I’ll admit, I’ve been a yellow belly when it comes to country-Western dance bars and the crowds they draw. They seem to always be breaking into complicated line dances, wearing clothing that wouldn’t flatter my figure, and singing twangy country songs that I genuinely can’t get into no matter how many times I hear them. So while I’d cracked a smile or two at Stampede's facetious cowboy commercials on the radio, any invitation I’ve received from friends to do a little boot-scooting have consistently received a hard pass — until this past week, when I had the pleasure of hitting the popular Havana Street joint to enjoy my first ladies' night since college.
As a Denver native, I'm familiar with the Stampede, a C & W staple since 1992. The large, spacious venue boasts several bars stationed throughout, a stage in the back of the saloon and an entire upstairs area complete with pool tables and more drink stations. The bar in the center of the circular dance floor ensures that inhibitions are fully drowned in domestic beer, wine and well drinks, six of which are served free (for ladies only) in small pink Solo cups on Wednesday nights, along with free dance lessons from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and free cover until 7:30. After that, the music is turned up and the lights are dimmed as cowmen and -women (isn't it time to stop calling adults girls and boys?) start filling up the floor. Pull up a seat on the perimeter of the dance floor or at the center bar and enjoy the people-watching: It’s a fantastic part of the experience.
The two-stepping couples and confident solo dancers twist and twirl their way around the circular dance floor, which is transformed into a stage of mesmerizing performances from some of the best (and worst) amateur dancers you’ll ever see. Both of my friends who accompanied me had funny stories to tell about their past visits, one recalling an obligation to attend a losing Tom Tancredo campaign event, and the other recounting the night of a quiet office gathering turned wild. With so many special events, concerts and separate areas for drinking and socializing, thousands of Denverites have come through the doors over the years, each with their own story to tell about a night to remember (or forget).
About 45 minutes after our arrival, we found our waitress and placed an order from the triangular table menu, which held a tiny selection of American- and Mexican-inspired finger-food options in various sizes, from small appetizers to a few bigger dishes, all ranging from $3 to $10. We ordered a little bit of everything, including the intriguing fried green beans and corn fritters ($6), a Stampede cheeseburger ($8), Kansas City bone-in pork wings ($8) and some Southwestern eggrolls ($6). Everything arrived at our table about thirty minutes later; we hardly noticed that some of the order was wrong, since the place was packed and there was plenty of entertainment going on around us. Our server made it up to us by taking one of the appetizers off the bill, which we appreciated, given the abundance of food we’d ordered. Onion rings and fries came as sides to our deep-fried feast, making an oily but tasty accompaniment to the burger. The large beef patty was overcooked and the bun dry and a bit stale, but the burger had a nice thick slice of cheddar cheese melted across it, which made it palatable.
The Southwestern egg rolls were simply miniature chicken chimichangas; the order was large enough to satiate a main-dish appetite or act as an appetizer split among friends. The pork wings — meaty riblets, actually — were also generously portioned but would have been better if we'd ordered them with barbecue sauce instead of Buffalo sauce (which goes better with chicken than pork). The best of the crunchy fried feast were the fried green beans, crackling and savory and even better dipped in ranch dressing and chased with a Coors Light.
The venue hosts an eclectic lineup of concerts and performances year-round — not just country, but rock, hip-hop and even reggaetón. If you’ve got a large crowd, you can rent the space for corporate events, parties or even weddings and other black-tie parties (as many a country fan with deep pockets has done in the past). On Latin Nights, a taco truck shows up to add Mexican fare, often running out of food before the night is over.
While the theme is primarily country, the Stampede transforms for a variety of different events: You can watch moshers dressed in black at hard-rock shows, see fight fans cheer on their favorites at a live muay Thai tournament, or catch the line dancers in action in their cowboy hats and pearl snap shirts. It’s a chance for folks to unleash their alter egos in a dimly lit environment surrounded by strangers — while enjoying cheap beers and fried food. I should have come to the Stampede and learned to dance in my twenties so I could now look cool dancing the night away with the regulars — and so that I'd now have a crazy story to tell my friends about "that time at the Stampede when..."
But this lively venue ain’t goin’ nowhere — so I reckon there’s still time to get my honky-tonk on at some point down the road.
Stampede is located at 2430 South Havana Street in Aurora and is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Wednesdays, and from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (Thursdays are reserved for concerts and private events, and the venue is closed Sunday through Tuesday.) For a monthly dance lesson schedule, reservations and upcoming concerts and events, visit the Stampede website, or call 303-696-7686 for other information.