So what'll it be: Martinis, microbrews or Pabst Blue Ribbon? Original music, DJs or cover bands? Ten-gallon Stetsons, buzz cuts or Bettie Page bangs?
All of the above are ready and waiting somewhere within a one-mile radius of downtown Colorado Springs.
The main drag is Tejon Street, which is basically the Springs' version of Bourbon Street. Except for its absence of strip clubs. And beads. And the things people do for those beads. (Being the home of New Life Church and Focus on the Family, this is about as close as we get.)
Of course, one thing New Orleans doesn't have is cowboys, at least not of the indigenous variety. Whereas Colorado Springs has the "WORLD FAMOUS" Cowboys (25 N. Tejon St., worldfamouscowboys.com), a quarter-century-old institution that's racked up enough national media attention to justify its proud slogan. There's also a bowling alley upstairs, plus occasional appearances by touring contemporary country acts — and the occasional veteran outlaw like David Allan Coe — to inspire all kinds of boot-scootin', line-dancin' and general shit-kickin'. But on just about any night, the club can get a line dance going just by cueing up Clarence Carter's "Strokin'" or Trace Adkins' "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk."
Step outside Cowboys and you won't be hearing either of those songs, as the neo-honky-tonk vibe gives way to the din of rock and pop hits blasting from nearby bars.
Local cover bands like Wrestle With Jimmy and 40 Oz. Freedom Fighters play regularly at Gasoline Alley (28 N. Tejon St., gasolinealleycs.com) and the Thirsty Parrot (32 S. Tejon St., thirstyparrot.net), while at the Mansion (20 N. Tejon St., mansioncs.com) you can be pummeled by "75,000 watts of power" and a karaoke room that promises a selection of 100,000-plus songs.
Meanwhile, if you prefer more beats per minute, you can head a block east to the Underground (110 N. Nevada Ave., undergroundbars.com), an LGBTQ-friendly venue where house music shares the stage with burlesque and boylesque shows. Live DJs (including Indy readers' favorite, DJ GÜ) also frequent SODO (527 S. Tejon St., sodonightlife.com).
For more low-key revelry, Oscar's Tejon Street (333 S. Tejon St., oscarstejonstreet.com) and SouthSide Johnny's (528 S. Tejon St., southsidejohnnys.biz) host live music that leans more toward blues, Motown and rockabilly.
More drinking, less dancing
If you prefer a higher beer-to-bro ratio, there are plenty of central Springs establishments to cater to your needs.
Let's begin with some craft breweries. The last time the Colorado Brewers Guild counted, our town was neck-and-neck with Fort Collins with nine breweries each. (Denver leads the pack with 14, followed by Boulder with 11.) In fact, you can find two breweries right in the heart of downtown.
Tourists staying at the Antlers Hilton will find Judge Baldwin's (4 S. Cascade Ave., 473-5600) right off the hotel lobby. The brewery can lay claim to being the city's oldest, established back in 1991. OK, not exactly gold-rush era, but stay with us. Baldwin's has great happy hours and just recently updated its dining menu, which includes everything from Kobe burgers to a green chile lobster bisque.
More adventurous hotel guests can venture across the street to Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., phantomcanyon.com). Originally started by now-Governor John Hickenlooper, Phantom Canyon is a solid dining and drink spot in the heart of downtown. The smoked gouda beer cheese soup is rightfully famous; the pool tables are the finest around; and brewer Alan Stiles keeps a range of pleasing selections on tap, like the Railyard Ale and seasonal Barley Wine, plus interesting specials, often named after Simpsons references. (Think: Jebus Braggot.)
A little south of downtown, Bristol Brewing Company (1647 S. Tejon St., bristolbrewing.com) is preparing its plan for world domination — or at least for a big move across Tejon Street. The city's preeminent brewhouse is growing into the old Ivywild School, where its Laughing Lab Scottish Ale (among other brews) can be made in larger quantities, and served in a bigger tasting room. But catch the old location before it's gone; it's full of charm and pretzels (no food) and houses the nascent Black Fox Brewing Company (blackfoxbrewing.com), a side project of Bristol head brewer John Schneider.
The final central-district brewery is north of downtown, along the North Nevada Avenue corridor. Great Storm Brewing (204 Mountain View Lane, greatstormbrewing.com) opened up in March, and features eight house beers on tap, including brewer Jeff Jacobs' oatmeal-rum-raisin stout. The brewery's open from 11 to 9, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 11 to 10, Fridays and Saturdays.
For more spirited tastes, meanwhile, be sure to check out downtown's V Bar (19 E. Kiowa St., 471-8622). There you'll find a strawberry gin martini — Broker's gin, muddled strawberry and a hint of mint — along with some great deejays. (Backpack rap segued into early Can? It's been known to happen.) Word Wednesday poetry slams and regular hip-hop and indie rock showcases make this bar one of downtown's most interesting.
Find more martinis at Shuga's (702 S. Cascade Ave., shugas.com), including the exotic Blushing Geisha, which brings together lychee, lemon ginger, Chambord and champagne. There's also steamier fare like the Irish Monk (Frangelico, Irish cream, coffee, whipped cream), dinner, dessert, and the occasional low-key touring act.
Feeling Irish? Then head back to Tejon for two fine drinking establishments, McCabe's Tavern (520 S. Tejon St., mccabestavern.com) and Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub (21 S. Tejon St., jackquinnspub.com).
Or, if you're just looking for a great neighborhood bar, pay a visit to Tony's (311 N. Tejon St., tonysdowntownbar.com) — where burgers, pickled eggs and fried cheese curds are washed down with house shot specials and pitchers of PBR — or Johnny's Navajo Hogan (2817 N. Nevada Ave., 344-9593), an awesome "roundhouse" space where you can get great service and a hot dog pizza.
We will rock you
If you're interested in original music, the kind that makes bar-goers look at the stage as well as each other, you have options.
The highest-profile touring acts continue to appear just outside the central area: The Black Sheep (2106 E. Platte Ave., blacksheeprocks.com, see here) has won the Indy's Best Venue category since it opened back in '06. But 2011's Best New Bar, Zodiac (230 Pueblo Ave., zodiacvenue.com) conveys a strong alt vibe, and with staging, sound, layout and furnishings that are much improved from the building's old Rocket Room days. In addition to touring acts and some of the town's best local bands, the venue offers theme evenings catering to geeks and goths.
Actually, goth types have two weekly opportunities to swirl their shrouds to the sound of Siouxsie & the Banshees and Bauhaus. Zodiac devotes Tuesday nights to its goth-industrial Worship, while the previously mentioned Underground has its long-running Black Sunday.
A couple blocks up from Zodiac is the Triple Nickel Tavern (26 S. Wahsatch Ave., 555nickel.com), a club owned by J.J. Nobody from the venerable local punk band, the Nobodys. Cheap drinks and lots of beer make local bands sound even better, and a full schedule of out-of-town bands range from members of Drag the River (J.J.'s their bassist) to T-Model Ford.
For more metallic bands, along with regular doses of hip-hop and punk rock, drive northeast to Union Station (2419 N. Union Blvd., unionstationrox.com). Located in a nondescript strip mall, the venue is a small world unto itself, with mostly local bands and a big sound system that tends to make earplugs advisable.