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Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

John Velasquez discovered a hidden talent at Cocktails & Creations on Saturday night.

By Margaret Hedderman
Special to the Herald

Durango is known for a lot of things, but a hot nightlife is, unfortunately, not one of them. However, one of Main Avenue’s newest additions, Cocktails & Creations, is not only seeking to give locals something new to do on a Saturday night, but also show out-of-towners a good time.

With paint flying, wine flowing and the music blasting, you’d never know you were attending a painting class. And yet, for nearly three hours on Saturday night, Katie Nichols taught a full class of beginners how to paint an aspen grove at the height of sunset. Cocktails & Creations is almost like an aerobics class for would-be artists. The instructors break down each subject into basic, easy-to-follow steps that literally make you see the forest for the trees.

Opening a little more than a month ago, Cocktails & Creations is the brainchild of Durango Colorado Vacations owner Lorie Naylor.

“I had done a class like this in Denver and had so much fun,” Naylor said.

The concept may be new to the Southwest, but in many metropolitan areas, these party-painting classes are becoming the latest night-out trend.

“I think this appeals not only to couples, but to people just looking for something different to do in Durango,” Naylor said. “We have lots of paintings that are area-focused. (Visitors) can go home with a piece of Durango, opposed to a T-shirt or a key chain.”

Fortunately for Naylor, the idea of painting on demand hasn’t turned away any prospective customers. And it shouldn’t. The atmosphere is immediately welcoming. Students and teachers, complete strangers until now, chit-chat freely while complimenting each other’s work throughout the class. Cocktails & Creations has the remarkable ability to break down the normal inhibitions surrounding creative work and allow students to paint completely unconcerned with the outcome.

Or maybe that’s just the wine talking. Cocktails & Creations offers a growing selection of wine and beer at the custom-made bar.

“We’re definitely not listening to classical music and shushing each other,” Nichols said. “We want people to come in here and not feel awkward. If you want to sing and dance while you paint, that’s the way to do it.”

“You can have beer or wine, (but) you can actually do something rather than just sitting in a bar,” first time student Meghan Wells said. “You can actually do something artistic and take something home from it.”

From bike art and pop-art cats to flowing rivers and flowers, Cocktails & Creations’ four instructors offer a range of subject matter.

“I like being able to show people something they didn’t know they could do,” Nichols said.

Such was the case for local student John Velasquez, who, though he hadn’t painted since high school, discovered he not only enjoys it, but is actually very good at it. Velasquez eventually became known as the “ringer” of Saturday night’s group.

In the end, however, no one cared whether or not his or her aspen grove could hold up to a Cézanne – it was the experience that counted.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at

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