Jesse Sola has been producing interesting ambient music on an international level since the 1990s. And because his music has been picked up by various ambient labels over the years, Sola, who still plays live occasionally, has had access to some of the most important and influential artists of the genre. Over the past decade or so, he's hosted Hearts of Space regular Robert Rich at his house, and last summer, Rich was set up with banks of synths and electronics in Sola's living room, with a small group of ambient aficionados in attendance. Having Rich there in person, manipulating the electronics and playing a homemade PVC flute and a lap steel to create expansive sonic spaces, grounded music that can often be too abstract and ethereal for some tastes.

The anime community, which wraps Japanese animation and video-game fandom up with an exquisite propensity for cosplay and costumery, is tight in Denver, and it showed off with abandon at this fall's Nan Desu Kan, an annual hotel takeover that's out of this world. You feel as if you've stepped into another world at NDK, where manga characters come alive and jostle in the hallways, and Lolita gear, plush pink Arpakasso alpacas, Gloomy Bears, samurai swords, Totoro T-shirts and kigurumi costumes rub shoulders in one magical place. Need a vacation to another planet? NDK will be back in September.

There are a lot of great parties in the art world, but they usually attract very specific crowds. Design After Dark attracts all kinds, however. The annual February event supports Darrin Alfred's Architecture, Design and Graphics department at the Denver Art Museum, and the 2013 version took place inside the newly rehabbed McNichols Building, with Design After Dark favorite James Holden flying in from L.A. to serve as DJ. The theme was "Cirque," and in addition to such circus fare as stilt walkers and mini-hot dogs, it featured an auction of artist- and designer-made projects, with the likes of DoubleButter, Jonathan Saiz, tres birds workshop and more than a dozen others donating pieces.

The 2012 Denver County Fair, the event's sophomore edition, might have experienced a few growing pains, but the modern urban take on a rural tradition is already gearing up for year three, and it promises to be the best yet. Cornerstone activities — including the proliferating blue-ribbon competitions in categories ranging from traditional to hipsterized to just plain silly, Andrew Novick's X-Treme Pancake Breakfast, animal displays and performances, and non-stop events on multiple stages — will be back, fair organizers promise. There will also be a series of daily headlining acts absent from last year's fair, as well as a new History Pavilion that's bound to be a hit. No other event expresses so well the pop culture and spirit of modern Denver — its drag queens and zombie-walkers, steampunks and artists, crafters and chicken-keepers, foodies and fashionistas. Give this annual fest a blue ribbon!

Drop a stone in Denver, and it will land in (or at least close to) an arts district, but the only one with the potential for continual expansion is the River North Art District. That's because RiNo feels like more than just one neighborhood. The Plus and RedLine galleries are in a completely different area than Ironton and Weilworks, while Ice Cube and Hinterland are far removed from the Wazee Union block. But it's precisely because of this neighborhood's vast geographic stretch — not to mention its artistic variety — that it will be impossible for the art venues here to be pushed out, as many in LoDo were.

What can a bar do to keep its customers entertained? There are trivia nights all over town almost every night of the week, most operated by independent trivia companies; some bars attempt to offer their own trivia nights, but those attempts usually turn out to be trivial. Not so with the Tavern Hospitality Group, which offers an original, high-tech trivia show once a week at five of its locations — Tavern Uptown, Tavern Lowry, Tavern Tech Center, Tavern Wash Park and Tavern Littleton. The seven-round game plays on 42-inch TVs throughout each Tavern and features music questions, movie clips, visual rounds and more. There are prizes each week, with winter and summer leagues culminating in an annual championship. Next question!

3 Kings Tavern

Although the men's restroom at 3 Kings Tavern was never the worst in town, it was far from the best — just two small urinals and a stall with a makeshift shower-curtain divider. But then it got a stunning, Extreme Makeover-worthy overhaul. With the wall between the bathroom and a storage closet removed, the pisser is now twice the size, fitted out with an industrial-sized sink, an additional stall and a trough in place of the urinals. What a relief!

Arvada Center curator Collin Parson has redirected the venue's visual-arts program so that it zeroes in on work made by in-state talent. The resulting exhibitions included solos dedicated to David Yust and Robert Mangold, and group shows focused on representational artists and women. His most successful effort, though, was Art of the State. Parson asked Denver art-world celebrity Dean Sobel, the director of the Clyfford Still Museum, to share jury duty with him. Together they pared 600 entrants down to the 160 who were ultimately selected. Paintings — in particular, abstractions — dominate, but there is also a nice selection of sculptures, photos and ceramics. The show, which is still open, is a great way to encourage the people whose blood, sweat and tears create the community around here.

Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon

Brandy Darling of Girlwreck Presents worked with Doug Kauffman, owner of the Lion's Lair, to bring a handful of shows to the storied bar that may not have otherwise come to town. This began in January with Garland Jeffreys, who was an early friend of the Velvet Underground and whose song "Wild in the Streets" has struck a chord with numerous punk bands across time. Two months later, Flipper performed an in-store at Wax Trax, followed by a pair of memorable nights at the Lair. And two weeks after that, Mojo Nixon played a rare, highly amusing two-night run. These were the kinds of shows that could have easily taken place at a much larger venue, but the intimacy of the setting made the Lion's Lair an ideal fit.

Boulder Outlook Hotel

While Blues & Greens dubs itself "Boulder's Home of the Blues," it's easily the best blues spot in the state. There's a steady stream of local acts such as Lionel Young, Otis Taylor and Dan Treanor gracing the Blues & Greens stage, but the club also brings in a number of nationally known heavies, like Janiva Magness, Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin and Alvin Youngblood Hart. If that's not enough, the place hosts rotating blues and jazz jams on Sundays, and if you're hungry, the menu offers healthy, locally sourced food.

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