Best Comedy Open Mic 2017 | The Lion's Lair | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin

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

Courtesy of the hi-dive

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?"

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.

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.

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.

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.

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