New York Magazine
See Urban Reinvention in Denver
Artisan eateries, revamped warehouse districts, and mixed-use studio spaces are bringing new life to the city’s formerly industrial spaces.
By Alex Schechter
Published May 17, 2013
1. Where to Stay
Sleep on “Millionaire’s Row” at the cozy Capitol Hill Mansion (from $174, breakfast included), a three-floor B&B located in the city’s old-money district. Each of the eight beautifully appointed, antique-filled rooms offers something unique—the Snowlover, for example, has a mountain-facing balcony and a photo mural of snow-covered pine trees—and the breakfast goes well beyond typical eggs-and-bacon fare.
Choose from thirteen themed floors at the Curtis (from $199), ranging from the horror-movie-themed thirteenth floor to the “Big Hair” floor, where Marge Simpson’s voice greets you when you step off the elevator. Though DoubleTree owns the hotel, the lobby’s interactive video art installation and rentable board games are among the touches that make this a fun, colorful alternative to the generally staid properties in the downtown area.
Relive the Gilded Age inside the elegant Brown Palace Hotel and Spa (from $209), a landmark that’s been in continuous operation since 1892. Beige-accented rooms come with fully modern amenities, but the rest of the building is worth exploring for its throwback features: the nine-story atrium with its original glass roof, an artesian well in the basement that supplies water to the entire hotel, and Churchill, a gentlemen’s-club-like cigar room with a menu of more than 30 single-malt Scotches.
2. Where to Eat
Grab a coveted outdoor table to enjoy views of downtown at Root Down, which opened in 2009. The surrounding area, known as Lower Highlands (or LoHi), has since exploded, though this spot maintains its edge with its focus on local, organic ingredients and eye-catching décor (salvaged basketball-court flooring, a gas station pump as the host stand). The weekend brunch crowd is particularly rabid, so show up early for the “Root Down” Benedict ($10), topped with a Hollandaise flavored with Iberico cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
Bite into a succulent pork-belly bun ($12 for a plate of four) at ChoLon Bistro, whose co-owner worked a four-year stint at New York’s Buddakan before opening this popular spot in 2010. Though many of the share-friendly, Southeast Asian–influenced dishes could have come from a bustling Singapore street market, the presentation is fine and the dining room fashionably outfitted. Be sure to order one of the cocktails that complement the heat of the dishes, with cooling ingredients like pineapple, basil, and cucumber.
Pull up a stool at the orange, rusted coffee bar, or cozy up in the back room at City, O’ City, a vegetarian restaurant that doubles as an art gallery on the first Tuesday of each month, when local artists exhibit their work in the main dining room. Located next to the state capitol, the eclectic clientele here ranges from suit-and-tie legislators to tattooed vegan hipsters dining on seitan wings ($8) and quinoa-and-pinto-bean burgers ($11). Come between 2 and 6 p.m. for the longest happy hour in Denver, featuring $5 appetizers and $2 sides.
3. What to Do
Rummage through de Stijl furniture, Art Nouveau pottery, and Bakelite flatware at the Kirkland Museum ($7 admission), where painter Vance Kirkland started an art school in 1932 and worked in a studio until his death in 1981. A family friend who assumed control of the estate helped grow Kirkland’s modest Art Deco holding into what is now North America’s largest on-view collection (3,500 objects) of international decorative art pieces made between 1880 and 1980. Nearby sits the impressive Clyfford Still Museum ($10 admission), a dazzling collection of never-before-seen works by the reclusive painter (the museum hosts bimonthly free days, the next of which fall on June 7 and August 8).
Purchase vegan soaps, homemade truffles, and jewelry fashioned from old bicycle parts at theHandmade Homemade Market, a quasi-monthly event where local artists, DIY crafters, and bakers show off their wares. Since launching out of a living room in 2010, the market (which encourages bartering and alternative currencies) has spawned success stories like Kassia’s Pasta Farm, which serves fresh pasta meals out of a rigged-up boiling pasta bike cart. The next HaHo event (June 8, $2 to $5 suggested admission), held in a gated parking lot in the artsy RiNo district, will be the largest yet, with 50 unique vendors, live music, and workshops on gardening and beehive cultivation.
Hit the streets with more than 5,000 people during the Santa Fe First Friday Art Walk (held on the first Friday of each month, 6 to 9 p.m.), when more than 60 galleries and studios open up to the public, and you can hear live music coming from every window. For first-timers, a good starting point is the complex at 910 Santa Fe Drive, a former 7 Up factory that contains approximately 30 studio spaces, including the popular Canto do Galo capoeria school and Lalé Floral Designs, a boutique florist who sells exquisite hand-sculpted terrariums made from African violets, succulents, and locally grown moss ($80 to $300).
4. Insider’s Tip
There are plenty of drinking spots in LoDo, but for a special experience head to Green Russell, a speakeasy-type bar that’s camouflaged as a pie stand inside Russell’s Smokehouse. Call ahead to make reservations, then show up at the restaurant, where the hostess will lead you past the pies, through a door marked “No Entry,” and into a dark room with an L-shaped bar and booths in the back. This is a cell-phone-free zone, so you can just settle in and sip on cocktails made with ingredients you dictate to the bartender ($12 and up). On Sunday and Monday nights, they also have live jazz.
5. Oddball Day
Spend a day exploring the past, present, and future of the city’s various neighborhoods. Start off downtown with a late, untraditional breakfast of wild-boar hot dogs ($6) at Biker Jim’s, a new brick-and-mortar spinoff of the popular food truck. From here, rent a bike ($8) at B-Cycle, the country’s oldest citywide bike-sharing program, and follow the scenic Platte River Trail up toRiNo (short for River North), a vibrant art district made up of abandoned warehouses, raw industrial spaces, and mixed-use studios. Spend a few hours exploring the area’s impressive collection of galleries, including the sculpture garden at Ironton Studios, the twenty artist studios and ten ceramic studios at Dry Ice Factory, and the sprawling Laundry on Lawrencecomplex, which contains a yoga studio, rotating photography and art exhibits, and a black box theater. For lunch, head to the Source, a new European-style indoor food market opening this summer in a former iron foundry; one of the vendors will be Mexican street-food eatery Comida—another food-truck spinoff—which makes juicy pork tacos ($3) and queso fundido with chorizo ($9). Then request a tour ($25 per person) at Infinite Monkey Theorem, an impressive 30,000-square-foot urban winery that oversees every stage of a wine’s production from grape to bottle (the adjacent tasting room vends cans of sparkling muscato wine out of a re-jiggered soda machine). Afterward, make your way back along the river, stopping at the Riversie Cemetary to explore the city’s oldest still-operational burial site. Then drop your bike off and walk around the iconic, 1914-built Beaux Arts Union Station, which is in the midst of a major renovation project that’s set to add a new boutique hotel and, eventually, a rail line out to Denver International Airport. Have dinner at the Kitchen, where exposed-brick walls and salvaged wooden table décor complement farm-fresh dishes like burrata with grilled radicchio ($9) and Moroccan sausages with rose water ($12). End the day at the landmark D&F clock tower in Lower Downtown, which gets taken over byLannie’s Clocktower Cabaret for Off the Clock, a weekly burlesque show ($25) every Saturday night at 11 p.m.
Published on May 16, 2013 as a web exclusive.