Head west of downtown and you may notice that, in addition to increasingly higher concentrations of patchouli and pine tar soap in the air, there are a whole lot more bars and clubs that cater to a down-home assortment of bikers, cowboys, pagans, white Rastas and anyone else who longs for the freedom to be found in what's left of the wild frontier. You'll also find a fair amount of music and no shortage of alcohol.
Both of the above are specialties of the house at the Crystola Roadhouse (20918 U.S. Hwy. 24, Woodland Park, myspace.com/crystolaroadhouse), where owner Darryl Maggs presents a wide array of roots-rockin' artists that range from Muddy Waters sideman Willie "Big Eyes" Smith to Corb Lund & the Hurtin' Albertans. A wood-hewn getaway that looks, feels and sounds like an old-school roadhouse, the Crystola is really all the reason you need to drive to Woodland Park.
Even so, you can always head up the road a bit further until you come to Buck's Mountain Saloon & Grill (116 W. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, 686-1212), which is basically like stepping into some other world where Kitty Wells meets up with the Country Bear Jamboree. Woodland Park's friendliest neighborhood watering hole is a fine place to wile away your miseries or celebrate hard-won victories in empathetic company. And while we can't promise a cowgirl brawl while you're there, it's been known to happen.
While in Woody P, also hit BierWerks Brewery (121 E. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, bierwerks.com), a converted service station that now features authentic German-style beers by Jeff Aragon and Brian Horton. Enjoy meat and cheese platters or a giant salty pretzel with your dunkel or doppelbock. Keep an eye out around next February for a second annual Winter Bier Fest, hosted by BierWerks at the nearby Ute Pass Cultural Center.
If you'd like something a bit closer to town and further flung into the cosmos, the more hippied-out pleasures of Manitou Springs may be your best option. Once there, you'll find the Ancient Mariner (962 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, tinyurl.com/ancientmar). Not so many people reading Coleridge there, but you will find an array of west side talent, including the musicians who turn up for Thursday's acoustic open mics hosted by the talented and hirsute Joe Johnson.
Elsewhere in Manitou, you can sample further acoustic offerings, along with live classical music and the occasional Americana act, at Marika's Coffeehouse (739 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, marikascoffeehouse.com). Or if you prefer listening to country, bluegrass and folk artists while perusing outdoor clothing — and who doesn't? — Kinfolks Mountain Shop (950 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, kinfolksmanitou.com) can help you out with that. And if all that's not enough, just head across the street to the Townhouse Lounge (907 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, thetownhouselounge.com) for cover-free performances by local talents with weird names like Lipstick Voodoo and Whiskey Monkeys.
Or roam just a couple blocks further to Swirl Wine Bar (717 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, swirlwineemporium.com), the backroom offspring of Sharon and Andrew Palmer's Swirl Wine Emporium. It tied for first as Best Wine Bar in the Indy's most recent readers' poll, and its cozy parlor room with high-back seats and art-decked walls is a good place to enjoy quality international salamis and cheeses, among other offerings. The outdoor patio charms as well.
You can also get your fine wine on at Mona's Wine Cellar (733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, monalisafondue.com). Enjoy your tastings with a side of cheese or chocolate fondue with live music on Friday evenings.
For heartier fare, check out Old Colorado City's Front Range Barbeque (2330 W. Colorado Ave., frbbq.com/west), where the symbiotic relationship between ribs and roots is manifested in the best ways possible. With a comfortable patio that's heated and tented in the winter, you can catch local heroes like Grass It Up and John-Alex Mason bringing bluegrass and blues to the hungry masses.
Jazz fans should check the live music schedule at Motif (2432 W. Cucharras St., 635-5635, motifwest.com), which sets itself apart by offering a hip, contemporary and cost-effective night out. Reservations are recommended.
At Thunder & Buttons II (2415 W. Colorado Ave., thunderandbuttons.com) — where regulars Heather Joffe and Eric Ivey assumed ownership last September — you can catch a popular open mic night on Thursdays, where any band that wants to play is welcome. The drink selection includes rotating craft beers, and happy hour from 3 to 7. Also, the grilled turkey with raspberry chipotle sauce seriously hits the spot.
From there, it's just a short crawl to Meadow Muffins (2432 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0583), which captures the classic feel of the west side with intentionally random, but eye-catching decor. A recent remodeling has upgraded this famous destination to accommodate private parties and receptions. There are DJs and dancing downstairs, ladies' night on Thursday along with karaoke, and live music every Friday and Saturday.
And finally, don't forget Benny's Restaurant & Lounge (517 W. Colorado Ave., 634-9309), where the line of choppers parked outside guarantees a good time inside, even if you choose not to do Pee-Wee Herman's Tequila dance across the bar.