Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.
Denver venues are starting to end one of the bumpiest rides in modern music history: the pandemic. Most have already reopened or are in one form or another at the door. And while they are doing it, it is time to get out there and support them. Here’s a starter list of thirteen of the best venues that came out of this year’s Best of Denver edition. There are many uncomplicated clubs, but this year there is a barber shop, an old militia armory, a cellar and a bookstore. So what are you waiting for? Find your next show!
Best free entertainment
Levitt Pavilion Denver
1380 West Florida Avenue
For skeptics, the term “free concert” could conjure up the image of a sleepy evening with almost unbearable music … but hey, at least it’s outside. But when those naysayers finally head to Denver’s Ruby Hill Park to catch one of the fifty free shows that are on offer each summer at the nonprofit Levitt Pavilion, they’ll find they’ve got it all wrong. A Levitt show offers full production: high quality sound, lighting design and massive projections to bring the audience closer to the action. Additionally, the artists presented by the venue are a who’s who of up-and-coming local and touring bands. Chances are they’ll be among your favorites soon.
Best blues club
The rusty bucket
3355 South Wadsworth Boulevard
While the Rusty Bucket is known as a haven for Pittsburgh Steelers fans and as a haven for burger lovers, the Lakewood district is also home to some of the region’s best blues talent on Saturdays, be it Randall Dubis, Boa & the Constrictors, BlueKrewe or Eddie Turner or the Delta Sonics. Last year, the Rusty Bucket had to withhold its long-running blues jams on Wednesday night due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there are plans to bring those back as well once those restrictions are lifted.
Kaitlyn Williams will perform at Armory Denver in January.
Best livestream production
The Denver Armory
2565 Curtis Street
Armory Denver is a creative manufacturing facility in a massive late 19th century building. At the time, it housed weapons for the Colorado state militia. It later became the home of the Olympic Auditorium and Art Neon. But this latest incarnation can be the best. In addition to recording studios and rehearsal rooms, the Denver Armory has a stage with lighting equipment, projection mapping, several high-end cameras, and engineers who have worked on some of the largest venues in the city. As a result, it’s a breeze for bands looking for an ideal place to produce high quality livestreams and get creative with the filming.
Best jazz club
1512 Curtis Street
Dazzle Denver has been Denver’s premier jazz venue for more than two decades, bringing with it nationally recognized musicians and the region’s finest players, whether they’re junior or jazz veterans. While restaurants and venues have struggled across the state over the past year, the folks at Dazzle knew that unemployed musicians were struggling too, so the venue stepped in to help out a pop-up pantry through its Bread & Jam program for professional musicians who have been unemployed. The club also offered virtual programming and mental health support through a partnership with Music Minds Matter. This is music to our ears!
Best hip hop club
Barbershop Uncut: Onyx Salon & Barbershop
Great hip hop clubs have come and gone in Denver. These days, Onyx Barbershop, home of the YouTube series Barbershop Uncut, is one of the best places to see an artist. Armando Trevino, the shopkeeper, never set out to be a gamer in the music industry, but when he discovered that Denver has a massive underground hip-hop scene that isn’t getting the national attention it deserves, he took action and started an Onyx-based video series featuring rap battles and ciphers to give young artists a chance. Barbershop Uncut has posted videos with Old Man Saxon, TheyCallHimAP, Jakob Campbell, and dozens of others, and in-person events should be back soon.
The black box from COVID.
Best dance club
The black box
314 East 13th Avenue
Denver is often touted as the bass music capital of the world thanks to the city’s longstanding underground dance music scene, raging camp parties, and sweaty fans. While some of that underground energy has flowed into huge venues run by mainstream promoters, the spirit of the rave scene pulsates at Black Box, a club owned and run by longtime Sub.mission promoter Nicole Cacciavillano Sure, Colorado’s scene would have a welcoming home with a killer bass couch sound combo and community vibe. While the venue itself didn’t open until 2016, its roots are deep … deep in bass.
Best rock club
2721 Larimer Street
When the Larimer Lounge opened nearly two decades ago, not much else happened in the nightlife in this part of Denver. But the old warehouses were already full of artists who inspired the start of the RiNo Arts District, and music was not overlooked as one of the area’s artistic conveniences. Since the Larimer Lounge launched, acts from Arcade Fire to Jason Isbell have made the headlines on Red Rocks, and the venue has earned a reputation for being one of the best places in town to catch a favorite band or discover new music. Last year the Larimer Lounge was remodeled, and while EDM and jam acts also grace the stage, much of the music is still perfectly solid.
Best LGBTQ bar
Blush & Blu Denver
1526 East Colfax Avenue
Lesbian bars are an endangered breed in the United States: there are only about fifteen left nationwide, according to the documentaries behind the Lesbian Bar Project. Denver is fortunate to have one of these: Blush & Blu, a neighborhood bar, coffee shop, and restaurant that caters to lesbians but welcomes people of all identities. This main drink from East Colfax offers killer drinks, a delicious brunch and a mix of open mic evenings, karaoke, bingo and various themed parties. If you are looking for a casual, weird old time in a bar that shows up for both the community and the community, this is the place for you.
The grizzly rose in better times.
Best venue in the country
5450 North Valley Highway
Country fans continue to love the Grizzly Rose, which has been the dominant country bar in the Denver area for more than three decades. The venue is housed in a 40,000-square-foot building and has plenty of space to dance, eat, and drink – and even mechanical bull riding. Every night you can see the best of local country bands and emerging national acts. Some of those who showed up before their explosion at the Grizzly Rose are Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, and Blake Shelton. Look for more national acts in the coming months – Josh Ward, Randall King, and Aaron Watson are all booked – while local acts typically play multi-day runs.
Best venue for all ages
Mutiny information cafe
2 South Broadway
If there’s any guarantee the Denver arts and music scene can weather the onslaught of development, find it at Mutiny Information Cafe, a Broadway staple that doubles as a bookstore, comic book store, coffee shop, podcast hub, and music venue. With a long legacy in Denver’s punk scene, Mutinys owners keep the DIY spirit alive, providing a stage for bands and artists who wouldn’t have a chance to play any of the city’s commercial venues. And because the place also hosts acts for all ages, younger generations have a place where they can also discover the underground culture and carry on the tradition.
Best DIY venue
Seventh Circle Music Collective
2935 West 7th Avenue
The folks behind Seventh Circle Music Collective have long promoted the Denver DIY scene in their garage, record store, practice room, and multipurpose art space. Since each show is suitable for all ages, Seventh Circle is an ideal place for younger fans to listen to music and for younger musicians to find a stage to play. Although the small venue didn’t book any live shows during the pandemic, it has been hosting live streams while biding its time before going back to work.
The Salt Lick Denver collective includes, from left, Maya Bennett, John Baldwin, Chris Voss, Jason Edelstein and Andrea Hoang.
Best new DIY venue
The Pond / Salt Lick Denver music collective
During the pandemic, the Salt Lick Denver Music Collective opened a new venue called The Pond in the basement of a Denver home. The group has broadcast concerts from there called Songs From the Pond by indie rock bands and other local acts. Finally, Salt Lick plans to open up the space – which is painted with a mural of a glow-in-the-dark frog, beans, and pumpkin, and decorated with a mannequin and other ephemera – for tiny personal shows and host larger outdoor shows behind the venue.
Best new club
60 South Broadway
Not long after 3 Kings Tavern, a legendary rock club, closed on Broadway after fourteen years, Scott Happel and Peter Ore, two of the owners of the Oriental Theater, took over the space and turned it into headquarters. While the club will gradually expand its offering of live music, including punk acts like Reno Divorce and Agent Orange, over the coming months, HQ has already hosted karaoke, burlesque and goth nights on a regular basis.
What are your favorite places in town? Let us know at [email protected]
Keep Westword Free … Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we want to keep it that way. We offer our readers free access to concise coverage of local news, food and culture. Produce stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands with bold reporting, stylish writing, and staff, everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Feature Writing Award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism have won. Given that the existence of local journalism amid siege and setbacks has a greater impact on advertising revenue, it is more important than ever for us to raise support for funding our local journalism. You can help by joining our I Support membership program which allows us to continue to cover Denver without paywalls.