An anti-guide to the countercultural establishments that keep Denver weird
Denver is weird…and we love it! In the first installation of The Meow Wolf Guide to the Denver Underground, we introduced Denver’s wild ethos that wafts through the air like the tangy essence from one of our finest legal dispensaries. We explored the shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, venues, museums, and theaters that embody Denver’s bizarre and beautiful soul. Our only problem was that there was so much more weirdness to cover!
Meow Wolf is thrilled to unveil a second part to the anti-guide for your fall goth dates. From punk book stores to haunted Art Deco cocktail bars, these Denver establishments remind us that while our city is changing as much as the leaves, the delightfully twisted underbelly is still alive and thriving. Let’s all support these spots, these beacons of counterculture, because these havens and haunts—where the artists, misfits, great thinkers, and outcasts can convene—are the heart of the Queen City of the Plains.
2 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209 • (303) 778-7579 • mutinyinfocafe.com
Mutiny is like your punk uncle’s cool basement. You’ll find books (including comic books, local authors, and gently used), records, collectibles, pinball machines, coffee and tea, ample spaces to chill and read, and even a cereal bar.
Jim Norris and Matt Megyesi have a storied past that stretches back into their punk roots of hopping trains together. They dreamed of starting something like Mutiny for years, and in 2013 they bought what was called Mutiny Now! from neighborhood anti-establishment curmudgeon Jack Jensen. They filled it with the stuff of nerdy punk dreams. They hosted local book readings. The dream that they shared became a reality…but it’s been tested many times over.
Amidst the recent turbulence of America’s political climate, Mutiny made a choice to be outspoken. They provided a community fridge for the unhoused population in their neighborhood and supply drives for the 2020 racial justice protests.
Then, the Covid pandemic shut everything down. Matt and Jim had to shift the way they operated dramatically. They opened a to-go window to serve coffee and created curated gift boxes. When things seemed to be on the up and up, Mutiny co-owner Matt Megyesi got sick. He made it to the hospital two days before his heart stopped due to high blood pressure, and was in and out of consciousness for weeks. The community rallied behind him.
Over four months later, Matt got out of the hospital and began triumphantly spinning “Heart Attack Man” by Beastie Boys. Now, Mutiny hosts community markets on their sidewalk on weekends with everything from thrift pop-ups to soap makers and pole dancing troupes. They’ve successfully opened a location in Trinidad (Colorado), with rumors of more locations in different cities on the horizon.
Visit Mutiny Information Cafe on the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth. Follow them on social media @mutinyinfocafe, @mutinycomics, @mutinyoutdoormarket, or @mutinytrinidad.
For a tour of Denver’s record store underground, check out Twist & Shout Records, which has a large selection of CDs, records, DVDs, merch, and books, as well as the smaller but concentrated Wax Trax, both specializing in High Fidelity-levels of music nerdery without the elitism.
Indie bookstores of note include the comic warehouse extravaganza that is Mile High Comics, “Denver’s best kept secret” of Black and Read, a Cap Hill shop with a great selection, Kilgore Books, and rainy day afternoons spent at the classic Tattered Cover, a bookstore so well-versed in resistance that they won a Colorado Supreme Court ruling to protect customers’ privacy in 2002.
If you’re looking for costume stores, craft stores, and hobby shops, look no further than The Wizard’s Chest. This vast wonderland of nerdery has rooms for people to play Magic: The Gathering or D&D, as well as costumes, games, toys, and more. Fancy Tiger Crafts is a maker’s dream, with all the cutest yarns and colorful fabrics to make your own clothes and crafts, while also hosting craft classes. Fifty-Two 80’s is jam-packed with ‘80s memorabilia.
For shops specializing in the occult, oddities, and the just plain strange, there’s the witchcraft store and community hub RitualCravt; The Terrorium Shop, which specializes in terrariums and taxidermy; oddities dealer The Learned Lemur; and a wild collection of the macabre and weird (but always ethically sourced) at Room of Lost Things.
6715 W Colfax Ave, Lakewood, CO 80214 • (303) 232-5115 • casabonitadenver.com
For immersive restaurants, we must pay homage to the OG immersive experience on Colfax: Casa Bonita. The grandiose, Pepto Bismol pink, Spanish-style structure opened in Lakewood in 1974 as part of a chain of restaurants based out of Oklahoma City. It featured cliff divers, flame jugglers, strolling mariachis, gold and silver mines, a magic theater, a haunted tunnel, an arcade with Skee-Ball, different geographical areas of Mexico depicted in different parts of the restaurant, and perhaps as an afterthought, some Mexican food.
When Casa Bonita went bankrupt during the pandemic, it was sought after by different groups, but ultimately bought by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of the TV show South Park. They hired Chef Dana Rodriguez as their first employee, an auspicious sign that the food might improve. The restaurant is offering tours until they officially reopen at a date to be announced.
In November of 2021, a mysterious sign in the Highlands popped up claiming that it was the site for the next collaboration between Casa Bonita and Meow Wolf. After conjectures from Reddit threads and news articles, it was discovered to be an elaborate Rickroll done by Denver resident and artist, Gabriel Gutierrez. Meow Wolf has reached out to both the artist and Casa Bonita, and while a collaboration isn’t in the works, perhaps a hangout or sopapilla eating contest is in order.
If you’re looking for other dining opportunities that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another world, try Gaetano’s, the historic Italian restaurant that will make you feel like a mobster; Linger, which serves hip fusion fare in the renovated, rooftop-featuring restaurant that was a former Olinger Mortuary; or try Himalayan cuisine from Sherpa House in Golden.
For classic Denver eats, go to Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest steakhouse where Rocky Mountain Oysters are a specialty (vegetarians might steer clear of this one). Fun fact: they had the first liquor license in the state after Prohibition. Also, try Angelo’s Taverna, a pizza and oyster bar that is beloved by other restaurateurs; Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax, a Greek diner that can be particularly entertaining in the middle of the night; La Fiesta in Five Points, a Mexican restaurant that serves large platters of hearty Mexican food and delicious margaritas in a space that seems frozen in 1964; and Illegal Pete’s, the fast casual punk rock den that mixes SoCal burritos and queso with a full bar to make it a rite of passage hangout for college students.
A discourse on underground Denver bars would be lacking if it weren’t for the classic, old school Denver haunts. Charlie Brown’s is a piano bar with a seated smoking section that entices crusty regulars to marinate for hours, and was a stomping ground for Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady; Bar Bar is quite possibly the diviest dive in the entire world; My Brother’s Bar’s claim to fame is being the oldest bar in Denver, with a cute backstory on the name; PS Lounge is a Colfax cash-only institution with a jukebox, pool tables, free roses, and rose shots; Tracks is a decades-old gay bar and dance hall featuring rotating theme nights and music on multiple floors; Charlie’s is “a big, gay, cowboy bar” (Westword) on Colfax; The Thin Man is an intellectual’s meet-up bar known for their house-infused vodka; Cruise Room is a glamorous icon in the Oxford Hotel known for its historic Art Deco style and for being haunted as hell; Nob Hill Inn was called “both beloved and feared” (Denverite) for its gritty dive bar history; and Broadway Roxy, formerly Syntax Physic Opera, has a red velvet vintage stage backdrop and thankfully hasn’t changed too much with the new ownership (because we liked it how it was).
If you’re looking for quirky, arty, or immersive bars and clubs, try Ghost Donkey, which specializes in mezcal, tequila, and nachos amidst vibrant neon decor; Beacon, an artist-created dance bar designed with human connection in mind that has immersive rooms with Burning Man ambience; Forest Room 5, which opened in the aughts during the #campvibes trend, but has aged well in its cuteness; Grandma’s House, a brewery blanketed in comfort, kitsch, and board games; Happy Camper in the Highlands; the former brothel called Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox that also serves food and hosts incredible DJ nights and themed brunches (think Radiohead brunch); and the art-school-chic cool kids hangout, Pon Pon.
Do you like to laugh? Well, then you are in luck, friend. Denver has an excellent comedy scene that has spawned national TV stars, like comedy trio The Grawlix, and has become the perfect setting for the cool indie fest, High Plains Comedy Festival. Up-and-coming comedians cut their teeth at rooms like the divey Squire Lounge, Denver Comedy Lounge, Rise Comedy, or the Bug Theater. Speaking of the Bug Theater, this indie venue hosts fun nights such as Nerd Nite Denver—“Think Discovery Channel, but live and with beer”—and Ignite Denver, which pits contestants against each other in a slide show competition.
Curious Theater Company is a theater committed to elevating voices of the marginalized, while also staying bold and feisty. Their mantra is: “No guts, no story.” Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret hosts all manner of burlesque, boylesque, drag, and cabaret, all in the basement of one of the most picturesque historic buildings in Denver, Daniels and Fisher Tower (the Clocktower) downtown. For those looking for the circus troupe of counterculture, Rainbow Militia is a women-owned, full production circus troupe and entertainment company that specializes in immersive experiences.
Perhaps Denver’s new cred as an arts destination is due to all the different arts districts that have bubbled up over the past decade or so, like 40 West Arts District in Lakewood along West Colfax, which features galleries like Pirate: Contemporary Art. The Art District on Santa Fe has been attracting artists and art lovers in droves on First Friday for nearly two decades. Westwood bridges the stretch of Morrison Road between Alameda and Mississippi. Celebrating Hispanic-centric culture with murals and galleries, it is one of Colorado’s newest Certified Creative Districts. The Tennyson Street Cultural District mixes fun shops and restaurants with art galleries and bookstores (like Tattered Cover, mentioned above). The Golden Triangle is a wedge in central Denver that boasts 16+ art galleries alongside parks and restaurants, not to mention the Denver Art Museum itself.
RiNo (or River North Art District) was a collection of artist warehouses in the historic neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points and Cole. This area has seen a monumental shift—some say gentrification—that has turned it into a burgeoning hip art scene. For a real Denver arts education, take it to the streets with the Denver Graffiti Tour in RiNo. This guided tour will teach the street art curious about the dos and dont’s of street art etiquette, street artists’ signature tags, and the storied history of public art in Denver, pulling no punches.