Colorado is lucky to boast many music venues that are run independently of corporate giants. Some of these spaces are big, others small. All keep this city's scene original and vibrant. Here are twelve of Denver's best independent music venues running today.
1. Black Box
314 East 13th Avenue
Black Box opened at the former location of both Bender's Tavern and Quixote's True Blue. Since Nicole Cacciavillano took over operations in 2016, the club has hosted underground electronic-music shows of various stripes. With the venue's stellar Basscouch sound system, audiophiles are sure to be pleased. Black Box also hosts lineups from music collectives including Nocturnal, Sub.mission and Sorted.
2. Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom / Cervantes' Other Side
2635 Welton Street
Formerly Casino Cabaret, this space once hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, James Brown, and Ike and Tina Turner. The space was rechristened Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in 2003 alongside its next-door venue the Other Side; the two outlets have most often hosted hip-hop acts, jam bands, funk groups and EDM shows, with the occasional left-field performance, such as when black-metal band Mayhem played there in 2009.
7 South Broadway
This small club was Seven South through the ’90s, before becoming Quixote's True Blue, and then the hi-dive in November 2003. The venue's booking has evolved over the years, but it has most often been a home to diverse genres and is one of the best spaces in town to catch an act before it blows up. Arcade Fire, Beach House, MGMT and St. Vincent all played early shows here.
4. Lion's Lair
2022 East Colfax
Dive bar and music venue the Lion's Lair has undergone many changes in its three-plus decades of existence. The Lair has held shows with countless, perhaps even most, local bands. But it has also somehow landed concerts from the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Lydia Lunch, Flipper, Garland Jeffreys, the Melvins and Pere Ubu.
5. The Marquis Theater / Summit Music Hall
2009 Larimer Street / 1902 Blake Street
Soda Jerk Presents used to book its shows at now-defunct venues like Rock Island in downtown Denver, Tulagi in Boulder and the Cat in Five Points. But it wasn't until the production company acquired the Marquis in 2006 that it found a reliable home, and in 2010, the company opened the much-larger Summit Music Hall. While the booking at both venues has been diverse, Soda Jerk mostly showcases punk, metal and hip-hop.
6. Mercury Cafe
2199 California Street
The Mercury Cafe has occupied several spaces over the years, including one near 13th Avenue and Pearl Street in Denver, where Black Flag, Gun Club and the Birthday Party all played in the early ’80s. Its current location, at 2199 California Street, has been its home since 1990. More of an active music venue and restaurant throughout the ’90s, the Merc still hosts music on the ground floor in its Jungle Room, as well as in the upstairs Dance Hall, where the sound system is one of the best in a small venue in town. These days, concerts tend to be less loud and aggressive than when Killing Joke and Deicide played the space.
Read on for more of Denver's best independent music venues.
7. Mutiny Information Cafe
2 South Broadway
The building that houses Mutiny Information Cafe was a grocery store when it opened in 1904. For the last three decades, it's been a bookstore and coffee shop in various incarnations. Jim Norris and Joe Ramirez bought Mutiny Now from Jack Jensen in 2013 and updated the moniker to reflect the current function of the shop as a hub for local literature, culture and live music. The venue hosts small shows from many genres including punk, extreme metal, ambient, experimental electronic, indie rock, hip-hop, noise, ambient, Americana and avant-garde. All of the shows are all-ages.
8. Ophelia's Electric Soap Box
1215 20th Street
Ophelia's sits in downtown Denver's Ballpark neighborhood, on the ground floor and in the basement of the Airedale building, which has been a flophouse, a bordello and a porn library. These days, it's a small club that's quite a bit fancier than most and has a much better menu. Though the space doesn't limit itself to booking R&B, hip-hop and jazz, expect plenty of shows in those genres on the Ophelia's calendar.
9. Oriental Theater
4335 West 44th Avenue
The Oriental was a movie theater when it opened its doors in 1927; over the past two decades, the venue has served up an array of live music and comedy – especially since Scott LaBarbera has been at the helm, for roughly ten years. Swallow Hill holds some of its events here, as does the industrial music scene. The space is often home to jam bands, jazz, folk, rock, punk and hip-hop. The Oriental includes one of the largest projection screens of any of Denver's small theaters.
10. Skylark Lounge
140 South Broadway
Skylark Lounge opened in 1943 at 58 South Broadway. It was a homey dive bar with pool tables. When it moved in 2003 to its current, much larger location, the Skylark lost none of its charm, and it started hosting shows on its stage. For many years, it was known as the place to see rockabilly, but over the last decade, it has hosted a broad spectrum of Denver underground music.
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11. Syntax Physic Opera
554 South Broadway
Jonathan Bitz curated shows at the Meadowlark bar for roughly five years and cultivated the local singer-songwriter scene during the first decade of the 2000s. When Bitz opened Syntax in 2013, he expanded what he had been doing with the singer-songwriter world. The venue has offered up diverse booking, bringing in label showcase nights, hosting rare industrial acts like Clock DVA and the upcoming Severed Heads show in the fall, and serving as one of a very few small venues to regularly book experimental music.
12. 3 Kings Tavern
60 South Broadway
Formerly 60 South and the Cherry Pit, 3 Kings opened in 2006, and it quickly garnered a reputation as a bar where the bands and patrons were both treated well, because the founders had been involved in Denver music for years. Though mostly a home to punk, metal and rock, 3 Kings and its Phoenix Gallery art space in the basement have opened their doors to many, if not most, of Denver's underground bands, as well as more well-known acts like Slim Cessna's Auto Club and higher-profile out-of-town groups like High on Fire.