Best Of 2015

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Best Of 2015: Nightlife 

The best clubs, bars, dives and holes-in-the-wall for libations, song and dance

click to enlarge Zodiac Venue and Bar - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Zodiac Venue and Bar
Bar Crowd

Zodiac Venue and Bar

230 Pueblo Ave., 632-5059, zodiacvenue.com

To call the Zodiac "eclectic" would be an absurd understatement. The bar, tucked just to the southeast of the main downtown scene, won't be forced into any sort of label — and neither will its diverse clientele. From art shows to punk rock, fetish balls to world dance showcases, the Zodiac provides a clever mix of whimsy, culture, badass and sass. Diametric opposites mingle amiably on the dance floor, and you'll never have to wonder if you'll fit in. In this crowd, everyone does. — Bridgett Harris

Bartender

Dave Baumgartner

Zodiac Venue and Bar, 230 Pueblo Ave., 632-5059, zodiacvenue.com

Ask Zodiac owner Gentle Fritz why Dave Baumgartner (who works Tuesday through Saturday evenings at her bar) is awesome, and she'll mention that he's a professional who's been in the industry for many, many years, and that he always remembers names and drinks. She'll add that he's a loyal friend and confidant — and that he's also a handsome man who's "just dreamy." In fact the only thing not awesome about Baumgartner, she says, is that "he can't work every shift." — Kirsten Akens

New Bar (since July 1, 2014)

Burrowing Owl

1791 S. Eighth St., 434-3864, burrowingowllounge.com

Burrowing Owl is just plain fun — from its name to its "Vegan as Fuck" slogan to its request that customers take a #burrowingowlselfie in the bathrooms and post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. "It's our little playground," says co-owner Tyler Schiedel. And in just four short months, the (big) kids have proven happy to swing through. Order some Serious Nachos with cashew queso and a "Decorative Garnish" gin-based cocktail (with slapped parsley!). It'll all come with a side order of cheer, and a whole lot of vegan inspiration. — Kirsten Akens

click to enlarge The Rabbit Hole - KIRSTEN AKENS
  • Kirsten Akens
  • The Rabbit Hole
Upscale Bar

The Rabbit Hole

101 N. Tejon St., 203-5072, rabbitholedinner.com

It doesn't matter which way you go; you're sure to drink something tasty, especially with a menu like this. Like beer? Besides the few taps — all local beers — The Rabbit Hole stocks a variety, with almost any style available, and most brewed in Colorado. More of a wine drinker? Try reds and whites from across the country and around the world, with a few sparkling and champagne bottles available as well. For cocktails, options range from the Duchess, a champagne-grapefruit cocktail served with an orchid, to the Purple Drank, described as "some drank, some purple, all good." — Griffin Swartzell

Bar for a Margarita

The Loop

965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9344,theloopatmanitou.com

The Loop serves its margaritas in two sizes. Manager Anna Cipolletti says "the regulars are pretty large, and the grandes are huge." Which is why we always recommend pairing your Silver or your Skinny (or whatever flavor strikes your margarita fancy) with a good, solid meal. Options abound, but you might try Cipolletti's suggestion of the special Molcajete: a chicken, pork and steak dish, with veggies, onions, spicy poblano sauce and nopal (aka prickly pear) cactus. — Kirsten Akens

Bang-for-Your-Buck Bar College Bar Neighborhood Bar: Central

Tony's

326 N. Tejon St., 228-6566, tonysdowntownbar.com

The bar seems to stretch for miles — and so does your dollar — at Tony's, which offers a plethora of drink specials that will please even the most budget-conscious patron. And while it may be the Springs' favorite college bar, you'll also find your fair share of locals sipping beers and cheering on their favorite teams. Pair your tall-boy-and-shot combo with Tony's famous cheese curds and settle in to watch a game, shoot some pool, or chat up a friendly neighbor on the next stool over. — Bridgett Harris

Bar for a Creative Cocktail (tie)

The Principal's Office

1604 S. Cascade Ave., 368-6112, poativywild.com

Shuga's Restaurant + Bar

702 S. Cascade Ave., 328-1412, shugas.com

The Principal's Office at Ivywild redesigns its cocktail menu about four times a year, which keeps creative juices of all types flowing — and, according to manager Tyler Hill, ingredients as fresh as possible. Expect a new fall menu sometime in October (if it's not already on tap), which will include some "good, savory, keep-you-warm kind of drinks," darker rums and whiskeys, fun house-made infusions and a Negroni that's been barrel-aging for the last couple of months. Meanwhile, Shuga's introduced its fall menu less than a month ago with additions like Harvey Wrote Some Lyrics. A wash of absinthe, Mahon gin, a house-made pistachio cream, simple syrup and a nutmeg garnish bring out everything special about pistachio. "We do have a lot of things on the menu that have that counterintuitive mix of ingredients," says bartender Lisa Schoenstein, "things that are fresh and surprising, and things people will try and say, 'Only Shuga's would have this.'" — Kirsten Akens and Griffin Swartzell

Wine Bar

Swirl Wine Bar

717 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2294, swirlismybar.com

Swirl is really everything you could ever want in a wine bar. A cozy environment. Co-owner and resident Sommelier Sharon Palmer, who will pour you a glass or serve you the bottle of your choice (or hers, if you ask for a recommendation). Tasty food, like flatbreads and cheese boards and the like. Craft beer and fun cocktails. And events from Blind Tasting classes and live music to art shows and Lasagna Dinner With a Movie nights. Cheers! — Kirsten Akens

Irish Pub

Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub

21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766, jackquinnspub.com

With weekly pub sing-alongs, half-priced Whiskey Wednesdays, and the most epically Irish Sunday brunch imaginable, it's easy to see why Jack Quinn's is Colorado Springs' favorite Irish pub. The place is Irish through and through. You'll find traditional music on Sunday evenings, your favorite brews on tap, and an authentic menu filled with rich and filling home-style cuisine. Sláinte! — Bridgett Harris

click to enlarge Thunder and Buttons - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Thunder and Buttons
Neighborhood Bar: West Karaoke Bar

Thunder & Buttons

2415 W. Colorado Ave., 447-9888, thunderandbuttons.com

It's hard to say if it's the food, drinks, service, weekly bar events or location that makes Thunder & Buttons the favorite west side bar. Regardless, when a bar goes balls-out and constantly strives for excellence, it pays off. If you're out for a geeky night of trivia or to watch any NFL game (especially, but not limited to, the Broncos), T&Bs is the west side go-to. And with four nights a week of A-game karaoke, you gotta know that — screw America and Britain — Colorado's got talent. — Carrie Simison

Neighborhood Bar: South

The Public House

445 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 465-3079, facebook.com/PublicHouseColorado

If you still haven't discovered the joy that is The Public House, get your feet wet on a Tuesday for Pint Night, where you'll enjoy quality $3 craft brews and walk out with a souvenir glass from the guest brewery. Unbeatable. The constantly rotating selections on tap keep the bar interesting every other night of the week too, and if you're more of a cocktail kid, the staff will square you away in style. Get one of the Moscow Mule variations in a copper mug and either a Fire Burger (jalapeños, pepper jack, smoked bacon and sambal aioli) or the killer Sriracha shrimp tacos. Finally, murder a karaoke number. You're home. Matthew Schniper

Neighborhood Bar: North

Back East Bar & Grill

9475 Briar Village Point, #168, 264-6161, backeastbarandgrill.com

It can be a hell of a trek from Briargate to downtown just to catch some live music and share a drink or two. Fortunately for the northerners among us, there's the Back East Bar & Grill. (And for the northern northerners among us, Back East's new Monument location.) Convert your Friday night cab fare into tasty food, cold beers and live music right in your own backyard. And if you think "Back East" is just a moniker, find yourself pleasantly proven wrong when you discover the many pizzas, Philly cheese steaks and other East Coast favorites. — Bridgett Harris

Neighborhood Bar: East

The Wobbly Olive

3317 Cinema Point, 247-9504, wobblyolive.com

I'll never really get over the fact that Wobbly Olive manager and mixologist Phil Arana doesn't drink. Because the man creates crazy awesome cocktails with layers of interesting depth, somehow never sampling a straw-full — instead, just thinking on elemental terms and collaborating with owner Sean "Hunky Pants But Not Sexiest Bartender" Fitzgerald. Go ask for a Dragon's Breath and see what happens. (Hint: fire!) But you won't be disappointed ordering on-list either, or grabbing a daily special. Current fall drinks include a pumpkin pie martini, cranberry mojito and hard cider sangria. Go now. — Matthew Schniper

Neighborhood Bar: Manitou

Keg Lounge

730 Manitou Ave., 685-9531, facebook.com/TheKegLounge

The Keg is truly one of those places that always come to mind when you think of Manitou Springs. "It's very family-friendly," says Jocelyn Redfern, a Manitou native and Keg patron. "It's the only bar we've brought the kids to." When you find someplace close to home where you can get a killer buffalo burger, a signature berry salad, local beer and cocktails for the adults, and bottomless soda for the kids, yes, you've got yourself a favorite. — Carrie Simison

click to enlarge Pikes Peak Brewing Co. - CARRIE SIMISON
  • Carrie Simison
  • Pikes Peak Brewing Co.
Neighborhood Bar: Monument

Pikes Peak Brewing Co.

1756 Lake Woodmoor Drive, 208-4098, pikespeakbrewing.com

Pikes Peak Brewing knows that neighborhood equals community. On the recent Sunday I was there, it happened to be Beer 4 Boobies release day, with Prickly Pear Saison sales going to support breast cancer survivors through Sisters Hope. PPBC also brews a Bear Creek Porter that raises money for greenback cutthroat trout conservation, and a Local 5 Pale Ale dedicated to fallen firefighters. And for your neighbor, they have a "Buy your friend a brew board" option. Cheers to neighborhood, and to this brewery for making itself a part of it. — Carrie Simison

Bar Patio Place to Shoot Pool

Phantom Canyon Brewing Company

2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com

Phantom Canyon closed down earlier this year for main-floor restaurant updates and renovations. But it needed no help with its second-floor offerings. The rooftop patio opened in the summer of 2013 with a spectacular view of the Peak, high tables with cool fire pits, and full food and drink service in the open air. The 10-table pool hall also boasts great views of the mountains and city sports-bar atmosphere, with TVs often turned to the game du jour and specials Sunday through Wednesday — including free pool with any food purchase on Mondays. — Carrie Simison

click to enlarge Phantom Canyon Brewing Company - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Phantom Canyon Brewing Company
Happy Hour

Sonterra Innovative Southwest Grill

28 S. Tejon St., 471-9222, sonterragrill.com

The day I discovered that Sonterra Grill has the best happy hour on Tejon, I felt a bit silly. All this time, I'd been searching for that perfect combination of cheap drinks and quality eats and it was right there in the heart of downtown, quietly waiting for me. From 3 to 7 (and most of Saturday), you'll find $3 drinks and tapas; affordable, tasty apps; and $5 martinis. Whether your workday was something to relish or something to regret, this is the place to do it. — Bridgett Harris

Weekly Bar Event

Geeks Who Drink

Multiple locations, geekswhodrink.com

The co-opting of geek culture by the mainstream reached its apotheosis in July with the debut of "Geeks Who Drink" on SyFy. The quiz show is "inspired by" the weekly pub quiz rather than a copy, says Geeks founder (and former Indy reporter) John Dicker. Still, it's a testament to the talent of the brainiacs behind the Master Blaster (as in "Kidd Video," not Mad Max) of pub quizzes. Dicker's crew counts several former Springs journalists, including "Jeopardy!" champ Christopher Short, who oversee an impressive number of stumpers each week in their aim to rile teams from across the country toward the ultimate annual nerd battle: Geek Bowl, which returns to Denver in 2016 (Feb. 20 at DU's Magness Arena). We're likely to see at least one hometown team advance; the Springs is hot for Geeks every night of the week (save Friday), with iconic Navajo Hogan coming online this year as the newest host venue. — Vanessa Martinez

click to enlarge Alchemy - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Alchemy
Place for a Blind Date

Alchemy

2625 W. Colorado Ave., 471-0887, alchemypubcolorado.com

Blind dates are awkward. Always. But at Alchemy, you have options of cozy corner booths or public spots at the bar. And even if it's the worst date ever, the drink menu alone gives you oodles to talk about, with offerings like Forbidden Love, Naught'e' Toddie and Get Laid. To personally put Alchemy to the test, I made friends with the bartender before my date arrived. Then he put on a show for us, making a custom flambé strawberry cocktail and engaging us in naming it. What? I'll never tell. — Carrie Simison

Place to Meet Men Place to Meet Women

Ritz Grill

15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484, ritzgrill.com

Grab a stool after work at the Ritz's bar and you won't be drinking alone for long. Its 3½-hour happy hour, featuring specials on wells, wines, beer and martinis, ensures an inexpensive place to unwind for you and the rest of the Springs singles crowd. You're just as likely to strike up a conversation with a banker as you are a musician ... and once you do, the casual dinner menu makes it easy to turn that conversation into dinner. And with deejays and live music Thursdays through Sundays, dinner can turn into dancing. The rest is up to you. — Carrie Simison

Naughty Business

Peaks and Pasties

peaksandpasties.com

"It's a difficult town to start this community of burlesque and teach people to love their bodies," acknowledges Peaks and Pasties co-director and producer Bunny Bee. "We've fought really hard for that." Judging from the loyalty of their fans and the love that Indy readers have shown them, she and her cohorts have pulled it off. The success likely comes from one belief that stands at the core of what Peaks and Pasties does: "We celebrate all," Bunny Bee says. "That includes age, size and gender. It's about loving and respecting each other as well as yourself, most importantly." — Griffin Swartzell

Local Venue for Live Music

The Black Sheep

2106 E. Platte Ave., 227-7625, blacksheeprocks.com

With the Black Sheep's 10th anniversary fast approaching, the all-ages venue continues to offer the kind of shows that deserve its clientele's hard-earned allowances. "Whether it's Waka Flocka tossing delighted fans into a sold-out crowd after he takes a selfie with their iPhone, or Kongos pumping out eight-foot smoke rings before they hit Red Rocks the night after, we like to think this little place has something for everyone," says general manager Jeremy Grobsmith. Part of the venue's success is that it draws audiences as diverse as its musical offerings, which in the months ahead will include Hieroglyphics co-founder Del the Funky Homosapien, Rough Trade recording artists Houndmouth, glam-rock upstarts The Struts, and punk-rock warhorses Agnostic Front. "It isn't every day that you get to stand inches away from your future favorite rock star," says Grobsmith, "or ogle your former childhood crush." — Bill Forman

Local Brewery Local Microbrew to Drink in Autumn Local Microbrew to Drink in Winter Local Microbrew to Drink in Spring Local Microbrew to Drink in Summer
click to enlarge Bristol Brewing Company - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Bristol Brewing Company

Bristol Brewing Company

1604 S. Cascade Ave., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com

Our readers have once more declared Bristol an ineffable tastemaker — loving Beehive in the spring and summer, Venetucci Pumpkin Ale in the fall, and Winter Warlock in the winter. So I asked Bristol's assistant brewer and head of quality control, Chase Perry, what he feels makes a good beer in each season. For summer, he says, "I love a session IPA, and a nice, easy-drinking blond sour ... [a] big hop presence with lots of tropical, citrusy notes." As for winter, he tends toward high-ABV, darker beers. "Definitely more malty, maybe more spicy, like a Christmas ale," he says. And since spring and autumn are transitional, he says, their brews should be, too. That means lighter but still boozy beers, like a maibock, in the spring, and "harvest beers and wet hop beers" — or Oktoberfests and other dark, German-style lagers — when the leaves turn. — Griffin Swartzell

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