Best Jukebox 2004 | Lion's Lair | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin
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.
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.
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.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has nothing on Serengeti, where the stylish roam free. The newest grand-scale venture to be blessed by nightclub impresario Regas Christou is a primarily gay club that promotes itself as "the evolution of nightclub culture." Unlike so many of the other Denver gay clubs, Serengeti fills its house with a mixed clientele, exposing us all to its progressive glitz and glory. The grand hardwood dance floor packed with gorgeous groovers is Serengeti's centerpiece, but just as inviting is the rooftop patio or the back bar, with the choicest views of both the city and the mountains. Not to be missed is Drag Queen Bingo -- Marilyn Musgrave and her homophobic Federal Marriage Amendment be damned.
Eric Gruneisen
The first thing that hits you as you walk into Sharp's Roadhouse is the smell. The club reeks of honky-tonk, that sweet mixture of smoke, beer and sweaty bodies. But contrary to its name, Sharp's is much more than a roadhouse. Over the past year, this joint has attracted a large, devoted cult following of those looking for real country in the Hank Sr., Waylon and Willie tradition. Although Sharp's books plenty of national acts, local faves such as the Honky Tonk Hangovers and Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams also call its stage home on both Friday and Saturday nights. There's plenty of room for two-steppin' on the upstairs dance floor, for playing pool downstairs, or for flirting at the long, well-tended bar. And if you've got the lonesome blues and just want to drink yourself into oblivion, at least you won't go out broke: At Sharp's, a Bud and a top-shelf cocktail will set you back only six bucks.
With a nondescript alleyway entrance between Lincoln and Broadway, Two AM is inconspicuous enough that first-timers may miss it. Located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, Two AM is a stone's throw from the Church, Serengeti and Vinyl (which will reopen after its collapse in last March's epic blizzard). As such, it is the chosen destination for those who aren't ready to head home or hit the greasy spoon after last call. The dimly lit, window-free, subterranean space is ideal for twirling glow sticks in the dark and dancing until the birds start singing -- and the comfy, welcoming benches circling the room are perfect for those trying to come down from a night of drunken hedonism.
A true headbanger's ball in the depths of suburbia, House of Rock is a natural as the area's best metal club. The absence of nearby neighbors means the local heavyweights can -- and do -- turn the dials all the way to eleven. Local bands can also rejoice now that Russ Austin, Denver's top connoisseur of the hard stuff (music and liquor), is again booking the House acts. Mosh at your own risk.
A lot of venues, especially those that cater primarily to the hip-hop crowd, are employing various security measures to ensure patrons' safety. But most of the tactics -- from invasive pat-downs that border on manhandling to token once-overs from a $15 handheld wand from Radio Shack -- are insulting, humiliating or just plain ineffective. While the outside of Paladium and its conjoined twin, Oasis, may resemble the exterior of Scarface's posh club, the Babylon, a word to all you Tony Montana wannabes: Leave your "little friend" at home. Paladium's staff won't paw you with a DIA-level frisking -- what would be the point, with an industrial-sized metal detector at the front entrance? -- but they won't allow you to be the bad guy, either.

Best Place to See Emerging Hip-Hop Talent -- Denver

Soiled Dove

You Night! at the Soiled Dove is the place to be for aspiring MCs and DJs. Organized and run by Neil McIntyre of Yo, Flaco! and Minezai fame, the Monday-night extravaganza is proof positive that hip-hop is not only alive and well, it's also the new punk rock. The room is consistently packed with artists and fans, cornrow-wearing gangstas, throwback-clad B-boys and backpack-sporting intellectuals, all peaceably co-existing in the name of hip-hop. In addition to great shows by locals, You Night! has played host to KRS-One and, most recently, the return of local faves the Procussions. Other hip-hop-themed nights have sprung up recently, but the original is still the best.

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