Best Of 2014

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Best Of 2014: Nightlife 

Best Bartender

Quinn Brown at Bonefish Grill

5102 N. Nevada Ave., 598-0826, bonefishgrill.com

Quinn Brown is a bartender after my own heart — he won't call himself a "mixologist," and you won't find him flipping bottles or serving flaming shots, either. "I'm a beer guy," he says with a confident smile and sporting a custom-built holster for his PBR bottle opener on his hip. "I like to keep it simple." The Chicago transplant and first-time Best Of winner is known to serve a mean Manhattan, his favorite cocktail, and can deliver fruity mixes like a Key Lime Pie Martini when asked, with no less the punch. Speaking personally, though, Brown says, "If I'm drinking liquor, I want to taste my liquor." I say, amen to that. — CL

Bar for a Creative Cocktail

The Principal's Office

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

The folks at The Principal's Office obviously had fun naming their liquid concoctions — how many times has a photo been posted on Instagram with the quip, "I got a Fresh Paddle at Ivywild"? But the names are hardly the only creative part. Eric Harry Nicol, the principal at the Office, develops the blends for his menu from a variety of house-made syrups, tinctures and bitters; infused Colorado spirits like 291 and Spring 44; top-notch coffee; and his addicting ginger beer. Try the Chamomile Gin Fizz, with egg white, lemon, lime, orange flower water and vanilla. When mixed, it looks like an oversized piece of teacher's chalk is peeking out the top of the tall glass — but it all slides down your throat like a Creamsicle from childhood. — KA

Bar Crowd

Zodiac Venue and Bar

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

"We're off the beaten path, so people come in here on purpose," says Zodiac co-owner and bartender Gentle Fritz. For what? Well, events range from heavy metal to burlesque to kids karaoke. So unsurprisingly, the bar hosts a wide variety of patrons: she says it's not uncommon to see a punk rocker next to a businessperson. "We don't fit in any one clique," Fritz says. With two women as co-owners, she also says it's a place a woman can come in by herself, dressed up, and not be harassed. — LE

Local Brewery
Neighborhood Bar: South

Bristol Brewing Company

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

Twenty years ago, Mike Bristol was brewing out of an industrial complex on Forge Road. Two taps poked through drywall to pour Laughing Lab and Red Rocket. Now, Bristol operates out of a state-of-the-art brewing system in the 35,000-square-foot Ivywild School facility, sharing space that includes an art school, a bike shop and event center. There are numerous Great American Beer Festival awards on the proverbial shelf, and community ventures that funnel monies into the Smokebrush Foundation and North Cheyenne Cañon. In September, the Gazette reported Bristol's plans to put another $500,000 into brew equipment, maximizing efficiency and upping capacity to nearly 19,000 barrels annually. In a mushrooming local beer industry, Bristol remains king. EA

New Bar (since July 1, 2013)

The Public House

445 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 465-3079

Pair Colorado craft beers with as many local-food ingredients as possible, and you've got a recipe for a successful bar — even if it's housed in a strip mall. Co-owner Haleigh McCartan, who owns and runs the place with husband Matt, says 10 months into their south-end business, things are going better than they projected. The Public House hosts a different Colorado brewer every Tuesday night, with giveaways of pint glasses and other schwag, depending on the size of the brewery. And it steers way clear of the "freezer-to-fryer" food typical in many bars, with über-fresh greens and gourmet flair. — LE

Writer's Pick: Spot for Beer Tourists

Brewer's Republic

112 N. Nevada Ave., 633-2105

Bristol Brewery is a drive across town. Avery (Boulder), Oskar Blues (Longmont) and Elevation (Poncha Springs) are day-trips. Stone (Escondido, California), Deschutes (Bend, Oregon) and Three Floyds (Munster, Indiana) are vacations. Or you can stay in town and check out rotating, limited-run brews from these outfits and more at Brewer's Republic. Bartenders like Grace Kantor will recognize the look on a first-time visitor's face — like deer-in-headlights, with just a hint of kid-in-candy-store — and descend like beer valkyries bearing cold pints. Says Kantor to first-timers: "Don't worry — I'm a professional." — GS

Pub

Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub

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

Quinn's has been on the Best Of list since forever, and absolutely dominates this category. So it's not at all surprising to find that it carries a full range of local and imported brews and spirits. (Belhaven Scottish Ale on nitro, anyone?) But it also serves good, fresh and often-local food at reasonable prices to a loyal and growing community. "Something we don't get a lot of credit for is the fact that everything we make, we make from scratch, right in our kitchen," says Les Bridger, Quinn's general manager. "And we've switched to 100 percent organic, free-range beef." Look for the unveiling of a new $10 lunch menu this month. "That's ten dollars, all in," Bridger says, "including a non-alcoholic beverage." — BW

Neighborhood Bar: Monument

Pikes Peak Brewing Co.

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

There's an idea that every person has three critical places in their lives: home, work and a "third place" — a community spot where you can relax and be yourself. Pikes Peak Brewing Co. strives to be the third place for Monument residents — more than just a brewery, a cozy neighborhood watering hole. "To be honest, Monument was really lacking a gathering place that was welcoming to families, grown-ups, dogs," says marketing maven Lari Collins. "[Pikes Peak Brewing] reminded me of a pub in England, where the people who live close by come to hang out." Swing by for a hand-crafted brew and kick it in the warm, comfy space with fellow "neighbors" — they don't like the word "customer" around here. — JK

Neighborhood Bar: East

The Cow Pub & Grill

5885 Stetson Hills Blvd., 465-1704, thecowpubandgrill.com

The Cow became less Holy over the past year or so, and for that you can blame one group of people: lawyers. Apparently, explains co-owner Chuck Schafer, "Harry Caray from Chicago had trademarked the saying 'Holy Cow.' So they said we could not carry that name, so we went through the legalities of it all, and they were correct." That may be true, but the suits couldn't touch The Cow's 45-beer selection, 20-plus TVs, or rooftop patio with the fire pit and full bar. In fact, Schafer says of that patio, "We're adding a retractable roof to it to cover it in the wintertime, so it'll be open all year round now." Not bad for a hangout that, more than anything, just wants to be known as "very local-friendly." — KW

Wine Bar

Swirl Wine Bar

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

It's ambiance, ambiance, ambiance: vaulted ceilings and soft airy lighting, couches and sofas next to a fireplace, and an outdoor patio complete with fire pit. Swirl is the brainchild of Sharon Erale-Palmer, a third-level advanced sommelier, and her husband Andrew Palmer. Together they secure bottles from both world-renowned vineyards and the obscurest of wineries. "We just have a good repartee with a lot of wineries," Erale-Palmer explains. "We don't always just go with the big-name wines. I try wines, and if I like them we bring them in." But Swirl isn't just limited to wine; it also has six beers on tap and an exquisite food menu. This will be Swirl's fifth year either owning or sharing this award — the same number of years it's been in business. — MB

Happy Hour

Sonterra Innovative Southwest Grill

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

The way to build a great happy hour is with One More. That's the idea behind Sonterra's happy hour. It runs from 3 to 7 p.m. The drinks are $2 — the cheapest on Tejon, according to bartender Ezekiel Montoya. Every margarita is hand-mixed. The tapas are delicious and affordable. Bar and patio seating is plentiful. Everything is clean and tastefully decorated. And it happens every day except Sunday, when the bar is closed. Every happy hour should have one or two of these things — the long hours, the solid munch, the cheap hooch — but Sonterra does it all. Like I said, One More. — GS

Neighborhood Bar: North

Back East Bar & Grill

9475 Briar Village Point, #168, 264-6161; 1455 Cipriani Loop, Monument, 488-2252; backeastbarandgrill.com

At its Briargate location, Back East continues to serve some of the best wings and bar food in the city. But there's North, and then there's NORTH, and the big news this year is the opening of Back East's Monument location. Nestled in a strip mall behind the Kum & Go on Highway 105, the bar and grill has been jumping every evening since opening its doors in early July. "The people up here are just great. We're actually selling more food from this location than we are at our other place," says owner Mike Davis. Whichever place you choose, give the pizza salad a try, as well as the roast beef on a kummelweck roll, a Western New York tradition. "Nobody else does those here. We're the only ones." — BW

Bar for a Margarita

The Loop

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

Some 110 years ago, you used to buy wild game at The Loop, where it was roasted in the back. Now you get roasted on margaritas the size of a moose, and the game is called Let's Eat Chips or We're Gonna Throw Up. (That's societal progress, kids.) Yes, The Loop has won this award once again, following this category's disappearance last year, and it's because, as always, the restaurant gives you many ways to drink many kinds of tequila. The tourists love it, you love it, and the animals think it's pretty groovy, too. — BC

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

Tony's

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

When Tony's owner Eel Anderson noticed the old Compleat Games & Hobbies building across Tejon Street was for sale, he saw opportunity. He snatched the property, got out of his lease at the old location, and took his perennial Best Of favorite to swanky, larger new digs. "We have pool tables in there now, [and] we're working on an expanded menu," Anderson says. But the bar's heart hasn't changed — it's still a great neighborhood place that's welcoming to nearby Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College students. "We kinda supersized what we had across the street, without losing the allure of the old space," Anderson says. "We love it down there." The kitchen is always open late, with a menu that keeps most entrées under 10 bucks. — JK

Writer's Pick: Bros' Night Out

World Golf & Sand Creek Golf Course

6865 Galley Road, 597-5489, worldgolfsandcreek.com

No, it's not downtown. If you're looking for a solid night out with the boys, grab your hacking sticks and head east to World Golf & Sand Creek Golf Course. Owner and PGA Tour pro Mark Fontana has assembled just about everything your golfer's heart may desire, from fittings, lessons and an indoor golf simulator to mini-golf and a lighted, two-story driving range open "till the cows come home." You can even bogey your way through the nine-hole executive course, or try to mask those triples under the cover of darkness, with glow-in-the-dark golf. It's hard to beat rocketing golf balls, Happy Gilmore-style, from an elevated deck toward a field of range targets at 10 or 11 o'clock at night ... or is that just me? — CL

Weekly Bar Event

Jack Quinn's Running Club

Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub, 21 S. Tejon St., 357-7867, jackquinnsrunners.ning.com

Whether its participants are fulfilling their daily mileage or just giving themselves an excuse to drink on a weekday, Jack Quinn's Running Club passes no judgment. (Unless you're the one sporting the skimpy neon shorts in subzero temperatures. Then there might be judgment.) Since its first run eight years ago, the group has grown from 70 runners to 1,300, says president Adam Hulsey. "We have now had more than 31,000 people run with us at least once, and believe that we are the largest pub run in the country," he adds. Gear up for the annual costume run on Oct. 28 and various holiday runs this season. (But, for god's sake, leave the neon shorts at home.) — AP

Local Venue for Live Music

The Black Sheep

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

Recipe for a great rock venue: Take a small box, paint it black, pack it with people, and turn up the volume. It's a simple recipe, to be sure. But since opening eight years ago, The Black Sheep has been your favorite venue for live music in the Springs, whether you're inclined to see The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (twee, Oct. 24) or EYEHATEGOD (sludge, Nov. 11). "The Sheep feels like CBGBs in NYC," says local deejay Johnny R. "There's a smell of spilt beer, leather and nicotine as you walk in ... However sketchy that may seem to the uninitiated, for those in the know, the vibe says, 'This is going to be a really good show.'" — GS

Writer's Pick: Performance by a Tyrannosaurus Sexbot

The Mostly Don'ts at the Indy Music Awards

Even among endangered species, Tyrannosaurus sexbots are exceedingly rare, which means there's not as much competition in this category as you might think. Our 2014 winner is an especially well-endowed member of the Mostly Don'ts, who played an inspired late-night set at this year's Indy Music Awards. You'll typically find him slam-dancing with scantily clad go-go dancers during the local punk band's finales. And yes, he always looks this happy. — BF

Public Bathroom

Ivywild School

1604 S. Cascade Ave., 368-6100, ivywildschool.com

Push through the aged wooden doors after three Moscow Mules, and enter another lifetime as you take in a bathroom covered with elementary-school murals that do awesome things while you pee, like tell you the names of different plants, dinosaurs and planets. They are the bathrooms at the Ivywild School, the first to win this fabulous new category, retained from the building's original purpose and painted by neighborhood resident Marilyn Eggleston, who estimates she put several thousand hours into their creation. Sui generis and saved forever, they are yours for the peei — I mean, seeing. — BC

Neighborhood Bar: Manitou

The Keg Lounge

730 Manitou Ave., 685-9531, keglounge.com

"Why do you come to The Keg?" bartender Rachel Houston asks a lone patron sitting at the bar. "Because it's right across the street," comes the reply. Perfect! This is why the Keg is the reigning champion for Neighborhood Bar: Manitou. With a rustic, Old West feel, it seems like something out of a Clint Eastwood film, sans swinging batwing doors. Owned by Mike and Terry Milar for the past 29 years, The Keg has billiards, beer, food and, in a nod to modern times, sports on TV. And it also serves up an attraction that's good in any era: rockin' buffalo burgers. — MB

Local Microbrew to Drink in Summer

Beehive Honey Wheat (Bristol)

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

For the fifth year running, Bristol's Beehive is the best local beer for summer drinking. This gently hopped wheat beer has just a hint of honeyed sweetness. So what's the best way to drink a Beehive? When asked, one Bristol drinker said it was perfect for sitting around on the porch and watching clouds. Another said he brought a few growlers with him to Red Rocks during concert season. Yet a third wanted his Beehive after a long day of hiking, biking or rafting. Just talking about the beer, even when it was 40 degrees and cloudy, brought thoughts of summer. — GS

Local Microbrew to Drink in Winter

Winter Warlock (Bristol)

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

To nobody's surprise, Bristol's Winter Warlock continues its winning streak, which now amounts to five years. During the Thanksgiving weekend of 2012, I brought my college roommate, an Alaskan, to the Springs. I needed help to pick out and bring back to New Mexico enough Colorado beer to last us through finals. On my father's recommendation, we included a sixer of Winter Warlock. The beer, creamy and balanced, stood alongside the best and most famous of Colorado beers. Bristol will release this year's batch around Halloween; when you drink it, think of all the poor souls who have to suffer through winter without the Warlock. — GS

Place for a Blind Date

Rabbit Hole Dinner and Drinks

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

The Rabbit Hole is a straight-up romantic, hip place to set the mood for a blind date. Because, hey, you're not here for platonic friendship, anyway. Perhaps most essentially, in this environment there's plenty to talk about: the subterranean setting, the artwork from the likes of Lorelei Beckstrom and Phil Lear, and the high-end drinks that placed it first for Upscale Bar in 2013. One regular enjoys the selection of Colorado bourbons and whiskeys and recommends the Duchess, an "amazing" grapefruit martini garnished with an orchid. — EA

Karaoke Bar
Neighborhood Bar: West

Thunder & Buttons II

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

The west side's favorite neighborhood bar for three years in a row, Thunder & Buttons II this year has also reclaimed the Karaoke Bar title it held in 2012. Now, I'm not much of a singer, but I am a fan of a cold beer (such as Bristol or Left Hand), some good bar food (elk chili, schnitzel sandwiches), and a crowd of people with enough liquid courage to belt out some Sir Mix-A-Lot. But even if karaoke doesn't strike your fancy, the daily happy hour and nightly drink specials will. — JC

Place to Meet Men

Club Q

3430 N. Academy Blvd., 570-1429, clubqonline.com

When Club Q bought the V Bar, axiomatically renaming it "V Bar by Club Q," it joined the Underground in offering the LGBT crowd somewhere downtown to party hard. "V Bar has for a decade been a straight bar with a lot of gay people in it," club co-owner Nic Grzecka told the Indy in August, "and now it's a gay bar with a lot of straight people in it." But the original location, enjoying its 10th year and fourth appearance in this category, is still where the action — and you know what I mean — starts. From the awesomely named Turnt Up Tuesdays to the mandatory SeXXXy Saturday, nobody better brings the boys to the yard. BC

Writer's Pick: Way to Kill It with Millet

Gluten-Free Paralysis by Analysis IPA

Fieldhouse Brewing Company, 521 S. Tejon St., 354-4143

Some places, such as Wheat Ridge's Brewery Rickoli and Portland's Widmer Brothers, essentially make their gluten-free beers like regular beers, then use a clarifying enzyme to strip out America's ever-increasing allergen. But Fieldhouse brews a fine gluten-free beer the hard way. And the smart way, avoiding sorghum and other grains that (in my opinion) result in off-putting, un-beer-like flavors. Instead, brewer Travis Fields subs his malts out for rice and millet, compensating for fewer natural sugars with added Belgian candy sugar. That helps bring the ABV up to a respectable 5.5, while dry hopping adds aroma and flavor. The millet in particular gifts a fun, earthy, almost green-chili-like essence, minus any heat. You'll know it's good because you won't even realize it's gluten-free. — MS

Place to Meet Women (tie)

Ritz Grill

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

Zodiac Venue and Bar

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

The Ritz has consistently nabbed this award for respectable reasons, so let's not sling the "meat market" moniker. General manager Ben Jackson has personally had soldiers who are about to deploy approach him and say, "Watch out for her — I'm about to get deployed. This is the only place I told her that she could come that I feel comfortable with." In his 18 years at the Ritz, he's also seen couples go from meeting to marriage, and then return for anniversaries. Over at Zodiac, co-owner Gentle Fritz notes a staff closely tied to the community, who look out for all their guests. Plus, she writes via email, "We are home to a big/little troupe called Peaks and Pasties, who display female empowerment and celebrate being a woman (or a fella, or anything in between). This is a creative and magical place, where diversity is very much celebrated." — MS

Naughty Business

Peaks and Pasties

peaksandpasties.com

Six years ago, burlesque in the Springs was just a dream in Lindzey Martucci's mind. She'd performed as Lola Spitfire in California and wanted to grow something in her hometown. That something became Peaks and Pasties, now a 101-member burlesque/boylesque/variety troupe run by Boopsie and Bunny Bee. For fans of sparkle, skin and sass, the group performs a few times a month, typically at Zodiac, the Underground or the Triple Nickel. For potential tassel-twirlers: Peaks and Pasties holds workshops teaching the art of the tease a couple times a year. — KA

Writer's Pick: Drinking Game

Ghosts 'n Goblins at Supernova

111 E. Boulder St., 418-3484, supernovabar.com

Ditch the plastic cups and ping-pong balls. Throw out that beer-and-god-knows-what-stained deck of playing cards your metal-head friend stole the ace of spades from at the New Year's party. And remember that Cards Against Humanity's shock value goes flat after more than a few plays per year. It's the digital age, so bring on the video games! Ghosts 'n Goblins was a brutal challenge back in 1985, and that hasn't changed. Supernova's GnG cabinet is still in good condition, and three 25-cent lives go faster and faster as the night rolls on. Grab a few friends and a few brews. Just keep the buffalo-wing sauce off the joysticks. — GS

In-Store Beer Selection
In-Store Wine Selection
In-Store Liquor/Spirits Selection

Cheers Liquor Mart

1105 N. Circle Drive, 574-2244, cheersliquormart.com

In TV Sitcom Land, Cheers was the neighborhood bar where everybody knew your name. But here in Colorado Springs, Cheers is a reality-based retailer that inspires much the same level of loyalty. According to owner and manager Jack Backman, who took the business over back in 1995, Cheers has gone by the same name since it opened in 1972, a full decade before the television series hit the airwaves. Today, he says, the store boasts Southern Colorado's largest selection of beer, wine and liquor, combining a neighborhood feel with a big-box inventory that's earned them this year's trifecta. — BF

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