Last week we brought you a list of twelve defunct DIY spaces that shaped Denver's music scene; this week we're focusing on alternative venues. Though the distinction between the two is blurry, what distinguishes an alternative space is that it has another function entirely: Perhaps it's a coffee shop, an art gallery or a bike-repair shop, but it also hosts occasional concerts. Here are ten alternative venues, listed in alphabetical order, that had an impact on the local scene during their years of operation.
1. Bike Pit
A nonprofit bike shop/collective near the Baker neighborhood, the Bike Pit was mostly a volunteer-run effort where people in the community could go to get their bikes repaired and even learn how to repair the bikes themselves. This place also held workshops at which attendees could learn how to build their own bicycles. Additionally, this space hosted shows that might not happen elsewhere, including folk and crust punk alongside experimental music. It closed at the end of 2014.
2. Brass Tree House
At this house in the Baker neighborhood, an art collective filmed live concerts it released as online television shows. The lineups were curated, but the audience not so much, resulting in some unpredictable moments during filming. Though short-lived, the completely DIY “Brass Tree Sessions” presented a high-quality slice of the Denver scene around 2011.
3. Breakdown Book Collective
Breakdown Books was an anarchist collective and community space that actually didn't come off like it was run by some misguided ne'er do wells. It seemed genuinely open and welcoming and as if it took its principles seriously in a more inclusive sense. Of course the usual anarchist and anti-imperialist literature and media could be found there, but various community groups held their meetings in the space, including the first incarnation of Lady Fest Out West in 2002 and 2003. Initially housed in the Other Side Arts building near Highland, Breakdown had moved to its final location on the west side of Ogden Street between 14th Avenue and Colfax. At both locations, the space hosted shows of all stripes. Pictured above is the basement of the Ogden location and the place where most of the louder shows were held. Breakdown folded by 2007.
4. Brooks Center Arts
The Brooks Center for Spirituality opened its basement space, the Underground Tea House, to events booked and organized by Laura Goldhamer, until that run ended in 2009. But while it was alive, Brooks Center Arts hosted shows from local musicians like BDRMPPL, Married in Berdichev and Joe Sampson, as well as touring acts like Mount Eerie and Karl Blau.
When Chielle first opened on South Broadway, the store was a clothing shop that carried local literature and music. It hosted an occasional concert, but it did much more so when business owners Sara Thurston, Wendy Marlow and Alisa Dowell relocated the shop to a space two doors east of the Bluebird Theater. Between 2006 and 2007, K Records founder Calvin Johnson performed there, as did folk legend Michael Hurley, Amy Annelle, and indie-pop band Dear Nora.
Read on to discover more alternative venues that shaped Denver's music scene.
6. Dikeou Collection
On the fifth floor of an old office building near 16th Street and California, Dikeou Collection is primarily an art gallery that has booked other events periodically since its founding in 1998. From 2010 to 2011, Jessica Hughes, artist and drummer in Cougar Pants, regularly brought in adventurous local bands and created a truly unique environment to experience the music, especially when giant, inflatable, pink rabbits flanked the performance space.
7. Dryer Plug Studio
Once the DIY space Unit E ended, Chad Saxton and others affiliated with it found a building that had previously been used as an art space that hosted noise shows off of Steele Street and 43rd Avenue. As Dryer Plug Studios, Saxton and company made high-quality recordings of local artists and hosted touring bands like Chastity Belt, the Shivas, Colleen Green and others. It was also the site of the 2015 edition of the Titwrench Festival. Its unusual location in a neighborhood that was part industrial, part residential and right off the train tracks gave it a gritty charm. Dryer Plug hosted its final show in 2015.
8. Paris on the Platte/Paris Wine Bar
Opened in 1986 before Coors Field was built to help turn the old downtown warehouse district into what it is today, Paris on the Platte was a long-running hangout for youth, bohemians and anyone else who dared go to the once-rough neighborhood that has since been transformed into LoHi. On occasion, the place held shows, and once Paris Wine Bar opened in the coffee shop's former book store, it occasionally hosted jazz and acoustic acts. Both venues regrettably closed in 2015.
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9. Villa Villa Kula
Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, south of the Auraria campus on Lipan Street, in the early to mid-2000s, Villa Villa Kula was a punk house that at one point hosted Derailer Bicycle Collective and Food Not Bombs. In the garage behind the house, Villa Villa Kula held punk shows. The house was also a haven for local anarcho-punk youth who had a nonstop exchange of ideas that fertilized Denver's music, art and activist scene.
10. Yellow Feather Coffee
Yellow Feather was more than just a coffee shop. In the back, for a time, Molly Zackary had her record store, and in the front was a legitimate sound system. The obvious run of local bands played the shop, and it also hosted shows from touring acts like experimental rock band Broken Water from Olympia, Washington; Kaia Wilson, formerly of Team Dresch; Calvin Johnson, Hermit Thrushes and 3 Moons. It closed around 2012.