The Church
Several new high-quality dance venues have opened in the Denver metro area in recent months, but with the best PLUR vibe and sound system, top-shelf DJ talent and lower covers and drink prices, Avalon gets our nod as the first-place finisher. Sure, it's a long way from LoDo to Lone Tree (designated-driver alert), but week in, week out, the massive, 1,600-plus capacity Avalon features grinning crowds throbbing to the cream of the globe-trotting DJ crop, including Paul Oakenfold and George Acosta, who both played the club in the same week.

Best Dance Club for Seeing -- and Being Seen

Rise

Rise is the perfect place to spot the bold and the beautiful -- or to pretend to be bold and beautiful yourself. Since this bold and beautiful club opened last summer, a slew of movers and shakers have been eyeballed chilling on the patio's preformed plastic couches, shaking it like a Polaroid on the spacious dance floor or having drinks in the upstairs VIP lounge. The Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony even hosts a weekly party at Rise. And if Melo -- who looks to be Mootown's new John Elway -- thinks it's tight, that should tell you everything you need to know. If not, you'd better rise up and ask somebody.
hi-dive
Dive-bar row lost a legend last year when Quixote's -- which had replaced the even more notorious 7 South -- closed its doors at 7 South Broadway. But two newcomers are quickly filling the void. The hi-dive, which is coming on strong as a local indie-rock venue with creative programming, is a classic hipster-trash joint with minimal decor, a pool table and a pinball machine. The 'dive's popular Monday-night rock-and-roll movie series is a cheap thrill, offering $1 PBRs and $2 wells. Residing next door, in what used to be the smoking area of Quixote's, is Sputnik, which offers multi-hued faux-space-age lighting, black-and-white photos of NASA control rooms, and half-moon vinyl booths inviting patrons to kick back and enjoy the killer jukebox, whose selections range from Coltrane to the Meat Puppets. Houston, we have no problem here.
GROWednesdays has been transplanted several times since it debuted three years ago at the Funky Buddha, where it was dumped for a disco night. It was resurrected last spring at Harry's, the downstairs bar in the Magnolia Hotel, where it blew up big time -- too big, as it turned out. Besieged by noise complaints from its business-traveler clientele, Magnolia management pulled the plug after six months. In November, the popular night moved to Rox Infusion Lounge, where it seems to have finally found a happy home. And that's good news, because resident DJs Ivy and Psychonaut spin definitive down-tempo sets unique to Denver, ranging from chillin' jazzy trip-hop to deep dub and thumpin' slow breaks -- and there's no cover. Way to GROW.
If you want to get off on nutmeg, seasoned psychonauts recommend 200 milligrams per two pounds of body weight. But trust us: A face-melting, booty-shaking, soul-massaging, four-hour dance set by DJ Nutmeg is a way better high. A master mixer who reads a crowd's vibe with X-ray eyes, Nutmeg plays old- and new-school techno with flourishes of deep house and wild-card funk. Since he started rocking the decks in 1996, Nutmeg has spiced up every major club in Colorado, most notably Soma and the Snake Pit. Currently, this stud of the MileHighHouse stable plays every Thursday and Saturday at Lime, from 10 p.m. until close, and Sundays at Rise.
One of the most hard-line proponents of hip-hop culture is an unassuming record clerk from Boulder. Yeah, we know, Boulder sometimes seems like the polar opposite of everything street, but in the hip-hop galaxy, think of it as the Dagoba System, with DJ Vajra as Yoda. Vajra holds down turntables with a Jedi's grace and poise -- a beacon for the aesthetic that made hip-hop appealing in the first place -- while the Dark Lords and Count Dookus of the culture trade in authenticity for liquidity. When Radio Bum member DJ Psycho was asked to describe Vajra in five words or less, he only needed four: "All DJs fear Vajra." One of the world's best turntablists is holding down Mootown's B-side, so stand up and recognize, y'all.
Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon
There's a Smithsonian quality to the Lion's Lair juke, a beat-up old box that houses a carefully curated collection of rock-and-roll historica: Start with Hank Williams Sr. or Muddy Waters and work your way forward through the last fifty years, stopping at every major genre along the way, from Motown and soul (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Curtis Mayfield) to British new wave (the Jam, Graham Parker). Punch in the right numbers and you'll get arty, anarchic cool (the Stooges, Patti Smith), iconic (Dylan, Springsteen) or a combination of more random elements. (Sweet? The Grass Roots? Garland Jeffreys? Who picks this stuff?) The Lair is the only place in town where it seems totally natural to find the Kinks, Jonathan Richman, the La's and the Smiths next to Iron Maiden, Merle Haggard, the White Stripes and the Dead Kennedys. Grab a dollar; free your mind.
Devotees of Unity Gain refer to the Sunday-night climaxes of these 72-hour, multi-location marathons as "Church." And Unity Gain is worthy of worship. Since it started in the summer of 2000 as a mere club night at Boulder's Soma, the series has garnered a well-deserved reputation as the premier showcase for turntable talent in a non-commercial, underground setting. Typically, the sporadically scheduled parties span an entire weekend and move from ski towns along I-70 to Denver and Boulder and back again. Whatever the venue, Unity Gain promoters make it theirs, decorating with fabric, candles, tapestries, flowers and giant pillow installations. The custom light shows feature multiple film loops, 3-D screens and ambient projections. This sensual decor, combined with phenomenal music by local, national and international DJs, makes Unity Gain parties the bomb. Everyone's welcome, but there's no website, and no phone number to call. Keep an eye out for fliers in local dance clubs and record stores.
Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto
Stepping into Mario's Double Daughters Salotto is like waking up from an overdose of LSD and Pop Rocks. The downtown bar has a trippy Alice in Wonderland-meets-City of Lost Children vibe that jells perfectly with Bare Witness, its Monday-night DJ residency. Selectors Ryan Mates and Zach Dunn -- aka Monke Man and Dr. Zen -- whip up a deep, smooth purée of electronic and reggae sounds that range from the kung-fu techno of Depth Charge to the august dub of King Tubby. Drinks aren't cheap, but, hey, Monday night is the perfect time to sip a couple of quality cocktails in LoDo without all the weekend meatheads and mobocracy.
Larimer Lounge
Jeff Davis
Aesthetically speaking, nothing much stands out about the Larimer Lounge: The stage is awkwardly placed, the sound is merely adequate, and the bathrooms are cramped and dingy. But the Lounge does one thing better than anyone else: It brings the rock. Besides, some of the great rock rooms of history -- the long-defunct Jabberjaw in L.A, Emo's in Austin and CBGB in New York -- have been plagued by those things, too. Those looking for posher environs would do well to venture further south into LoDo, but if you're looking for cheap suds and the best sounds from the brightest acts on the indie-rock circuit, the Larimer's your place. On any given night of the week, you can expect to see three or four quality artists -- local and national -- for about what you'd pay to park in LoDo.

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