Best Dive Bar 2008 | Brown Barrel | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Eric Gruneisen
Save for the jukebox and TVs, the Brown Barrel looks like it hasn't changed since the '60s. Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? It's easy to walk past this joint; the exterior is about as nondescript as a plainclothes policeman at a dad convention. And it's even easier to miss at night, since it can close as early as 11 p.m. depending on how busy it is. But if you're an early-morning drinker and need a mug of Landshark Lager instead of a cuppa joe, the Brown Barrel's the place for you — especially on Sundays, when happy hour runs from 8 a.m. to noon.
Anyone can look at art on First Friday. But it takes a dreamer like sculptor and multi-media artist Marie Ev.B Gibbons to understand that some people might prefer to make art, which is why on every First Friday, passersby and art lookie-loos can create their very own miniature ceramic masterpieces at her place. March's project was tiny clocks; past Mini-Shops have featured spring bulbs, baby faces, birds, bugs and more. Participants use molds to form the clay, which Gibbons fires in her kiln; the finished products are ready to pick up after about a week. The cost of each Mini-Shop is $10 — and the feeling that you've created something special with your own two hands? Priceless.
There's certainly no shortage of shows where it's perfectly acceptable to show up fashionably late, just in time to catch the headliners. But anyone who did this in September, when the LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire tour stopped by Red Rocks, really blew it, since both of these acts are worthy of headlining. After a vigorous set of pulse-pounding tracks from LCD that mesmerized the enthusiastic crowd, Arcade Fire took the stage and proceeded to all but burn the place to the ground with the sweeping grandeur of its majestic chamber folk.
Kent Haruf's Plainsong won critical acclaim for its quiet beauty, and Eric Schmiedl's stage adaptation — miraculously — comes close to doing the novel justice. This isn't one of those theater pieces that wows you on the spot; instead, Plainsong stays with you, settling slowly into your consciousness until it becomes part of the way you see the world. This is largely because of Schmiedl's fidelity to the novel; he keeps much of Haruf's writing, the rhythm of the prose providing a steady pulse beneath the action. As a result, the plot has less to do with forward movement than with a kind of inexorable unfolding that makes you feel as if you are watching a moving, living frieze.
While working at Rocky Mountain Recorders, Andrew Vastola has been up to his elbows in some of Denver's best records. As engineer, producer or mastering pro, the studio wunderkind put his magic hands on some of our favorite discs by the Photo Atlas, Born in the Flood, Laylights, Hearts of Palm, the Wheel and many others. It's the upcoming Swayback record, though, that really cements Vastola as a production juggernaut. Though three of the tracks on Long Gone Lads also appeared on the Forewarned EP, Vastola not only managed to make them sound better this time around, but he also got superior performances out of the band. Rocking on the other side of the glass, it looks like Vastola can't miss.
While we all knew it was coming, few of us had actually braced for the inevitable crash when Planes Mistaken for Stars finally went down. And as we watched one of Denver's truly great bands disintegrate in midair, it was difficult to shake the feeling of utter helplessness. Whoever said that all good things must come to an end must've been an eternal optimist — or a complete dipshit. Even so, we're grateful that we were on hand to pay our last respects and see Gared O'Donnell and company give it their absolute all over the course of nearly two dozen songs.
Last spring, Jason Bosch e-mailed a visual missive to friends and supporters. "ArgusFest R.I.P.?" it queried over the photo of a distraught towheaded boy who embodied Bosch's own inner feelings about his grassroots human-rights film series. The message was not just a plea for attention — and maybe even donations — but also a declaration by Bosch that he plans to move ArgusFest in new, bigger directions, by finding a place where it can stay put. And we're all for that, because as it is, every week Bosch faithfully lugs his projector between Hooked on Colfax and the Mercury Cafe, bringing rarely seen topical films and documentaries to eager audiences. Bosch earned a Westword MasterMind award this year; a permanent home would help him take the best film festival in town to the next level. Micro-cinema or bust!
Before BAD was officially BAD, Dede Frain founded the social network that would grow into Babes Around Denver on the strength of a little First Friday gathering in 2002 that quickly outgrew one venue after another. She began to organize other lesbian networking and singles events, started a website and newsletter, and last year finally left the mainstream workforce and went full-time in her role as big BAD girl. Since then, Frain has added a women's business series with guest speakers and has a million other ideas up her sleeve. For gals who love gals (as well as their gay and non-gay pals), BAD is good.
"I don't follow trends. Trends follow me." While we'd be hard-pressed to pinpoint the exact origin of that declaration, if might as well have come from Peter Black (aka DJ Aztec, aka Pete Gurule). For well over a decade, this shapeshifting DJ and promoter has been exposing us to styles ranging from acid jazz and trip-hop to drum-and-bass and Afrobeat to electro and indie rock. Recently, he's even added space disco and psych rock. Here's to going Black to the future.
Sure, you know who was president during the Spanish-American War. But how about the language — other than English — featured in the Pixies song "Debaser"? If you can answer that one, you just might have what it takes to win a bonus round at one of the many Geeks Who Drinks pub quizzes around town. Four times during each quiz, participants get the chance to answer a random question, and the first one to show the correct (and legible) answer to the quizmaster wins a free drink and bragging rights for the night. Even if the useless trivia rattling around in your brain consists of nothing but TV commercials from the '80s or bad reality TV, fear not: One of the greatest things about the Geeks is that they have a round for everyone. This could be your lucky night.

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