Best Brewery Entertainment 2017 | Ratio Beerworks | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Danielle Lirette

Colorado is awash in basic breweries, dozens of seemingly identical establishments that treat entertainment and aesthetics as afterthoughts. But Ratio Beerworks, a cultural hub in RiNo, defies this trend with its bold, constantly improving decor and fruitful partnerships with local creatives. Activities abound every week, from crafting and yoga classes to silent discos and trivia nights, which means that Ratio's loyal patrons nearly always have something to do besides drink. It's the live performances, however, that truly set Ratio apart. The Ratio Sessions concert series draws bands like the Menzingers and Beach Slang for intimate concerts where fans can meet and greet (and drink) with musicians in the colorful taproom. Meanwhile, Ratio Comedy puts on inventive showcases like the Battle Royale, Doom Room and the Dirty Laundry Dating Show nearly every Wednesday, keeping the laughs flowing as freely as the beer.

Courtesy Comedy Works Downtown

Alternative venues and comedian-produced showcases abound in Denver, but the gold standard for standup will always be Comedy Works Downtown. The subterranean club provides the ideal acoustics for basking in the warmth of a crowd's laughter, making it the perfect setting to record standup albums like The Funches of Us and Skanks for the Memories. While rooted in more than 35 years of tradition, Comedy Works doesn't shy away from such innovations as locking cell phones in Yondr bags, which not only removes distractions from the showroom, but also prevents nascent material from leaking out into the public. While remaining a top draw for headliners from around the world, Comedy Works has also nurtured the careers of local comedians dating all the way back to Roseanne Barr, and it continues to create platforms where its roster of comics can try out new ideas, including shows like Mentalpause and Infauxmation.

El Charrito already had a strong reputation as a karaoke haven and a great bar in the Ballpark neighborhood, but it's recently become a second home for local comedians. Since the Comedy Room Room opened in El Charrito's repurposed dining area last year, the "five-star dive bar" has hosted an open-mic night and at least one showcase every week. In addition to creating a supportive environment for comedy shows, proprietor Matt Orrin has befriended many local comics, even hiring them to work the door, bar-back and host karaoke. When they're not working there, these comics are often at El Charrito anyway, nursing High Lifes around tabletop board games or feeding quarters into the massive arcade machine. While the cheap drinks are certainly a boon to Denver's perpetually destitute creatives, it's the constant presence of familiar faces that make El Charrito the Cheers of Denver comedy.

Thanks to herculean behind-the-scenes effort and consistent improvement, Lucha Libre & Laughs again claims the crown. No other Denver comedy show contains so many moving parts; no other night promises so much delight per minute. With an increasingly dense and entertaining mythos, Lucha Libre & Laughs rewards its loyal fans with sagas of ringside drama, wacky recurring characters, heel turns and stunning reversals. Though the thrillingly acrobatic matches are LLL's main draw, producer/ bumbling referee Nick Gossert doesn't neglect the laughs side of the equation: The improvised color commentary from comedians Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent is as nimble as the wrestlers themselves, and the lineups are tightly curated, with headliners such as John "Hippieman" Novosad and Bobcat Goldthwait. While there's typically a Lucha Libre & Laughs show every month at the Oriental Theater, dates and showtimes often shift from month to month; watch the website for updates.

Readers' Choice: Comedy Works Downtown

Jon Solomon

One of the last of the endangered Colfax dive bars, the Lion's Lair has been a celebrated punk-rock venue for almost thirty years. But it's also been host to something even more brutal and hardcore: open-mic comedy. A vital training ground for Denver standups, the Lion's Lair is where local legends such as Ben Kronberg and the Grawlix performed their earliest sets and where the current generation of aspirants go to have their dreams nurtured and crushed in equal measure. Founded over a decade ago by Troy Baxley, the open mic has cycled through a series of guest hosts but always maintained its spirit of benevolent chaos, a tradition carried on by current stewards Roger Norquist and Westword's own Byron Graham. A cultural institution that harks back to a bygone Denver, the Lion's Lair open mic is unusually fraught with absurd occurrences, like a mid-show seance or a comic being heckled by his future wife. Sign-up begins at 10 p.m. every Monday night.

Anthony Camera

Five years ago, Seventh Circle Music Collective took over the former home of long-running Denver DIY space Blast-O-Mat. At the time, Aaron Saye, who runs Seventh Circle, said of the new space, "Every scene of music is going to be welcome. I want anyone that wants to be to be a part of this place." Today, that sentiment still rules, and the DIY ethic is strong. After the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland in December 2016, municipalities around the country started doubling down on inspections of DIY spaces, enforcing building codes. Places in Denver that fell victim to code enforcement were mostly those that were also used as residences but weren't zoned as such, like Rhinoceropolis. Seventh Circle passed its inspection and has continued its busy schedule of concerts, often hosting up to five shows a week. In particular, the venue welcomes young musicians, offering them a safe place to develop and showcase their talent. The bastion of youth culture is essential to the arts scene, whether city officials like it or not.

Readers' Choice: Upstairs Circus

Scott Lentz

When Matty Clark and Josh Terry assumed ownership of the hi-dive half a decade ago, the local-musician hangout only got more popular. Also a favorite tour stop for national acts, the bar is mostly known as a training ground and networking hub for Denver's music scene. Those qualities were amplified when the veteran musicians got involved, and the hi-dive continues to be a go-to spot for anyone looking to see a good show, play a good show or rub elbows (and possibly start new bands) with fellow music lovers.

Skyrocketing rents aren't just impacting how creative Denverites live; they're also driving out cheap practice spaces and studios. RocketSpace aims to combat that by offering affordable space for musicians to hone their craft. Musician Kate Innes started the small but mighty operation a few years ago and has expanded it to two locations that employ full-time staff (all musicians themselves). Folks looking to get some private time to write and play songs can rent RocketSpace studios by the hour, starting at just $8. All rooms are equipped with top-of-the-line gear, and the staff is ready and willing to help find cables, fix microphones and do anything else renters may need.

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?"

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