Tuesday — or GUesday, as SODO promotional materials would have it — is the night when Stephen Carney (aka DJGÜ) holds court at the Tejon Street nightclub. But if you miss him there, you can also catch him on the air Friday nights during the 7 to 10 shift at The Beat 96.1.
"I just got with them two months ago," says Carney of his weekly radio show, which is a bit looser than most of the FM's station's daytime programming. "We try to stick to the 'currents' that are played on the radio on a daily basis, as well as the 'recurrents' — things that were really hot about four to six months ago and that continue to be played. But they also give me the flexibility to throw in a few other things, like if I'm trying to break a new song."
Carney, who also handles the occasional drive-time Traffic Jam show, says he started DJing about seven years ago in high school, but has only been successful at it for the last few years.
"DJing back in high school was way different than it is now," he says. "It's opened up a new world for me, mixing club and dance music, and it's always fun."
OK, maybe not always.
"What I've learned over the last couple years is that this industry is hard, and a lot of the guys don't want to get along. I don't know if it's because of insecurity or competition or what. We're all supposed to be together in this, and we're not. It's like a war. And that makes it hard for other guys, because there are guys out there that are nobody, but they're good at what they do. And it's just getting these people to be known."
Where he sees himself in five or 10 years: "I've got a good posse right now, and I've got the support of friends and family, but I just want to network a little bit more with my DJ base and make it so we can get out there and do more things at a lot of venues. And, you know, just make it fun for everybody." — Bill Forman
Black Sheep (2106 E. Platte Ave., 227-7625, blacksheeprocks.com)
For the fifth year in a row, the Black Sheep takes this category with its potent combination of all-ages shows and touring acts of some renown. "Before, we were sometimes kind of a fill-in city for open dates," says the Sheep's Chris Huffine, "but now more bands are making the city part of their itinerary from the beginning." While the Black Sheep started out as virtually the only place in town consistently booking national acts, he sees the trend growing thanks to clubs like the Triple Nickel Tavern and the Rocket Room (assuming the latter club's owners can line up a buyer to keep it going). Huffine says he's looking forward to the point when "our town will finally be a place where, if you want to go out and see a live band, you will have that option seven nights a week."
10-year forecast for the business: "I see it getting stronger. The music business as a whole will be very different, with more labels disintegrating, and downloading becoming the normal replacement for physical media. But the fact is, you can't download the live music experience, or the feeling you get being 10 feet away from your favorite band playing in front of you." — BF
Bristol Brewing Company's annual Venetucci Pumpkin Ale rush
(1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
The fact that Bristol Brewing posted a Venetucci Pumpkin Ale FAQ on its website weeks before this year's release says it all: People go nuts for this beer. It's dark amber, semi-sweet and carries back notes of pie spices that fit wonderfully with fall foods and the season. Last year, I arrived on South Tejon Street after work to find a line of Pumpkin Ale aficionados stretching around the block and nearly down to the Edelweiss parking lot. Cheers to beer lovers — God love their devotion. I just wish I'd gotten there ahead of them. I ended up finding a retail store (no — I'm not telling you which one) to sell me one of the four cases it had received. This year, the ale hits the tasting room at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26; the 22-ounce bomber pre-sale, limited to six per person, has likely sold out by the time you're reading this. Best of luck finding a sip of this awesome ale, whose revenues benefit Venetucci Farm, birthplace of the beer's pumpkins. — MS
'Oil your booty'
The listings desk can be a pretty utilitarian place. Event descriptions that come in from readers are usually straightforward, and that's just fine. But sometimes, an expressive and enterprising individual unloads something like this memorable (and totally unaltered) listing from a July gig at Belle's Lounge. "Get your dance hat on and oil your booty, it's the latest Horoscope-themed Pikes Peak area music party. We thought about calling it 'Cancer Bash,' but that just don't sound right, ya know? Animus doing that crazy thing that he does, sprouting nasty dance beats, juicy synth patterns & dreamy guitar from thin air. DJ Reflect doing what he does, mixing a tasty selection of choice tunage for you to rattle your rump to. Opening up will be Hiraether for his debut live appearance, spewing forth swirling tentacles of electronic ear-candy created by a gameboy DS. Seriously. Some FreakyWeirdCool stuff going on here." Indeed. — EA
Grass It Up (grassitup.com)
Grass It Up grabs its first win, just after releasing its third album. The five-piece band started with two mandolin- and banjo-playing Alabama natives who joined up with an upright bassist in 2005 to help "fill in the Springs' lacking music scene." They have since added keyboard and fiddle players. David Jeffrey, an Indy sales exec who plays the mandolin and guitar, says that the festivals they've organized themselves have been their best performances. "We put the work in to those," he says. "It's much more rewarding than the performances where the audience is already there waiting." And while you can see Grass It Up here locally, most commonly at Front Range Barbeque, they're also world travelers, having performed everywhere from Costa Rica to California.
Where Grass It Up will be in five years: "I think it will evolve into something else as band members get older. The musical theme and landscape will change." — LB
Head Full of Zombies (hfoz.com)
Head Full of Zombies founder Dave Weed appreciates the recent zombie resurgence, but doesn't think it has anything to do with the band's success this past year. "It's just our massive, massive talent," he says, laughing. That and perhaps the addition of two new faces: lead singer Amy Sue Hardy and keyboardist Collin Estes. Though Hardy's not the first woman this testosterone-heavy band has welcomed since they began 20-plus years ago, she is the first female vocalist. Weed says her addition has allowed the band to review its whole set list and not only do some new pieces, but give a "different feel" to existing songs.
Top songs HFOZ will be playing in 2011: "The one we write next week," Weed quips, an allusion to the fact that this cover band "has been dabbling in some originals lately." When pushed, though, he adds, "It could be 'Just a Girl' by No Doubt, or 'Seven Nation Army' by White Stripes." — KA
Jake Loggins (thejakelogginsband.com)
"I'm surprised people even remember our name, much less vote for us," says Jake Loggins. Of course, he shouldn't be. As a teenage blues-rock prodigy, Loggins quickly established himself as a mainstay of the local music scene. Now in his mid-20s, the Jake Loggins Band leader remains a steady draw, gigging twice weekly or more in downtown clubs, with no sign of slowing down.
Where he sees himself in five years: "Down the street waiting for y'all to pull up a chair, order something nice for yourself, and let me and my boys play some good vibes and brokenhearted blues for you." — BF
Copperhead Road (3330 N. Academy Blvd., 659-9099, thecopperheadroad.com)
Where can you find walls of Jack Daniels bottles protected by chicken wire, a Confederate flag proudly bearing the word "Redneck," and a patio lined with whiskey barrel tables? Why, the same place you can find neon palm trees and a purely decorative John Deere tractor: Colorado Springs' favorite new bar, Copperhead Road. In the remodeled old Black Angus Steakhouse restaurant building off North Academy Boulevard, you get not only evenings of live country music, but a staff of beautiful and busty beer-slinging servers who put on Coyote Ugly-style bartop performances. Whether or not you live the country life by day, all you've got to do is head to Copperhead Road for a taste of the country nightlife. — JT
Cowboys (25 N. Tejon St., 596-1212, worldfamouscowboys.com)
A world of disco balls and cowboy leather effortlessly absorbs each patron, making for the perfect environment to climb over the wooden barrier and join the crowd on the dance floor. So perfect in fact, every single year we've had this category (six to be exact), Cowboys has taken the top spot. If you don't know line dancing or two-stepping before you walk in the door, you will once you roll out. Hell, you'll be ready to rope anything you can find. — SW
SODO (527 S. Tejon St., 314-0420, sodonightlife.com)
In the real world, getting someone into bed can involve hand-wringing: days of trying to make eye contact, the awkward moment when you finally ask the person out, dinner, movie, and then maybe — maybe — sex.
At the club, getting someone naked can involve spotting them, shoving your booty in their crotch, buying them a drink, continuing to shove your booty in their crotch, and then taking your hottie home to claim the victory prize.
Sure, it's not the stuff of Drew Barrymore movies. But most people don't go to clubs to find someone to take home to Mom. They're looking for a girl with a round ass and big boobs squeezed into a spandex contraption, or a guy with six-pack abs and a dragon tattoo.
When SODO won both of these categories, it wasn't exactly surprising; like most clubs, SODO oozes the sex vibe. Posters for SODO events generally feature some curvy thing posing in her panties. The music pumping out of the place generally has a throbbing beat. And SODO has lots of contests where pretty people can win prizes for wearing the most erotic outfits.
Owner John Gowing is proud of SODO's naughty appeal. And he's no doubt aware that the club is a great place to find a hot hook-up. But he says people actually do meet keepers here, too. In fact, several of his employees have met their husbands and wives here. Gowing thinks that's because, unlike some clubs, SODO "caters to the women."
The club has an upscale, VIP feel to it, with leather couches and cabanas available for reservation with bottle service. The floor layout is open, and the lighting feels moody. People tell Gowing they love his club for more than just the eye candy — they appreciate the quality and variety of the music choices (everything from rap to world music), the upper-tier live shows he books (Ludacris, Mike Jones, Digital Underground, John Legend, Jack Ingram, Dokken), the specialty martinis and margaritas, and the high-tech features (like full video integration on several large screens that allows for VJing).
Gowing also says that safety is very important to him. The club allows 18 and up, but has very strict policies to prevent underage drinking. Gowing also recently installed an ID checking system that's expected to cut back on criminal activity, though he says SODO is already very secure.
What's to come: Gowing says he may look to open another club, or he may just continue to improve SODO. "We stay ahead of the trends," he says. — J. Adrian Stanley
The Loop (965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9344, theloopatmanitou.com)
This place was a hot spot to meet guys in the '70s, with its hard-driving bands and wall-to-wall bodies. Since then, it's earned a reputation for its margaritas, such as the Grand Tivo and Black Orchid. The menu contains 18 in all, and others can be made to order, drawing from 30 tequilas, says bartender Kathleen Jalbert. "They're hand-poured — they're not all pre-mixed and ready to go," she adds. "And the service is divine." Don't forget the Loop's food: My brother and sister-in-law from El Paso, Texas, insist on going there every time they visit, and report the food is just as delicious as the best their border city has to offer. — PZ
The Hatch Cover (252 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 576-5223, hatchcover.biz)
SouthSide Johnny's (528 S. Tejon St., 444-8487, southsidejohnnys.biz)
Though in different "southern" neighborhoods, the Hatch Cover and SouthSide Johnny's have plenty in common. Both can get satisfyingly boisterous, whether during poker and karaoke nights (the Hatch Cover) or during live performances by Jake Loggins and the like (Johnny's). Both serve some surprisingly tasty bar food, whether 50-cent wing specials (the Hatch Cover) or big-enough-for-dinner quesadillas (Johnny's). And both teem with regulars who create an atmosphere where "everybody knows your name." — PZ
Fujiyama (22 S. Tejon St., Suite A, 630-1167, fujiyamasushi.com)
Sushi-slinging Fujiyama beats out other local restaurants as your favorite happy hour hangout. Owner Minji Suh says "the crazy happy hour just for an hour" wasn't enough for their hungry customers, so they made it longer. And now, with evening specials every weeknight, including beer, sake and military discounts, and 50-percent-off sushi rolls (along with other deals) during lunch Monday through Friday, Fujiyama is the hot lunch spot and 5 o'clock bar. (There are too many specials to list, but the website's got the rundown.) If half-priced sushi and drink specials aren't enough of a draw, Fujiyama hosts salsa and Zumba dancing followed by karaoke on Thursdays starting at 9. — BA
Underground (110 N. Nevada Ave., 578-7771, undergroundbars.com)
It's been five years, and the Underground is still on top. With its multiple areas to drink and hang out, as well as a killer dance floor, this bar just keeps getting better and better. Clubgoers can count on stellar DJs every weekend night, and on weeknights, expect everything from karaoke to bingo to poker to trivia. The Underground even has its own American Idol-style singing contest. Grand prize: a trip to see Lady Gaga in concert.
The gay community in 10 years: "It will just be more open and out," says manager Bryan Williams, "just as today is much different than 10 years ago. I wonder if anyone thought there would be a gay bar right across from City Hall in Colorado Springs 10 years ago." — SW
Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse and Pub (21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766, jackquinnspub.com)
In an Irish pub, says Jack Quinn's general manager Ivette Gallegos, people want that "old-timey feel." And with dark wood, full-bodied brews and entrées like shepherd's pie, Quinn's delivers that in spades. At the same time, though, it acknowledges the present — see the Sunday Wii tournaments, a "big trend for pubs in Ireland." You see the same balance even in some of the live music: For instance, the Commoners play traditional Irish music infused with modern folk-rock. Another new take on an oldie: the cargo kilt and the reflective kilt. "Men love to wear kilts," says Gallegos, "and the ladies like the kilts on the men." — BA
Good Company (7625 N. Union Blvd., 528-8877, goodcompanybar.com)
While I reserve my Dreamgirls moments for the car or my bathroom mirror, those brave enough to take on the mic have found comfort at Good Company. Theme nights and really pretty servers round out the realized vision of owners Bob and Mary Jardon. (Bob chuckles at people calling him the Hugh Hefner of northern Colorado Springs.) As for the singing, he calls what they do "Three-Beer Karaoke," as in, it takes three beers to get on stage and three beers to listen. A server named Angela reassures, "We have great food, a great environment and we ALL sing." So, if you don't mind a little table dancing and have the courage to take center stage, the Jardons promise good company. — MMR
O'Malley's Steak Pub (104 State Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 488-0321, omalleys.biz)
It's been a while since Jeff Hulsmann was a self-described "hot-shit bartender" in the Springs — in fact, it's been 25 years since he moved on and bought the old roadhouse that's technically in Palmer Lake on Highway 105. Nowadays, he considers himself completely unemployable, but he's got a place that's completely unforgettable — in large part because of the huge grill on the main floor. Hulsmann says he doesn't know if it was a stroke of genius or just laziness, but ever since he decided that people could cook their own Grade A beef at his bar, local folks have been into this caveman approach. Considering the lack of pretense, it's unsurprising that O'Malley's welcomes everyone from the biker on an afternoon ride to a family looking for good eats. While the food is good, the flavor is in the people. And he stresses, "There are no strangers at O'Malley's."— MMR
Tony's Downtown Bar (311 N. Tejon St., 228-6566, tonysdowntownbar.com)
Anyone who has spent time in Wiscaaaansin quickly learns the area's four main food groups are sliced cheese, shredded cheese, grilled cheese and cheese curds. Even the state's football fans (known as "Cheeseheads") revere the food almost as highly as their beloved Green Bay Packers. The state beverage, of course, historically has been plentiful and cheap beer, like Milwaukee-brewed Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz. Tony's understands this whole universe, and has re-created the casual blue-collar culture within its walls. There's the menu (deep-fried cheese curds, anyone?), an array of American lagers on tap, Green Bay paraphernalia as décor, and a full schedule of televised Packers games. The best part? Tony's neighborhood atmosphere will have you feeling at home whether you're a displaced Madisonian or someone hoping for a first-time taste of PBR. — JT
Frankie's Bar and Grill (945 N. Powers Blvd., 574-4881, frankiesbargrill.com)
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" says Frankie Patton, to his customers and the voters who launched him to the top of this new category. Patton opened Frankie's Bar and Grill in 1984, and jokes, "I used to be the new kid on the block ... now I'm the old man of Powers Boulevard." In the last 26 years, Frankie's has become the east side's neighborhood "place to meet and eat," and Patton credits that to the burgers, wings, cold beer and camaraderie his loyal and new customers find there. "The economy is killing everyone," Patton says, "but the neighborhood is growing and people still like to have a great place to hang out, eat good food, and meet up with friends." — SC
The Keg Bar & Grill (730 Manitou Ave., 685-9531)
Mike and Terry Milar have owned the Keg for 25 wonderful years, and during that time they've showered us with beer and creative cuisine (meals that can hardly be called "bar food"). Their son, Matt, grew up at the Keg, and now helps his parents run the place. "It was a good place to grow up," he says fondly. "It was a lot fun." No kidding. In addition to serving plenty of our favorite local Bristol brews on tap, the Keg has a fantastic berry chicken salad, and delicious scampi, sirloin steaks and salmon. Locals know that on Wednesday nights, you can get two meals for $21.95. And they take advantage of it, keeping the bar hopping even in the winter off-season. The tourists take care of the summer. Matt says this one was the Keg's best ever — which probably has something to do with the Keg finally biting the bullet and taking credit cards. — JAS
Meadow Muffins (2432 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0583)
For 31 years now, the cavernous place on the corner of 25th Street and Colorado Avenue has been hopping, and even ownership changes haven't altered the character. Nor have economic changes, for that matter: "We haven't been hit too hard by any depression," says current manager Mike Behm. For that, they can thank their own ingenuity. The food menu evolves some from month to month, so nobody gets bored — not that appetizers like Buffalo cheese bread would allow such a thing. And Behm has supervised some remodeling in recent months — "basically a clean-out of our front room," he says, "to give us more space for bands."
What's next: "We're kicking around some different stuff, but definitely some better-known bands." — RR
Cheers Liquor Mart (1105 N. Circle Drive, 574-2244, cheersliquormart.com)
Like leg warmers, whiskey drinks are back. And the place to get them is the place with the largest selection and square footage in the region, Cheers Liquor Mart. This one-stop party (or weeknight stock-up) spot doles out spirits such as Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, which manager Jack Backman says are "geared towards a younger crowd" than your Maker's Mark or Glenlivet. The same could certainly be said for cotton-candy flavored liquors and many of the craft beers, growing in number and diversifying with more and more strange flavors. (Twisted Pine Big Shot Espresso Stout, anyone?) Not to be overlooked: Cheers rolls out a huge wine selection, as well. — BA
15C (15 E. Bijou St., Suite C, 635-8303)
At the beginning of August, the blue porch light at 15C went dark, the result of an early-morning fire in the building that displaced the martini and cigar bar's customers and staff. Regardless, Springs drinkers and smokers know what they like — this is 15C's eighth win for Upscale (or Classy) Bar and ninth win for Bar for a Martini. And as martinis can be a little "fancy-pants," it's really no surprise 15C grabbed that first-year award, too.
From the ashes: "I'm definitely reopening — there's no question of that," says owner Alan Pak, though he doesn't have a timeline yet. — KA
Rico's Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Bar (322 ½ N. Tejon St., 630-7723, poorrichards.biz)
Swirl Wine Bar (717 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2294, swirlwineemporium.com)
Decisions, decisions. Picking a favorite wine bar just got harder. Both Rico's and Swirl are cozy places, welcoming in patrons to chill out with a world-class wine in their hands. For those who prefer to sip among shelves of books, interesting cards and chocolate, and enjoy comfort wines plus a few oddities, Rico's is the obvious choice. For those who prefer a more trendy, mismatched place, with unique and hard-to-find selections, Swirl is the go-to.
Best wine country in 20 or 30 years: "There's so much good wine out there now," says Swirl owner Sharon Erale-Palmer, "but maybe Oregon will surprise us." — SW
Dave Baumgartner (The Rocket Room, 230 Pueblo Ave., 447-4990)
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
Jack Quinn's Running Club (jackquinnsrunners.com)
Earlier this summer, I got "shirted" by the Jack Quinn's Running Club. In other words, having completed 10 of the Tuesday night 5Ks, I received my official club T-shirt.
Official, yes, but not exclusive. The group, which began in June 2006 with about 70 participants, has grown to include around 1,000 runners on good-weather nights — with a record attendance of 1,276 on June 15 of this year. In all, about 4,000-some runners have been "shirted" along with me.
When asked about the growing appeal, club president Karen Evers says "the price is right." In other words, it's free.
"Numbers have gone up as the economy has gone down," she says. A Century Club member (meaning she's completed 100 Quinn's runs), Evers also works for Boulder Running Co. and says people have come to appreciate that you don't need a gym membership or fancy equipment to lace up.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that there's discounted beer from Quinn's at the end. But Evers says, "It's not a drunk fest. It's really a family-friendly atmosphere." Moms and dads come out, pushing their kids in running strollers; people jog with their dogs; and training partners encourage one another. The 6 o'clock event is something people schedule into their calendars, and know there will always be others to pace them — even in bad weather. Evers says they've never had a "no-show" night; even on a December night with a minus-2 temperature last year, 16 people still turned out.
And if you're a bit of a hesitant runner like me, Evers wants people to know that, really, the club isn't intimidating. "There are all sizes, shapes and ages out there," she says. "Our oldest couple are in their 80s, a husband-and-wife couple."
Record attendance in five years: Evers has a hard time even taking a guess, but says the club leadership, too, has recently wondered how big it can grow. Currently, she says, they're getting about "a hundred new people per night." — Kirsten Akens
Oscar's Tejon Street (333 S. Tejon St.,471-8070, oscarstejonstreet.com)
Oscar's was the first to "get it" where smokers are concerned. Almost immediately after the statewide smoking ban was enacted, owner Phil Duhon and Co. put heaters in a screened-in area and passed out ashtrays. "In winter, you can have a cigarette without freezing to death," he says. Besides that, Oscar's offers one of the best happy hours in SoDo. Duhon brags on his website that he serves the "freshest shucked oysters in town," but the menu doesn't end there. The mushroom Swiss burger and seafood gumbo are favorites.
Duhon's destiny: He doesn't plan any physical changes to the place, which already has three bars, two outdoor seating areas, a stage and DJ booth. But he'll soon roll out a new menu. — PZ
Panino's on North Tejon (604 N. Tejon St., 635-7452, paninos.com)
Sometimes the big sports bars aren't the best place to watch a sports event, especially when it's hockey. You want to be close to the screen and, if you're like me, you get into a hockey game much more when you're surrounded by people who know the sport. If that's your idea of a good time, there's no better place anywhere than the original Panino's on Tejon, started in 1974 by the late Tony Frasca, who not only was an All-American at Colorado College but later coached the Tigers. His son Mike owns the place now, and you're likely to run into hockey people any time you go into the bar (between the main two eating areas). Rest assured the beers are plentiful and well-priced. — RR
Bristol Brewing Company (1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
As you likely saw in our Sept. 30 beer issue, there are enough professional brewers in the region that a win here is no sure thing. And, yet again, our readers think Bristol Brewing Co. delivers the goods better than any other outfit. Why? "Because we have a consistently great product, and a community focus that people just love," says spokeswoman Laura Long. "We make friends, and they stick around."
A "Bristol" future: "If Bristol had our way, there would be a six-pack of Bristol beer in every fridge in Colorado Springs," Long says. "Well, of the people that drink ... and are old enough. Old enough, and inclined!" — BC
Coaltrain Wine & Spirits (330 W. Uintah St., 475-9700, coaltrainwine.com)
I'm a white-wine drinker, but I've been trying to expand into reds, thanks to the growing list of health benefits. Over the past year, I've wandered into wine shops and liquor stores, and asked staff members for their help in finding the perfect varietal for my picky palate. Most commonly, I'm told, "Maybe this one," and then left to my own devices. Recently I visited Coaltrain Wine & Spirits and met Jeff "Merv" Mervis (pictured center). Twenty minutes later, he'd asked me about my diet — do I eat meat? what about cheese? any dairy? — as well as food likes and dislikes. And when he suggested a wine, it was only after I fully understood how my food choices may or may not complement the grapes. Now that's customer service. Three cheers, Merv. — KA
Christal's (2582 S. Academy Blvd., 393-9903; 3737 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-3839, christals.com)
From bondage play to bachelorette parties, four-time winner Christal's has all of your sex needs covered. But if you think everything here is polyester and plastic, think again. Amid sequined masks, Halloween-specific costumes and toys with names like Jelly Rapture and the Butterfly Climaxer, you can also find an assortment of body-friendly products, such as: Sliquid Organics, a glycerin- and paraben-free vegan-friendly lube; the Earthly Body line of natural hemp massage oils and edible massage oil candles; and gorgeous Lovemoiselle "sensual art" ceramic vibrators. You won't be able to purchase a partner at Christal's, but for many of their items, going solo will work just fine. — KA
Beehive Honey Wheat (Bristol Brewing Company, 1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
Beehive's helped you make summer memories, but you may not know everything about your trusty liquid wingman. For instance: "We actually use honey from a local apiary," says brewer John Schneider, "and we put it in prior to fermentation, so most of the honey is fermented out." What you're left with is just that hint of sweetness, and a ridiculously easy-drinking, 4.5 ABV American-style wheat beer. Schneider, who's been brewing Beehive for eight years (and who was drinking one when we talked), says it's a great choice for people transitioning from macrobrews to microbrews — which could be one reason why it sells pretty well in the winter, too. — KW
Winter Warlock (Bristol Brewing Company, 1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
Longtime local beer drinkers should remember Winter Warlock being one of the original three offerings, along with Laughing Lab and Red Rocket, when Bristol Brewing opened for business in 1994. Warlock, a rich and dark oatmeal stout, won a silver medal in Foreign-Style Stout at the 1998 Great American Beer Festival, but Bristol hasn't been able to enter it lately because the winter seasonal's timing doesn't match up with the GABF's September dates. So it stays a well-kept local secret from October through April, or whenever the last batch made in March runs out. — RR
Chain championsCongratulations to these big businesses that locals love:
Old Chicago (Multiple locations, oldchicago.com)
Champps Restaurant & Bar (1765 Briargate Pkwy., 548-0113, champps.com)
Coors Light (coorslight.com)