Best Place to Eat and Hang Out With Rock Stars 2011 | Illegal Pete's | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Place to Eat and Hang Out With Rock Stars

Illegal Pete's

The Illegal Pete's outlet on the 16th Street Mall has long been Denver's unofficial punk-rock burrito epicenter, but this year the restaurant made it official with two outreach efforts: The Starving Artists Program feeds out-of-town bands here on tour, and the Eat and Greets sponsored by Suburban Home are a direct byproduct of that program. After all, if visiting bands are going to stop by Illegal Pete's for some free food anyway, it only makes sense to invite fans down to meet the musicians and listen to a quick acoustic set or two. It's a win/win/win deal: The act gets fed, the fans get a show, and Illegal Pete's gets some extra business.

Best Place to See and Buy the Art of Colorado's Future

Even Younger Than Jesus

The evocative — and provocative — title of Even Younger Than Jesus, presented over the holidays at Robischon Gallery, Denver's flagship art venue, referred to the fact that Christ was said to have been crucified at the age of 33, so everyone featured in this wide-ranging group show was that age or younger. While artists from around the country were featured, many were from right here in Colorado — with a significant number of those relatively recent graduates of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Even Younger Than Jesus included such artists as William Lamson, Sterling Crispin, Noah Manos, Christine Buchsbaum, Letha Wilson, Zach Burk, Derrick Velasquez, Brandon Bultman and, last but hardly least, Ian Fisher. The graying art scene is always on the lookout for fresh young talent, and this show was packed with it.

Aaron Thackeray

Ahoy! Besides being the only place in the entire world where you can currently go to see real, actual, verifiable pirate treasure — although it's not the only treasure ever dredged up from a shipwreck, it is the only treasure ever confirmed as having been possessed by pirates — the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the only place in town where you can see real people employed as pirates. Sort of. They're actually employed as the pirate equivalent of Civil War re-enactors, but close enough in this landlocked town. As part of its Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah, the museum hired a bunch of regular folks to dress up and talk like pirates and hang around the exhibit, presumably with the goal of making people either mildly amused or mildly uncomfortable, sort of like clowns. It's one of the weirder jobs we can think of, but then again, in this kind of economy, it might just be the best alternative to the real thing.

When Vance Kirkland, Denver's premier mid-century modernist painter, died in 1981, he left his estate of magnificent watercolors and paintings to Hugh Grant — the artist's longtime friend who is decidedly not the well-known actor with the same name. In the late 1990s, Grant decided to share the collection with the public, a decision that resulted in the founding of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art several years later. But Grant didn't stop with showing all those Kirklands; he also began to acquire work by other artists from Colorado's glorious past. Today it's almost impossible to list the scores of local art stars represented in the Kirkland's impressive collection; there are pieces by William Sanderson, Edward Marecak, Nadine Drummond, Gene Matthews and Roland Detre, to name just a few. The Kirkland also has genuine depth in Colorado ceramics, with many works by the likes of Betty Woodman and Nan and Jim McKinnell, among a host of others. Since most Denver institutions long ago abrogated their responsibility to the art of our state, it's great to see the Kirkland so ably filling the breach.

You don't get serious political theater around here much — the last we can remember were two productions of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, one of which showed in Denver a couple of years back, and one later in Boulder. But then The Container arrived at the 73rd Avenue Theatre Company. Staged in a large shipping container, this play packs actors and audience members together in claustrophobic half-darkness and tells the story of several desperate souls who have risked everything to flee the poverty and repression of their homelands and create new lives in the United Kingdom. The characters include Mariam, who saw her husband beheaded by the Taliban, and a mother and daughter fleeing the squalid conditions of a refugee camp in Somalia. In most countries, the conversation about immigration is narrow, filled with false assumptions, often racist; this company deserves kudos for showing how complex the issue really is and the profound moral dilemmas it poses.

Jaime Kopke came and Jaime Kopke went; after the local design blogger gifted Denver with a popular Pecha Kucha series and the ephemeral Denver Community Museum pop-up venue, she shut down the popular hands-on people's museum and headed off to England for grad school. It was a long year, but now Kopke's back and working with local museums to create new participatory art experiences for regular folks. Since her return, she's offered assistance at the Denver Art Museum's monthly Untitled event and co-hosted a DIY sweater-repair event; we can't wait to see what's next on her agenda.

Ken Weitzman's The Catch is about baseball, obviously, but also about human dreams, greed and self-delusion as the protagonist, Gary, schemes to catch a home-run ball that he thinks will restore the money he lost when his dot-com venture failed, in the process bringing back his estranged wife. In between frantic calculations, he wars with his cranky father, Sid. The Catch makes for a fast, entertaining, intensely theatrical experience that's also smart and emotionally involving. After a reading at last year's New Play Summit sponsored by the Denver Center Theatre Company, it was wisely chosen for full production — and lived up to all of its potential.

The death of Astrophagus was announced in September, and before the body was even cold, in November the majority of the band's members announced that they were with a new group, Port Au Prince. Usually when there's this much overlap, the offshoot band ends up sounding exactly like the one from which it was birthed, but somehow Port Au Prince managed to rise up as a truly new act in a very short amount of time. It's less experimental, more straightforward and, to put it bluntly, better than the old band. Astrophagus is dead; long live Port Au Prince.

For Innerstate Ike, hip-hop is deeper than rap. You won't find this guy spitting melodic rhymes about pretty girls over piano beats; he represents his 'hood and his movement with thought-provoking lyrics. Ike, a legend in the streets, has earned his stripes. And he's the epitome of an enterprising, consistent DIY contributor to the local hip-hop scene, always at the ready with a steady stream of new ideas and moneymaking ventures. His latest album, Moolah Music, due out this spring, represents his hustle and his creativity, which are more than a match for his sharp charisma.

As a local activist raising community awareness of inner-city topics, Cavem Moetavation uses every tool he can. He frequently pops up in person at hip-hop shows to spit out a rhyme or two, and he works with programs such as Art From Ashes. In everything he does, Cavem is an ambassador for the hip-hop world and an upstanding representative of his art — so where does he ever find all the time to update his Facebook status? With videos, songs, notes, constant friend requests, tons of photos and shout-outs, he keeps the community together while pushing it forward.

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