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Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

We're building up to our annual Best of Denver issue, and we need your help. Click to nominate your faves for Best of Denver 2014 in our readers poll.

As you'll see, the poll includes our most popular categories in food, music, nightlife and more. But which are the toughtest to win two years in a row? Continue to see the current champs in our top picks for the top ten, as seen in photos accompanying the original award text. Do you think any of them can repeat? Judge for yourself below.

Number 10: Best Bartender -- Courtney Wilson

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

Being a great bartender is about far more than mixing magic -- although that element is certainly important. But a bartender's role behind the stick is also about spending time with those bellied up to the bar, whether they're high rollers or gravediggers. And Courtney Wilson, now a bartender at the very new Old Major after her most recent stint at Williams & Graham, deserves heroine worship for the way she straddles the line between professional and perky. She's engaging and exuberant and nearly religious when waxing poetic about the city's cocktail landscape, and she's clearly moved by spirits, as evidenced by her ingenuity when crafting cocktails -- whether they're on the syllabus or one of her clever one-offs. Wilson comes off as genuine and knowledgeable but never snooty, and she doesn't overthink what she pours in your drink. Like the pro that she is, she just gets it.

Readers' choice: Gerard Collier, Corner House

Number 9: Best hair on a TV personality, female -- Anastasiya Bolton

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

In a review of the largely forgotten 1985 movie The Year of the Dragon, starring Mickey Rourke, critic Elvis Mitchell coined the term "mood hair," suggesting that Rourke's 'do adapted to the demands of any particular scene like a mood ring reflecting the emotions of the person wearing it. Anastasiya Bolton's hair is something like that -- a blend of multi-hued locks that look deadly serious when the topic is grim, fun and sporty when the subject matter is lighter. How does she do it? Hell if we know. But we're still impressed by the way the brainy Bolton's cut seems to have a mind of its own.

Readers' choice: Amelia Earhart, 9News

Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs.

 

Number 8: Best Bronco -- Von Miller

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

With all due respect to Peyton Manning, with whom we're absolutely thrilled to share a state, Von Miller is the member of the Broncos who most exemplifies the future of the franchise. His incredible speed, which has quickly turned him into one of the NFL's most feared pass-rushers, deflects attention from the sort of strength and power that allows him to be an every-down player instead of a specialist. And his enthusiasm for the game, marked by sack dances that range from the silly to the incredibly silly, is downright infectious. We look forward to watching him wreak havoc for many, many years to come.

Readers' choice: Peyton Manning

Number 7: Best Jukebox -- The Lion's Lair

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

Variety is key to a great jukebox, and the juke at the Lion's Lair has it in spades. From the blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to the classic rock of the Stones and Zeppelin -- and pretty much everything in between -- it's one of the more diverse collections in town. And since the Lair brings in its fair share of punk acts, you'll find a good dose of punk, as well, whether it's coming from the Clash or one of the many mix CDs in the box. Rounding out the lineup? Soundtracks from Curtis Mayfield's Super Fly and the reggae-centric The Harder They Come, as well as country from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Readers' choice: Nob Hill Inn

Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs.

 

Number 6: Best hair on a TV personality, male -- Don Champion

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

Far too many TV types style their hair with a studied blandness in mind, not realizing that a clichéd coiffure makes them seem considerably cheesier than if they'd allow a little individuality to take root. No such danger with Don Champion: Rather than tame his hair into the usual undifferentiated follicle helmet, he lets his strands reach for the sky, figuratively speaking. The look is cool, bold and definitely not boring.

Readers' choice: Kyle Clark, 9News

Number 5: Best Free Entertainment -- The Mercury Cafe

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

For more than thirty years, Marilyn Megenity's Mercury Cafe has given this city a movable feast of good works, good food and good entertainment -- much of it free. For the last two decades, the Merc has been doing it from the edge of downtown, in an area that was once sketchy and is now heading toward respectability. And you'll find both sketchy and respectable types at the Merc, where first-date diners sit next to Occupy meetings and poetry slams collide with tango lessons and live shows in the underground community space. From morning 'til night, you'll find everything from dance to yoga, jazz to cello, with no charge for many programs. And the food, if not free, is locally sourced and made with care. Just eavesdropping on the conversation one table over could qualify as the best free entertainment in town -- but at the Merc, there's always some rising talent on display, too. And if you don't like any of that, you can always grab a free book from one of the Mercury's shelves.

Readers' choice: Jazz in the Park

Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs.

 

Number 4: Best chef -- Lon Symensma

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

If the kitchen is a stage, then Lon Symensma, chef-owner of ChoLon, is its undisputed star. He exudes extraordinary verve and charisma behind -- and beyond -- the line, and there's no end to his experimental innovation and bedazzling flavors and textures. But even more important is his endless pursuit of perfection, evident in every dish he creates, plates and tastes before it's whisked from the kitchen. He leaves absolutely nothing to chance, cooking with precision and finesse, standing guard over his troops and exposing his soul in every sauce, glaze, skewer, dumpling, potsticker and egg cloud that touches your lips. This is the kind of restaurant -- and Symensma is the kind of chef -- that makes you want to drop everything you're doing and just surrender to delicious temptation.

Readers' choice: Matt Selby

Number 3: Best club night -- Mile High Soul Club

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

Mile High Soul Club is a monthly event, and while once a month would hardly seem enough to make it a destination, this club night packs more than enough good times and great music into one evening to hold you over until next time. Launched in 2008 at Rockbar, the night, helmed by Tyler Jacobson, DJ DogBoy and Creeper Steve, features a choice blend of hand-picked Motown and Northern and vintage soul. Not only has the night survived a succession of moves over the years, but it continues to thrive and grow. It's grown so much, in fact, that in February, Mile High Soul Club set up shop at Beauty Bar -- which has plenty of room for the many fans who flock to Denver's best club night.

Readers' choice: Lipgloss

Continue to keep counting down our list of the ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs.

 

Number 2: Best house margarita -- Hacienda Colorado

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

If we want to drink tequila, we're going to drink it straight. But lately, we've been thirsting for that most adult of slurpies: a frozen margarita. Popular in other parts of the country, they're a rarity in Colorado (probably because the heated stares of margarita purists are enough to melt them into syrup) but a specialty at Hacienda Colorado, the "Mountain Mex" chain founded by Tim Schmidt. He's even the namesake of one of his homegrown chain's frozen margs, the Timmer, which has a Grand Marnier floater. But we prefer Hacienda Colorado's frozen house marg, made with nothing more than Margaritaville Gold Tequila and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Cool!

Readers' choice: Rio Grande

Number 1: Best Burger -- Highland Tap & Burger

Photos: Ten toughest Best of Denver categories to win again -- and the current champs

Even in this era of carbonated mojito spheres, caviar bubbles and beet cheesecake, the hamburger remains America's favorite food, and burger fans -- of which you are undoubtedly one -- are insanely opinionated about what the consummate burger should look and taste like. Highland Tap & Burger gets to the meat of the matter, serving its plump, char-grilled patties every which way: from classically naked to blanketed with cheese to whimsically fancified with feather-light shavings of foie gras. The beef, all Angus and 100 percent natural, is judiciously seasoned, cooked to temperature (if you want your beef to be bloody-red squish, the kitchen is happy to oblige), and the buns -- white, whole wheat or gluten-free -- are soft but sturdy. Tear into it, make a mess, and dribble 'til the cows come home.

Readers' choice: Cherry Cricket

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Best of Denver archive: "Photos: Ten best parks for doing just about anything in Denver and beyond."


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