Denver After Dark: best drag and burlesque shows
Celebrate Pride at these area staples this month and all year long.
Editor’s note: Throughout the summer, RED’s Denver After Dark series will look at fun nocturnal activities in and around the Mile High City.
In the past couple of decades, Denver’s LGBTQ+ and sex-positive communities have blossomed from the occasional underground bar to vibrant and inclusive spaces for all, including queer, trans and gender-nonconforming folks.
Denver’s inclusive and thriving drag scene has even proudly produced a few superstars. Yvie Oddly, beloved seventh-season champion of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and a former Theatre student at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the show’s current winner, Denver native Willow Pill, both began performing drag at Tracks.
“What makes the Denver drag scene so special, or at least at the time I was kind of coming up, is that there wasn’t a whole lot of structure or rules,” Pill told the List.
In honor of Pride Month, RED is highlighting the best venues for drag and burlesque performances, which are enjoyed by LGBTQ+ and straight people alike. See for yourself how far Denver has come.
3500 Walnut St.
Tracks is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ nightclubs in Denver and aims to be one of the best in the country. This massive dance hall includes multiple stages and rooms, each one hosting its own DJ, theme and dance floor, so there’s always something for everyone. Tracks has offered a safe space for members of the local LGBTQ+ scene to build community for more than 40 years. Located in one of the hottest nightlife spots in Denver, the River North Art District, Tracks hosts local, national and international LGBTQ+ events and performers on its stages. Every month, you’ll find recurring dance parties and drag shows, including regular “Their Parties” — safe and inclusive dance parties for the gender-nonconforming — and themed “Drag Nation” shows, spotlighting the biggest drag entertainers in Denver. Tracks is open late-night Wednesday through Saturday.
The Clocktower Cabaret
1601 Arapahoe St.
This Denver standby has been a staple of the local drag-and-dance community since 2006. Tucked away beneath the historic Daniels & Fisher clocktower on the 16th Street Mall, this hidey-hole is a throwback to a bygone era, with an intimate showroom draped in rich velvet and bathed in dim mood lighting. The clocktower is best known for its themed burlesque shows and drag performances but also offers entertainment each weekend, including live music, sketch comedy, aerial acrobatics and stripteases. The iconic downtown cabaret has nearly completed a makeover under the direction of esteemed local artist Lonnie Hanzon, the original designer of the venue 16 years ago.
1336 E. 17th Ave.
Though this national franchise didn’t originate in Denver, it certainly has made itself a home in the Mile High City. Hamburger Mary’s brings a quirky, comfortable and delicious take to the local drag scene. With all the familiarity of your favorite greasy-spoon diner, plus an unabashed love for all things fabulous and flamboyant, Hamburger Mary’s offers drag in a safe, casual and fun-focused environment. Stop in every week for “Dinner With a Side of Drag,” drag brunches, drag bingo and “So You Think You Can Drag” competitions. Hamburger Mary’s is open for good food and great entertainment afternoons and evenings Wednesday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday.
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233 Clayton St.
Nestled deep inside the Clayton Members Club & Hotel, Five Nines is the hottest new cocktail lounge in Cherry Creek. Sleek, sexy and dressed to the nines, this discreet little gem feels like something secret — but this lounge isn’t a speakeasy. The plush, velvety banquettes and moody, noir-inspired décor ooze class. Though you might come for the craft cocktails and posh bar bites, you’ll stay for the entertainment. Performers from local burlesque troupe Hard Candy Dancers take to an intimate ground-level stage for provocative mini-performances every 45 minutes that include aerial routines, pole dances and contortion. Five Nines is open evenings Wednesday through Saturday.
629 E. Colfax Ave.
This 12-year-old go-to gay bar falls somewhere on the spectrum between the nonstop nightclub vibes of Tracks and the kickback comfort of Hamburger Mary’s, with bonus points for a spacious outdoor patio. Here, you’ll find everything from lip-sync parties and Sunday drag brunches to “Hot Girl Fridays” and “Sex Sells Saturdays,” featuring steamy drag performances and bar specials. X Bar is open from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day. Bonus: X Bar’s new sister club, Glow Lounge, recently opened next door, where you can catch sultry shows from Red Velvet Burlesque weekend nights.