Dazzle
Since 1997, Donald Rossa's comfortable, forward-looking club, Dazzle, has been bringing Denverites the best local jazz talent (bassist Ken Walker, trumpeter Greg Gisbert, et al.) and a broad array of internationally recognized musicians. Last October, Rossa coaxed legendary New York pianist Stanley Cowell into playing a rare club date at the Capitol Hill venue, and in May, piano titan Monty Alexander will drop by for a gig. Meanwhile, Dazzle's justly famous Sunday jazz brunch (featuring Denver-born singer Julie Monley and her French husband, pianist Fredric Des Moulins) has grown into a reservations-required event. Dazzle features music in two rooms -- the hip, sleek bar up front and the more commodious dining room in back. The food is pretty good, too. Recently, the jazz-lovers' bible, Down Beat, named Dazzle one of the world's 100 best jazz clubs, and rightly so. These days, it even has its own big band, the periodically convened 9th and Lincoln Orchestra.
hi-dive
Denver's club scene gets more crowded by the month, with new venues sprouting up like spring blossoms (or weeds, depending on how you look at them). Regardless, the hi-dive towers head and shoulders over the field. Into its third year, the club's booking of local and national acts only gets better -- but the bands are only part of the equation. The stage and sound are ideal. The all-ages shows are run smoothly and humanely. Sputnik, the hi-dive's next-door satellite bar, is a great place to chill out before, during or after the rock. Strelka, its kitchen, serves awesome food that caters to carnivores and vegans alike. The whole room is the perfect mix of respectable and seedy, and the owners aren't afraid to host multimedia dance parties one night and noise operas the next. And the location, smack in the middle of one of Denver's coolest neighborhoods, can't be beat. Above all, the hi-dive excels at being intimately, passionately involved with the scene that sustains it. It's not just a place to watch a band, chug a beer and take a piss on your way out. Instead, it feels like home.
First it was Zu Denver, then 60 South, then the South Park Tavern, then the Cherry Pit. Then it was a vacant, smoldering hole. But in January this year, months after a fire demolished the insides of the Pit, the 3 Kings Tavern rose, phoenix-like, from the...well, you get the picture. What no one really expected, though, was for someone to pump some real life and character back into the room. But co-owners Jim Norris, Jeff Campbell and Martin Kilorin, along with promoter and soundman Ross McAfee, have done exactly that. With a punk/rock/metal bent that perfectly complements the rest of SoBo's varied hipster establishments, 3 Kings offers enough great sound, cheap drinks and cool DJs (like Monday night's Tim Cook and Mr. Fil) to carve something special out of Denver's crowded club scene.
Marquis Theater
Michael Emery Hecker
Soda Jerk, Denver's premier promoter of punk and hardcore, had been dwelling comfortably in Rock Island for two years. At least it seemed like a cozy fit -- until February, when Soda Jerk's Mike Barsch abruptly yanked up roots and replanted his operation in the newly refurbished Marquis Theatre. His timing couldn't have been better; as Brendan's Pub and an earlier incarnation of the Marquis, the LoDo locale had its share of struggles over the years. But now, after massive reconstructive surgery and Barsch's aggressively adventurous calendar of events, the Marquis is well on its way to regaining its glory.
Old Curtis Street Bar
There's a venue in Denver to cover just about any taste, price range or neighborhood prejudice. But the stalwart Old Curtis Street Bar has its own vibe entirely. Sitting precisely between Monkey Mania and the Carioca Cafe in a little no-man's-land that yuppies rarely touch, Old Curtis is a downtown oasis. Cheap beer, a great jukebox, cool DJs and hipster trivia nights (Simpsons! Sci-fi!) are all pluses. What you might not expect, though, is how much fun the live shows are. You won't catch too many world-class acts at Old Curtis Street, but it's got great acoustics and an, um, egalitarian booking policy that makes for crazy, eclectic bills, the kind you just won't find at Denver's more decorated rock clubs. Oh, yes, and the green chile will kick your ass.
The Front Porch
The Front Porch has been hyped as a neighborhood bar downtown. And it kind of is -- if your idea of a neighborhood bar is tables dressed up with odd wheatgrass displays and dressed-down LoDo glitterati packed in like sardines. Apparently in LoDo, not having a VIP room qualifies you as "neighborhood quaint." But regardless of labels, or mis-labels, people flock to the Front Porch because it has two of the best drink specials in the city. In one, the bar assigns names to days of the month -- sometimes as many as three per day -- and if you're there on the day that your name is featured, you drink for free. It's kind of like a birthday except there are no assholes poisoning you with nasty shots. Drink what you want, all night, free. And on Wednesdays, the Front Porch really gets moving with the brilliant-in-its-simplicity Flip Night. Order some drinks, the bartender flips a coin, you call heads or tails, and if you call correctly, your drinks are free. This parlor trick holds as true for one drink as it does for fifteen. If you're lucky, you'll get hammered without paying a thing. Just remember to tip your flippin' bartender.

BEST WAY TO DRINK AND DRIVE WHILE INVOKING THE SPIRIT OF THE IRISH

Potcheen Folk Band's Booze Cruise

Last fall, the Potcheen Folk Band shelled out for a 1983 MCI Crusader 2 coach bus. Talk about a great investment -- not to mention a phenomenally brilliant marketing ploy. Several times a month, the magic bus -- outfitted with several video monitors, plentiful seating and a fully stocked cooler full of brews -- makes stops at numerous pre-determined locales across the Front Range like a gambling charter. The booze cruise then shuttles fans to whatever venue the Irish-centric act happens to be playing that night for several hours of drunken whiskey songs, rebel songs and general pirate debauchery, then deposits them back at their cars with (hopefully) plenty of time to sober up.
If ever there was a needed combination, it's martinis and manicures. And at five dollars for each, it's a pairing that can't be beat. Manicure Mondays at Club Evolution are the perfect down note for a hard-partying weekend: Come in, relax with an Absolut 007 martini, get floofed and put your feet up. You'll be refreshed and perky for Tuesday.
Stampede
www.stampedeclub.net
Ladies' night at Stampede is like nothing you've ever seen -- a cross between Urban Cowboy and a crowded frat party. The massive warehouse of a bar fills a Wal-Mart-sized parking lot with thirsty, sometimes desperate women and the men who've come to claim them. Once inside, there's no limit to the free booze on offer to the ladies -- which means their male companions rarely have a problem scoring freebies, either. When the country music starts to play, about every other song, the couples fly around the dance floor; other times, groups of girls grind to hip-hop. The spectacle is occasionally boosted by the sight of a gorgeous dame riding atop a mechanical bull; every now and then, the same bull will whip some lanky lad into the air and onto his ass. That's entertainment.

BEST PLACE TO BREAK A SWEAT ON THE DANCE FLOOR

Martini Ranch

Martini Ranch's entire bar is a dance floor, and after a few drinks, everyone in the place believes they possess mad dance skills. Whether it's a packed Saturday or a sparse Tuesday night, once the beat gets thumping, you start to see a shoulder drop here, a booty shake there. In no time, it's like MTV's Grind circa 1997. The music is old-school, and the moves aren't much better: There's always a guy in hiking boots and an intramural softball jacket trying to get down and dirty with every female leg in range. Still, for every Joe lacking rhythm, there's one who can really let loose, and at Martini Ranch, you'll find him sandwiched between two blondes singing Bon Jovi at a deafening decibel level. And after a couple of the Ranch's vodka-saturated drinks, the whole crowd is more than halfway there. Oh, oh, living on a prayer.

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