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Thursday, April 29,2010

Best of Boulder 2010: Staff Picks

Boulder County is made of win


This year’s Best of Boulder™ was a record-setter, with more county residents casting their votes than ever before. That makes the results more fun — and the competition more fierce.


This year we not only had some new names in the winner’s bracket, but a few new brackets, too, like Best Chai Drink and Best Medical Marijuana Wellness Center. Just more proof that Boulder County is always evolving and growing, no pun intended. That doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten old favorites, like Best Music Venue and Best Sandwich, or that you guys have forgotten your old favorites, like Boulder Theater, McGuckin Hardware and Snarf’s, all winners again this year.

It would probably take even more than our 150 categories to completely capture the amazing range and quality of Boulder County’s outstanding restaurants, businesses, entertainment venues and cultural scenes, but we’ve definitely picked out the best of the best (with your help, of course). It’s no wonder that our little piece of prairie heaven ends up on lists like “Smartest U.S. Cities” and “Best Places to Live.”

Along with your picks, we’ve included some of our own “best of” winners, recognizing the ridiculous and the remarkable, from right here in Boulder to across the nation. The winners in these categories might not be too happy with their prize, but we think you’ll get a kick out of our take on the people, places and events that made this past year memorable.

From all of us at Boulder Weekly, we hope you enjoy this year’s edition of Best of Boulder™ and congratulations to all of the winners!

Swine flu

Just when we’d run out of sick days, personal days and distant “dying” relatives, nature and the cable news stations came together to give us one more air-tight excuse to ditch work and hit the slopes: swine flu. With panic over a new strain of super flu at a fevered pitch, most employers weren’t going to hassle possible plague carriers into showing up for their shift. A few sniffles on Wednesday, some hacking coughs on Thursday, and we got Friday off with no questions asked — Monday, too, for those who could do a good “sick voice” on the phone. And because hospitals encourage the diseased to stay home and isolated, we didn’t even need a doctor’s note. And for those who actually won the contagion lottery? Sorry, you missed some great powder.

Mary Lee Chin

Last August, when Boulder County’s Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee held a public hearing about the possible introduction of genetically altered Roundup-ready sugar beets on county open space land, someone came to the microphone who was not what she seemed to be. Mary Lee Chin took the microphone and told the commissioners how wonderfully nutritious and tasty genetically modified foods are but failed to identify herself as a representative of the biotech food industry. Chin, it turned out, was paid to attend the meeting — and to speak in praise of GM foods — by the Colorado Farm Bureau.

When confronted by Boulder Weekly, Chin said, “It didn’t occur to me to [identify myself as a paid biotech shill]. I did say I’m a strong advocate of biotechnology.”

Prior to playing this role, Chin made numerous videos extolling the virtues of GM foods, at least some of which are posted on Franken-food giant Monsanto’s website. Already a multi-billion-dollar company, Monsanto stands to rake it in through the sale of Roundup-ready crops, first when farmers buy the seeds, and then when the farmers buy copious amounts of Roundup. Fortunately, the commissioners were not swayed by Chin’s “I’m just a concerned citizen with no hidden motive” routine. They tabled GM sugar beets, opting to study the matter for a year before making a decision.

Katie Witt’s supporters

The Longmont City Council election last fall was a lulu. Conservatives were slinging mud at the liberals, and vice versa. But the Katie Witt-Karen Benker race reached a new low for a small town trying to reconcile its rural, conservative roots with the influx of Boulderites who can’t afford to live in the People’s Republic. In this race, the conservative mud was especially dirty, and it was bankrolled by an outside group with a history of filthy political tactics and ties to campaign law violations. Supporters of conservative Witt included Western Tradition Partnership (WTP), a Montana group that had funded smear campaigns against liberal candidates in the past. Part of the group’s money went toward pamphlets calling Benker a liar, and part went to a “push poll” in which residents were asked leading questions that implied she was guilty of discrimination, among other things. WTP was also involved in a law suit against the city that attempted to shield campaign contributions from public view. The race put Longmont on the map as a prime battleground for control of the 4th Congressional District — and as a key factor in whether Colorado becomes a blue state or a red state. It also exposed the fact that unseen forces are often at work in local elections that have historically been sleepy. And it was a sad commentary on the depths to which we’ve stooped in our political discourse as a country. We’d much rather call the other side names than actually have intelligent debate about the merits of any given issue.

Boulder cops’ visit to Mall Crawl organizers

Last fall, about a month before Halloween, two local guys announced on Facebook that they were going to try to bring back the Mall Crawl, that rite of debauchery that used to be held on Pearl Street Mall every year on Oct. 31. But Boulder cops knocked on the doors of the two would-be organizers and reportedly told them that if they went ahead with their plans, they could face legal action and be saddled with any cost the city incurs dealing with the event. The good old ACLU jumped in and scolded the city for threatening the two citizens, saying something about the right to assemble and those pesky First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Still, the men backed off and changed the name of their Facebook group to “The Artist Formerly Known as ‘Bring back the Boulder Mall Crawl!’” But the point is this: don’t the police have better — and more important — things to do? The year before, the cops ticketed about a dozen people for putting pumpkins on their heads and frolicking naked across a city block. That night, assailants punched a man and questioned his patriotism because he was Asian American. A few blocks away, a woman was assaulted and gang-raped while walking home, the first of a slew of terrifying nighttime sexual assaults to happen in the following months. When will Boulder police focus more on preventing assaults and rapes in our neighborhoods and less on ticketing naked people and stopping peaceful gatherings on Pearl Street Mall?

Seth Brigham

This local gadfly pulled the local stunt of the year when he showed up to a Boulder City Council meeting in February and stripped down to his boxer shorts. The move not only made a statement about the many ways to exercise free-speech rights, but also about the asinine efforts of some to clamp down on nudity in town, what with those crazy pumpkin streakers and nude gardeners running amok. And then things really got crazy.

One council member drowned out Brigham’s comments by rubbing his microphone, while another gestured to police to have Brigham removed and arrested. This lack of tolerance for criticism and public participatoin was consistent with a council that only a month earlier had discussed sending “regulars” to the back of the line during public comment periods. City officials later kinda sorta apologized and agreed not to press charges, but the damage was already done.

We know it can get really annoying listening to these kooky regulars who get some sort of sick satisfaction out of attending every single city council meeting, but, hey, that’s tough. It’s easy to listen to someone when they are complimenting you. The tough part — and the reason the First Amendment was created — is to listen to those who are critical of you, especially when you’re an elected official. There’s a basic reason why criticism of the government is one of the most protected forms of speech, and it’s not because Bush was so much fun to hate on. It has to do with that whole thing about having a government “by the people” and “for the people.” You’ve got to let the citizens speak out when their elected officials screw up — even if one of those citizens is wearing only boxer shorts.

The Pumphouse Brewery

You walk into The Pumphouse, located on Longmont’s Main Street, expecting bar food. But what you get is so much better. Its menu includes all the sports bar staples — burgers, hot wings, French fries — but even these choices are a cut above what you’ll find at most sports bars. Their nachos in particular stand out as perhaps the best in the county and are a B-dub staff favorite. Order them with the killer guac.

Or try the sesame-crusted tuna, the shrimp tacos or Greek salad. Salmon in a sports bar? Yes, and it’s delicious, as is the Caribbean pork tenderloin. And did we mention dessert? Make sure to leave lots of room. The Pumphouse also has a gluten-free menu for those with dietary restrictions, as well as vegetarian choices.

Is it worth the half-hour drive from Boulder? Without a doubt. And the wait time for a table isn’t quite as long as you’ll face at many of Boulder’s eateries.

So pack up your appetite and head down the Diagonal to give The Pumphouse a try.

‘Budget cuts’

When CU President Bruce Benson and his henchmen announced the closure of CU’s faculty/staff newspaper a year ago, it wasn’t about the money, and everyone knows it. The administration didn’t control what Silver & Gold Record printed, because the editor reported only to an editorial board of faculty and staff representatives. As a result, the weekly reported news in a way that was balanced, and sometimes included criticism of administrators. The administration wanted its own Pravda, and when former CU President Hank Brown couldn’t emasculate the paper in 2007 by reorganizing its editorial board, he left the murder on his successor’s to-do list. If it was really about the money, why didn’t the administration simply tell the paper to cut its budget to the $100,000 currently being spent on the unread, online TASS, which replaced the Silver & Gold? Because the real point was to take away the editorial independence of the university’s employee publication and stifle the sometimes-critical voice of those who had started it 40 years earlier — CU’s faculty. In a university environment, which is supposed to be about open discourse and free exchange in a marketplace of ideas, that is unconscionable.

What is even more unconscionable is that CU faculty allowed it to happen. Apparently the administration has beaten them into submission so many times that they’ve gotten used to it. Or maybe the traditional university model, in which the faculty help run the place, is truly dead. Either way, another local media voice died, which is a shame. Other than the publication you are reading now, what’s left? Not much, other than the wire-heavy PostCameraDaily conglomerate, which

has turned recycling and repackaging the same local content over and over into an art form.

Firing of Colorado Amazon Associates

In March, Colorado bloggers and webmasters who partner with online retail giant Amazon.com received an e-mail from the company informing them that their services were no longer needed. Amazon associates, as these bloggers and webmasters are called, place ads and links on their websites that link back to Amazon.com. They get a percentage of the profit made from products sold to consumers who reached Amazon.com from the associate’s website. Associates can thank a dust-up between the state of Colorado and Amazon.com over Colorado House Bill 10-1193, a bill that requires online retailers to notify its Colorado purchasers (and the state Department of Revenue) what they owe in state sales tax. Since the Colorado Amazon associates represented a “presence” for the company in the state, the state felt it could treat them like local businesses and use that as an excuse to impose taxes on them. Their goal was to use that money to shore up the state’s pathetic budget. But Amazon, being the obstinate Internet giant that it is, gave the proverbial finger to Colorado and its state taxes and closed the accounts of their Colorado associates, costing Colorado residents millions that otherwise might have been spent in the state. Way to help the economy, Colorado lawmakers! And way to stick it to the man, Amazon!


CU Raises tuition … again

There`s nothing like good public education to really restore your faith in the government’s ability to get things done well. But then again, we live in Colorado, and most residents of our good state view any form of government as a snarling, uncontrollable beast that must be shackled by legislation such as TABOR lest it roam out of control and drain good citizens of every last penny. Due in part to extreme restrictions on how the state can raise and spend money, the University of Colorado gets just a small portion of its funding from Colorado taxpayers. So, in order to become competitive, the state’s flagship university continually raises tuition. (Don’t believe us? Since the 2003-2004 school year, in-state tuition has doubled). CU still provides an adequate education, and given all the shiny new buildings and iPod-equipped students, walking through campus is like walking through an Applesponsored dream world where the recession never happened. The CU Board of Regents casually approved a 9 percent increase in tuition for next fall, bringing the grand total for in-state tuition up to $7,018 a year. With sky-high rental prices ($750 a month for a room in some 1960s shithole house in Martin Acres?) and pitiful financial aid, CU is looking more and more like an overpriced lift ticket — hey, we all know students come here to ski — and Fort Collins is looking more and more like the better alternative. And when you’re praising Fort Collins for anything, you know something should probably change.

Masturbating deli worker

Most vegetarians can give you a long list of reasons to give up sins of the flesh: vegetarians live longer, meat production really does a number on the environment and, hey, animals are people, too. If you need one more reason to be convinced though, talk to the Louisville woman who got a glimpse of some improper meat handling while shopping at her local Safeway. In January, she reported to police that while talking to a store employee at the deli counter she noticed that the man’s sausage was clearly on display. According to police reports, the employee not only had his fly open and his penis in plain sight, he was apparently masturbating while answering the woman’s questions. We can only hope one of those questions was, “Are you wearing gloves?”


Medical marijuana

Of all things, you wouldn’t expect a rule-making hearing of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to have such a profound impact on Colorado’s political and economic landscape. But when the CDPHE made a technical ruling last summer on a couple of words in Amendment 20, which legalizes medical marijuana, they opened the door for an explosion of a fast-growth industry in Colorado: medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, as evidenced by a stroll on the Hill, dispensaries are sprouting up like, well, weeds. And since they’re legal (depending on whom you ask — they’re in the grayest of gray areas), never has Colorado been a more ganja-friendly place to be. But with all the cries of shady dealings, black-market connections, and oh-god-somebody-think-of-the-children, people are in danger of forgetting the real victim: drug dealers. Facing a dwindling customer base, your friendly neighborhood pot vendor faces much better stocked competition from an increasing number of legit, taxpaying businesses. Can one simple person compete with a dispensary that employs five people full time? Times are tough for pot dealers, but not if Denver Democrat Chris Romer has his way. Romer has proposed a pair of bills that, if passed, will make life much more difficult for dispensaries and most likely will force many of them out of business. So fear not, pot dealers: you have a friend in the legislature, and with any luck, business will be booming once again.

The Fort Collins balloon boy

Wow, this was a humdinger, wasn’t it?

And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid. It was during a fateful interview with Wolf Blitzer when young Falcon Heene was asked why he didn’t come out of hiding when he heard his parents calling his name. His dad, Richard, had to rephrase the question for the boy, to which Falcon replied, “Um, you guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

His mother, Mayumi, responded with a meek, “No,” and the gig was up.

If you had planned this, don’t you think you would have repeatedly rehearsed that part with the kid? “I was too scared to come out because I thought you would be mad at me.”

But for a few hours there, those of us glued to the live television coverage on that October day were genuinely sick to our stomachs, especially parents, thinking that the child might actually be in that balloon as it soared across the Colorado sky, out of control.

No real harm done, but talk about one of the most compelling breaking news stories of the year. It does make you feel sorry for Falcon, who is going to be known the rest of his life as “the balloon boy,” thanks to his idiot parents. Some people are just a few kernels short, you know?


South Side Walnut Café

There comes a time when you simply need food … now. There are plenty of places where you can get “fast food.” But what if you care about quality and you just finished a workout at Mountain’s Edge Fitness Center or a run or mountain bike ride on the glorious South Boulder trails? Or what if you only have 15 minutes for lunch because you’ve got a deadline to meet? Take it from the staff at Boulder Weekly: You can’t get a better blend of quality and “now” than at the South Side Walnut Café. You know the feeling of seeing your waitperson walk by with an armful of plates that must be yours, given how long you’ve been waiting, only to see him or her pass you on the way to a neighboring table? Well, at the South Side you’ll have the opposite experience: You’ll witness your server walking toward you within minutes of placing your order and be certain that delicious food is headed elsewhere, only to see it magically set before you. Be amazed! Be grateful! Be here … now!

Pat Robertson’s Haiti earthquake theory

Pat Robertson is 80 years old, so maybe we should cut him some slack when he says nutty things like legalized abortion led to Hurricane Katrina. One day, God willing, we’ll all be that aged, feeble and completely nuts. Then again, he’s been spouting his quackery for decades, blaming anything from natural disasters to bad traffic on homosexuals, the ACLU and women’s rights, so it’s hard to say if his assertion that a pact with the Devil caused the Haiti earthquake is a sign of decline or part of a history of insanity. Either way, when you get on national television and tell a devastated nation that they basically had it coming, maybe it’s time to call it quits. Even Jesus at his most pissed off wouldn’t do shit like that. A lot of people probably wish Robertson a worse fate than a belated retirement, but at least if he gets shipped off to a nursing home, we won’t have to listen to him spout hatred on television any longer.


Members of the so-called “tea party” movement set the “dismiss our message immediately” bar low last year when the older, disaffected white Republicans who make up the movement’s base took the illadvised step of nicknaming themselves. At first glance, the nickname must have seemed safe and logical. “Teabaggers” — shorter than “tea partiers” and much catchier. Plus, it seemed to catch on and ignite a smile on the faces of the younger folks. Win-win, right? But other, more tech-savvy (i.e., had access to the Internet, where teabagging demonstrations can be found on various pornographic websites) were smiling for reasons too graphically obscene to be printed, even in this newspaper. Teabaggers started campaigns on Interwebs nationwide to “Tea Bag Obama” and “Tea Bag the White House,” which, as dirty as it sounds, actually involved sending tea bags via snail mail. It seemed things couldn’t dip any lower when teabaggers made the off-the-ball comparison of President Barack Obama’s policies to those of Hitler and Stalin. Mouths full of vitriolic rhetoric, protesters spat out an endless stream of fallacious political arguments and worked collectively to “teambag” Congress. And though recent events must have left a sour taste in the Teabaggers’ mouths, as defeating health care reform was their No. 1 priority, protests continue to this day, making the tea bag movement one of the most potent movements in recent history.

New Age guru James Ray

Last October, three people died and 18 others became ill after crawling inside a pseudo-sweat lodge in search of the enlightenment promised by New Age guru James Ray, co-author of The Secret and self-proclaimed personal development expert.

The ceremony was part of Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” retreat in Sedona, Ariz., that also included another ceremony stolen from American Indian culture: a “vision quest.” Participants paid a reported $9,000 each to participate in the retreat.

Ray had promised to push these people beyond their boundaries — and, apparently, he did. Three people were pushed so far past their boundaries that their spirits left this earth. As a result, Ray is facing manslaughter charges to which he has pled not guilty.

Some people have called for the regulation of sweat lodge ceremonies in the wake of this tragedy. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if they called for the regulation of white folks running ceremonies that don’t belong to them.

Of course, the latter is impossible.

Freedom of religion means that everyone has the right to pursue spirituality in the way that seems best to them, even if that means cannibalizing other cultures and running

ceremonies in ways they were never intended to be run.

All-American Basketball Alliance

The days of Jim Crow laws and the “separate but equal” mindset are long gone, but it appears one man is trying to bring those good ol’ days back. In January, Don “Moose” Lewis announced the launch of the All-American Basketball Alliance, a basketball league that requires that players and coaches be natural-born U.S. citizens and Caucasian. That’s right, a basketball league without black, Latino, Asian or foreign players … just a bunch of American white people. Lewis says that the NBA has moved away from the fundamentals of basketball and that his league will concentrate on those fundamentals, which he believes are more suited to white players. Basically Lewis doesn’t want anymore 360-degree dunks, no-look passes, crossover dribbles, reverse mid-air layups or scores higher than 70 points … You know, the stuff that makes professional basketball fun and interesting. It appears, on paper, that Lewis’ league would make a good cure for insomnia. That is until he hosts an all-star game that pits white players versus black players he dubbed “Snow Ball vs. Bro Ball.” Yeah, he went there … luckily we wouldn’t.

U.S. Forest Service

Last August, a U.S. Forest Service warning urged the public to beware of campers who speak Spanish, play Spanish music, eat tortillas and drink Tecate beer because they may be armed and dangerous marijuana growers.

We are not making this up. The Colorado Latino Forum quickly denounced the Forest Service warning, pointing out that it could put Hispanic campers in danger from gung-ho types — people who play country music, eat Wonderbread and drink Bud — who might see a can of Tecate and decide that hunting season has begun early.

The warnings were issued after the Forest Service found more than 14,000 ganja plants growing in Pike National Forest. Law enforcement said at the time that Latin American drug cartels may be smuggling people into the state in order to grow pot in remote parts of the mountains.

That might be true, but is a person’s choice of music, food and beer the best way to identify who’s working for a cartel and who isn’t? Are these the criteria used by the DEA and the FBI? If so, perhaps that explains why they’re not making headway against cartels.

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