Friday, April 17, 2009


Poor Denver. It wants respect! Always has. Yet the happy gloss of its Chamber of Commerce brochures looks like an Easter dress on a $20 hooker – unconvincing.
Visitors are being inundated with facts, figures and suggestions on where to go, what to do and how to fill the coffers of the local merchants. Exhibits, tours, and special events cram the calendar.
The city has long suffered from the most immense inferiority complex in American history, constantly checking the shine on its shoes and the crease in its pants.
But there is a dark side to the Queen city of the Plains. What our apologists fail to understand is that the sleazy, small-time life of Denver is its true, emblematic life. Those of us who know the town can tell you where the real action, danger and excitement is. Unsurprisingly, most of it is near Colfax.
So, strap on. Take money, pain relievers, methods of self-defense, and your Spanglish dictionary.


See for schedule and map

Get oriented. The longest commercial street in America, Colfax Avenue sprouts up at the base of the foothills and stretches, straight as a string, practically out to Kansas. The 15 (you must take the local, not the express) covers only East Colfax, but that’s by far the sleaziest part. For a $2, you can ride all day, and watch the dregs of humanity at play. Want to witness drug deals? Want to have a crazy person explained his or her Unified Field Theory to you? Get propositioned in the back? It’s all possible, and they hose it out later.

Runner-up: Hanging out under the Speer Boulevard bridges

4601 Sheridan Blvd.
(303) 477-1621

These 100-year-old pleasure grounds are legendary, primarily as a place where scary, dilapidated rides are operated by drug-addled teenagers. Always the cheap alternative to Elitch’s, its state of neglect is inspiring, in a creepy way – and the Art Deco touches are still in place.


1405 Ogden St.
(303) 832-1311

There are any number of talented inkers in town, but Twisted Sol is right down the street from the Ogden Theater and close to many of Capitol Hill’s skankiest hangouts. If the experience exhausts you, you can check into the Royal Host Motel nearby. Check for hourly rates.


1215 20th St.
(303) 295-2160

At 20th and Lawrence, this long-standing bastion of porn is truly a descent into the Inferno. The pawed-over mags, the dusty blow-up pals and ridiculous sexual aids, the desperate women who entertain in the back – Kerouac could walk in here and not know it’s another century. Abandon hope all ye who enter here – and NO BROWSING!

Runners-up: Shotgun Willie’s, P.T.’s, Kitty’s Adult Emporiums, Dandy Dan’s


Many locations: visit

Hey! Mayor Hickenlooper has basically declared pot smoking legal during the DNC, so load up and light up, kids! Freaky’s is by far the friendliest, most laid-back of Denver head shops (ahem, we mean tobacco-smoking paraphernalia dispensaries). Plus, they have black-light posters so that you can Recreate ’68 in your basement or garage.

Runner-up: Heads of State


5250 W. 38th Ave.
(303) 424-1822

Remember when playing pool was cool for about five minutes? POSERS! Now they’re gone, and you have the pool halls to yourselves again. Of course, most of the old-school joints are out of business now, too. Hank’s, nee Family Fun Center, nee Paradise Billiards, could be the oldest billiards place left in the area.

Runners-up: Table Steaks, any dive with a bar table


740 W. Colfax Ave.
(303) 825-5443

Where do you go when you can’t go home? This 24-hour eatery has gone through many incarnations, but it’s still the place to get eggs and pancakes at 4 a.m. any number of novels could be inspired just by sitting and ear-flopping the conversations in the next booth.


1231 W. 38th Ave.
(303) 455-9311

The Holy Grail of Denver-style Mexican food. (Let the fighting begin.) This modest establishment has a take-out window: The End. No tables, no chairs – most people eat it sitting on their cars in the gravel lot out back. But what you get is fresh, hot, tasty, spicy and cheap – love on a paper plate! The colon-puckering green chile is guaranteed to relieve even the worst hangover.

Runners-up: Las Delicias, Benny’s, El Noa Noa, Pete’s Satire, Taco de Mexico, Senor Pepe’s, Taqueria Patzcuaro, Senor Burrito’s, Tosh’s Hacienda


5302 W. 25th Ave.
(303) 237-3524

I know, I know – Denver has terrible pizza. It’s the altitude. Still, you can’t go wrong in this happy hut of homers. Besides being a cozy refuge for diehard Broncos fans, the thin-crust, tangy pie they serve goes well with the house drink – a large, chilled, cheap glass schooner of Coors or Coors Light on tap! It almost makes the beer taste good.

Runners-up: Bonnie Brae Tavern, Famous Pizza, Pietra’s


2022 E. Colfax Ave.
(303) 320-9200

Not ruined yet. This classic dive, the black walls of which are encrusted with weirdness, has hosted more incredible bands than any other alternative venue in town. The cramped space in the place makes it possible to get poked in the ear by a guitar, or catch an errant drumstick as it flies over the bar. The Lair has survived many attempts at gentrification – let’s hope they never take down or clean the garish striped awning that marks it.


1800 E. Colfax Ave.
(303) 333-9106

Please get a tetanus shot before entering this most hallowed of shitholes. Your life is not worth a farthing there, you can probably get whatever you need in the bathroom . . . and they sell alcohol as well! Their comedy nights are the perfect training ground for young stand-ups, who face the homeless, the completely faced, and those who want to hear a band instead. Bathrooms are the worst in town!

Runners-up: Too many to list, but noted are Don’s Mixed Drinks, Stadium Inn, Lancer Lounge, Hangar Bar


777 Bannock St.
(303) 436-6000

Did you like “E.R.”? “St. Elsewhere”? “Chicago Hope”? This is the NC-17 version.
The Denver Health Medical Center is an A-1 institution, but its old nickname, “The Knife and Gun Club” is well-deserved. The victims and perpetrators of mayhem all across town usually wind up here, clogging the corridors with their cries and stench. If you end up in line for treatment, bring a book.

Oh, I could go on for days. Just be sure to look down the side streets, and amble down the alleys. You’ll find the real Denver there.

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