Boulder is well-known for being a progressive college town. But something that surprised Rawley Gunnels when he moved here was the lack of access to a progressive social life — namely, the absence of a gay bar where people could gather to drink, dance, socialize, enjoy drag brunches and, most importantly, feel free to express themselves free of judgment.
Enter DV8 Distillery (2480 49th St. Suite E in Boulder). The craft distillery makes vodka, gin, whiskey and liqueurs, and even experiments with some fan favorites like a limited-release pink sparkly liquor with mica-based glitter in it. But the distillery has also recently expanded and evolved into a queer gathering space, filling the much-needed niche for a gay bar in Boulder.
The idea here? DV8 is a lifestyle, community and distillery all wrapped up in one. It’s a place where you can come for a sultry rave or a comedy show or pop into the tasting room to sip Earl Grey Vodka with notes of bergamot or a 5-grain bourbon.
Ultimately, the founders wanted to bring queer pride to Boulder and provide a space where the community can flourish, says Johnathan Tilley, co-founder of DV8 Distillery.
“Our events bring people together,” he says. “They allow people to raise their freak-flag high and be surrounded by others who cheer as they do so.”
A Gathering Space
When DV8 first opened in 2016, the focus was on creating its signature line, like its 100 percent rice-based vodka. But down the line, the distillery hosted a friendly rave with black lights and encouraged people to come wearing body paint. It clicked: In addition to being a spirits spot, DV8 had the potential to become a community gathering space.
Located in North Boulder, DV8 Distillery’s expanded space now hosts intimate gatherings like Drag Bingo and table reads with local theater companies. The distillery also hosts larger, electric events such as the luminescent Dance ‘Til You Glow parties, each with unique themes like jungle, beach party, superhero, mermaid+mermen, short shorts and more. Drag shows, burning man events and music festivals are also on the events calendar.
The events all have one thing in common: They aim to celebrate one another’s differences, create authentic relationships and express oneself in a safe space, Gunnels says.
“DV8 Distillery encompasses being spanked for the first time (with consent), dancing without restraint and making friends who care more about your well-being than who you sleep with, where you’re from or what mistakes you’ve made,” says Gunnels, co-founder of the distillery. “DV8 Distillery is home for those who don’t have one and a community for those who didn’t know they needed one.”
The name DV8, Gunnels says, sprouted from the word “deviant.” It’s meant to encompass those who don’t fit in, have felt out of place or have been marginalized by society.
The community at DV8 is one made up of kinksters, non-conforming gender expressionists, LGBTQ+ people and advocates.
Whether it’s an individual going through a gender transition or those who are embracing drag for the first time, Gunnels often hears feedback from the community that they feel safe at DV8.
And while the word deviance is often associated with debauchery and rule-breaking, the founders of DV8 subscribe to a different definition in which deviance means trying out new roles, being vulnerable, sharing emotions and exploring.
Craft Spirits to Batched Cocktails
DV8 Distillery initially launched its distillery to create a variety of rice-based and gluten-free spirits, including vodka, gin, whiskey, flavored vodkas and liqueurs.
In addition to the craft liquors, the micro-distillery also sells batched cocktails (think: the Lady Grey Palmer made with the Earl Grey vodka, lemonade and lavender bitters) and infused spirits like peanut butter whiskey, fig whiskey, espresso liqueur, strawberry vodka, spicy Thai vodka and more.
See and taste for yourself at DV8’s tasting room.