When Kai Lee Mykels took over as show director for the Sunday-night spot at Charlie's — where a few other legendary shows have lived over the years — she made it her own with some sweeping and positive changes. These included a new name, stylish curtains, a proper stage, better seating for the audience, and an intimate monthly twirl with some of the stars of RuPaul's Drag Race. Most important, Mykels, a self-described "good Christian woman," secured one of the best casts of Denver queens to hit a stage.

Seven years ago, the galaxy's greatest drag performer, Nina Flowers — fresh from her near-win on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race — gathered the best drag talent in town for a little show called Drama Drag, which wasn't your average drag show. Over the years, the show morphed into Drag Nation, moving into the large side of Tracks in order to handle capacity crowds, adding the sweet backup moves of Denver Dance, and creating the country's best and largest landing strip for Drag Race royalty to make guest appearances. Drag Nation has become world-famous in its short life, but as Nina Flowers exclaims after each show, "This is the top of the nation!"

In the gay pantheon, the circuit party is legendary. A weeklong tribute to sweaty bodies writhing to the hot beat of a master DJ, this type of party has never been big in Denver, for some reason — until now. Enter Circuit Saturdays, a monthly tribute to the circuit events of yore featuring all of the touchstones: scorching world-class DJ? Check. Hot, shirtless bodies? Check. Fun themes that beg for attendees to dress up (or down)? Check. Beautiful drag hostesses to keep the party moving? Double-check! Plug into this circuit, hunties.

We're lucky to have a selection of gay bars in town for every taste and color of the rainbow, but when it comes to charm and chill, you owe yourself a visit to the R&R Lounge. The R&R's classic neon sign and rainbow-colored door have been lighting up the building at 4958 East Colfax since 1977. Barfly regulars are here to enjoy a drink, play darts, talk about the Broncos and, oh, yeah, cruise some dudes — or just relax within the gay community. Don't expect a rip-roaring good time as soon as you walk in the door, but come around enough and everyone just might start to know your name.

Readers' choice: Tracks

If we're counting, Blush & Blu is Denver's only lesbian bar, but the owners go out of their way to stress that that isn't the label they're clinging to. B&B welcomes everyone into the fold, and it does so by offering lots more than just a cold beer or a shot of whiskey. The whole Colfax community can join in for open-mike comedy nights, drag shows, art shows, yoga classes, karaoke, dancing, improv — you name it, B&B has it in spades. Go ahead and get your groove on, Stella.

Readers' choice: Blush & Blu
The Horseshoe Lounge
Eric Gruneisen

Part of what makes a great jukebox is how it fits into and reflects its surroundings. At the decade-old Horseshoe Lounge — a retro and remarkably friendly hangout in Uptown outfitted with tufted vinyl bar seats and booths, a pool table and knickknacks from that '70s basement — the jukebox feels integral, as if this all-around-appealing bar would be a different space without it. Part of the reason is that staffers put their stamp on the vibe by inserting their own mixes into the disc-style jukebox; their homemade CDs — complete with photos to identify the source — offer an array of compelling compilations that include both local (King Rat, the Limbs, the Pitch Invasion) and national (you name it, it's there) acts. The jukebox holds 100 discs, but employees rotate them frequently, focusing on everything from old hip-hop to new country to good ol' rock and roll. Adding to the fun: While you listen to your songs (four for a dollar), you can play pinball on the AC/DC-themed machine.

Readers' choice: Sancho's Broken Arrow

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 Diner
Hunter Stevens

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.

Mercury Cafe

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.

Dazzle

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

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