Denver's Ten Best Small Venues

Devotcha did a three-night run for Valentine's Day at the Mercury Cafe in 2013.
Devotcha did a three-night run for Valentine's Day at the Mercury Cafe in 2013.
Brandon Marshall for Westword.

It's no secret that Denver is blessed with an overwhelming amount of music venues, places boasting calendars packed full of local and national acts every night of the week. We wanted to highlight some of the best of the little guys -- venues that can hold crowds under 500 people. There are some old favorites on this list, untouched and in their original, mildly sketchy glory. But there are also some venerable spots that have had recent makeovers for the good, plus some brand new locations just waiting to be discovered. Dive in and see if there's a venue in Denver you've never been to yet and then get out there and see some music. Stay tuned for more lists looking at Denver's bigger venues, bar rooms and D.I.Y. spaces.

See also: Denver Has More Live Music Venues Than Austin. Does It Matter?

Denver punk mainstays King Rat at 3 Kings.
Denver punk mainstays King Rat at 3 Kings.
Tom Murphy for Westword.

3 Kings Tavern 60 South BroadwayWhile South Broadway continues to see itself get cleaned up, 3 Kings Tavern is one of those old faithful spots that still looks, feels and acts like your friendly neighborhood punk rock bar. This is not to say the place is grimy, but 3 Kings provides the right kind of seedy but welcoming atmosphere fit for a punk show, a burlesque review, a bingo night or some great local comedy. A pool table and some booths are scattered about, but most visitors will find a comfortable seat at the bar or standing front and center for both local and national acts who get the proper treatment from some of the best sound people around.

Willie Houston plays Dazzle Jazz at the 2013 Westword Music Showcase.
Willie Houston plays Dazzle Jazz at the 2013 Westword Music Showcase.
Jon Solomon for Westword.

Dazzle Jazz 930 Lincoln Street For a decade and a half running, Dazzle Jazz has been hosting jazz greats and up-and-comers alike in its classy but accessible atmosphere. The semi-formal dining room offers up great food and stellar service while patrons are able to sit back and catch drummer Todd Reid's Tuesday Jam Sessions or a set from a national acts like Ravi Coltrane or the Ricky Earl Band. Dazzle continues to be a haven for jazz junkies and those looking for a first taste of Denver's vibrant and diverse music scene of expert players.

EMA plays the newly revamped Lost Lake Lounge stage.
EMA plays the newly revamped Lost Lake Lounge stage.
Tom Murphy for Westword.

Lost Lake Lounge 3602 East Colfax Filling a longstanding need for a smaller scale rock club on East Colfax, Lost Lake Lounge opened a handful of years ago under the ownership of hi-dive proprietor Matt LeBarge. After LeBarge sold the spot to AEG talent buyer Scott Campbell in 2013, the bar and adjoining show space saw big changes -- this year, renovations opened the room up and a new sound system changed everything. Lost Lake hosts local rock, hip-hop and funk bands along with national acts attracting substantial buzz, not to mention after-show DJ sets by big name performers who come through the Bluebird Theater.  

Joshua Novak fronts new band Oko Tygra, playing one its first shows at Syntax Physic Opera.
Joshua Novak fronts new band Oko Tygra, playing one its first shows at Syntax Physic Opera.
Tom Murphy for Westword.

Syntax Physic Opera 554 South Broadway The newest venue on this list, Syntax Physic Opera is already receiving much deserved attention for its great food and curated calendar of events. An after-hours club feel lends to the cool nature of this fresh spot, which opened in July and currently hosts live jazz and separate songwriters and comedy open mics weekly. Add to that hot shows from new bands attracting a lot of attention like Oko Tygra and Miss America by Wheary and Syntax is stacking up to be one of Denver's most talked-about venues.

An average weekend night crowd at the hi-dive.
An average weekend night crowd at the hi-dive.
hi-dive's Facebook.

hi-dive 7 South Broadway When the hi-dive opened in 2003, it seemed to tap into a whole arm of the Denver music scene in need of a home -- bands like the Swayback and the Photo Atlas flourished within in its no-frills interior. Over the years, the venue has hosted big bands before they got big, like Vampire Weekend and Portugal. the man. Last year, two of hi-dive's musician-employees bought the place and immediately started making some much needed cosmetic changes, removing the drop ceiling, improving the sound system and making one of Denver's favorite rock clubs an even stronger magnet for hype-worthy national acts and fast-growing locals.

Devotcha did a three-night run for Valentine's Day at the Mercury Cafe in 2013.
Devotcha did a three-night run for Valentine's Day at the Mercury Cafe in 2013.
Brandon Marshall for Westword.

Mercury Cafe 2199 California Street Three venues in one, Denver's Mercury Cafe is now an iconic show space known for hosting some of the most memorable and off-the-wall entertainment experiences in the city.Whether you're looking for piano bar atmosphere, an open mic opportunity or a swing night complete with dancing lessons, the Merc has it all. Owner and operator Marilyn Megenity has been keeping Colorado well-fed and weird for close to four decades, serving the community at her venue's current Five Points location for quite a while. The Merc cemented its counter-culture status back in the '80s, when the then-Capitol Hill location hosted Black Flag and Misfits among dozens of other punk bands.

L.A.'s Gliss plays Gathering of the Clouds last year at the Walnut Room.
L.A.'s Gliss plays Gathering of the Clouds last year at the Walnut Room.
Tom Murphy for Westword.

Walnut Room 3131 Walnut Street The obvious bonus of a visit to the Walnut Room is access to affordable and delicious pizza and a great place to hang out. But the space also has one of the most underrated rooms to see music in the city. With great sound, nice door staff and an impressive stage, Walnut Room provides a great atmosphere to catch local acts from hip hop showcases to experimental noise acts along with national performers on the rise.  

A show at the pre-renovated and renamed Moon Room.
A show at the pre-renovated and renamed Moon Room.
Aaron Thackeray for Westword.

Moon Room - Summit Music Hall 1902 Blake Street The smaller, more intimate companion of Summit Music Hall, the Moon Room is a venue within a venue. As the only space in LoDo to consistently see great local and national rock and hip-hop acts, these two Soda Jerk Presents venues work in tandem to give performers with both large and growing draws a place to play. When Summit first opened in 2010, the Moon Room wasn't fully realized, but still hosted smaller acts and acoustic sets. In 2013, the space got a makeover and now operates as the great concert venue it was meant to be.

Vivian Girls at Larimer Lounge.
Vivian Girls at Larimer Lounge.
Jon Solomon for Westword.

Larimer Lounge 2721 Larimer Street The first bar to officially stake its claim on the section of Larimer Street in Curtis Park, Larimer Lounge quickly became known throughout Denver as the place to see national bands on the verge of stardom (a certain Arcade Fire show in 2003 is still talked about) right after it opened. But the space -- which has seen both cosmetic and sound system improvements in recent years -- is also known as a launch pad for local bands looking to build a draw. From its infamous afternoon BBQ shows to being a stage for local, small-level music festivals, Larimer Lounge paved the way for Meadowlark, Cold Crush and the Matchbox to come along and create one of Denver's hippest city blocks.

Hip hop legend Rakim throws down a set at Cervantes' Otherside in 2013.
Hip hop legend Rakim throws down a set at Cervantes' Otherside in 2013.
Antonio Valenzuela for Westword.

Cervantes Otherside 2637 Welton Street Another Northwest Denver venue, Cervantes' Otherside boasts a big room feel in a smaller capacity space. The sister stage to the massive Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom next door, the Otherside continues in the Cervantes tradition of hosting local and national hip hop, rock and funk artists, along with killer DJ sets.





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