Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
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.
The High Street Speakeasy sits in a turn-of-the-century building that, way back in the day, served as a rooming house for transient Denverites. When it opened last spring, the place buzzed with rumors that spirits roamed the upstairs apartments and sometimes came down to the bar -- for a cocktail, maybe, or just to scare the crap out of the staff. But the ghost talk has died down, which is good: There's nothing spooky about this friendly, stylish, forward-thinking joint in the Cole neighborhood. In his renovation, owner John Wallace retained the building's vintage charms, including a very broken-in bar, antique lighting and a great jukebox stuffed with old-timey tunes. Modern touches abound, as well: The bar uses only fresh fruit juices, and many of the house liquors are top-shelf. Haunted or not, the High Street Speakeasy's got that otherworldly thing we call vibe.
Our mother always told us to respect our elders. So we're giving mad props to the 57-year-old Don's Club Tavern, a smoky dive bar that welcomes everyone with open arms -- from the regulars who plant themselves daily on Don's bar stools to the college kids in search of a decent pool table and cheap drinks. With faded family pictures and posters of Ireland adorning the dark, wood-paneled walls, and the original cash register still ringing up drinks, you'd have to search high and low to find another bar this authentic. Sadly, owner Donald Aymami passed away earlier this year, but his wife and family have vowed to keep this Denver institution alive. And for that, we're grateful: Sixth Avenue just wouldn't be the same without the ancient neon "Mixed Drinks" sign guiding us home.
Regulars at the Skylark Lounge know what a difference a couple of blocks can make: not much. The stalwart watering hole moved this past November from its sixty-year home at 58 South Broadway to roomier digs at 140 South, but the revered smoky atmosphere was carefully transferred, along with the pinups and classic Western and sci-fi movie posters that still hang over maroon booths. In fact, there's just more of everything we loved from the old place: more live bands, more parking, and more swaying room -- whether in time with the music or as a result of those generous 'Lark libations. Just don't ask to see the martini specials: The Skylark is for drinkers and dancers, not trendy scenesters. We'll drink to that.
Brendan's, the patron saint of the blues, is back, baby. But it's hard to feel the spirit of the downtrodden in such a beautiful club. Fine woodworking infuses the venue with warmth, and the view is sharp from any angle. There's a steady lineup of quality acts, the sound is as lush as the aura, and the bartenders are comfortably loose with the beverages. Musicians are kept as happy as paying guests with a green room worthy of the greats and a convenient back door for easy loading -- or fleeing the hellhound on their trail. Though changes at the club may be imminent, for the past year Brendan's master reinvention was unparalleled.
If the slogan "Where the lonely get laid" or the phallic connotations of the Roosters name aren't enough to entice Mootown's lonesome losers to head north in search of a little hello kitty action, then a semi full of Viagra isn't likely to help, either. Maybe it's the pervasive pheromone mist created by sweaty bodies rubbing together or the perpetual look of closing-time desperation -- or maybe it's just the lurid R&B beats. Whatever's in the air, on any given weekend night, average Joes are just as likely to score as the hardbodies. And even if they can't close the deal, there's nothin' wrong with a little bump and grind. Cock-a-doodle-do.
Denver's infamous cathedral-turned-disco has been getting national props left and right as one of the nation's most sacred temples. And we couldn't agree more: From divine acts like Deep Dish to Paul Van Dyk, Seb Fontaine to Carl Cox and DJ Irene to DJ Rap, the Church's elders consistently offer up the most blessed of electronic sacraments. Those passionate about the beat should flock to the Church to bow down before the most high -- or at least admire the angels in the architecture.
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.
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.
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.