Cold Crush

An island for hip-hop heads in a sea of hipster establishments, Cold Crush brings the beat to the RiNo and Curtis Park neighborhoods. More than just a bar, this corner spot has a low-key club vibe, its sound system pumping out highly curated sets of hip-hop, funk, soul and old-school. The artwork inside Cold Crush changes regularly, while its trademark "blank-canvas" exterior wall has hosted thought-provoking murals by Scot Lefavor, Joshua Mays and Gamma. After a shooting nearby last year, some neighbors sent e-mails scrutinizing Cold Crush to the city, which temporarily shuttered it. But the business soon reopened, and has proved itself as resilient as the Cold Crush Brothers, the hip-hop pioneers the enterprise was named after.

Best Chance to Spot Up-and-Coming Hip-Hop Talent

Test Kitchen

From making music to playing shows and putting out records, figuring out what it takes to become a successful musician can be a tough journey. Test Kitchen is a bi-monthly showcase at which up-and-coming and established talent can try out new material in front of an audience — and a panel of industry experts. A creation of hip-hop guru Ru Johnson and her Roux Black creative consulting team, Test Kitchen (which currently holds court at the Black Box) provides musicians with the constructive criticism needed to take a track or album to the next level. Echoing Motown Records founder Berry Gordy's question for all potential talent, Johnson and company ask: "With your last dollar, would you buy this record or a sandwich?"

rouxblack.com

Syntax Physic Opera

For years, Jonathan Bitz was mostly known as a proponent of the singer-songwriter music scene; as the talent booker at the Meadowlark, he fostered more than a few noteworthy acts, like the Lumineers and Science Partner. When he acquired the building at 554 South Broadway, he could have kept to what he knew and brought in mostly acoustic sets. But since opening Syntax Physic Opera in summer 2014, Bitz has booked a spectrum of bands in the underground genre, making the venue a cornerstone of the local music scene. Some venues tend to play it safe, but Syntax regularly showcases less-mainstream acts like Anklepants, David Liebe Hart, Clock DVA and Sister Grotto.

Mutiny Information Cafe
Courtesy Mutiny Information Cafe

As a combination coffee shop and books, records and comics store, Mutiny Information Cafe offers a slice of counterculture for every palate. But its real magic lies in its performance space. While there's no actual stage, Mutiny offers plenty of room for live entertainment, whether it be a comedy show, a podcast taping or a dude screaming into a microphone while pounding his fist into a synthesizer. Truly, all art forms are welcome. Mutiny Information Cafe is not your average bookseller, java roaster or concert hall; rather, it's a beautiful, noisy mishmash of the creative scene, serving up good books and no-bullshit cappuccinos.

Aztlan Theatre

In true dive-bar fashion, Timeo's Theatre Bar, located in the Aztlan Theatre, is only open whenever owner Tim Correa feels like unlocking the door and letting folks in. But a curmudgeon he is not. Correa is a friendly face on the Santa Fe Drive strip, serving up beer and cocktails for First Friday artwalk patrons and his west-side regulars. The bar hosts local blues, Latin and rock acts, and whenever Correa is in the mood, he opens the bar for Broncos games, which play on the ancient but fully functioning big-screen TV in the corner of the joint. The barkeep and son Vincent serve the suds and tell jokes while Correa's wife, Aurora, doles out smiles, stories and, if you're lucky, a little of her menudo or a homemade sandwich. Look for upcoming-concert fliers posted on nearby telephone poles or call ahead for operating hours: Timeo's is timeless and doesn't bother with modern inconveniences like the Internet.

The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.
Chris Cone
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.

The Buffalo Rose, situated in the pretty town of Golden, is an oddball place. Hair-metal bands like Ratt and Faster Pussycat usually end up playing there when passing through metro Denver, so it's a bit of a time warp. It also has perfect bar snacks to nosh on while watching the aforementioned spandex-clad bands. What goes best with L.A. sleaze band Jetboy? How about some fried cheese curds? Jersey hard rockers Danger Danger should be paired with a pile of chicken strips, while an L.A. Guns show calls for the El Cubano sandwich.

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

There are three things we look for in a weekend brunch: good food, good booze and good music. Ophelia's Electric Soapbox excels at all three. Listen to a selection of Denver's best rock and alt-country bands while noshing on traditional breakfast fare with innovative twists. The sound system is top-notch, a projector amplifies what's happening on stage on a screen, and the venue's decor is captivating. All this plus bottomless mimosas.

Lakeview Lounge
Scott Lentz

We hope the Lakeview Lounge sticks around forever, but development going hog-wild along the popular lakefront stretch of Sheridan Boulevard makes us more than a little nervous. Before this spectacular — and spectacularly grungy — dive bar falls victim to yet another chain restaurant, we'll spend our mornings there (the bar opens every day at 7 a.m.), toasting the finer things in life and enjoying tunes from the bar's free jukebox, which churns out classics from Patsy Cline, Benny Goodman, George Strait and more.

Readers' Choice: Bar Car

The Cruise Room
Ken Hamblin

Not much in the Oxford Hotel's resident bar has changed since it opened the day after Prohibition ended — except for the jukebox, which was out of commission for years. It came back to life recently after a thirty-year lease on the bar (and the adjacent, now-defunct McCormick & Schmick's) ran out and hotel owner Sage Hospitality's restaurant group finally assumed control of the Cruise Room. Sage acted fast, recruiting longtime jukebox repairman Jim Francis to tune the beauty back to life. Now she spits out 45s from Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra, among other classic artists.

Brennen Bryarly has built a bit of an electronic-dance music empire over the past several years. Bryarly releases house music as Option4 and has organized shows locally and nationally that offer an array of dance-oriented artists. And every year since 2014, he's put his wide net of contacts and great musical taste to use at Cloak & Dagger. The now-established EDM festival at City Hall and Vinyl brings together commercial and underground acts, and Bryarly invites both local and national performers. Nowhere in Denver is the EDM scene more diverse, or more alive, than at this festival.

cndmusicfest.com

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