Best Of 2015: Bar Crowd
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
Best Of 2015: Bartender
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
Best of 2012 • IndyPick: Wall of Leggy Fashion
You may have thought, like I did, that Zeezo's was purely a costume shop — a great place for Halloween, masquerade balls and the occasional sci-fi con. Think that no more, ladies. Near the back of the store, there's a wall filled with fashion designed for your legs: fishnets in a panoply of bright colors, with back seams, or tassles; ooh-la-la French black-and-nude striped pantyhose; thigh-highs with elastic or without (bring on the garter belts!). With more than 250 styles and a range of sizes and prices, you can keep your gams — and those of us looking at them — happy year-round. — Kirsten Akens
Check out the photos on its website, and you may not question the claim that "Yoo Mae is no doubt the best sushi in Colorado Springs." Lively chef JJ Kim, having finished his 50-state roll tribute (cool map online also), recently began a car series; so far, the Jaguar and Ferrari are selling well.
Best Of 2015: Deli
Wholesome flair and well-priced eats make it worth the walk to this locally owned deli, residing in the outer Colorado College solar system on North Tejon Street. Wooglin's offers homemade taste that comforts its fair share of homesick students, but also staff and faculty. It's also a great little lunch spot for the corporate set, with standouts such as $6.99 half-pound burgers with crisp, house-made chips; loaded cold sandwiches; daily quiches; and thick slices of creamy cheesecake. With all these goodies, the walk there and back really isn't such a bad idea. — Bridgett Harris
Best Of 2011: Gay Bar
Straight people, weird people and goth people are just some of the descriptors that manager Bryan Williams uses to explain the crowd that steps into the Underground. "Everyone is accepted," says Williams. For six years in a row, the Underground has been named Best Gay Bar in the Springs, or some variation thereof. Williams credits the bar's staff, its commitment to community and its energy. The Underground is fully committed to being part of the community, as well as providing tasty drinks. It sponsors fundraisers, guest appearances and other events (such as last month's celebration of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal) to serve the LGBT community, as well as anyone else in the Springs. "Everyone can throw a party," Williams says. "What's important is to benefit the community as a whole." — Ellie Cole
If you're looking to discover a motley crew of talented young road warriors from across this great country of ours, bands that sound absolutely brilliant after you down just one $5.50 pitcher of PBR, then this is your place.
Happy hour: Daily, 4-7 p.m.
The goods: $2.50 wells; $2.50 domestics; $1 off drafts except Pabst Blue Ribbon
Favorite pour: "My favorite is probably the Kamikaze."
Will the U2 or, God help us, Blink-182 of tomorrow be playing the Triple Nickel tonight? Um, no, but if you're looking to discover a motley crew of talented young road warriors from across this great country of ours, bands who sound f'n great after just one $5.50 pitcher of PBR, then this is your place. Pretty much all shows are free, except, you know, for U2.
Best Of 2015: Bang-for-Your-Buck Bar
Best Of 2015: Neighborhood Bar: Central
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
Insider Guide 2010
Guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles: If you're in the market, head to Tejon Street Music. This tiny downtown shop carries some of the coolest new, used and vintage instruments, and has been doing so since 1976.
Best Of 2015: Cajun/Southern
Relocating to Colorado Springs from Denver can be a risky cultural endeavor. But signs of progress are pervasive. One is Springs Orleans. I've sidled up to the bar on numerous occasions since my return, each time impressed by the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and most certainly the food. (Go-tos: Blue Lump Crab Cake, Kale Salad and, of course, the Seafood Gumbo.) If I can't make good on the staff's recommendation for Sunday brunch soon (reservations highly encouraged), it's good to know I can get a fix of beignets and café au lait any other morning (breakfast served 6:30 to 11). — Vanessa Martinez
Best Of 2015: Bar for a Creative Cocktail (tie)
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
Best Of 2015: Place to Eat Local/Sustainable
Now 2 years old, Seeds continues to provide weekday lunches to anyone, regardless of ability to pay, while focusing on locally produced foods of all kinds. In fact, founder Lyn Harwell, a former executive chef in New Orleans, says 75 percent of Seeds' food comes from Colorado. Seeds also strives to create jobs, using "the power of food to empower people to own their lives again," says Harwell. "We give them living-wage jobs, not minimum-wage jobs." He says Seeds is assessing the possibility of expanding to Saturday or evening hours. Did we mention that the dishes served here are delicious? Drop in and, as the café recommends, "Pay as you can, or pay it forward." — Pam Zubeck
Best Of 2015: Gourmet/Spice Market
This shop opened six years ago in November, after Dick Frieg became so enthralled with the Savory Spice Shop in Denver that he asked about a franchise. Today the Springs store bests all other local options by selling 450 different spices, herbs and proprietary blends like Italian Black Truffle. "I bring it in fresh weekly, and we fill every bag or bottle that goes out of here," he says. The operative word is "fresh," he says, because spices go flat within months. "Ours," he notes, "are freshly ground in small batches." — Pam Zubeck
Best Of 2010: Bartender
It takes me several days to track Dave Baumgartner. When I finally give up on reaching him by phone, I try another trick: stopping by the Rocket Room unannounced. I am greeted by the lovely and somehow motherly bartender Daniella Conner, who is wearing a red satin bustier and talks about Dave in glowing terms, her wide eyes all a-glisten.
"He's so humble," she tells me. "He listens to everyone, he has an awful lot of patience."
A guy leaned over the bar with a Miller High Life posed in front of him occasionally chips in. "He's a kick," the anonymous guy says, his voice slightly drowsy.
I, however, am not convinced that a warm personality is all it takes to be voted best bartender. There must be more to the story. I prod Conner until she gives in. "The ladies," she says, finally, "love Dave B."
In a few minutes, with Conner's help, I have Dave on the phone. I warm him up with the usual, "Why are you so popular?" "How do you connect with your customers?"
Dave plays the humble card, answering with unassuming retorts like, "That's a good question, I'm kind of mystified by that myself," and "I try to remember [people's] names, and if you can remember what they drink that's pretty impressive."
Dave is good. Real good. He acts as though he has no idea that it's his babehood that's elevated him to the top. Instead, Dave talks about the future of the bar. The Rocket Room is shutting down at the end of October unless someone buys the business.
"I kind of want to stay at the Rocket Room," he says. "This is just kind of where my heart is."
The good news is, Dave, along with all his hunkiness, is planning to stay in town and keep bartending, even if the Rocket disappears. —J. Adrian Stanley
So do you feel thirsty, punk? Well, do ya? Then head to the Rocket Room, where you can slake your thirst for both cheap booze and great music in true punk-rock style. Colorado Springs' best live ThrashabillyAmericanaGarageRock venue books tons of underground touring bands you can tell your grandkids about someday. There's also a Stooges-stocked jukebox well worth your care and feeding.
Happy hour: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-7 p.m.
The goods: $5 pitchers; $3.50 pints of Pinstripe and Arrogant Bastard; $3.50 Jameson; $3 wells
Come here if you are: "Not lame and into supporting your local businesses."