Best music venues in Denver: A guide to 10 must-visit concert halls, bars and clubs that are like no other

Denver’s reputation as a live-music mecca is rooted as much in our concert venues as it is in the artists they attract.

That’s always been true to some extent, but those venues needn’t be Red Rocks Amphitheatre in import or size. Lovingly preserved theaters, state-of-the-art venues rising from parking lots, and scrappy indie clubs are all proving there’s more on the must-visit list these days.

Countless worthy ones were left off this list for the sake of space — shiny new amphitheaters, sweaty clubs and gorgeous music halls — but trust us when we say we love them, too. Here we’re celebrating some of our favorite Denver venues that offer experiences none others can, and that might even be worth visiting on their own.

See denverpost.com/tag/music for more music news, previews and updates.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

This icon, which opened in 1941, is not only the best-looking venue in Colorado, it’s also arguably the world’s best (trust us when we say that). When the waves of wooden benches are full to 9,500 capacity, it feels like an otherworldly sea of humanity — especially flanked by towering stone formations, Creation Rock and Ship Rock. Playing there is a badge of honor for musicians, for everyone from the Beatles and Steve Martin to Bjork and Phoebe Bridgers. The park is free to visit during the day, so be sure to snap a pic on the same stage once occupied by Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and U2. (Oh, we could go on!) 18300 W. Alameda Parkway in Morrison. redrocksonline.com

Paramount Theatre

The slim, Art Deco façade and pulsing vertical signage of this downtown theater belie a grand old movie house inside. Opened in 1930, its heavy curtains back up touring musicians, stand-ups (dozens of whom have taped comedy specials there), authors, chefs, movies, musicals, drag queens and politicians. Comfy seats — minus the folding chairs often at the very front — and solid sightlines from the balcony make this 1,700-capacity venue as cozy as it is immaculately preserved. It’s also right off the 16th Street Mall, where the free shuttle runs all day and into the night, and close to other rideshare options and hotels. Make a night of it. 1621 Glenarm Place. paramountdenver.com

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

Competing with big-dog promoters in Denver is rough, but the purposefully moody Ophelia’s feels like another game entirely. With stellar booking (for a non-corporate-owned venue) and comfy capacity of around 400, it’s also a “gastro-brothel” (restaurant and former brothel/porn shop) with multi-level floors and a funky aesthetic. Colorful and intimate, with an impressively diverse lineup of genres and cabaret-style events, it also goes big with parties and themed happenings. There’s nothing else like it in town, but consider the nearby, poetry-and-jazz-driven Mercury Cafe to be its spiritual progenitor. 1215 20th St. opheliasdenver.com

Gothic Theatre

It’s worth the short drive or bus ride along South Broadway to visit this gem, which has consistently offered some of the best sound mixing and stage production in Colorado while supporting huge names on their way up (Lady Gaga, anyone?). Indie, metal, hip-hop and bluegrass — it’s all there. It’s another art-deco triumph, opened in 1925, although updated a bit more aggressively with moody pools of light, an open floorplan on the first level, and tiered, movable balcony seating. The horseshoe setup allows for two bars, top and bottom, and cocktail tables upstairs. Absolutely dialed in. 3263 South Broadway in Englewood. gothictheatre.com

Hi-Dive

This grungy South Broadway favorite is not necessarily Denver’s oldest or most notable indie club — it competes for that title with Herman’s Hideaway, the Lion’s Lair, Carioca Cafe (Bar Bar), Lost Lake, Globe Hall and too many others to list. But along with the RiNo-area Larimer Lounge, the 285-capacity room helped revolutionize Denver’s DIY music scene in the early 2000s. Its tenacious grip on competitive bookings for metal, R&B, singer-songwriter, experimental, country — you name it — and a foothold atop the relentlessly gentrifying Baker neighborhood make it an outpost of realness. It’s also a fest favorite for The Underground Music Showcase and High Plains Comedy Fest, and one of the coolest places in town. If you know, you know. (And now you do). 7 S. Broadway. hi-dive.com

Mission Ballroom

Perched on what’s now the outer edge of the River North Art District, the monolithic yet tidy Mission Ballroom is a magnetic presence that has drawn massive touring names with its adjustable layout (up to 4,000 capacity) and high-tech guts, resulting in consistently sold-out shows. It’s also a fresh addition, having opened in 2019 and only recently gotten worked over by crowds as the coronavirus pandemic has waned. Rave reviews of smooth experiences — short lines at bars and bathrooms, clear sightlines and sound — bode well for its future. 4242 Wynkoop St. missionballroom.com

The Grizzly Rose

There aren’t always lots of cowboy hats floating around Denver these days, but you’re sure to swim in them at this Country Western and classic-rock venue. Opened in 1989 and vaguely Nashville in its aesthetic, it consistently hosts top local and touring acts, including (awhile back, that is) Willie Nelson, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks. Located north of downtown, just east of Interestate 25, its 40,000-square-foot floorplan hides multiple bars; a stage and large dance floor; and billiards, arcade games and mechanical bull-riding. A scene unto itself. 5450 Lincoln St. grizzlyrose.com

Swallow Hill Music

Swallow Hill is Denver’s greatest champion of folk music. The nonprofit school and complex that grew out of the heritage-minded Denver Folklore Center hosts hundreds of shows annually at on-site venues such as Daniels Hall and the Tuft Theatre, as well as producing big-name touring series at Denver Botanic Gardens and elsewhere. Ukulele festivals and bluegrass banjo-jams and platinum-selling singer-songwriters and touring African drummers are all regular guests. Ticket prices? They’re pretty down-to-earth, too. 71 E. Yale Ave. swallowhillmusic.org

Bluebird Theater

This East Colfax Avenue anchor has remained at the forefront despite an explosion of competing, mid-sized venues. That’s due in part to its history — it’s a former movie house, opened in 1914 and renamed The Bluebird in 1922, and a rehabbed porn theater that infamously popped up in the movie “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.” But it’s got a personality of its own, like its Colfax neighbors the Fillmore and Ogden. It’s a long-favored stop for touring bands, album-release go-to, and consistently excellent destination for fans. If you haven’t seen a show at this gritty, 500-capacity club, you’re missing an important angle on Denver. Lots of tasty food and drinks along that stretch, too. 3317 E. Colfax Ave. bluebirdtheater.net

Dazzle Jazz

Local and national greats have made Dazzle a must-visit club not only in Denver but also in the nation. In addition to local legends such as the late, Grammy-winning Blue note artist Ron Miles, touring headliners have consistently visited Dazzle’s Denver locations over the years. Now in the historic, high-ceilinged Baur’s Building, just a few minutes’ walk from virtually anywhere in downtown, it has continued upping its ante with food and cocktails, 25 years on. We have a feeling the thoughtful booking, partnership with KUVO radio station, and lovely atmosphere will sustain it for even longer. 1512 Curtis St. dazzledenver.com

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