Some people justify dropping big bucks on memberships to high-class joints with the flabby rationalization that they're more likely to hit the gym if they've been charged a lot for the privilege. And it's true -- you usually get what you pay for at these posh facilities...if you actually use all of their high-priced equipment. But if you want to get in shape for cheap, an annual Denver Department of Parks and Recreation pass grants you access to 29 rec centers, with about a dozen pools total, for just $150 a year. Although the meathead contingent can be heavy at some, there's no gain without some pain.
When money's in short supply, people need to get creative. So if you want a present for your pet and can't afford that gold-plated flying doggy disc that's all the rage, take your pooch for a stroll down Cherry Creek Drive, along the eastern edge of Pulaski Park. This particular spot is just south of Gates Tennis Center, whose twenty public tennis courts apparently draw a lot of bad but powerful tennis players. Every day, ham-handed lobbers send balls flying over the fence, onto the busy street, then into the gutter beside the sidewalk. Your pooch will think he's wandered into pet heaven -- but keep a tight hold on his leash, or traffic may send him to the real thing.
Every spring and fall, when the migration seasons bring thousands of birds to Barr Lake, the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory switches into high gear, gently capturing its avian guests in nets, banding them for further research and then setting them free. The education and bird-banding station is open to the public, but the entire area is filled with weary travelers on the fly. For birders, this is a sight well worth seeing.
Swimming pools have gone to the dogs, as well they should. Many breeds adore the water, and a bob in the pool is wonderful therapy for pups suffering from hip dysplasia, arthritis, sports injuries and other painful conditions. Canine Fitness boasts two pools: a deep one for swimmers and a shallow one for little pooches and big splashers. Both offer supervised recreation, exercise and social time for dogs that might otherwise spend too much time chewing the fat on the couch at home. Come on in, Fido, the water's fine.
Coors Field
Wouldn't you just know it? San Francisco and Oakland took top honors, but our own snuggly, tree-huggin' Coors Field nabbed third place in PETA's recent Vegetarian Friendly Ballparks Project, based on its fine array of vegetarian concession items, including grilled mushroom panini and veggie burgers, wraps and burritos, and your standard peanuts, popcorn and pretzels. And Cracker Jack, no doubt. PETA also fully approves of beer drinking, which is harmful to no animal other than yourself. So bottoms up, Rockies fans! Three strikes and you're out -- to lunch!
Sports arenas consistently offer three things: hot dogs smothered in ketchup, piss-yellow popcorn, and heady beers the size of your aunt Mildred's ass. But why? Who said that sports and unidentifiable pig organs go together? At the Denver Post Newsroom, located at section 238 on the second level of the Pepsi Center -- which means you need a club-level ticket to get in -- you can trade a hot dog for a beer brat, popcorn for a ham-and-Swiss panini, and that foamy Bud Light for a Killian's Irish Red or Blue Moon. The smoke-free lounge boasts maybe a gazillion screens for watching sports, a bird's-eye view of the Grand Atrium, and -- its most notable amenity -- 24-ounce domestic beers for $6, which breaks down to a shockingly reasonable $3 per beer. Even Pepsi at the friggin' Pepsi Center costs more. Go figure.
New Belgium Brewing Company
A visit to the New Belgium Brewing Co. is intoxicating, and not just because of the generous selection of free samples -- although those certainly don't hurt. The buzz starts with the guide who welcomes you onto the last tour of the day, even though it's already filled with people who reserved their spaces in advance. The guide loves her job. She doesn't want to talk about how beer is made, but instead about her boss, the homebrewer who went on a trip to Belgium that changed his life, who today sends longtime employees to Belgium to experience the beers he experienced. She shows how the brewery was designed as a light-infused, energy-conserving, creative work space, and she lets you try out the winding, adult-sized metal slide. The tour makes you think about all the possibilities in life, about starting that business you always dreamed of or about finding the perfect job. And, then, at the end, you get to drink beer -- and stop thinking altogether.
Atomic Cowboy/Denver Biscuit Co./Fat Sully's
Mark Antonation
The Atomic Cowboy recognizes that booze brings out your competitive side. Then again, so does every sports bar in Denver with a pool table or a dartboard. But those games require coordination and physical prowess -- two things most of us lack after a couple of rounds of Tanqueray-and-tonics. That's why the Cowboy graciously stocks a selection of board games that even your slumped-over lush of a girlfriend can play with her one functional eye. There are classics like Connect Four, Monopoly, Guess Who, Battleship and Uno, as well as games you have to be drunk to play: Simpsons Clue, Battle of the Sexes, the Sopranos board game and a Sex and the City edition. The collection of donated and forgotten games, combined with an atmosphere as comfortable as your living room, makes for the perfect night for those who went out hoping to stay in.
Tavern Uptown
The Back Alley, a tiny, two-lane bowling alley tucked at the back of the Uptown Tavern, looks like it was made for munchkin ravers. But "Thunder Bowl" is a genius alternative to darts or Golden Tee. Each glow-in-the-dark lane can accommodate six people, and the bowling balls are just five inches in diameter and weigh only 3.5 pounds -- which means lifting one is almost as easy as raising a full mug of beer. And no bowling shoes are required on these hardwood floors. Although alcohol greatly increases the likelihood that you'll make a fool of yourself in the Alley's intimate confines, better the ball winds up in this gutter than you wind up in the one outside.

BEST BOWLING ALLEY ATMOSPHERE WITHOUT LANES

Harry's Bar

People who don't own their own bowling ball or shoes don't go bowling because they're hoping for a perfect game; they go to drink cheap beer, inhale stale cigarette smoke and talk shit about their gutterball friends. More often than not, the actual game takes a backseat to lowbrow banter and greasy concession-stand food. So why not just skip the sport altogether and head to Harry's Bar (not to be confused with the swank, retro digs inside the Hotel Magnolia), a dodgy dive that caters to the bowling-alley crowd who couldn't care less about fingering a twelve-pound ball. It's all here: colorful and questionably crazy regulars; comfy bar stools; a domestic-only draft-beer selection featuring Natural Light; cheap hot wings and pizza; and a retro Ms. Pacman arcade game. If you really want to score, hit twofer time, from 3 to 7 p.m. daily.

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