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    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

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    Best of 2012: Bar With a Smokin' Patio

    Seventeenth-century French playwright Molière was quoted as saying, "There's nothing quite like tobacco: it's the passion of decent folk, and whoever lives without tobacco doesn't deserve to live." Brutal, I know, but it helps explain a little of smokers' deep passion for their habit. Post-smoking ban, Oscar's owner Phil Duhon created a refuge for the black-lunged: Warmed by patio heaters and protected by plastic walls, his recently reorganized, "shabby chic, beach bar" patio now features a large flat-screen TV with the NFL package, and a killer sound system that enables plenty of live music plus the playing of "old-school MTV videos." The patio, Duhon estimates, now accounts for 40 percent of his overall business. — Matthew Schniper

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    Drink 2010

    Source: High Rise Coffee Roasters

    Get the: Cucuru Cuban (espresso with steamed cream and organic sugar

    InSider 2010

    With art events, music, alcohol options and tapas, Cucuru is more than just a Cuban-themed coffee shop. But while you're there, be sure to check out High Rise Coffee Roasters-fueled standards.

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    InSider 2010

    A central promoter and supporter for all things art and culture in the area, COPPeR helms the online arts listing database peakradar.com and publishes the COPPeR Pages, a printed resource for arts organizations, museums, theaters and film festival groups.

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    Insider Guide 2010

    Colloquially known as "The Indy" or "The Single Most Amazing Piece of Local Print Owned or Not Owned by a Megalith of Publishing" (used interchangeably), the paper boasts 126,000 regular readers and, unlike the local daily, has yet to force-feed a copy of the New Testament to its readers.

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    Best of 2015: Cultural Attraction/Museum

    Best of 2015: Art Exhibition

    The selection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Eloquent Objects as "best" in these respective categories makes perfect sense in 2015 (The Year of O'Keeffe, according to the FAC). Of the four institutions to host the traveling exhibition nationally, the FAC is geographically closest to O'Keeffe's landscape muse. And the museum's deep ties to the American Southwest radiated from the lower galleries throughout the building thanks to impressive and diverse pieces from its permanent collection. They served both as stunning support to the visiting works of O'Keeffe and 25 of her contemporaries, as well as the aesthetic connector responsible for transforming the FAC into an eloquent object in its own right. As former Indy Arts Editor Edie Adelstein noted in her coverage of the exhibition in June, "The arts center itself may be the real star of the show." Indeed. — Vanessa Martinez

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    Best Of 2012: Local Coffee Roaster

    Give the same green coffee to 10 different roasters, and post-roast, "all would be slightly different," says Eric "Harry" Nicol at Colorado Coffee Merchants. That's because the two main variables — roast time and temperature — drastically affect the flavor, and there's no detailed rule book to follow when it comes to the process.

    At CCM, a third variable is key to how the company's coffee is roasted: the equipment. Versus the much more common drum roaster, in which the heat comes from outside, CCM's fluid-air bed roaster heats like a "big, oversized popcorn machine," Nicol says. The air flow has a tendency to sift out more smoke and debris, as well as leftover chaff. Why's that important? When you drink a cup of coffee, he says, it's charred chaff that increases the drink's acidity, and can leave both your palate and stomach unhappy.

    In the 8½ years since owner Eric Umenhofer opened CCM, the Fillmore Street shop has shifted most of its roasting from an 8-pound machine to a 38-pounder. Coming off that machine these days are two small-batch brands: Ümpire Estate Mountain Roasters and Idle Truck, the latter nodding to Umenhofer's previous career as a local firefighter.

    It's unlikely you'll catch the original roaster running during a random stop by the shop — it's primarily used now for developing taste profiles for new coffees. However, drop by midday Monday through Saturday, and you'll probably be able to pick up a whiff of hot beans "popping" through the larger machine while you wait in line to order a latte (or mocha or another fancy drink). CCM roasts daily in order to produce 100 to 150 pounds a day, enough to keep on top of its local business for that day and the next. — Kirsten Akens

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    InSider 2010

    Benny's has nothing if not character. And characters. Local blues prodigies like Grant Sabin and Jeremy Vasquez play here on a regular basis, and it's also an excellent pit stop for bikers, barflies and pretty much anyone else who knows how to live the good life.

    Drink 2010

    Happy hour: Monday-Friday, 4-7 p.m.

    The goods: $2 wine, wells, domestics; $1.50 Pabst Blue Ribbon; $1 off pitchers

    Come here if you are: "Thirsty. I wanted to say 'crazy,' but we've got enough of those."

    Local blues prodigies like Grant Sabin and Jeremy Vasquez play here on a regular basis. Benny's is also an excellent pit stop for bikers, barflies and pretty much anyone else who knows how to live the good life.

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    Best of 2012: Cultural White Knight: Susan Edmondson

    As executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, Susan Edmondson helps people understand that the arts are critical to a thriving community and economy. And by "arts," she's not just talking about the occasional gallery opening or theater performance; enjoying art could mean listening to a church choir, or taking in locally created paintings hanging in coffee shops. Edmondson sees pockets of creativity all over the city, though she adds that she'd "like to see more venues and more affordable locations for artist studios and performance spaces throughout neighborhoods." Of course, more venues would hopefully attract more people to those venues. "I think we have a passionate core of supporters," she says, "and my goal is to make that core larger." — Darcie Mankell

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    Behind the Pikes Peak Center, in a funky brick industrial building, deal-lovers will find shelf after shelf of bargains. All used hardcover books here are $4; most paperbacks are $2. The exception is a huge bin of $1 books, primarily mass-market paperbacks.
 

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