Best Of 2024 | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado
Jay Vollmar
Back in 1984, bars were playing the soundtrack to Flashdance, John Elway was the new Denver Broncos quarterback, and mobile hot tubs were all the rage. Forty years later, cold-plunge tubs are hot, Beyoncé has gone country, and who knows who the next Broncos quarterback will be. In between, there have been plenty of other changes in the city, which just keeps getting better. We think this issue does, too: This is our fortieth-anniversary edition of the Best of Denver. Enjoy it!

Best Entree to Order If You Actually Get Into Casa Bonita

Taco Salad

Molly Martin

"Change nothing, improve everything." That was the motto behind South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's revamp of the famed pink palace, which turns fifty this year. The results were revealed in June 2023, when it opened at long last — sort of. In order to get in, you still need to sign up for the email list and wait for an invite to show up in your inbox. But the wait is worth it. Casa Bonita 2.0 is a nostalgic delight, and so is the taco salad. For years, it was the safest option available, and while all the new entrees are vast improvements over the former canned-cheese-laden choices, something just feels right about eating out of a fried tortilla bowl while watching the cliff divers and posing for photos with ManBearPig.

Legendary photographer John Fielder passed away in August 2023, but not before he presented Colorado with an incredible gift to remember him by. History Colorado is now the steward of John Fielder's Colorado Collection, an assortment of more than 6,000 photographs. Fielder spent fifty years traveling Colorado's 104,984 square miles, capturing the changing landscape in more than 200,000 photographs — many of which landed in books and on walls across the state. And now they're easier to access than ever. After culling through his work, Fielder donated thousands of photographs to History Colorado in January 2023; the collection is now digitized and easily searchable by the public, which can download favorite photos. History Colorado also sells giant, exclusive Fielder prints for a very reasonable price, and you can see his work at the museum whenever you visit.

Best Independent Venue for Local and Traveling Acts


Courtesy of the hi-dive

Musicians have a lot to thank the hi-dive for. Since it opened in 2003, the intimate music venue and bar has provided the stage where many bands cut their teeth before going mainstream, including Nathaniel Rateliff, MGMT, St. Vincent and the National, to name a few. It also hosts Indie 102.3's Local 303 Meetup each month, where you can catch quality local bands for free. The little blue building has a solid hold on the hearts of Denverites who love live music, cheap drinks and a friendly dive-bar atmosphere that consistently serves up memorable nights and lifelong relationships. We couldn't imagine the Mile High music scene without it.

James Florio Photography

In May 2023, the Denver Art Museum concluded its multi-year effort to reinvent a trio of collections in its permanent galleries and showcase work that hadn't been seen in years. There's the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, which covers 108 years of history with 145 works. The Arts of Africa collection comprises 800 works from a variety of countries, with some pieces hundreds of years old and others contemporary. The Arts of Oceania collection, meanwhile, involves works in a variety of genres from all major island groupings. And while polishing its collections, the museum has continued hosting must-see exhibitions, including Desert Rider, which examined lowrider culture in Colorado and the Southwest.

Best Store at Denver International Airport

Tattered Cover

Denver International Airport

Rosin edibles have quickly become a dime a dozen, but Candaze Dipz stand out for their consistent flavor, hard-hitting potency and a delicious frosting-like coating. Green apple gummies are covered in caramel, cherry and orange gummies in dark chocolate, and strawberry gummies have a layer of peanut butter frosting. Every version we've had is amusing and delicious, with the chocolate-covered orange variety a must-have for anyone who loves a Terry's Chocolate Orange. But the strawberry PB&J take might be the most unique weed gummy in dispensaries right now; it tastes like peanut butter fudge layered with red doughnut jelly.

Best Community Support for a Venue


HQ had some bad luck last August when an outside water pipe burst and flooded its basement spot, HQ Underground, which hosted drag and burlesque events. The damage was extensive, and HQ concerts were moved to other stages while co-owners Scott Happel and Peter Ore created a fundraiser to deal with the immediate repairs (which insurance wouldn't cover). The venue has been a beloved live-music haven for the community, which showed up in spades with benefit concerts and more fundraising events. While the basement is still closed, HQ was able to open its main-floor space within a few months of the disaster. Can you feel the love?

The Pahaska Tepee Gift Shop & Cafe was created atop Lookout Mountain over a century ago, when the body of William F. Cody — Buffalo Bill to you — was entombed high on a hill overlooking the plains that he had explored and celebrated. At one point, Buffalo Bill was the best-known celebrity in the world, reaching Taylor Swift heights of fame. In 1921, working with the City and County of Denver, Johnny Baker, his foster son, created a building modeled after Buffalo Bill's hunting lodge in Yellowstone Park and opened a museum there; decades later, a modern museum was built nearby, and the Pahaska Tepee was turned into a cafe and the best souvenir shop in Colorado, full of trinkets both historic and old-timey tacky. But now this frequent Best of Denver winner is in danger of being closed and redeveloped by the city, unless Denver residents prove they can't be buffaloed.

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