Best Improv Troupe 2014 | Governor Jack | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

In the wide world of comedy, improv can get a bad rap — but Governor Jack is working tirelessly to change that perception. This group of funny dudes hosts various events at its Voodoo Comedy Playhouse home, including The Duel: Improv Cagematch, which pits local troupes against each other in heated improvisational throwdowns. But the quintet's signature show is Governor Jack Watches You Sleep, a night when Denver "celebrities" — like television lawyer Michael Sawaya and rapper Mane Rok — are interviewed on stage and their answers twisted into a hilarious improv show. Governor Jack is also instrumental in the planning and execution of the Denver Improv Festival, which last year saw groups from all over the country perform for hundreds of fans at multiple venues in downtown Denver.

Artist and gallery owner Mai Wyn Schantz took over the former Sandra Phillips space on Santa Fe Drive in the arts district after the latter decamped for the Golden Triangle, and thoroughly remodeled it. The result is a nice exhibition room and a spacious studio. Influence — the inaugural exhibit in the newly rehabbed space — surveyed the artist's own influences. There was Gregory Euclide, whom Schantz met in high school in Wisconsin, before he became nationally known, and other artists from her home state. Once in Denver in the '90s, she'd shared a studio with Bryan Andrews and was a student of Chuck Parson, Clark Richert and Bruce Price. Last but not least, there was the work of her partner, Zach Smith. Despite being a highly individual take, the works held together.

Best Indoor Element of the 2013 Biennial of the Americas

First Draft

When the curator of the 2013 Biennial of the Americas left the program, the job of planning this exhibit fell to Denver-based curator Cortney Lane Stell, who had just one week to finalize a list of participating artists and just a couple of months before she needed to install their work. Despite those challenges, First Draft was a winner, in part because Stell chose to include many interesting local artists -- something that should be standard for any biennial being held in Denver.

Phamaly is the only company in the country to use performers with every kind of disability in its shows, whether those handicaps are physical, cognitive or emotional. The company stages a musical in the Space Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex annually and puts on a second, non-musical production at the Aurora Fox. There are also evenings of wry and revealing sketch comedy in both Denver and Boulder. When you watch a Phamaly production, you can't help being aware of the tremendous effort most of the actors made simply to arrive at rehearsals and perform. Yet what you feel is anything but pity: Rather, it's tremendous respect for the talent on stage and joyous amazement at the strength of the human spirit.

Dazzle has won numerous Best of Denver awards from Westword over the past decade or so, primarily because it is, hands down, the best jazz club in town. DownBeat magazine even thinks it's one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world. Over the past year, music manager Kevin Lee has done a noble job, bringing in jazz legends such as Jimmy Heath, Houston Person and Eddie Gomez, as well as younger nationally recognized players like Terence Blanchard, Chris Potter and Dave Douglas. He's also found time for some of the best in local jazz and blues talent. The music is stellar, obviously, but the food at Dazzle has star power, too: We recommend the burgers and the mac and cheese.

Evan Semón

There are a number of high-school and college jazz programs in the area, and they're turning out some incredibly talented young musicians. But while music theory, jazz standards and note transcription are important, sometimes just jamming with other folks is the best way to learn. Over the past few years, the Monday-night jazz jams at the Meadowlark have attracted some fiery and exciting players, on horns, guitar, keyboards and drums. Whether you're playing or listening, Mondays at the Meadowlark are the jam.

Mason Craig

It makes sense that the jukebox at the Skylark Lounge has plenty of rockabilly and classic country on it, with tunes from the likes of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Patsy Cline; after all, that sound complements the overall vibe of the retro-centric bar, which is lined with vintage movie posters. What might be a better-kept secret, though, is that the Skylark's juke is also one of the most eclectic in town, offering everything from the punk of the Clash and the Sex Pistols to the jazz of Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck — plus a whole lot in between. You'll even find a few discs by local bands that have played at the 'lark, like Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams and the Dalhart Imperials. Mosey on down and give it a spin.

Karaoke is a curiosity: Alcohol, peer pressure and occasional untapped talent all combine in one extremely public display, making for entertaining and unpredictable results. Armida's draws a consistently big and diverse crowd, ensuring a night high in both drama and comedy. And while its popularity guarantees a considerable wait for the spotlight, there's plenty of free entertainment to enjoy in the meantime. Whether you're looking to have a few drinks, show off your pipes, make a fool of yourself, or all of the above, there are few places better than Armida's.

If you love the salty smell of leather and sweat on a beautiful man, wrap your hands around the phallic doorknob at the Eagle and walk into paradise. Despite a few burly men looking Hells Angels-scary (and most people who frequent the Eagle like that sort of thing), the bartenders are some of the sweetest guys in town. And like the patrons, they're as warm as they are hot. Tuesday through Sunday, the Eagle has an all-you-can-drink happy hour from 4 to 8 p.m.; it often sponsors themed events including leather, denim, sportswear and underwear parties with Denver's hottest guys of all shapes and sizes. And while this is definitely a male-oriented space, the Eagle welcomes everyone into the nest.

Jody Bouffard has had the corner on Denver's lesbian bar scene for years. While other venues and owners have come and gone, Bouffard has continued to create safe, comfortable spaces where lesbians and the broader LGBTQ community can drink, socialize and flirt. Her newest enterprise, Blush and Blu, is no exception; it's gained a reputation for friendly bartenders and a warm, inclusive environment. Located at the site of her former tHERe Coffee Bar and Lounge, right next to Voodoo Doughnut, this is a bar and coffee shop wrapped into one venue that promises everything from Texas Hold 'Em tournaments to drag-king performances, pool, standup comedy and even yoga.

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