Over the past few years, the corner of Fifth Avenue and Sante Fe Drive in Denver’s art district has been taken over by queers. When Chris Newell and Ray Hurtado opened the doors to a leather-and-Levi’s bar, two-and-a-half years ago, they had no idea the bar would become as popular as it did—especially with the sheer number of LGBTQ bars that are littered all over Denver.
But Trade quickly became a hub for Denver’s gay men, and the success after its first year gave the owners the opportunity to buy the space catty-corner to Trade and open a second queer bar, Gladys: The Nosy Neighbor.
“We had wished for something like this to happen, but we had no idea just how successful the two bars would be,” Hurtado said. “We have people of all types and identities that walk in these doors and tell us how welcome it is or how much fun they are having.”
He’s not wrong. OUT FRONT’s readers voted Trade the best cruising bar, the LGBTQ bar with the best music, bartenders, and beer bust in 2018. Gladys snatched the title of best drag shows, best chill spot, best bartenders (a tie with Trade), and best overall queer bar.
Combined, Trade and Gladys claimed seven of the 10 categories catered to Denver’s LGBTQ bars.
“It’s humbling. Very humbling,” Newell said. “It also means that we are achieving what we set out to do when we opened Trade over two years ago. I’m glad that the community feels safe and wanted here. It makes all the hard work worth it.”
That hard work kicks into high gear every Thursday, when each bar hosts a completely different and equally popular event Trade’s Underwear Night and Gladys’ Weirdo.
Before Trade opened its doors back in April of 2016, The Denver Eagle hosted a night of scantily clad men proudly sporting their leather and fetish gear. As The Denver Eagle shut its doors, its Thursday night underwear party went with it. But the loyal supporters of the high-volume event were looking for a replacement.
Within a month, Trade filled that void. Capitalizing on the closure of another queer bar in Denver was not the intention of Hurtado or Newell; rather, they wanted to provide a space for a community of people who lost their host bar.
Today, Skivvy Strip Down is a staple in Denver, gathering all kinds of people on Thursdays to pull down their pants.
“I’d guess that’s one of the main reasons people voted us ‘The Crusiest Bar,’” Newell said. “It definitely is one of our more popular nights, especially in the summer when people can be in their underwear on the patio.”
Although the inside is both welcoming and spacious, Trade’s patio is a hit on underwear night. With a full bar, multiple tables and stools, a fireplace, and even a freight car tagged with Trade’s signature logo, the patio offers customers the chance to show off in the summer and warm up in the winter.
Most Thursdays are packed with men sporting their favorite undies, leather gear, fetish gear, or jock strap and hanky combo. There’s no cover on Thursdays, but it’ll cost you a dollar to stash your underwear in a locker.
Across the street, Gladys’ weekly drag competition, Weirdo, hosts a completely different crowd. Weirdo is unlike any weekly drag show in Denver. Many wouldn’t even call it a drag show, but since the main goal is to lip sync and deliver an eccentric performance, that’s exactly what we will call it. Started by Vivica Galactica, the show’s new host, IzzyDead, continues to pull in Denver’s alternative and queer community, making it one of the city’s most diverse drag shows.
For $3, anyone can come in and see Izzy introduce some of Denver’s elite drag performers—including OUT FRONT’S 2018 best drag artists Dustin Schlong and Lisa Frank Cortez—alongside ambitious newcomers to the stage to compete for $150, a Strap Up Custom Gear harness, and the title of Mx. Weirdo.
The night is for the customers as much as it is the performers. Queer people of all shapes, sizes, colors, identities, and ages fill the cabaret bar waiting to see something shocking or inspiring, or both.
“It’s one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen in a Denver queer bar,” Trade and Gladys Manager Josh McArthur said. “It brings out a lot of people that don’t find a home bar anywhere else. It’s not cruisey like Trade—all queer bars are cruisey in nature. People come here to belong, and it’s our job to make sure that happens.”
McArthur, who has been with Trade since before it even opened, helping with the renovations, contributes the success of the bars to the open, accepting, and celebratory nature of the two spots.
“That has been Chris and Ray’s goal from the beginning, and they start with the staff,” McArthur said. “I’ve been in this industry for more than a decade, and I’ve never worked for anyone like them. When you start working here, you’re in their family, and they take care of you and make you feel welcome. That energy and attitude translates to our customers.”
On Friday, McArthur moves across the street to Trade—the bartenders on staff work at both venues—to take advantage of one of Trade’s busiest, most eccentric nights. With a rotating list of events that cater to a variety of tastes and kinks, Trade has appropriately reclaimed Fridays for fetishes.
Starting off the month is Jocks and Socks, where the staff and customers sport their favorite athletic-wear—tall baseball socks, jockstraps, singlets, etc. The second Friday is Pup Mosh, the night dedicated to pups, handlers, and their admirers. On the third Friday of every month, they are joined by the Rocky Mountain Leather Alliance, while they pay homage to the leather and kink traditions at Rough Play. The following week, the bar pays homage to a great cruising tradition, The Hanky Code.
If a month has a fifth Friday, resident DJs Dirty Diesel and Craig C take the bar into the Red Light, turning off any bright lights and playing “dark and sexy house music.” Alongside the residents, Trade hosts a number of local and travelling DJs to perform at their fetish nights.
“Both Diesel and Craig C play music that you don’t get to hear in other queer spaces in Denver,” McArthur said. “It’s good to hear that people appreciate that.”
Across the street, however, there’s a completely different vibe.
“I’d definitely say Gladys is different than Trade,” McArthur said. “While Trade is more leather and fetish-focused, Gladys is more a low-key, cabaret bar. A lot of really good drag shows.”
Starting next month, Dustin Schlong and Denver’s drag kings—and maybe some local queens dressed as kings—are taking over every first Friday, Denver’s only drag show catered to kings. Every other Friday is dominated by the self-proclaimed “good Christian woman” Kai Lee Mykels.
In Gladys, the main room is open and allows space to easily move around as it fills up on the big event nights. Skee ball and dart boards are available for play, and the energy in the room is fueled by the loud conversations around the bar.
In a second room, high-top tables are scattered along the main attraction of the room where the magic at Gladys lives—the stage.
“When we opened Gladys, we talked a lot about what it’d be,” explained Newell. Newell knew that he would potentially be competing against himself. “We definitely played off the idea that it would be Trade’s neighbor. The bar had a stage already, so it lent itself to doing more shows. We’ve seen some come and go, but the shows we have now are amazing.”
Saturday & Sunday
There’s no rest for the wicked, as Trade opens up early on Saturday—for those that want to start early or collect their forgotten debit card. Occasionally hosting a brunch, the bar opens at 11 a.m. At 3:30 p.m., the Saturday Beer Bust begins, donating money to whichever nonprofit is pouring the event. At 7:30 p.m., Beer Bust ends, but the night has only begun for the staff.
While Trade hosts a number of rotating or special events, Gladys is taking a trip through the decades with DJ Craig C and DJT at events Whatever and Made in 90s. Occasionally, another drag show will pop up, like Willow Pill’s Pillbox.
On Sunday, Trade hosts another Beer Bust highlighting and donating to a separate nonprofit, before Gladys opens up the stage to anyone wanting to show off their pipes at Ginger’s Karaoke Ho-Down.
“We opened these two bars with the intent to give back to the community that we are in, that we love,” Newell said. “We’re going to continue to do that, and I really hope that people continue to come out and have a good time—no matter what they are looking to get into.”
Photos by Veronica Holyfield, Brian Degenfelder, and Stu Osborne