Oh, Denver. You’re beautiful and special, and you are filled with queer people looking for queer things to do and Instagram about. This city has become a hub for transplants all over the nation who are looking for a new, hip, forward-thinking, cannabis-consuming, accepting, sexy city.
Lucky for them, there are queer places all over the city, and even spaces that are not specifically queer welcome our community with open arms. And we’re here to give y’all some suggestions on what we find are the best places in Denver.
We asked our writers, photographers, editors, and even our publisher to suggest some of the most eccentric, fun, and off-the-wall Best Of picks that they could think of.
After all, we’re all a little queer here…
A rave so good you don’t need to do drugs enjoy it
For many, dance parties are just an excuse to get weird and do drugs, which, as your friendly neighborhood queer mag, we of course don’t condone or support. What we do condone and support is going to the next Sorted event when it’s announced. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill raves. The carefully curated DJs specialize in classic house, juke, and techno, so all the staples of your electronic diet are there.
The music is so catchy and uplifting that you don’t have to be super familiar with the artists, or even the genres, to have a good time and get down. Plus, the raves always have fun sober options like a coffee bar to keep you up. The last rave even had dumplings and a cake to celebrate their anniversary.
The icing on the cake (pun intended), Sorted also posts signs that make it clear that the event is a safe space, and that no one should feel harassed while on the dance floor. Although they aren’t specifically queer events, you can always spot queer folks at these parties, feeling safe and getting down. Check out facebook.com/staysorted for info on their next event.
Ice cream flavors that actually sound appealing
Everyone likes to experiment and try new things sometimes. But does anyone really want basil-rum-pepper-jack ice cream, or muscles-and-cream-cheese sorbet? Inside Scoop has a few interesting-sounding, experimental flavors, like honey lavender, but for the most part, they just have good, homemade ice cream.
They also make their own delicious cake cones, and they’re located right downtown across from the Lower Highlands, and in Littleton. Plus, there are plenty of gluten and dairy-free options, so everyone can enjoy the awesomeness that is their ice cream.
Best place to walk your pup
Get out your leash, leather collar, boots, vest, and tail, and make your way over to Trade (Sante Fe & 5th Avenue) for their pup mosh. Don’t bring your lab or basset hound out to this—even though the bar currently resides in the old Barker Lounge, actual dogs are not allowed.
Having trouble following? Pup play is when one person takes on the role of a pup and one person acts as a handler. The pup becomes their canine counterpart and the trainer, for the most part, handles the pup like he would a biological puppy. For many it serves as a release of the primal animal part of them. It is not bestiality: real animals are not involved.
Pups, which can be spotted at events around the city, have found a home in Denver’s Leather and Levi bar Trade, a bar that’s accepting to all, thanks to some of the most personable bartenders the city has to offer, and its dedicated owners Ray Hurtado and Chris Newell.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable here,” Ray said.
“We want to harbor a gay community not just for gay men,” Chris said.
During the day on weekends, they open their doors to gaymers, ladies who brunch, and drag bingo enthusiasts. On Saturday evening they host a weekly beer bust where $8 gets you bottomless Bud Light from 3:30 to 8 p.m.
Seriously, if you’re in town visiting or have been sleeping under a rock, get over to Trade. Take your pup!
Best place to channel your inner witch
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
Not only does Red Rocks host some of Colorado’s most relaxing, beautiful hiking trails, it’s also home to one of the most iconic music venues in the world. For decades, the world’s biggest stars have stood on the outdoor stage and spilled their guts to hundreds of people under the beautiful moon.
This moon, with or without musical guests, hovers above the beautiful, natural, red rock formations every night. The smooth, peaceful atmosphere and positive energy that radiates from the dirt gives you the perfect opportunity to get out and become one with nature.
Even if you aren’t a witch and prefer not to summon Manon, you should still get out and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds our growing city.
Sourest beers to help you practice your duckface
Yep, their beers are sour, but be careful pulling a duckface here, because Trve is also a metal bar. However, it’s honestly fine if you feel a duckface coming on and realize you accidently stepped in wearing your North Face and Ugg Boots. Even though Trve is dark and dismal with doom or black metal constantly blaring through the stereo, they are used to all kinds and don’t judge anyone, whether it’s for being queer or for being a Becky. Plus, they have delicious beer, and they specialize in “mixed culture ales,” or sours. So next time you need to practice puckering, order something with cherries from Trve and grab your phone to capture those selfies.
Best place to take a hipster Scruff date
Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the west coast, with a collection of more than 70,000 works scattered throughout its campus. Its walls have housed millions of beautiful, multicultural works of art since it opened its doors in 1983, including the work of LGBTQ artists. In November 2018, the museum will display the work of iconic gay designer Christian Dior with Dior: From Paris to the World, an exhibit that that surveys 70 years of the House of Dior’s enduring legacy and its global influence.
pro tip* Don’t follow it up with Starbucks or a trip to Chili’s.
second thought* Chili’s is delicious and he will fall in love over Chicken Crispers.
Best place to hide your crippling anxieties behind a cute new outfit
Many vintage clothing stores feel stuffy and out of touch, lined floor to ceiling with out-of-style designer gear and clothes your aunt would buy you for your birthday. Buffalo Exchange stands out because they actually stock the store with what is hip, cool, and flattering—not just with top-of-the-line name brands.
They are also major allies and doing some pretty cool stuff for the queer community.
“We at Buffalo Exchange Colorado are super proud of our work with the LGBT[Q] community,” public relations rep Greg Maronde told OUT FRONT. “Not only are we a shopping destination for bears, queens, and everything in between, but we’ve worked to raise money for Hey Denver, hold an annual month-long Pride gallery featuring homo-centric work, and host our smash hit Cross Walk/Walk Off during Pride.”
Yes, some of their clothing is a little pricey if you’re on a budget, and the fact that they’ve already picked out all the good stuff takes some of the fun out of shopping. (Real pickers will revel in the amount of bad sweaters and mismatched socks they have to look through at the thrift shop to find the gem they’ve been looking for.) But all in all, the cute, affordable selection and good ethos of this small chain earn them an OUT FRONT seal of approval.
Best place to avoid going home and eating all the potato chips in the cabinet
Unlike the other bars in town, Lipstick’s doors stay open until 4 a.m. Not only does it stay open for two more hours than the rest of Denver’s queer bars and clubs, it’s also one of the only bars in town geared toward our Latinx community.
With two dancefloors, one that plays Top 40 and another that plays Latinx music, it’s also one of the best places in town to have a drink or let your hair down or to host birthday parties and celebrations of all kinds. With two hosts to lead their dual dance floors, Lipstick is booked up almost every night of the week for an event.
“We have different people renting every single week,” Brenden Neeave, who sets up events and manages the bar, said. “We host several different groups. We have six organizations that do their shows here.”
If you are looking for some awesome entertainment and non-stop dancing, check out Lipstick Nightclub. Even if you aren’t a member of the Latinx or LGBTQ communities, the dual dance floors and constant entertainment will make you feel at home, until you stumble into bed.
Best place to sit in part of Denver’s queer history
R&R Bar, Denver’s oldest queer bar, is one of the most history-filled parts of our culture. Nestled snugly on Colfax, R&R Bar was a cozy and becoming hole-in-the-wall before dive bars and the grimy charm of Colfax were hip. While unassuming and small, R&R Bar proudly serves the LGBTQ community with a smile and friendly conversation.
R&R bar is fun, friendly, and not cliquey, according to Rich Illgen, owner of the bar. The atmosphere is light-hearted, and the clientele is always eclectic. The small space screams acceptance. Think of all those dive bars in the movies where everyone is smiling and a little drunk. They laugh; they play darts; they’ll read you in the most flattering way. The bartenders are nice and often pour with a heavy hand. Oh yeah, and the drinks are pretty cheap, too.
A Denver must-visit spot for over 50 years, R&R Bar is still going strong. Knowing your history is important, and what better way to learn than through a hands-on experience? Trust us, you won’t regret it.
Loudest date spot to drown out the failed blind date
Black Sky Brewery
Metal is an acquired taste, and it’s not for everyone. But everyone likes pizza and deliciously brewed beer, and everyone needs to find a loud spot to bring that clingy, verbose date that just won’t call it a night, but insists on following you around the city and making annoying comments. Taking them to a loud metal bar and just pretending that you can’t hear anything they’re saying is the perfect way to get out of it.
Plus, you’ll be welcomed. Black Sky likes being neighbors with the queer community.
“We have always had a great relationship with Patrick and Lawrence from the Barker Lounge and now Chris from Trade,” explained Lila Mackey, owner. “We are great neighbors. We look out for each other. Both the Barker and Trade have been gracious enough to put our beer on tap, and they are the only place in town that we deliver food to. As a metal bar, we are considered to be an underground community. We are not always accepted at places around town. This is one of the main reasons we opened Black Sky Brewery, to have a place where we could feel comfortable. As such, we are accepting of anyone that walks through our doors.”
Did we mention they brew their own awesome beer and the pizza is New York-style and completely delicious? Next time you have a late night at Trade, come grab a slice.
Best place to make a fool of yourself in front of fam
X Bar is a staple for Denver LGBTQ folks. Known for its inclusivity of both the queer and straight communities, X Bar has been around for seven years and has garnered the reputation of the place you go to have a good time, and not feel judged.
The bar boasts nightly specials and drink deals, as well as two dance floors for the weekends and a large patio section. People flock to the bar to dance and get down or just to drink and relax, and many in the LGBTQ community have made it their regular hangout. In the winter, the patio crowd dwindles, but the inside becomes much more of a party.
The bar hosts a number of events throughout the week that give patrons plenty of opportunities to embarrass themselves, such as karaoke on Tuesday nights. It’s very American Idol auditions without the painful embarrassment of being broadcast on national TV. Yes, queer bars can be filled with judgement, but X Bar isn’t like your average queer bar.
On Thursdays, X Bar rips a page from drag queens and hosts a lip sync competition. Any and all are welcome to compete for free drinks or tickets to see the iconic Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s. It’s a friendly competition where you finally get the chance to debut the killer dance moves and spot-on lip sync you’ve been practicing in your mirror since middle school.
Best secretly liberal town for a day trip
Getting away for a day hike is a great way to relax, but it’s natural to worry about how queer-friendly your destination is going to be. Manitou Springs is right next to Old Colorado City in Colorado Springs, but it’s separate from the Springs, an area that tends to be more conservative and very Christian. Manitou even has recreational cannabis, so you can grab a pre-roll for your hike if you forgot to get one in Denver. Known for being eccentric, the type of city that once elected a music store owner to be mayor, they aren’t going to look twice at queer kids getting ice cream and then heading out for a day on the trails.
Best place to get household items you can actually afford
ARC Thrift Stores
No, you didn’t spend the last $30 in your bank account on Taco Bell and ice cream. Ok, you did, but it’s fine, because you also spent it on a new sweater for work and a cup to replace your broken one, thanks to ARC Thrift Stores! With almost every already-reasonably-priced item half off on Saturdays, it is possible to make your millennial salary work and actually get new clothes and household items for a fraction of what they would cost new. This is helpful to people who have to consider their income and budget carefully (which is most of us), and all the proceeds also benefit the Association of Retarded Citizens, a group that helps developmentally disabled people enter the workforce and live productive lives. What’s not to love?
Best place to have a fast and fancy date
Whether you’ve been dating forever or it’s your first night out, everyone can use a fancy date now and then. But not everyone wants to make a reservation and spend hours at a restaurant. Parisi is a fast casual restaurant where you order delicious pasta and then sit down at an assigned table. Moments later, the pasta is out to your table, complete with bread, appetizers, and sides. And if you want drinks or dessert, there’s also a full bar, a dessert counter, and a gelato counter. Essentially, this place has everything you could ask for in fine dining without the long waits, reservations, annoying dress codes, or general negatives associated with fancy food.
Best place to get really weird with your drag
The Wizard’s Chest
Sure, anyone can put on a wig and an outfit, tuck and stuff, and be in drag. But if you want to get really weird with it, you need more than just a blond wig and a pink dress. At the Wizard’s Chest, not only will you find a ton of options as far as wigs and outfits, you’ll also find just about every cosplay costume imaginable and tons of kooky, creepy masks. Want to be Pennywise the Clown in drag with moose antlers? You can find that costume here. They also have tons of fun games, so you can get started on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign after you finish marathoning Stranger Things.
Best place to hit up an open mic night
Blush & Blu
Spilling out of patio doors surrounded by the perfect rainbow paint job that covers the entire face of Blush & Blu is an assortment of people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and genders. Some look like they’ve stepped out of a club kid fantasy while others are sporting a more casual look. This is the bar on a typical Friday or Saturday.
But on the weekdays, Blush & Blu hosts some of the most inclusive, relaxed, entertaining open mic nights in the city. It also offers some of the most diverse music showcases, poetry, drag, karaoke, or whatever the hell you want to talk about. Its doors are open to everyone—except assholes.
“Yeah, we have a zero asshole policy here,” manager SJ Payne said. “We make sure that no matter who walks through that door, they’ve got a friend. It’s something that’s missing in a lot of queer bars these days.”
You may come for the open mic nights or the dancing or the cheap drinks, but the company is what will keep you in one of Denver’s best queer spaces.
“When you walk through that door and sit down across from a bartender, or sit next to a stranger, you’re not leaving here without a friend or at least a good night,” Payne said. “It truly is a special place.”
Best selection of every book and record, ever. Period.
Black & Read Music, Books & Games
If you need a book or want to find a record, no matter how little-known, you can count on finding it at Black & Read. Think you’re oh-so-hip because your favorite musician or writer is super obscure? We’re willing to bet that this place has a whole section on the person in question. They also have a gaming section and even some clothes. If you have hours to kill, then this is the place to be.
Chicest brothel-turned-restaurant around
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Denver
What was once a low-key brothel is now a happening restaurant with a focus on indulgence. Built originally in 1894, the building itself makes it onto the National Register of Historic Places; tell me that isn’t trendy and posh. The restaurant honors its history as a brothel, peepshow parlour, and flop joint by infusing its main floor and basement with edgy and provocative decor.
Now hosting beautiful and ornate boudoir-esque themes, the restaurant is home to nightly music and talents ranging from an open-mic night to jazz bands and even burlesque events and peepshows. Yes, you read that correctly—peepshows.
They’ve also got kickass brunch offers, including bottomless mimosas. Bottomless, because obviously one mimosa is never enough. Last call for these babies isn’t until 3:15 p.m. So if you’re hungover and need a minute to gather yourself and maybe touch up last night’s makeup before you dive back into drinking, they’ve got you.
And on your way out, grab a few condoms. In line with their pleasure-based atmosphere, they opted for condoms instead of those nasty little mints for on your way out the door. And we can bet that after some of their unique drinks and a peepshow, you’ll put those condoms to good use.
Best drunk munchies spot to eat your feelings after a bad night
We’ve all had those nights when, instead of in bed with an attractive human or on stage earning a round of applause, we find ourselves crying into a bag of takeout food and drying our tears with taco wrappers. Next time you’re in one of those moods, head on over to Illegal Pete’s. The local atmosphere and awesome burritos will make it all seem OK, at least for a little while. And the loud punk they play in the bar will drown out the sounds of your sobs.
Oh, and did we mention that they don’t have a drive-thru and are actually open until super late inside? That discourages drunk driving and encourages walking, which OUT FRONT is all about. They do a Chipotle or Qdoba-style line where you can create your own meal, with real veggies and meat, not fast food slop.
They are also a small, local chain, and are known for doing good in the community, like having trans rights fundraisers or donating their tips to the ACLU. And if all that hasn’t sold you yet, their queso is also to die for, and they have OUT FRONT on their news stands.
Best place to grab a piping hot cup of joe while getting glam
This trendy little coffee and cocktail shop exceeds all expectations. Not only is it edgy, hip, and super chill, but the coffee is delicious and drinks are on point. Whether you want a quick coffee to go or a sit and sip to escape your terrible office job, this is the place to go.
With a spacious interior and lots of seating, there’s literally no reason not to head over and take your sweet time enjoying a hot cup of coffee (or if you’re anything like me, a double gin and tonic) while you read over your busy schedule for the day.
And get this: they’ve even got a barber shop. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Get beautified and woke with coffee and a hair cut. I mean, come on, how ideal is that?
Best place to spit out tater tots from laughing
Mile High Hamburger Mary’s
Forget Sonic and its cheesy Hulu commercials; Hamburger Mary’s has the best tater tots in town. Hands down. Don’t argue, because you’ll simply lose. They are perfectly fried to a crisp, light perfection, and their seasoning explodes in your mouth. Not to mention they are usually matched with delicious burgers that fit the restaurant’s eccentric theme.
Oh yeah, and patrons of the iconic queer restaurant are also treated to some gut-wrenching events throughout the week featuring some of Denver’s funniest drag queens. The most popular of these take place at Bingo on Mondays at 8 p.m. and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. They also have a scrumptious mimosa brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
Hamburger Mary’s has a long tradition of bringing queer people together for food and “being Mary,” but the Mile High Hamburger Mary’s is expanding on the queen-centric chain—hosting sports-viewing parties and karaoke.
So forget Sonic, go to Mile High Hamburger Mary’s, and try to keep those tots in your mouth.
Best beer bust
It’s been a year since The Wrangler strapped up its boots and headed north out of the Uptown neighborhood and into the RiNo district. Now comfortably nestled on the corner of Downing Street and 31st, the Wrangler boasts three full floors of a fun, sexy time for all. They also just updated their policy on patron’s I.D. pictures matching their gender.
The Wrangler’s move hasn’t stopped its customers from getting out for its weekly and monthly events, especially Beer Bust. On any given Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., both full-sized patios, the dance floor, and the main bar area are packed. The only spare space is the area around the pool tables, which is only out of courtesy to the guests who want to play. It’s a Denver staple for a reason, and it gives Sunday Funday a whole new meaning.
Throughout the week, you can grab lunch at Hungry Bear Kitchen or hit the weekday events like Trivia hosted by Geeks Who Drink.
Don’t let the weekend end on a boring note!
Best place to see queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race
Tracks hosts one of the best drag shows in the nation, lead by the gorgeous, talented Nina Flowers, who stole our hearts in season one of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We don’t say this lightly. With the growing popularity of drag, shows are getting better and better, thanks in part to the money they pull by featuring RuPaul contestants. But Drag Nation earned its reputation as one of the best and it’s not letting it slip away.
Every final Friday of the month, Tracks brings out some of the show’s most iconic queens to stomp the stage alongside Denver’s best local gurls.
Tracks continually delivers fun themes and great music on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, usually starting at 9 p.m. It has cemented their legacy as a premiere cultural center for LGBTQ and drag culture in the Denver community.
For young people, Tracks is a place to go for a fun time in a safe space, and it has been providing that kind of atmosphere for nearly 40 years. Hit the ATM and come tip these queens!
p.s. There’s a special spot in hell reserved for those who only tip the famous queens. Support your local drag artists!