Larimer Lounge
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
Mutiny Information Cafe
Courtesy Mutiny Information Cafe

It may have no stage, no bar and not the best sound system in the world, but it's what happens inside Mutiny Information Cafe that matters. This bookstore/record store/venue/hangout on South Broadway stacks its calendar with film screenings, lectures, concerts, comedy shows and live podcast tapings. Basically, if you're not into what's happening at Mutiny, wait an hour and something else will inevitably pique your interest. There's also a pinball machine, a coffee bar and your friendly neighborhood conspiracy theorist hanging out between the books and records, just waiting to share his theories on global warming. The best part? It's the only all-ages venue on the strip, and events are donation-based, meaning Mutiny Information Cafe is a place where anyone can come along for the wild ride.

Pearl's

The building at 608 East 13th Avenue housed the venerable Snake Pit for nearly two decades before the Beauty Bar took over in 2010. When that venue closed last June, co-owner Mike Barnhart and manager Tucker Schwab spent the next few months transforming the space into a super-cool dance club and music venue on one side and a neighborhood bar on the other. Pearl's hosts the ever-popular Motown Thursdays — with free chicken and waffles — as well as other weekly and monthly dance nights.

Readers' choice: Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

As a talent buyer for Syntax Physic Opera and a resident of Denver DIY treasure Rhinoceropolis, Madeline Johnston has a serious stake in the local music scene. Unafraid to mix it up, she takes venue booking to the next level, curating shows based on raw sound rather than genre. A typical Johnston bill might include an experimental electronic act, a jazz quartet and a hip-hop artist all sharing the stage (or floor). Johnston's intentional soundscapes provide an atypical experience for show-goers — bar crowds and warehouse regulars alike. An active musician who also runs cassette-tape label Tinyamp Records, Johnston is fully immersed in the music that's happening right now, allowing her to put together some of the freshest and most interesting concerts in the metro area. Fans might go to a show to see their favorite rock band and discover a noise artist they've never heard of — all because of this promoter's ingenuity.

Denver Botanic Gardens

While the Denver Botanic Gardens' summer concert series is a decades-old tradition, Swallow Hill, which took over booking, producing and promoting the concerts there in 2010, has helped turn the series — which also includes a few shows a year at the DBG's Chatfield location — into a universally sold-out affair. The 2015 series boasted a wildly diverse lineup that included local legendary bluegrass outfit Hot Rize, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Boz Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Culture Club, Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Gipsy Kings, and a stop on Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club's final tour.

Throwing an inaugural local-acts-only music festival into the middle of a festival-saturated summer is a daunting task, but no one pulled it off better than the Bluebird District Musical Festival. Highlighting the wonderful, tiny venues lining the Bluebird District along East Colfax Avenue, the BDMF provided a weekend that was the perfect antidote for music fans already suffering from festival fatigue. It was casual and curated with care, with every stage offering eclectic, talented local acts.

Syntax Physic Opera

The owner of Syntax Physic Opera, Jonathan Bitz, prefers the term "host" or "concierge" to "door guy," which tells you something about the attention to detail and ambience here. And indeed, inside you'll find medicinal herbs in the cocktails, portraits of frontier-era civil-rights heroes on the walls, pistols in glass cases and an eclectic array of offerings on stage. It takes a certain kind of patience and charisma to stand at the threshold of such a place, and Syntax's Yves Rhone has both in spades. You'll find Rhone there every Friday and Saturday night, stylishly dressed and setting the tempo. Finding himself with a sudden vacancy about a year ago, Bitz hired Rhone on the spot on the strength of some trusted recommendations, and Rhone has been all we could hope for in a host: conversational, unflappable, and more than capable of preparing you for what's beyond the atrium.

Grabbing the mike for karaoke is usually something that requires one more shot of tequila or the loss of a bet — unless, of course, you're at Armida's. The Mexican restaurant has been a Denver favorite for over twenty years, drawing huge crowds for karaoke seven days a week. While the more "professional" karaoke singers take the stage upstairs, patrons can expect drunken Salt-N-Pepa renditions and Backstreet Boys impersonators on the main stage. With two happy hours a day, Armida's provides the perfect atmosphere to let your hair down and pretend you're Selena — if only for one night.

Readers' choice: Armida's
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.
Chris Cone
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.

There really is no other place in metro Denver quite like the Buffalo Rose. Because the Rose is hidden away in Golden, you really have to want to get there — but on the plus side, parking is easy. The venue generally hosts either rhythm-and-blues gigs or hair-metal shows put on by local group Wolfpack Productions, and it's all perfect. The guy working the door looks like he's spent some time in biker gangs, the bar staff wears the same leather gear they wore in 1988, and there's a dude propped up against the wall in cowboy boots and leopard-print pants who just might have been in Pretty Boy Floyd. The place is a joy: The sound is spot on, and you get a good view of the stage from just about anywhere. And where else do you get to see bands like Faster Pussycat, Danger Danger and motherfucking Winger?

The thing about glammy, sleazy hair metal is that in 2016, it's just about the least-cool genre of music you can be involved in. Hell, in 1993 it was the least-cool genre of music that you could be involved in. That's why, in our book, the musicians who have soldiered on while trends have risen and fallen — all the while spraying that product into thinning hair and keeping that gut in check — should be applauded. Grind Cat Grind still opens for just about every former Sunset Strip idol that comes our way, and is still killing it night after night. Some of the members even moonlight in a hair-metal tribute band called Mr. Steak, offering double the fun. Shame on you for laughing: Grind Cat Grind's set is chock-full of excellent anthemic rock and roll, and the bandmembers don't give a crap about what's charting. Gentlemen, we salute you.

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