Best Jazz Jam 2013 | The Tuesday Session | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Mark Payler

For a long time, guitarist Dan Schwindt ran the "Tuesday Session" jazz jams at Dazzle, one of the few spots in town to hold such get-togethers. Now hosted by drummer Todd Reid, these jams attract some of the heaviest players in town, as well as younger music students, who get to hone their chops in a live setting with Reid, bassist Ian Hutchison and a different special guest every week on guitar or piano.

Molly Martin

Variety is key to a great jukebox, and the juke at the Lion's Lair has it in spades. From the blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to the classic rock of the Stones and Zeppelin — and pretty much everything in between — it's one of the more diverse collections in town. And since the Lair brings in its fair share of punk acts, you'll find a good dose of punk, as well, whether it's coming from the Clash or one of the many mix CDs in the box. Rounding out the lineup? Soundtracks from Curtis Mayfield's Super Fly and the reggae-centric The Harder They Come, as well as country from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

When it opened some twenty years ago, Armida's hosted karaoke one night a week. But the Mexican restaurant soon focused in on the entertainment option, and for years it's been one of the few spots in town to host karaoke seven nights a week. It's also grown into one of the most popular venues for people to strut their stuff — so much so that it recently opened another karaoke room on the weekends and upgraded the main floor.

Listening to Paper Bird, M & the Gems or Laura Goldhamer and the Silver Nail, you wouldn't necessarily guess that their female members, some of whom make up the comedy band Harpoontang, have raunchy humor up their sleeves. But after witnessing Harpoontang's live show, with the acoustic funk of "Jingle Me Down," a song about safe sex with Santa, or the gloriously titled "I Want My Hymen Back," you'll be hyperventilating with spastic joy. Still, there's more than just the novelty of female artists talking dirty at work here: Harpoontang is made up of hilarious and talented women who have shared a bill with some of the city's best standups.

Berk Gibbs started Elm & Oak in 2005 while living on the East Coast; since then, it has grown from an artist collective of sorts to a monumental player. Backing artists like Two Fresh, Cherub, Black Actors and fellow Elm & Oak owner Alex Botwin's solo project Paper Diamond, the label also provides space for boutique art and clothing sales at its Boulder location. In keeping with a community mindset, the imprint has teamed up with the University of Colorado to hold semi-regular lectures and classes for CU students interested in all facets of art and the music business. Thanks to the constant flow of releases from its artists, Elm & Oak has established itself in the community as a force to be reckoned with.

Eden is a garden of lesbian delights. Thanks to a diverse menu of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options, Eden is as green-friendly on the inside as the grass-colored building is on the outside. But it's the after-dinner fare that makes Eden a standout on the nightlife scene: In addition to regularly supporting the women of Denver with events dedicated to roller derby, women in slam poetry, female fundraisers, International Women's Day and the like, the restaurant also offers fun, one-night-only events that cater to the double-X-chromosomed. Did you miss the Lady Gaga tour documentary on HBO? Eden's got a bad romance with the singer. You might also encounter diva-centric dance jams, sapphic sirens burlesque, yoga over brunch, or your favorite lesbian reality star.

Onus Spears, local character and a man of the people, is also an avid fan of Denver's writers, musicians, comics, artists and poets, on whom he bestows lots of love at Rawlitix, the intimate live talk and variety show he hosts monthly at the Deer Pile. In a casual, salon-like, house-party atmosphere, Spears, a born yakker, focuses on people who don't necessarily spend time in the spotlight; like any good talk show, each installment features live music and comedy, tied together by a guest interview. Denver has recurring comedy shows like the Grawlix and the Fine Gentleman's Club. We have storytelling and readings, the Narrators and My Teenage Angst. But until now, we didn't have a talk show...and certainly not one like this.

Co-ops, schools, associations and art groups often mount shows that feature the work of their members exclusively. Material Engagements, at Laura Merage's RedLine, comprised pieces by the complex's residents and former residents, and it was definitely a winner. Guest curator Harmony Hammond made the savvy decision to choose material as the organizing theme; this was a necessary call, given that there is no particular stylistic requirement for RedLiners and every artist does his or her own kind of work. Among the best aspects of the exhibition was its intelligent design, with each of the two dozen artists given a dedicated space and plenty of breathing room.

The quality of the food varies, and the shows range from hilariously creative to the occasional damp squib. But over its 25 years, Heritage Square Music Hall has always been worth a visit. The melodramas and songfests feel like a wonderful party where your friends get up, one by one, to tell jokes or sing songs — though your friends aren't likely to be as talented as director T. J Mullin, who maintains a soft-spoken dignity on stage, right up until the moment he turns into a wailing baby; Rory Pierce, who'll play it straight for a while and then pop up in drag, showing off the best legs in the business; Alex Crawford, a grandfather who can still do the splits; Randy Johnson, who pounds the piano keys with such skill and enthusiasm that you have to sing along. And where will we go after December 31 — when the place closes — to see Annie Dwyer, the crazed comedian who made her mark snatching glasses of booze from customers' tables and downing them, impersonating singers from Janis Joplin to a fat-suited Mama Cass, terrorizing male audience members with sticky red forehead kisses and then yelling at their female companions? There is still a season's worth of shows to see, but the fun will stop at the end of the year, with Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night.

Time is on the Boedecker's side: The intimate, state-of-the-art film palace opened at the Dairy Center just two years ago, so it includes the most modern of amenities. Its sixty seats are plush rockers, each with four feet of leg room, and the theater also boasts 5.1 Surround Sound and HD DLP projection that rival better sophisticated home-theater equipment. Throw in a well-plotted schedule, with films ranging from hard-to-find classics to more recent must-sees, as well as a sprinkling of live opera broadcasts, themed series and a concession counter that sells beer and wine, and you've got a night out that's more comfortable than the one you might spend on your own couch.

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