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Best Venue for Music, Comedy, Circus and More

Oriental Theater

Barry Brecheisen

The Oriental was erected in 1927 and has remained a cultural hub for the Tennyson corridor ever since. While the location attracts badass bands like itchy-O, Alestorm, the Reverend Horton Heat, Black Flag and more, it's also known for a swath of other entertainment, regularly hosting film screenings and comedy acts, both local and touring, as well as more eclectic offerings such as lucha libre wrestling. It's also home to the annual Carnivale de Sensuale variety show, and welcomes similar events that showcase burlesque, circus arts, aerial performers, magicians and more.

With its rock-and-roll memorabilia and psychedelic paraphernalia, So Many Roads is dedicated to keeping the spirit of the Grateful Dead alive. Deadheads gather here weekly to check out Dead cover bands, Phish cover bands and Jerry Garcia Band cover bands, and to listen to original jam bands during its open-mic nights. So Many Roads is also a brewery, and its beers are all named after Dead tunes, such as the Iko Iko IPA, the Midnight Moonlight Porter and the Nut Fade Away Nut Brown Ale. The venue had to close for a spell last year because of city code violations, but it reopened in December with a concert featuring the Cosmic Charlies that even attracted fans from out of state, showing how important Deadhead bars are to the psychedelic community.

At this time last year, Denverites were eagerly awaiting the second coming of Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, which was making use of the pandemic downtime to renovate. The revamped Ophelia's opened at the beginning of April 2022, welcoming the public back into the unique spot, where musicians play on a stage on the lower level while diners on the restaurant level watch from above. But Ophelia's is known for more than its music and its food, as good as they both are: For many years, the Victorian brownstone Airedale Building was home to a hotel, brothel, peep show and sex shop. Owner Justin Cucci described the spot as a "gastro-brothel" upon opening Ophelia's there in 2015, and the slogan says it all: "If these walls could talk, they'd moan!"

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The Gothic Theatre has been a Denver landmark for nearly a century. It debuted in the 1920s as a movie theater and hosted community gatherings like Easter egg hunts during the Great Depression. It ended its film career for good in the '80s after a stint as a porn theater, but that's when its musical history began, with scattered rock shows from bands like Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Soundgarden and more. The Gothic officially became a music mecca in 1998 when it was bought by Steve Schalk and his business partner for $175,000. And in November 2022, Schalk sold the Gothic to AEG, which had already been managing its bookings for a decade, for $2 million — which was clearly money well spent. Here's to another century of music at the Gothic!

Molly Martin

Lauren Beno and Denise Day have been best friends for a decade, and in May 2022 they put all their love into Town Hall Collaborative, an event space at the heart of the Santa Fe Art District. The gathering space, which includes a full bar and food trucks, is also a venue for live music, the arts and more. Pop-up markets, DIY workshops, community-oriented learning events, book clubs, open-mic nights, creative writing classes, speed dating and even Shabbat dinners are options on Town Hall Collaborative's calendar, which is filled with events that the whole family can enjoy.

It can be hard to get the sound just right in a 6,500-capacity space like 1STBANK Center, but the sonics have been right on the money at every concert we've attended there. For many years, it was the traditional spot for Colorado jam staple String Cheese Incident to ring in the New Year with a three-night run, and last year, jam-band breakout act Goose moved its annual Goosemas event from its hometown in Connecticut to 1STBANK Center. But no one has demonstrated the excellent sound quality better than king of bluegrass Billy Strings, who played a series of shows there in February.

Colorado Music Hall of Fame

Colorado is variously known for its mountains, skiing, wildflowers and counterculture, but there's one landmark everyone knows about when it comes to the state: Red Rocks Amphitheatre. However, not everyone knows about the best bathrooms to use at the venue. Sure, the all-gender stalls below stage left are your best bet for fast-moving lines, or you can venture to the clean bathrooms found inside the Visitor Center at the top. (And if you finish up before your bathroom buddy, you can peruse the Red Rocks Performers Hall of Fame.) Our favorite, though, is at the top, on the far side of the Visitor Center, where you'll find stairs that lead to what could be the least-used facilities at Red Rocks — and that means fewer lines and more time to enjoy the show.

Evan Semón

The Meadowlark, a basement bar in RiNo, boasts a small and dimly lit interior reminiscent of a speakeasy, but without the typically hushed atmosphere. The bar has an impressive events calendar, with shows every night that spotlight local DJs and bands, including Monday jazz nights. But Tuesday is karaoke night, when wannabe singers and even the self-proclaimed tone-deaf are not shy about claiming the stage. Two mics, two lyrics screens, plenty of song options and a host who's happy to make it a duet add to the fun of a drink-infused night out. Although the official start time is 9 p.m., plan to arrive a little later, as the karaoke crowd takes time to get settled.

The Mercury Cafe, with its twinkling fairy lights, intricately painted tables, fresh flowers and shimmering disco balls, is a legendary local hot spot for poets, authors, musicians and coffee aficionados. The Merc does it all and does it well, but one of its biggest draws is the weekly open-mic night on Wednesday, where you'll find diverse, soulful, often gifted aspiring musicians holding down the stage. This open-mic night has all the ingredients for a one-of-a-kind evening out: local talent, a friendly audience, drinks, desserts and, of course, the welcoming vibes of the Mercury's inclusive atmosphere.

Best Unpretentious Yet Legendary Venue

Herb's

Justin Criado

Herb's turns ninety this year, but it's never been one to put on airs. It is what it is: a music venue and a watering hole. The drinks are good, and the live music, usually jazz or blues, can be life-changing. But that's just an average night at Herb's, no biggie. Drink up and get down, as folks have been doing here for almost a century, including the infamous Jack Kerouac. Lots of places in Denver claim to be one of Kerouac's old haunts, but Herb's is the real deal. Legendary, even. But as we said, no biggie.

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