Colorado Springs was ostensibly "dry" for more than six decades after its founding by Civil War veteran and prohibition advocate William Jackson Palmer. But there were loopholes, of course (just as there are today with another popular intoxicant). In fact, local pharmacists were allowed to openly dispense beer, ale, whiskey and other demon alcohols, just so long as they were used for "medicinal" purposes.
But times change, at least to some degree, as a Friday or Saturday night stroll along downtown's popular Tejon Street will testify. Vast quantities of microbrews and martinis, along with the obligatory PBRs, draw local and out-of-town revelers to all sorts of non-medical establishments, as do numerous DJs and live bands.
Let's start with 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. Sadly, the mechanical bull has been put out to pasture, but there's still a bowling alley upstairs. There are also occasional shows featuring touring country acts, but on just about any night the club can get a good line dance going.
Step outside and the neo-honky-tonk vibe gives way to the din of rock and pop hits blasting from nearby bars. Local cover bands and/or DJs play at Gasoline Alley (28 N. Tejon St., gasolinealleycs.com), the Ritz Grill (15 S. Tejon St., ritzgrill.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 with 100,000-plus songs.
For a considerably more relaxed environment, head to Rico's Café & Wine Bar (322½ N. Tejon St., poorrichards.biz). In addition to tapas, espresso drinks, gluten-free beer and 20 well-chosen wines, you'll find low-key blues and jazz talents performing most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
If you prefer your jazz a whole lot more avant-garde, Modbo (17C E. Bijou St.) will be your downtown venue of choice. An art gallery that frequently doubles as an intimate performance space, it's actually located off Bijou Street in an alley a half-block west of Tejon. In addition to well-known free jazz artists like Paul Riola and Glen Whitehead, you'll also find performers of the cabaret and indie-folk persuasion.
Electronic dance music fans can head a block east to the Underground (110 N. Nevada Ave., undergroundbars.com), an LGBTQ-friendly venue that also features burlesque and boylesque shows. Downstairs at the SubT Nightclub, a serious sound system will deliver house, dubstep, goth and/or techno.
Live DJs — including Indy readers' favorite, DJ GÜ — also man the decks at CIRCA (527 S. Tejon St., circaniteclub.com). But if you feel that greater BPM makes for lesser dancing, just cross the street to SouthSide Johnny's (528 S. Tejon St., southsidejohnnys.biz) or head north a couple of blocks to Oscar's Tejon Street (333 S. Tejon St., oscarsoysterbar.com). Both clubs host live bands that mix originals with covers of favorite Motown, blues and rockabilly tunes.
Beer with us
For those who prefer a somewhat higher brew-to-bro ratio, there are plenty of central Springs establishments to cater to your needs. Colorado is, after all, home to 160 established craft breweries, and you don't have to trek up to Denver to find some of the best.
Originally started by now-Gov. John Hickenlooper, Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., phantomcanyon.com) is a solid dining and drinking spot that can lay claim to having the best pool tables in town, as well as a smoked gouda beer cheese soup that's rightfully famous. As of press time, Phantom was undergoing a 1,200-square-foot expansion — target date April — to meet the demand for brewer Alan Stiles' wide range of favorites, including the Railyard Ale and seasonal Barley Wine. Also coming: a 1,080-square-foot rooftop patio.
A couple miles south of Phantom is Bristol Brewing Company (1647 S. Tejon St., bristolbrewing.com). By summer, this preeminent local brewery will have relocated across the street to the Ivywild complex at 1604 S. Cascade Ave. A former elementary school, Ivywild is being ambitiously renovated into a mixed-use commercial complex complete with theater, music, coffee and, of course, beer. Bristol is also importing huge tanks from Germany so that it can produce its Laughing Lab Scottish Ale (among other brews) in larger quantities.
The final central-district brewery is north of downtown, along the North Nevada Avenue corridor. Great Storm Brewing (204 Mount View Lane, greatstormbrewing.com) opened in March 2012, with a selection of house beers on tap that include brewer Jeff Jacobs' oatmeal-rum-raisin stout. Note that the brewery's closed Sunday through Tuesday.
Feeling Irish? 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). Stylish? There's the bar at ultra-sleek Nosh (121 S. Tejon St., nosh121.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 head to Johnny's Navajo Hogan (2817 N. Nevada Ave., johnnyshogan.com), a biker-friendly bar where you'll find famous "broasted" chicken, weekend cover bands, and a wooden dome design that dates back to the Great Depression.
The cinematically inclined can drop by Colorado Springs' lone indie movie house, Kimball's Peak Three (115 E. Pikes Peak Ave., kimballspeakthree.com), which in early 2013 navigated a switch to digital. In addition to specializing in independent cinema — as well as the occasional civilized blockbuster — Kimball's boasts a full bar and espresso drinks on-site.
Interested in original music, the kind that makes bar-goers look at the stage as much as each other?
The highest-profile acts continue to appear just outside the central area at the all-ages Black Sheep (2106 E. Platte Ave., blacksheeprocks.com). With The Dirty Heads, Pennywise and Father John Misty having appeared in the first three months of 2013 alone, you can see why it's won Indy's Best Music Venue category since it opened back in '05.
Along Union Boulevard is Union Station (2419 N. Union Blvd., unionstationrox.com), which tends to welcome the loud and local. You'll find more indie-centric touring acts at the Triple Nickel Tavern (26 S. Wahsatch Ave., 555nickel.com), a club owned by JJ 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 artists ranges from members of Drag the River (JJ's their bassist) to Blind Pets and T-Model Ford.
Within crawling distance of the Triple Nickel is Zodiac (230 Pueblo Ave., zodiacvenue.com), a relatively new venue that also conveys a strong alt vibe, with staging, sound, layout and furnishings that are much improved from the building's old Rocket Room days. In addition to music, Zodiac offers burlesque shows and theme evenings catering to geeks and goths.
Indie bands also appear at downtown's V Bar (19 E. Kiowa St., 635-9599), as do poetry slams and great DJs. (Backpack rap segued into early Can? It's been known to happen.) Plus, there you'll find a strawberry gin martini — Broker's gin, muddled strawberry and a hint of mint.
You can 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. The back patio is ideal for warm-weather dining, while an array of local alt-rock and indie-folk musicians serenade patrons all year round.