Best Amateur Drag Competition 2016 | Ultimate Queen Challenge | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

No, Virginia, drag queens don't pop out of a cabbage patch ready to slay a runway on four-inch heels. Ultimate Queens are made the old-fashioned way: by battling it out in a fourteen-week competition, where the stakes are high and the drama can get as thick as an old tube of mascara. But over those weeks, audiences get to watch performers' transformation into the icons they've always dreamed of portraying — fierceness included.

Rosie's is a real 1950s-style diner, a stainless-steel modular built in New Jersey by Paramount — the last diner-construction firm still standing — and shipped to Aurora in pieces. And it feels like you're back in that time period when you drop a quarter (for two songs) into one of the tabletop jukeboxes and start flipping to find a good tune — a pretty likely outcome, since the hit parade marches from the '50s ("Rock Around the Clock") to today ("Just Dance"). As you play DJ for the patrons of this colorful and authentically detailed neon-and-metal eatery — named for Rosie, the hash-slinger in the Bounty commercials, which were filmed in a Paramount diner — take down one of the seventeen flavors of milkshake and a blue-plate-special-style meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. There ain't no cure for the "Summertime Blues," but it's tough to be sad at Rosie's.

The nonstop construction around the city can be overwhelming — but one step inside the Mercury Cafe is like a step back into a calmer time. That's not to say that the restaurant and multi-stage venue's packed calendar of live concerts, lindy-hop lessons, movie nights, dance parties and theater productions isn't just as wild as the world outside. Settle into a wooden booth in the Rose Room for a piano-bar cocktail-hour experience, wander upstairs for a tango class or grab a table in the Jungle Room for a poetry performance; whatever kind of entertainment you're into, the Merc's got it. A fortress of good feelings and a kinder, gentler Denver atmosphere establish the decades-old Merc — and its owner/operator/Jill-of-all-trades Marilyn Megenity — as part of Denver's root system, which keeps the city firmly planted even as it soars as one of the country's hottest destinations.

For nearly two decades, the folks at Dazzle have finely honed the art of running a great jazz venue. Sure, bringing in high-caliber national acts like Joshua Redman, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Regina Carter and Kurt Elling is part of Dazzle's success, but the place hosts some of the finest local jazz talent seven nights a week, too. Hailed by DownBeat magazine as one of the world's top 100 jazz clubs, Dazzle continues to be the king of the city's jazz scene because of top-notch talent, a great listening room and a first-rate food lineup and cocktail program.

Readers' choice: El Chapultepec

Ziggies has been a frequent Best of Denver winner, and for good reason. Even when some upstart new spot comes along to try to snatch the award away, we always come back to the unassuming Ziggies. Why? Well, for starters, live music seven nights a week from local and national blues acts on a solid system (and no cover on weekdays) — including the long-running Sunday-night blues jam. Also, inexpensive drinks (craft beers and well-made mojitos among them). An odd and unpretentious selection of snacks that are trashy in theory but delicacies in the middle of a shot-and-a-beer kind of night (think Red Baron frozen pizza and Marie Callender's chicken pot pie). Periodic poetry jams (and a house poet) that keep the Beat vibe alive. Open pool tables between music sets. The most important reason, though, is that everyone is welcome here. And we do mean everyone.

Readers' choice: El Chapultepec

Gaining momentum last year through a series of monthly after-hours parties hosted by James McElwee in a converted house basement, 1010 Workshop has grown into a compelling destination for underground electronic and dance music. 1010's self-determined ethos and practice helps the venue circumvent the glossy, overpriced sheen of Denver's corporate club culture, with McElwee bringing in more challenging national acts while supporting locals — including affiliates of the Deep Club label, who push the dance-music envelope.

Readers' choice: Upstairs Circus

Don't want the weekend to end? Head to Lola Mexican Fish House, which ups the ante on its Sunday happy hour by offering free shows by local bands (members of the Congress were regulars before they went off on tour) that often feature guest appearances by visiting musicians craving good margaritas and more intimate settings. In good weather, when the curtains of the patio are rolled up, this is as close to a beach party as you get in Denver.

One of the most fun ways to relax on a Friday night, Ominous — also known as goth night at Tracks — is an awesome excuse to indulge in music, drinks and good times. Tracks is a GLBT club, and while the monthly dance night is definitely alternative-lifestyle-friendly, you'll find couples of every persuasion — including just plain straight — out on the floor. DJs playing classic and modern industrial music are accompanied by coed dancers on the stage. There's also a monthly theme, and everyone is encouraged to dress up (this is Denver, after all!). Underground-music fans, mainstream dance fiends, true goths and more are sure to find something to love at Ominous.
Readers' choice: Mile High Soul Club

With decor and ambience inspired by the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange, Milk Bar caters to an eclectic crowd Wednesday through Saturday nights. Perhaps best known for its goth-oriented nights — explicitly so on Goth Wednesdays and less obviously so on Saturdays with Mixtape (which has a New Wave room) — Milk harks back to a time when EDM and its antecedents didn't completely dominate the playlists. Because of this, it attracts one of the most diverse crowds of any dance club in the city. Though completely legitimate, Milk feels like a speakeasy — the entrance is in the alleyway behind 1037 Broadway — run by benevolent weirdos with good taste.

Readers' choice: Tracks
Jeff Davis

What's a great rock club but four walls and spilled beer? Yet therein lies the formula for facilitating live-music magic, which is just what happens at Larimer Lounge. Rather than assert a dominant personality or aesthetic, the Larimer appears to be little more than a hodgepodge of humble pieces. Its back-room venue isn't temperature-controlled, which encourages crowds to pack together even more tightly, and its low stage increases the feeling of intimacy. You can run into your favorite musicians in the upstairs bathroom — and now would be the time to say hi, because bands that play the Larimer are on their way up and soon graduate to larger venues. The club's energy leaks out the doors and into the bustling neighborhood nightlife, and with a revamped food cart in front and a new music festival happening on the block this spring, the Larimer proves that a great rock club transcends its four walls.

Readers' choice: hi-dive

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