we're all looking for, right? The multi-room Church (1160 Lincoln Street, 303-832-3528) will host DJs Jonas Temple, Tribal Touch, Steve-O and live music from Fredi and the Soul Shakers. Craps junkies can throw the dice -- and pull the slots and flip the cards -- in the Seven Candles Casino, a faux gambling hall that will be set up in the venue's Chapel Room. DJ Dan spins close by at Vinyl (1082 Broadway, 303-860-8469), while the Funky Buddha, with its newly opened rooftop balcony, is a mellow, stylish place to relax and have a fruity cocktail before moving on. Salsa club La Rumba (99 West Ninth Avenue, 303-572-8006) is always a spicy place to find a dancing partner.

Farther down the road, Broadway starts to resemble a wonderfully funky bohemian boulevard, where hippies and hepsters, scooter kids and spinheads convene to get down in their own ways. Three DJs will spin into the wee hours inside the recently revamped gay club 60 South (60 South Broadway, 303-777-0193), while Jerry's Kids turn Quixote's True Blue (7 South Broadway, 303-570-8249) into their own personal Shakedown Street, thanks to the musical efforts of Lazy Lighting and Larry. And if you just want to retreat into the warm confines of a nice, dark bar, try the Skylark Lounge, one of the city's most authentic old-school bars, where both the fashion-conscious and the downtrodden find solace in spirits and a great jukebox.

IT'S CALLED CULTURE, PEOPLE

Of course, it is not absolutely necessary to equate New Year's Eve with mindless consumption of champagne and reckless socializing. There are some refined alternatives for those who'd rather be in bed by the time the ball drops.

The Denver Botanic Gardens (1005 York Street, 720-865-3500) will be illuminated by "Blossoms of Light," 250,000 glowing bulbs that frame all of those plants and flowers, and carolers and choirs will spread over the Gardens like ground cover. The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m., which means you'll still have plenty of time to grab a bite and head home before Dick Clark leads his famous countdown from Times Square. Should you elect to stay out, however, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra would love your company: The CSO will perform A Night in Vienna and New York at Boettcher Concert Hall (14th and Curtis Streets, 303-830-TIXS; package is $175 per person) before joining patrons in a dinner at the Hyatt Regency (1750 Welton Street).

Be careful, though: That night, the Hyatt will be home to a party that has little to do with high society. The Nacho Men will perform in the hotel's main ballroom as part of Discotheque 2002, a balloon-dropping, booty-shaking, rug-cutting partay if ever there was one.

Happy New Year.


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