Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

At first glance, Ophelia's Electric Soapbox looks like a super-hip restaurant top to bottom. But walk inside and you'll notice a big square hole in the middle of the main floor that opens up to a decent-sized stage and dance floor. While the Justin Cucci-owned venue offers eclectic menus for brunch and dinner and pays homage to its days as a bordello with its sultry decor, live music is clearly a star all on its own here. Stroll in on any given night and enjoy some with your dinner.

Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Mark Antonation

The folks at Black Shirt Brewing clearly take their beer seriously, but when they built a stage out of pallets on their patio a few years ago, they showed they were passionate about music as well. The outdoor live music starts up in March and runs through the summer, with an assortment of acts that play a few nights a week. The brewpub has been hosting bring-your-own-vinyl nights inside on most Thursdays and also occasionally teams up with local record club Vinyl Me, Please to showcase significant albums during listening parties dubbed The Spins!

Lion's Lair

The Lion's Lair is equal parts dive bar and music venue. Before a show, the 100-person spot is one of the few remaining classic Denver dives where the drinks are somewhat cheap and the conversation is bound to be colorful, given its Colfax location. But come 9 p.m. or so most nights, when bands start playing, it becomes a different monster entirely. The lineups lean heavy on the punk and rock side, with occasional visits from legendary acts like John Doe, Mike Watt and the Blasters.

The Cruise Room
Ken Hamblin

A visit to the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel feels like a step back in time: The longest continually open bar in Denver has been serving spirits since the day after Prohibition ended. Adding to its allure is a free, recently restored jukebox that plays 45s from Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and more. Order a classic martini from the bar, saunter over to the electric-blue jukebox near the front door, and play something your grandparents would dance to. You'll be partaking in a Denver tradition that dates back nearly ninety years.

Readers' Choice: Sancho's Broken Arrow

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

The rule of thumb for venue restrooms is this: The more nondescript and bare they are, the better. Too much decor and we'll linger, missing precious concert time, and too cluttered or dirty and we'll spend more time avoiding the puke on the floor than taking care of business. Ophelia's bathrooms somehow hit the sweet spot of having just enough character to stand out and being comfortable enough to serve as a retreat from all the chaos outside the door. They're clean and private, everything works, there are ample ledges in the men's rooms to hold beers, and the stall doors are made of rulers. Think you'll measure up?

Best Free Music Series
Teal Nipp

Denver's oldest jazz and blues club offers an impressive roster of talent throughout the week, and it never charges a cover. The dimly lit bar at the corner of 20th and Market streets might not look like an integral part of Denver's nightlife from the outside, but El Chapultepec's free music and dancing make for one of the best nights out in the city. Catch weekly regulars such as the Diana Castro Band and the Freddy Rodriguez Quartet, or spend a weekend with Eef & the Blues Express. Either way, you won't leave disappointed.

Chautauqua Auditorium

Chautauqua Auditorium is heated and cooled by nature, and you won't get rained on. The venue, which was opened in 1898 and can seat 1,300 people, has long been an ideal spot for summer concerts, and over the past few years, the folks at Z2 Entertainment, which operates the Boulder and Fox theaters, have done a noble job booking talent for its summer concert series. Last year's shows included a variety of national acts, like Blind Pilot, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Lucinda Williams, Drive-By Truckers and Punch Brothers.

Every summer, talented musicians from around the country and world gather in Boulder for a classical jam session, as it were. For six busy weeks, they become the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, delivering a sizzling variety of offerings, from full orchestral evenings to chamber groups, experimental evenings and family-friendly concerts. Housed in the lovingly preserved all-wood Chautauqua Auditorium, the festival has been a welcome tradition for more than forty years. The friendly, informal atmosphere is infectious, and you can visit Chautauqua Park on a warm summer day and listen to the bands rehearse.

comusic.org

No regional opera company has worked harder than Opera Colorado to keep the art form vital. Since its birth 35 years ago, it has brought in vocal greats such as Placido Domingo, James McCracken and Denyce Graves. More important, Ari Pelto, Greg Carpenter and company judiciously balance the more crowd-pleasing performers, such as La Bohème and Aida, with exciting new work such as the innovative restaging of Nixon in China in 2008 and the world-premiere production of Lori Laitman's The Scarlet Letter in 2016. And Opera Colorado offers an array of enviable education and outreach programs, to boot.

operacolorado.org

Best Opera House
Ellie Caulkins Opera House

Denver's old Auditorium Theater was a nightmare — atrocious acoustics, bad sight lines, and all the ambience of a dilapidated grange hall. The "Ellie" was literally carved out of the older, cavernous space, and since opening in 2005, it's been a wonder. The house's flowing, warm design can hold more than 2,000 people, and the back of each seat has a screen that translates shows for opera-goers. The acoustics are impeccable, and the versatile Ellie hosts a variety of arts events year-round. More than a decade in, it has become the go-to venue for top-of-the-line cultural events in Denver.

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