Before the Fray definitively claimed the title, Five Iron Frenzy was one of Denver's biggest success stories. The homegrown, Christian-centric ska-core band earned its renown the old-fashioned way: by building up a grassroots fan base through constant touring. When the band called it a day in 2003, playing its final show in front of a capacity crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium, its members never imagined that a decade later they would claim the distinction of being one of Kickstarter's biggest success stories. When Five Iron Frenzy decided to regroup to record an album, the band put out a plea to fans to help raise $30K. Astoundingly, the act reached that goal within one hour, and ultimately ended up raising just over a quarter-million dollars.

Beauty Bar

A gal can always use a good guffaw, and Ladies Laugh-In makes sure that she can get it at least once a month. Comedians Heather Snow and Chella Negro are the hostesses of the monthly showcase at Beauty Bar, and while the featured performers are mostly women — everyone from Lori Callahan to Nora Lynch to Alicia Jacobs — there are often a few men in the mix, too; both Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Roy have joined the ladies on stage. Now in its second year, Ladies Laugh-In is not only a guaranteed good time, but it benefits a good cause: A charitable component has been added to the show, with suggested door donations going to various nonprofits each month.

1STBANK Center

Connoisseurs of live music will tell you that something is lost when an artist becomes popular enough to perform in an arena. While this may be true at some places, it's certainly not the case at Broomfield's 1STBANK Center, where the sound is pretty well dialed in virtually anywhere you sit. The venue, which sits halfway between Denver and Boulder, hosted a variety of acts in the past twelve months, from Radiohead to Portishead to Kelly Clarkson; the Black Keys will grace its stage at the end of April. At 1STBANK Center, shows of this caliber somehow feel far more intimate than you'd expect.

Xencs L. Wing brings new life to an old tradition: painting sugar skulls. She posts up at hip-hop shows with her crafts — she makes earrings and other items — and offers live demonstrations, mixing colors to the beat of whatever head-nodding hip-hop music is being played at the time and creating a masterpiece in front of the crowds. Not surprisingly, she's in great demand during Día de Los Muertos festivities and for other hip-hop-themed shows. And Wing doesn't limit her artistic expression to life-after-death depictions; she's also an MC.

Pete Bell started going to Rhinoceropolis in 2010 to see non-mainstream music acts. As one of the few all-ages venues that didn't cater to relatively well-known music, Rhino was a place that Bell could attend whenever his high-school schedule didn't get in the way. Inspired by the anarchic spirit of the place and its focus on mostly experimental music, Bell embarked on making a documentary about Rhinoceropolis for his video class. The result was a snapshot of Rhino as it was mostly in the second half of 2011, with archival footage and photos from those who were there. Bell also interviewed many of the people who have lived at Rhino, in addition to those who have been active participants. In doing so, he pieced together an accurate and intimate portrait of an important living cultural landmark.

Chez Artiste Cinema

On the eve of the Oscars, the line for The Artist at Landmark Chez Artiste reached well into the parking lot. The film would go on to win Best Picture the next night, and one of the only places to enjoy it in Denver was at this theater tucked into a strip mall off South Colorado Boulevard. Chez Artiste offers exceptional programming throughout the year, and its patrons know it. But even if you only visit in order to win the Oscar pool, don't worry: The staff at the three-screen Chez Artiste won't judge you.

Readers' Choice: Mayan/Esquire theaters (tie)

Sie FilmCenter

Free refills on fountain drinks. Beer. Fancy chocolate. And popcorn. Oh, the popcorn. It's the type of popcorn that makes people stop in to buy it, then leave without even seeing a movie. The food and drink at the Denver FilmCenter on Colfax is hands-down the best in Denver, not just for the quality selection, or for the comfort in which you'll consume your snacks. There's also the price factor, which can be pretty important after you plunk down $10 or so for a movie ticket. So let's say it again: free refills.

Readers' Choice: Mayan Theatre

You know you go to movies too much when you notice the new seats. But that's just what happened at Colorado 9, home of blockbusters-and-popcorn fare, where chairs worthy of Jean-Luc Picard's ass await. There's spring in the cushion and push-back in these seats, so much so that even after sitting through a two-hour-plus film like 2011's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you won't get restless. If you're going to a stadium-seating theater like Colorado 9, comfort and luxury is what you expect. And starting with the seats, this place delivers.

Ironton Studios & Gallery

For Bradley Borthwick: Not All Borthwicks Were Noblemen, artist Bradley Borthwick constructed an elaborate installation, staged a performance with deadly weapons, and acted nude in a film with an alternately pounding and haunting soundtrack meant to document a ritual he'd created. As it turned out, many of Borthwick's Scottish ancestors, all noblemen, had been slaughtered by the English using longbows, so as a kind of revenge, the artist has taken up the longbow himself. He shot arrows not only in the film, but live at Ironton during the show's opening. Taken together, the archery performance and the sculptural installation with its film projection forced viewers to completely immerse themselves in Borthwick's family legend; it was a multimedia machismo spectacle that shot directly to the heart.

Su Teatro at the Denver Civic Theatre

These two fabulous murals might never have come to life were it not for artist Carlos Fresquez's Community Paint: The Mural class at Metropolitan State College of Denver, a beautiful nod to Auraria's former life as a vibrant Hispanic community. The class's two-fold project last fall was to create murals for the facades of Su Teatro, in the Denver Civic Theater, as well as Metro's Center for Visual Art gallery, both located along the burgeoning Santa Fe strip. The resulting pieces honored Su Teatro for its forty years of keeping Chicano heritage alive on stage with a traditional depiction of the feathered serpent of myth, Quetzalcoatl, that snakes across the building's east wall; in the coming year, subsequent classes will complete a wrap-around continuation of the mural. And for the CVA, Fresquez worked with director Jennifer Garner to create an abstract, vivid swash of colored shapes that fits with the gallery's modern bent while beautifying the street. What Fresquez and his students have accomplished not only gives a visual nod to the barrio past of Auraria while acknowledging the current life of Denver's Art District on Santa Fe, but also offers a look at the future of the area. Thanks for the history lesson — and the local color!

Best Of Denver®

Best Of