Best Annual Festival 2015 | PrideFest | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Over two big, well-done days each June, PrideFest brings all of Denver together in the correct way by offering just the right wares, foods and a whole lot of entertainment throughout Civic Center Park. Last year, more than 365,000 people turned out — many of them in colorful get-ups and costumes — to show everyone what's so great about having such a bustling gay community. PrideFest, which also features a parade from Cheesman Park to Civic Center as well as family-centered activities, will mark its fortieth anniversary in Denver this year, and we're expecting it to be the best celebration yet.

Readers' choice: Great American Beer Festival

The idea doesn't sound that good on paper: Take one part bus station, one part LoDo bar and one part trendy restaurant row and smash them together under the hundred-year-old ceilings at Union Station. But so far, the formula has been a success — and custom-made for quality free entertainment. Take a seat at one of those big chairs in the lobby and watch as harried or bemused travelers with rolling suitcases try to make their way around drunken twenty-somethings searching for the bathrooms. Or try to guess whether that family of four is running to catch a bus out to the airport or to get into Stoic & Genuine before the hostess gives away their table. On just about any night, Union Station is alive and well — and that's worth the price of admission alone. And when warm weather hits, watch for kids from across town to flock to the outdoor water feature, where they'll frolic all day in the next best thing to a beach.

Reader's choice: People-watching

Nestled into a particularly sparse corner of the Athmar Park neighborhood, Chain Reaction Brewing isn't an obvious venue for comedy. But despite the brewery's location, high ceilings and brightly lit tap room, Chain Reaction Comedy Night has packed the house with gigglers and guzzlers every month of its short tenure. Much of the event's success is due to the combined efforts of former hockey buddies Chad Christofferson (who co-owns the brewery with his cousin Zack) and local standup Steve Vanderploeg, who oversees a precisely chosen lineup. The show has already drawn local-hero headliners such as Jordan Doll, Kristin Rand and Adam Cayton-Holland to its stage. Drinkers can also enjoy delicious oddities like peppercorn saison, crème-brûlée imperial milk stout and the limited-release Denver Comedy Pale Ale that Chain Reaction has on tap.

Molly Martin

Usually attended only by nervy fledgling standups and neighborhood inebriates who resent the incursion, open-mike nights often have the feel of a glum joke workshop — which is why emcee Kevin O'Brien likes to mix things up, kicking off each comedy open mike at the Matchbox with a throaty rendition of "America the Beautiful." Curating the lineup like he would a mixtape and doling out "bag of human garbage" and "beer with ol' Kev" awards to their deserving recipients, O'Brien proves that just because anyone can sign up to perform doesn't mean that showmanship should be an afterthought. The Matchbox draws the best ratio of newcomers to seasoned pros, which means that spectators have the best chance to see a hilarious, chaotic comedy show for free, particularly during warmer months, when the program takes over the patio.

Too Much Fun is a success story years in the making. By creating a bridge between the local comedy and music scenes (both of which have a fair bit of overlap with the service industry), the Fine Gentleman's Club has achieved the impossible dream of hosting a successful weekly comedy show for free. The Club's hip, loyal fans have been rewarded for their steadfast attendance with highlights such as Dave Ross's album recording and a surprise drop-in set from Dave Chappelle. The Gents — Nathan Lund, Chris Charpentier, Sam Tallent and Bobby Crane — hustle each week to arrange lineups, generate fresh material and even design posters for this crown jewel of Denver's comedy and DIY scenes.

Most comedy shows thrive on simplicity: a stage, a stool and a microphone. That's why Lucha Libre & Laughs is unlike any comedy show in the city, fusing producer and bumbling referee Nick Gossert's twin loves of wrestling and standup in a unique and unholy hybrid that simultaneously delights two fan bases, each cultivating their own relationship with irony. While it appears as though wrestling is the main attraction, the comedy is fully integrated into the show throughout the matches. In fact, the ongoing color commentary from Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent often becomes the highlight of the evening. At Lucha Libre & Laughs, the chuckles leap off the turnbuckles.

Readers' choice: Comedy Works

Comedy thrives in dark rooms with low ceilings. At Comedy Works' historic downtown location, the generally cocktail-besotted crowd is tightly packed into the venue's cozy showroom; once the lights darken, they become an anonymous mob freed from any sense of propriety. Kept satiated by tiptoeing waitstaff, otherwise reasonable people are reduced to giggling delirium by comedians drawn to what is fondly known by fans and professionals alike as one of the best clubs in the entire country. Recent headliners Hannibal Buress, Jim Norton and frequent surprise guest Dave Chappelle are only the start of the funny business at Comedy Works.

Keith Garcia

The Queerbots are giving a voice to gay comedy with their new monthly improv show at Hamburger Mary's — and proving that laughter is truly a great unifier. Using typical stereotypes, the all-gay group invites audiences to laugh at them and with them in order to demonstrate just how funny being human is.

Denver's exploding drag scene is teeming with a card deck's worth of queens hoofing and hot-assing all over town, but Janessa Befierce isn't taking a slow pony ride to the top; she's grabbing the reins of a stallion and racing it there. Seemingly in drag seven days a week, Befierce has worked out the kinks of her persona and delivers a polished performance on stages all over town.

Keith Garcia

Gone are the days of bingo halls filled with old ladies and church-like reverence. In today's game, you'll find that comedy, booze and laughter rule the night. Dolls With Balls at Hamburger Mary's is one of Denver's longest-running bingo games, where you'll find three vivacious vixens — Harley Quinn, Alexandra Winters and Victoria Sexton — dropping balls every Wednesday. Go ahead and invite Grandma — just make sure she's sufficiently liquored up.

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