Best New Festival -- Mountains 2004 | Blues From the Top, SolVista Golf and Ski Ranch | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
With at least twenty music festivals already on the roster, Colorado didn't really need another. But the founders of Blues From the Top believed wholeheartedly that Grand County needed a dose of the blues, so last year they debuted a two-day extravaganza at SolVista Golf and Ski Ranch, just two miles outside of Granby. The lineup was solid, the setting stunning. It was a well-intentioned attempt to bring nationally known acts to somewhere in the county other than Winter Park. These were blues you could use.
The quaint town of Lyons, on the St. Vrain River, has numerous low-key attractions, including Oskar Blues, a first-rate blues-and-brews club that's even received shout-outs from Rolling Stone. Live acts range from members of the Colorado Blues Society to Pinetop Perkins, all augmented nicely by a Cajun-flavored menu and house-brewed beers. Of course, making the eighty-mile round trip to the Boulder bedroom community and back is a little daunting. Instead, gather up to sixteen friends and charter the wildly painted Blues Bus (which could double as Ken Kesey's famous ride of yore) and head up the hill for a night of revelry.
Last summer, the Central City Opera featured L'Italiana en Algeri, Gabriel's Daughter -- an original production based on the life of the first female freed slave in gold rush Colorado -- and an evening that combined the famed and familiar I Pagliacci and the rarely performed Goyescas. L'Italiana was laugh-out-loud funny, Gabriel's Daughter poignant, and all three evenings featured magnificent music. This summer, Central City will present The Tales of Hoffman, The Student Prince and The Juggler of Notre Dame. You don't need to be an opera aficionado to enjoy sitting in this gem of a theater while some of the finest voices in the country flow around you -- unmiked and undistorted. But, please, leave the cell phones and crinkly candy wrappers at home.
Arvada is still recovering from the cultural jolt thrown by brothers Adam, Matthew and Jeremy DeGraff, who opened the D Note in sleepy Old Town last year. The Brothers D combined their aesthetic and business senses to produce one of the most eclectic and appealing rooms in town -- part art gallery, part music venue, part yoga studio and, sometimes, church. Open seven nights a week for music, including bluegrass jams and "wine tastings" hosted by local players, the Note also serves cheap sandwiches, salads and soups beginning at 11 a.m. On Sundays, the after-worship crowd eats brunch beneath the wildly realized murals, paintings and sculptures that line the walls of the large room. Denver clubs could take a cue from the D Note's creative calendar and vision: The place is worth the drive every time.
Next time you wander into the Thin Man on a Monday night, head for the couches at the back of the narrow bar, where you'll find the chatty chicks of "Stitch and Bitch" knitting away. An informal gathering that attracts anywhere from four to thirty gals each week, these friendly ladies are more than willing to teach beginners basic stitches while talking about their latest yarn creations, everything from a dog sweater to a purse. So grab your knitting needles and a pint and get ready to gab.
Artist/illustrator Michelle Barnes and club-marketing maven Paulina Szafranski know that women are complex creatures. Sure, they want culture and companionship, inspiration and ideas -- but they also like to have their hair played with and get their nails done. Every Thursday, Barnes and Szafranski host Girls' Night Out at Mynt True Lounge on Market Street, where sophisticated ladies get together to dish, dine and dig each other. Each week, a speaker -- usually culled from the art, media or fashion realm -- talks to the assemblage about what it takes to be fabulous while gals scarf up free apps, drinks and salon services. Yes, it's exclusive, sexist and catty. It's also a blast. Let's hear it for these girls.
The atmosphere at Armida's is so calming and amiable that it prompts even everyday patrons to step up to the mike Wednesday through Sunday nights. The disc jockeys are friendly and are happy to accommodate the most absurd request for songs, whether it comes from longtime karaoke heroes or first-time howlers. And even the shiest shower-stall crooners can expect a warm welcome from Armida's enthusiastic nightly crowds. Now, if only they'd take "Friends in Low Places" off the song list...
Mercury Cafe

2199 California St.

303-294-9281 Salsa dancing is not for the meek: The moves are aerobic, and the music is full of frenetic polyrhythms and enough syncopation to make your head spin. But throwing your dancing shoe into the salsa ring is a lot less intimidating at the Mercury Cafe's Thursday salsa night. The community-style dance begins with a lesson from Mambo Dojo, a New York-style dance studio whose instructors make you feel slightly less silly about shaking your hips, cha-cha-ing your feet and trying to get in touch with that thing called a groove. After class, the Merc's huge upstairs room fills with Cuban music and all kinds of dancers working salsa, balboa and swing until well past midnight. Free your mind, and the steps will follow.

Producer/director Aaron Hunter prefers the term "female impersonator" to "drag queen." Either way, his new Starz Cabaret show is royal. Modeled on high-camp, high-glam productions in Vegas and Chicago, Starz Cabaret opened in February and features a revolving cast of performers who ape only the most deserving divas. When Whitney, Barbra, Liza and others take the stage, there are more sparkly sequins, falsies and spike heels than you'd find on Cher's tour bus. The show flares up three Sundays a month at Club Dream, a huge new space in the upper Walnut warehouse district. Customers are seated at tables, show-club style, and the performers often come down into the audience to tantalize and tease: MC Chamblee Tucker is especially adept at the latter. Are you fabulous enough to take it? Sure you are, darlin'. Just have a seat and let the ladies do their thing.

Best Place to See State Legislators in Bondage

Rise Nightclub

Debating hefty issues such as water use, growth control and the state budget may feel like a form of self-flagellation for lawmakers, but for the real thing, Rise Nightclub offers naughty Denverites of all political persuasions a chance to crack the whip. On a normal night at Rise, there's enough skin showing to make you wonder if everyone's experiencing a wardrobe malfunction. But during one of the club's fetish-theme nights, a dead ringer for a certain conservative legislator from the Western Slope was sighted in a getup that made the gimp from Pulp Fiction look tame. When the basement of this cavernous club is converted into an S&M dungeon, beware the cries of pain (or is that pleasure?). There's no telling who's behind the masks and black latex of the fetishists who come to see, be seen and get spanked. One of them just might be your boss -- or the man you voted into office.

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