According to Studio A64 owner KC Stark, "Colorado Springs is the Silicon Valley of cannabis. Denver is the Hollywood — we're more technical, more conservative."
There's some truth to that. While Denver is testing the public-perception limits of Amendment 64 with weed-friendly events like movie screenings, concerts and tour buses, the Springs is exploring new business models.
Enter the cannabis clubs. Parents want somewhere to smoke where the wee 'uns won't wonder about the smell. Young renters want somewhere to hit the bong without violating the lease agreement. And tourists don't want to buy pipes only to ditch them in airport amnesty boxes. There is a need, and these clubs fill it.
Before we tell you about each of them, here are a few basics. Though these clubs do take money and provide product, transactions are structured in a more complicated fashion, to work around Colorado Springs' recreational-sales ban. (You can hit up each individual establishment for more detail.) Clubs charge a modest entrance fee, generally around $5, but most also offer more upscale benefits packages. Unlike bars, cannabis clubs allow members to bring their own product and paraphernalia. They all provide flower and/or concentrate, but most don't allow you to take it off the premises. By and large, outside food and drink is prohibited, and a bottle of water will run a buck. And, like dispensaries, most of these businesses are cash-only.
Studio A64 (332 E. Colorado Ave., 930-9846, studioa64.com)
Studio A64 feels like any other corner bar or cafe. And that's what's great about it: It's well-ventilated, comfortable and inviting, even for novice smokers. For those who bring their own weed, A64 provides all necessary equipment, from grinders to glass to screens to lighters, all clean and well cared for. For those who don't, it serves $5 joints and dabs. A64 uses glass nectar collectors for dabs, but employees will gladly help with the torch.
Though A64 doesn't serve food, you can bring in food and drink from neighbors El Taco Rey and the Triple Nickel Tavern. A64 also serves drinks on-site, including solid espresso drinks and killer smoothies. According to co-owner Janine Chung, it's considering infused drinks for the future. Wednesday is open mic night, and Saturdays feature live music. The VIP lounge upstairs also hosts music lessons — call for more info.
Perhaps A64's biggest edge, though? It takes plastic.
Club History Vape Lounge (2308 E. Platte Ave., goo.gl/muzsAl)
Even with bongs and dab rigs replacing bottles and taps, Club History feels like a quality concert venue and dive bar. Knock on the black front door, and a $2 cover later, you're smoking atop a resin bar that encases a rainbow of signed cash: dollars, pesos, euros and more. There's space to sit around the bar and enjoy smaller pipes, or you can take a bigger piece to one of the many tables. The snack bar is limited, but house chef Demetrius Carter plans on introducing infused eats like green eggs and ham or infused ice cream. (Marijuana milkshakes, anyone?)
Club History begs for live music. The checkered dance floor is spacious and surrounded by booths. There's a stage with just the barest lift over the dance floor, perfect for genre-spanning gigs both intimate and in-your-face. And because the bar serves weed instead of alcohol, expect a mellower crowd. As for the secret knock? Just ask an employee.
Speak Easy Vape Lounge (2508 E. Bijou St., 445-9083, speakeasycannabisclub.com)
Speak Easy Vape Lounge feels nothing like a speakeasy. It's more like a Midwestern events center — you could host a wedding reception here. It even has Bong Bingo on Mondays at 8. It has a few bongs for rent, but the bulk of their glass is for dabbing. Dabs run two to five reward credits (bought for a buck each and stored on a club card). It provides plastic, single-stage grinders that get the job done. Medical cards or Weed Pimp clothing/ink gets you in for $2.
If Speak Easy has a problem, it's the ventilation. On a busy night, the place is hotboxed by 8. And the music gets club-level loud — this place is for partying, not reasoning. Still, if the Guadagnolis expand their club empire into the cannabis business, they'd do well to take notes from Speak Easy. It's a great place for the stoned extrovert.
420 Speakeasy (1532 N. Circle Drive, 471-3398)
The 420 Speakeasy has style. It goes from arcade to nice restaurant to '50s diner without blinking, and is more of a shared space than a business. At the center, the main bar area features well-lit glass cases full of weed, glassware and Weed Pimp merch. Though the bar itself is a little busy with dabbing rigs, it's easy to get service. Most of their glassware is for dabbing, and they have pre-rolled joints and blunts. Its weed is a little cheaper than dispensary weed, but you can't take it home.
But it's not the most intuitive place for first-time visitors. The drink and snack bar is a pantry hidden in what looks like an employee-only area. You get a point for every dollar you donate, and everything but the arcade machines costs points — drinks are one point, for instance, and blunts are 10 to 12. The details still bedevil this very young place, but the future here should be kind.
Mr. Nice Guy Private Cannabis Club (525 S. Circle Drive, 964-0780)
At Mr. Nice Guy PCC, the selection of glassware for sale at the check-in desk is sizable and all from in-state suppliers. Its smoking area is behind a locked door — reception has to buzz visitors in. It feels like a classy private lounge, with an inviting dab bar, movies running on the far wall, and a dark game lounge in the corner. Plus, it has good ventilation.
But the business just soft-opened on March 30, so when I visited, things were still coming together. The weed and concentrate selections were small. It didn't have pre-rolled joints or blunts yet. And the front room lacked all of the classy presentation inside. That said, the service is already welcoming, and the dab bar has enough space for a relaxing time.
The Lazy Lion (2502 E. Bijou St., 634-8337, thelazylion420.com)
Past the polished foyer and its gallery-grade glass (and Weed Pimp merch rack), The Lazy Lion's club space itself is plain, with brick walls, linoleum floors and smaller rooms decorated à la Spencer Gifts. But no-frills approach aside, the Lion gets most of the details right. The couches are comfortable. Its rimmed tables keep weed under control. It has a huge selection of concentrates, flower and snacks. But it doesn't offer grinders, which is a big oversight.
All told, a cannabis club should be inviting, and the Lion felt to me a little too much like a doctor's office. But if you just want a quiet, discreet toke, it's perfect. Plus, the way the Lion structures its reimbursement system, you can take home what you don't smoke. Hey, not everyone wants to finish a gram in one sitting.