In today's big-box retail world, cavernous liquor stores come and go across metro markets. But here, one business was far ahead of that curve. Cheers Liquor Mart started big and, back in the 1990s, went bigger — but not too big. What has made Cheers so enduringly popular has been its emphasis on quality as well as quantity, not to mention service and adaptability.
Owner/manager Jack Backman fully understands how the tough economy has affected Cheers' customers. "People are looking more for value than for the top-shelf stuff," he says. "A lot of the really high-end products have slowed down."
Backman's challenge is spotting trends before they develop, whether it means more variety in craft brews or flavored liquors.
"For a while there, the craft brews were decreasing," he says. "Everyone went to six-packs, but now a lot of the small breweries just make bombers, so we put in a whole new section just for those. Many beer connoisseurs are looking for the bombers, and they're willing to pay from $6 to $15 a bottle for the good ones."
Then there are the flavored whiskeys and rums. Backman rattles off a long list of different-flavored vodkas in his inventory, from bacon and salmon (no kidding) to chiffon cake.
To stay ahead of competition, Cheers has innovated elsewhere. For instance, you can pick out any bottle and have a custom-made label that includes any photos and messages you want. Initially, Backman took orders and had someone do the work. Now he has the computer software along with an in-house staffer who makes the labels while customers wait.
"The only restriction is that we have to keep the back label on," Backman says. "On the front, we can remove the original label and replace it with anything you want, and we've done it for weddings, birthdays, gifts and businesses. We do it with liquor, wine and even on bombers of beer."
Cheers' other services that might surprise you: home delivery, party planning, in-home wine tastings, weekly e-newsletters and Internet blasts when special shipments arrive.
Still, there are advantages to being big. The highly popular Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey out of Denver sends six cases every other week to Colorado Springs. Cheers, Backman proudly says, gets two of those cases.
That's how a liquor store stays on top. — RR
Five years old and still going strong, the Black Sheep has taken our Venue category every year since '06. The windowless all-ages club has surprisingly good sound (that's Malakai's Chris Forsythe behind the board) and a roster of touring acts that keeps improving. "A few shows that stood out for me were Fitz and the Tantrums, and Doug Benson," says general manager Chris Huffine, referring to recent appearances by the red-hot soul/pop band and the Super High Me comedian. "Those two were somewhat different than what we normally do, and both turned out well. So I'd like to think the club is headed in a direction where we can diversify a little more and try some new things." — BF
DJ GÜ(At SoDo Night Club, 527 S. Tejon St., 314-0420, sodonightlife.com; or on the radio)
As a kid, Steve Carney was nicknamed "Goo" by his friends because "Steve" was too common a name. Many years later, Goo has become GÜ, and has stuck in Colorado Springs as the top DJ. "My name's a little odd and weird," Carney says, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a big name here. Whether you see him at SoDo or hear him occasionally on the weekends on 96.1-FM The Beat, DJ GÜ will be doing what he loves best: "Seeing people's hearts warm up and knowing that they're having a good time drives my passion." — EC
Ann Marie Bell, SoDo Night Club(527 S. Tejon St., 314-0420, sodonightlife.com)
You've got to be great to dethrone former Rocket Room and current Zodiac bartender Dave Baumgartner, who reigned for three years at the top of this category. And SoDo's Ann Marie Bell clearly has no shortage of admirers. "She has a way about her, and everybody loves her," enthuses owner John Gowing, who brought Bell on board the upscale downtown club eight years ago. In a club with lots of sensory diversions, from DJs to live music to all manner of theme nights, Bell keeps the specialty martinis, margaritas and breezy banter flowing. "She always knows what to say and when to say it," says Gowing. "And she makes great drinks." — BF
Indy Music Awards Festival(Sept. 8, 2011, Stargazers Theatre and Event Center)
Join us, if you will, for a moment of celebration over the response to this summer's inaugural Indy Music Awards, which found more than 2,500 readers casting ballots for their favorite local musicians. This was followed in September by another successful debut: The Indy Music Awards Festival featured 15 performances by winning local artists, ranging from hip-hop's Black P to metallions Malakai to Americana faves the Haunted Windchimes. It'll all happen again in 2012, and we owe it to an amazing local music scene that's clearly primed to grow in the years to come. — BF
OK, so the Best Place to Meet Men — if you are a man — is Club Q. For the 30-and-older crowd, manager Tim Fernandez recommends Friday night, when the gay and lesbian bar transforms into a cabaret lounge featuring live singers, a drag show and magicians. Fernandez describes the Friday-night feel as "less of a crowd, more of an audience." For the 30-and-younger crowd, Saturday night's typical club dance party is the best bet for hook-ups, he says. (Club Q also won third place for best DJ.) Tuesday nights feature games galore with free pool, Wii on a 120-square-foot screen, beer pong and "The Ultimate Game Show" contest. Karaoke, bartending competitions, and an open drag show round out the rest of the week. — LJ
Bar manager Erica Bridger says she's never laced up with the locally famed Jack Quinn's Running Club. "Inexpensive beer is not my motivation for exercise," she says. And though it can seem hard to believe when you're seeing dozens of runners scampering through downtown on some Tuesday nights, plenty of people love Quinn's for other reasons: live music, bangers and mash, even its kid-friendliness. Perhaps all these factors have helped it earned the Best Irish Pub title for as long as we've had the category. But Bridger says the real draw to the wood-appointed downtown pub is the craic — that mythologized feeling of goodwill and welcome. — CH
Peaks & Pasties burlesque troupe(peaksandpasties.com)
This year's winner doesn't sell dildos or lingerie, but it has a similarly fun and frisky view on grown-up activities. Started by Lindzey Martucci, aka Lola Spitfire, almost four years ago, Peaks & Pasties has just seen its best year yet. "2011 has really been our year, really, to kick ass," Martucci says. With 16 veteran members, 30 core members and 20 to 25 apprentices, P&P holds a steady schedule of gigs around town, including quarterly "extravaganzas" at Stargazers Theatre and Event Center, in which burlesque stars from around the country make guest appearances. And there's even more to look forward to, according to Martucci, including a male burlesque show there in November and next year's Colorado Burlesque Festival, which she produces. Says Martucci: "We're just riding this sparkly, feathery, amazing wave." — EA
In a metro area where the masses crave margaritas, and know the difference between average and superb, The Loop stands out, year after year. The menu offers 16 choices, all in regular size or grande, from the Grand Tivo to the Merryberry (Frangelico, Chambord, sweet & sour, lime juice) to the ever-popular Horni Grandma with Grand Marnier. Yet, many Loop veterans are fine with ordering the House, especially if they ask the server to have it hand-poured. (You can notice the difference.) If it's a special occasion, ask about the choices of premium tequila. They'll cost up to $5 more, but hey, it's a special occasion. — RR
James Bond likes a dry martini. Louis Chavez prefers a strawberry gin martini, at least if he's drinking at the office. "It's not like one of the tropical drinks you can get," says V Bar's general manager. "It's like a real, classic cocktail," one made with a little muddled strawberry, a hint of mint and Broker's gin. V Bar does more than martinis, though. It's a specialty cocktail bar that hosts live events ranging from Word Wednesdays (see p. 57) to a ladies-only poker night held on the third Thursday of every month. And if you're wondering what the "V" stands for ... well, it doesn't stand for anything. It just sounds James Bond cool. — CF
On June 7, Jack Quinn's Running Club hit record attendance: 1,482 members ran the Tuesday night 5K that begins at the downtown Irish pub, loops north through Monument Valley Park and back south on Cascade Avenue. And though the group took this year's Bar Event award in addition to the Running Club award, club president Jesus Jimenez says, "It's definitely not just a bar event. ... The drinking part's optional." The club's focus is on helping the community get healthy and allowing people to experience downtown Colorado Springs. And, actually, their pets, too: Thanks to sponsor Peak Performance Veterinary Group, you can now check in your dog. And when you're shirted for your 10th run, your pup will also be recognized with his very own collapsible water bowl. — KA
Good food, good service, great atmosphere, lots of regulars and an intriguing beverage list (Knock Me Down and Kiss Me, anyone?) make Good Company worthy of its long-running reign in this category, suggest owners Bob and Nanci Jardon. With a widely appealing menu and a relaxed, fun and safe environment for both men and women, Good Company caters to clientele that's mainly age 25 and up. "It's a great place for date night," says Bob, who adds that for the hardcore karaoke performers, the range of music is endless. The only thing not on the song list? "Silent-movie music," he says with a chuckle. — SC
Some places become "neighborhood" places. Holy Cow Pub & Grill was born that way. Co-owner Chuck Schafer says that when he and his brother opened the spot at Stetson Hills and Powers almost a year ago, they dropped into local businesses and introduced themselves. They also mailed out discount cards to people in Holy Cow's ZIP code — and, in fact, still pass out cards at lunch every day. And they offer some pretty sweet Happy Hour deals to go along with their 11 TVs, multiple sports packages and food that Schafer says is "10 times better" than it was when they started. "We know the economy is tough, and everything is really hard," Schafer says, "so we pretty much went rock bottom to ... where people feel like they're getting more for their money." — KW
Say this for Meadow Muffins: It doesn't live in the past or rely on the same equation, year after year. After pushing a larger food menu for a while, now the focus is more on burgers, pizzas and wings, though if you talk to many who frequent the bar, the wings stand out. In fact, Meadow Muffins probably has the best wings west of I-25, and what's wrong with that distinction? It's still a humongous place, about 10,000 square feet, so you can party with a big group or hide in a quiet corner. Live music on weekends at the front bar, with DJs in the back, has developed its own following. And it's still a great place to go on Sundays to watch pro football. — RR
OK, so it's technically not in Monument. But we agree: Since the category should've been "Tri-Lakes" anyway, we should recognize O'Malley's, a fixture in the area since 1986, making this its 25th anniversary. To customers from the Springs and even south Denver, the lure is simple: Choose the exact size of your steak (ribeyes or New York strips are in the $10 to $20 range), then cook it yourself on the grill. You can do the same with a chicken breast or buffalo burger. Bar regulars come for the selection of great wings and at least a dozen draft beers, from Sam Adams to 1554 and Batch 19, and 30-plus tequilas. Oh, and if you have one too many, shuttles will take you home late at night. Now that's service. — RR
It's one of those places where everybody seems to know everybody else, says Branden Stinson, a bartender who says this watering hole is packed because of its good values and down-home atmosphere. "We hardly ever get complaints, and it shows," he says. "We have a lot of regulars." A big military hangout, the Hatch Cover hosts an average of one party a week to say farewell, welcome back or happy birthday. The menu offers a good sampling of soups, salads, appetizers and pizza, with crowd favorites including the wings and fish and chips. Beer specials and karaoke nights on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays make this place a bustling gathering spot for those in and out of uniform. — PZ
Despite its nearly 27 years and an appearance that's far more Cheers than "Penrose Room," the Keg has always thrived on innovation. Menu items refresh throughout the week, with more traditional items like pork chops and mashed potatoes on Monday and Tuesday, and steak dishes on Thursday. Depending on what's available, you may find fish on the menu, or killer soups come winter. Among the stand-bys are the buffalo burger, tenderloin burger and berry salads — the last of which wouldn't look out of place at a much fussier establishment. Recently, more than the menu has been in flux at the Keg: Matt Milar, son of the owner, says some scrubbing's brightened the place, and new wood floors and TVs have been installed. In the near future, Milar says, he plans to add more beers on tap. Oh, and the well-loved "Keg steak" — tender beef with crabmeat, artichoke hearts and white cheddar cheese sauce — will return. — JAS
After learning the trade at his family's upstate New York restaurant, Mike Davis picked up stakes and moved to Colorado Springs in 1997. Dishing an upstate New York staple of Beef on Weck — juicy roast beef on a kummelweck roll with a side of horseradish — and New York-style pizza, he has warmed the hearts of locals with a family-friendly vibe. Rocking the entertainment scene, Back East also showcases local cover bands like Martini Shot and Trademark Infringement, and is introducing "dueling pianos" on Thursday's Ladies Night. — MMR
Swirl tied for Best Wine Bar in 2010, but now sits, unrivaled, on the throne. With a constantly changing wine menu and unusual cocktail concoctions, Swirl implores guests to try something new. "People find favorite [wines] all the time," says owner Sharon Erale-Palmer. "I don't want people to get stuck." She stocks bottles from a variety of regions and price ranges, reaching for the obscure before the average. "Everybody has a California chardonnay on their menu," she says, but few boast Alsatian Riesling or South African Pinotage. Swirling to the future, the Palmers hope to expand Swirl's tapas menu. And eventually, Erale-Palmer sees herself getting into grape-growing and wine-making. — BA
Any place that can create something called the "Saffron Blaze" deserves a look. And after seeing the drink's ingredients, Summit deserves more than that: We're talking saffron spice steeped in Royal Tokaji, with Grand Marnier and Absolut Apeach. Throw in fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice, and you find yourself on the fast train to Tasty Town. And if a few of those lead to the need for a little grub, chef Bertrand Bouquin does "American Brasserie" like nobody else, in a space like nobody else's, filled with leather, glass, wood and metal accents, not to mention a gigantic, metallic revolving wine turret behind the bar. — BC
Walk into SouthSide Johnny's just once, and you probably wouldn't understand why the place would win this new category. That's because just one visit doesn't begin to tell the story. You have to go back, at different times, to get the full idea. SouthSide Johnny's has its regulars, but it also has its lunch crowd, its happy-hour crowd, its music-loving late-night crowd, its Saturday-Sunday brunch crowd and its "weekend warrior" motorcycle crowd, and they aren't the same people — though they do get along with each other quite well. You might see downtown attorneys, young and not-so-young professionals, or fans of Colorado College hockey (even CC head coach Scott Owens, along with former Tigers still living here). Put it all together, and that's how your bar crowd beats the rest. — RR
Follow Weber Street south to where it dead-ends in the historic Lowell School neighborhood, and you'll find Lofty's, a quaintly cool café/eatery that recently began offering well-chosen beer, wine and spirits. Opened by Rubbish co-founder Josh Kennard in the wake of the gallery's late 2010 closing, Lofty's captures the atmosphere of pre-Starbucks coffeehouses, where owners are on-site and, in the case of Kennard, culturally aware and conversational. In September, the venue celebrated its new liquor license and expanded hours (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) with 10 hours of live performances from some of our best local musicians. — BF
If you can't live 15 minutes without a cigarette when you have a drink in your hand, Oscar's is the place for you. Its screen-enclosed smoking porch makes you feel like part of the action even as you feed your habit. Since it's attached to the main part of the bar, you can sit down and enjoy your Corona while puffing away, which is probably why Oscar's has won this category four years in a row. While rustic and sometimes pretty chilly, the semi-outdoor smoking area has all a smoker really needs: Table service, an ashtray and no judgmental stares, all with a roof over your head. — PZ
Bristol's Beehive Honey Wheat(1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
The woman on the label may look '50s, but Beehive owes a lot to the '80s — namely, the hops it features. According to the venerable beeradvocate.com, Mount Hood hops (known for their "refined, spicy aroma and clean bittering") were first bred in 1983, and Chinook hops ("a wonderful herbal, almost smoky character") in '85. So this American-style wheat beer, which seamlessly integrates Black Forest honey, couldn't even have existed 30 years ago; now, you can get it at virtually every reputable liquor store in town. And so what if it's not summer anymore? Our advice: Peel off those leg warmers, make 'em into beer koozies, and enjoy. — KW
When the Rocket Room called it quits toward the end of last year, the chances of another, considerably posher venue rising, Phoenix-like, from its ashes seemed slim. "Getting people to come back to a bar that had the good and bad reputation of the former bars — Rocket Room, Cloud Nine, Prime Time — has been a bittersweet challenge," notes Zodiac co-owner Gentle Fritz, who tended bar at the Rocket Room and also dances in the Peaks & Pasties burlesque troupe. In the months since, the club has hosted both local and touring bands, burlesque performances, open mics and goth nights. "We have had everything from a singing hot dog in a wheelchair to some intense black metal," says the glamorous proprietress, who promises more to come. "We are comrades, friends, mothers and will be offering Zodiac to the service of this community for many years." — BF
Bristol's Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout(1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555, bristolbrewing.com)
OK, at this point, we need to say it again: Best Of is not rigged. We know lots of beer aficionados have their favorite craft brews for different times of year. It's just that Mike Bristol is smart enough to know that, too, so he came up with Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout, not just to win more awards (though he's the first to admit that honors are nice), but to please the faithful customers. For those who think they don't like dark beers, the Warlock is a smooth and enjoyable surprise, with flaked oatmeal and barley malt included in the recipe. Tip: Go to the brewery and try it there — most likely, you'll wind up taking home a couple growlers. — RR
During my first visit to Word Wednesdays at the V Bar a few weeks ago, I learn that "spittin' your rhymes" is a good thing, and that local hip-hop artist IslatiTheRevo does damn fine spoken word. The 30-year-old has been showing up at the V Bar every Wednesday since the event began over a year ago. Since it's open mic (with a headliner later in the evening), anyone can sign up to take the stage, so performers range from first-timers to guys like Revo, who says his roots come from spoken word: "I've been writing ever since I was 12."
Word Wednesdays' appeal, for Revo, is twofold. First, he says, "It's the best spot to be on a Wednesday in Colorado Springs," because even though to him the city as a whole isn't very welcoming to hip-hop culture, this event "brings a real hip-hop community for people to enjoy."
Second, Revo appreciates the V Bar environment. "It's a cool little spot, you know. It's intimate enough to where you can get people to listen and you can actually feel comfortable in your art. It's also free enough for people that don't come there for poetry to just enjoy themselves."
That "free" he refers to gets at the psychological, not financial — there is a five-buck cover, but keep in mind that the V Bar does offer drink specials like $3 tequila shots. If shots aren't your thing, a co-worker recommends the "Dark and Stormy," a blend of rum and ginger beer. And as this event revolves around the mighty word, it's a drink that's quite appropriate. — KA
Women are picky by nature, and there's one particular spot on Tejon that really gets it. General manager Ben Jackson says it's the staff, the atmosphere and the martinis that make the Ritz the best place in the area to meet females. "You have to provide an atmosphere where women want to hang out," Jackson says. On Friday and Saturday nights, women get a "power hour" of free drinks from 10 to 11, as well as no cover. Rarely are women (or, consequently the men they attract) disappointed. "Getting a real drink at a fair price served by someone who is friendly and likes their job goes a long way," Jackson says. — EC
Straight people, weird people and goth people are just some of the descriptors that manager Bryan Williams uses to explain the crowd that steps into the Underground. "Everyone is accepted," says Williams. For six years in a row, the Underground has been named Best Gay Bar in the Springs, or some variation thereof. Williams credits the bar's staff, its commitment to community and its energy. The Underground is fully committed to being part of the community, as well as providing tasty drinks. It sponsors fundraisers, guest appearances and other events (such as last month's celebration of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal) to serve the LGBT community, as well as anyone else in the Springs. "Everyone can throw a party," Williams says. "What's important is to benefit the community as a whole." — EC
Sully, a friendly regular, is convinced of the awesomeness of Tony's. "The best neighborhood bar in Colorado Springs," he says, as he nurses his mid-afternoon beer.
Thanks, Sully. That makes it easy to mention that Tony's won the Best Neighborhood Bar: Central category for the second year in a row. And, actually, that back in the days when the Indy recognized only one "neighborhood bar" region-wide, Tony's was typically the choice.
He goes on: "It's a Packers bar, but they welcome anybody."
With walls filled with decorations, and a couple TVs, the place has a comfortable, lived-in feel. The small crowd this afternoon is busy chatting at tables, or watching the game. One guy is sitting by himself at the end of the bar, reading.
"People feel comfortable here," says Wendy, who's working the bar this afternoon. "We get college kids and 70-year-olds all together, even at night."
Which helps explain why it took the College Bar crown this year, too. (And that, naturally, goes hand-in-hand with the Bang-for-Your-Buck title.)
Wendy's seen plenty of undergrads come through in her time; she's been at Tony's for 11 years. "I started here when I was young," she jokes.
"You're an institution," Sully replies. "See, that's a testament to the kind of place it is. A dozen years for a manager? Downtown?"
His point is made. Some places drive employees away, and others attract and keep them. The owner, Eel Anderson, has been with Tony's since it was built in 1999, says Wendy. He bought the bar in 2006. For Wendy, it's a simple recipe: good food, reasonably priced booze, good people, a welcoming environment, a little patio out back for the smokers.
Sully is partial to the Internet-enabled jukebox and $4.50 Leinenkugel mini-pitchers, himself. But most of all, he says, it's the crowd that makes Tony's what it is. "It's a culture of bikers and business people. Every day you see suits and leathers." — CH
Nightly drink specials, an impressive concert series, fried treats on the menu, couples and line dancing lessons on Sunday nights — Cowboys has it all. And, 70 percent of Indy voters believe it's the best place to get your two-step on. Considering the club's still going strong during its 25th year in business, Indy readers obviously know what they're talking about. So whether you enjoy a little country music, or just want to pull out your boots, Wranglers and plaid shirt, Cowboys has what you need for some twangy, western fun. — EC
With 45 percent of the vote, it's fair to say Bristol took this one on a tidal wave of Laughing Lab Scottish Ale, which makes up more than half its sales. The high price of hops and barley, even paired with a recession, necessitated a modest price increase a couple years ago, but even that hasn't stopped customers from enjoying their Bristol brews, according to company "beerocrat" Laura Long. "They say beer is recession-proof. In good times people want to celebrate with a beer, and in bad times they want to cry into one." — SB
Congratulations to these big businesses that locals love:
Multiple locations, oldchicago.com
1765 Briargate Pkwy., 548-0113, champps.com