I had never been to Denver, and the last time I was in Colorado, I was a kid traveling with my family. Memories of beautiful mountains, altitude sickness, matching plaid shirts (yeah, the whole family), horses, and my sweet great-grandma were about all I could associate with the state. I was too young to drink and appreciate fashion.
So this past August, I finally made good on a promise to visit one of my dear high school pals. Actually, she started it J K and her guy J called me up sometime in April and pitched an offer I just couldn’t refuse: a concert by one of my all-time favorite bands at gorgeous Red Rocks amphitheater. As a teenager, I had rented U2’s Live at Red Rocks video (oh come on, what do you mean "what's a VHS tape?") and remembered what an amazing venue it looked like. So I was geeked to get the chance to see a concert there, for realz, and check out Denver with them. The trip coincided with my birthday (with the concert tix being a very generous gift from my friends). How could I turn this down?
My husband and I were there for 3 days, and I have to say, we covered a lot of ground. Even our hosts agreed. While I love that my husband loves checking out new cities, he’s also a notorious champion of walking. This is actually one of the things that makes him so great, but sometimes I max out. He knows exactly what will make me happy: stopping into stores, food and booze. So, our time in Denver pretty much consisted of that combination: walking, eating, shopping and drinking. And a lot of it.
The photos below are a fairly edited version of what all we did. Due to my 10 year-old camera dying on the first day of the trip, the remainder were taken with my Blackberry, hence some of the nighttime pics being blurry (I bought a brand spanking new Canon a few weeks ago, so that problem is now solved.)
I should also mention that a lot of the places are highlighted, so click away for more information from their websites, if you'd like to learn more (or are just really, really bored ;)
OK, let’s go!
Our trip kicked off with a stop at Surdyk's Flights, a smart addition to the already better-than-decent food and drink selection at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. After sampling some very solid drinks and tasty paninis, we ran off to catch our flight, vowing our return.
Upon our arrival at the tented Denver International Airport (complete with a scary-ass horse with blazing red eyes that don't, but should, be shooting out lasers), our hosts K & J whisked us over to Mezcal for some great Mexican eats. It was the perfect introduction to Denver.
After dinner, we drove out to our friends’ lovely townhome, just east of downtown Denver. A cozy guest bedroom outfitted with all things Colorado and its own guest bath – boy, even better than a hotel! We loved their home and their overall insane graciousness as hosts during our entire time in Denver. K even met us at the airport with water bottles – a must given the dry climate and altitude. How’s that for hospitality? The only fail was by the airline – they sent our luggage somewhere else. They assured us we’d get it around, oh, 3AM. Fine, as long as it didn’t botch our planned outing to Boulder the next morning.
Well, the Boulder trip was delayed thanks to the airline. The bags didn’t arrive til closer to 11AM, which nixed our lunch plans at the Chautauqua Dining Hall.
Nevertheless, we did get to spend the afternoon in Boulder (and at least see our intended lunch stop, a charming old building with lots of happy-looking diners).
For architecture kicks, K & J drove us up to the I.M. Pei-designed NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). I went a little crazy with the pictures here (hey, I went to grad school for architecture, what can I say).
Pearl Street Mall was next on the agenda, home to tons of retail, restaurants, bars, and a few buskers.
Beautiful and ornate ceiling of the Boulder Tea House.
We stopped at a great little establishment for lunch on the Mall. However, I've since had a big, fat brainfart, and I cannot for the life of me remember its name. It had healthy fare (yeah, I know, this is Boulder we're talking about) and some great beers. I had a lovely, rich porter. Once my friends remind me of the name of the spot, I'll include it here.
Currency was exchanged for some sweet merchandise at Topo Ranch, which boasts some fine wall décor in addition to their fun t-shirt graphics (bicycles, bandit raccoons and bacon-mobiles, anyone?).
Back in Denver, we checked in to the hotel. To give our hosts a break, my husband and I spent 2 of the 4 nights at the very nice Hotel Teatro. I scored a special rate thanks to Jetsetter.com. In fact, K had emailed me their offer, and since I was already a member of private sample-sale purveyor Gilt (their well-known sister website for all things retail) it was an easy choice. Although K & J had offered to put us up for the whole trip, we didn’t want to wear out our welcome. We also loved trying out a new hotel. Located right downtown in the happening LoDo district, we found most places extremely walkable from the hotel.
After checking in (and getting a complimentary room upgrade), I had a short attack of the grouchies and decided to chill out in the room. My husband wandered off and discovered Larimer Square. He finally coaxed me to walk back over there with him, and I’m glad he did. It remains my favorite block in Denver, so far. Boutiques, restaurants and bars all over! Here are some photos from our evening walk:
Before meeting up with K & J for dinner, we had some delicious cocktails at the Cruise Room. Part of the adjoining Oxford Hotel, this beautiful art-deco establishment is, according to their website, “downtown Denver’s first bar… opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Boasting Art Deco décor, this bar is original in its entirety… fashioned after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary.” I highly recommend this little gem.
So our taxi driver got confused by the address to our dinner destination, in the trendy Lower Highland neighborhood (it’s always good to get out of downtown and find the local’s hotspots). Although it was dark outside, the street we drove along was amply speckled with what looked like fun bars, shops and restaurants. I’d like to check the area out on a return trip. Once we finally got to our destination and met up with K & J, it was a fun atmosphere, great drinks, and some darn tasty steak at the Lo Hi Steakbar.
Following dinner, J wanted us to check out the bar called Meadowlark for a nightcap. The picture really doesn't show the place as much as it sets a mood.
Just before hitting the hay, I took a quick pic of the building across the street from our hotel. I don't know, it just struck me... quiet, composed, sort of like one of our models from studio back in architecture school. Well, with lights.
The next day, we tackled more of Denver. We headed right back to Larimer Square, hitting the shops and enjoying brunch al fresco at Bistro Vendome, where my husband dug into a big ol' bowl of mussels.
We then set out to see more of the city. Here are some randoms:
Since I like to collect the local lifestyle magazine when visiting new places, I was directed to the Tattered Cover Bookstore, where I picked up a copy of 5280. Our friends said the Colfax Avenue location is very cool, but, alas, we ran out of time
The legendary Rockmount store was a mandatory stop for all things Western.
A number of people recommended we stop by the Cry Baby Ranch. Initially, I scoffed at the place at a glance as it's not my typical style. However, once we took the time to look around, I changed my mind. It's filled with some great finds, and we even scored a great hosts' gift for K & J.
Sensing a need to switch gears and get a little bit of culture, we visited the MCA Denver. Housing a small but intriguing collection of contemporary art, the building itself is an architectural statement, from the crazy-tall mechanical front door, to the sunny roofdeck, all reflective glass, warm wood planks reminicient of a spa or garden, and great city views to boot. Again, lots of pics here.
Craving more art, we moved on to the Denver Art Museum, where K met up with us. Flaunting a striking major addition by Daniel Libeskind, this is the main art museum in the city. It takes up a couple of blocks and offers a more comprehensive collection of art. Below are some works that we particularly enjoyed. The first image is our approach to the museum by car. It's a pretty striking first impression. The third image is an adjacent residence.
Across the street from the art museum, also known as the DAM (heh), is the Denver Public Library, familiarly designed by Michael Graves.
After all the art, we took a stroll over to Denver’s beloved (and ginormous) Blue Bear:
Hmm, all this culture was making me thirsty for a drink… so over and up to the Peaks Lounge we went for a cocktail and sweeping city views.
While K went home to pick up J so they could meet us out later for dinner, we decided that we if we were going to get two doses of culture, we must need two doses of cocktail venues. So we needed to find #2. Before our visit, we’d heard about the Corner Office, so we headed there. OK, I was kind of disappointed that the bar wasn’t located on a higher floor (it’s at street level), but I fell in love with the semi-retro décor (especially the cheeky bathroom door signage). They also make a stiff drink.
My husband suggested walking from downtown to our dinner spot, which was close by in the Uptown area. We walked along the Sixteenth Street Mall, which is home to more stores, a pedestrian and bus only street, and about the only street people I encountered on the whole trip. The bus is actually free in the downtown zone, which is nice. We stopped into the Brown Palace to see about a drink (I'm sensing a theme here), but all we found was high tea in the atrium and a cigar-friendly bar (I'm smoke averse). Notice in the photo at the bottom, ladies who tea with hats.
Dinner was a comfort food affair of chicken wings, etouffee and Shiner Bock beer (which I became a fan of while living in Texas). The place is called Steuben's, in the Uptown neighborhood. They also sell some fun t-shirts, which my husband and I couldn’t resist buying (we bought a stupid amount of t-shirts, in fact, at various places throughout Denver as souvenirs).
As you can guess, a nightcap was in order after we stuffed ourselves at Steuben’s. K & J drove us over to the Thin Man Tavern, where my husband discovered a quirky painting of the Last Supper, with some character substitutions. Also quirky but awesome are the lights at the entry - I spy lampshades! Next door is a little coffee shop, where I bought yet another t-shirt.
The next day, I dragged my husband back to Larimer Square to do my last round of shopping.
We ducked into the Denver location of Goorin, stocked with all sort of hats. Both my husband and I ended up buying one.
I scored a cute floral top and fun fabric bag at Violet, and I also visited its cute neighbor, Blush Boutique. Whenever I travel, I try to find locally-owned shops. Chains are great, but ubiquitous (OK, granted I had just left Goorin, which - at the time - I didn't realize was a chain, albeit a smallish one). I'd rather check out something I can't find at home. Besides, supporting local businesses gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling.
We then stopped into the Wazee Supper Club to refuel with some pizza before our next walkabout.
My husband wanted to check out the area on the other side of the Millenium Bridge, so we walked over that way. Novel idea of the day: someone had threaded yarn flowers into a chain-link fence at a construction site. Nicely done! We stopped into more shops, including the REI store, which is housed in the historic Tramway building, dating back to 1901 (source, REI website).
We got back to our hotel early, so we could meet up with K & J for the main reason for the visit – the concert at Red Rocks. OK, so I need to diverge briefly for a minute here and steer us into music. I did not see U2 at Red Rocks. Instead, the band I consider to be one of my all-time favorites is… Rush. This probably disqualifies me instantly from ever getting fashionista respect, but there it is. The crazy vocals, brooding lyrics, songs that are sometimes as lengthy as a dance club track, and big “geek” sign for all of us fans – bring it on. Who says I can’t enjoy Neil’s legendary drum solos while outfitted in my Elizabeth & James heels, Biba dress and Charles Chang Lima coat? Plus, for a band that has been around some 40-odd years, they are solid live performers. Every Rush show that I’ve been to (holy cow, I just counted 8 times) has been fantastic. For a band that jokes about how few female fans it has, well, I’m one of them!
Let’s get back to Denver, before you all run away. We drove out to Red Rocks, which is just 20 minutes or so outside of the city. Since the place isn’t near any restaurants, the big thing to do there is tailgate before the show. K & J proved what tailgating experts they are. Delicious margaritas made by K, and some excellent grilling from J (soft tacos, guac & chips – yum!), plus stunning scenery made for a perfect pre-show experience. Oh yeah, and a rainbow! Really!
The show was as fab as I expected, including some hilarious video at the start, intermission and end (the guys from I Love You, Man played a part in the latter).
We crashed at K & J’s after the show, and in the morning, we were headed back to the airport. We had high hopes for our Denver visit, and we were definitely *not* disappointed. I have no idea what Denver’s reputation is for things to see and do, but it seemed to be that there is plenty to keep you busy. We know we only saw a fraction of the place, and we still ran out of time. We didn't even get close to the side of downtown where Coors Field sits.
In closing, another huge Thank You to our hosts, K & J. They knew all of the places to hit and made sure we saw as much as we could, from restaurants and bars to Colfax Avenue to everything else they suggested. Our trip could not have been as awesome as it was without them. I will give myself and my husband some cred, though, for doing a bit of online research before the trip. A number of places we jotted down were already on our friends’ list.
XOXO, Denver. Til the next time.
All images: my own