The Edge of Denver
Whether it’s restaurants, hotels, bars and breweries, or graffiti, galleries and art installations, Denver knows how to give its many offerings an undeniable edge.
Alliance Magazine - April/May 2019
Words by: Michelle Hespe
Denver International Airport is no ordinary airport. To one person it could be seen as a neat line of gigantic white teepees, while to another it might look like snow-capped mountains mirroring the Rocky Mountains rising majestically behind it. Personally,
I think it looks like a series of enormous pavlova peaks. But that might be the Aussie in me coming out. Whatever your take, it’s very cool.
And Denver’s cool factor doesn’t stop there. When you leave the airport and begin the drive into the heart of Colorado’s capital, art pops up at every turn – a giant rearing blue horse with fiery red eyes is one of the first impressive public art installations that you’ll pass by. Another is the Big Blue Bear staring into the Denver Convention Centre.
The reason there’s so much art is because for three decades local law has stipulated that one percent of all capital-improvement projects over $1 million undertaken by the city must go towards public art. However it’s not just the sculpture and public art that give Denver its edge. Art pervades most aspects of life in this happening city where Americans are now flocking, as the price of living is still cheaper than most of the other big cities with a thriving arts and culture scene.
Street Art & Booze
I’m staring up at the semi-naked six-storey-high Greek God Hephaestus, aptly named the God of Creativity. There are window cleaners in high-vis gear hanging off the wall near his thigh. It’s a remarkable piece of street art that covers half the new block of apartments in this hip part of Denver called RiNo (pronounced ’rhino’), which is the River North Arts District.
The district’s blend of urban charm and industrial revival make it a hipster heaven, and if you’re a bloke, then a big beard is pretty much part of the uniform, along with a Rocky Mountains-style checked flanno.
I embark on a graffiti tour with local Denverite James Carlson, who started the tours about a year ago due to increased interest in the street art that is now supported by CRUSH WALLS – a festival offering art inspiration through this specialised urban craft. James and I walk and talk for two hours, taking in hundreds of pieces of art. Sadly, but understandably, every year the artworks from the year before are painted over and the coveted spaces are readied for new works to be created.
If you love art and beer, RiNo is where it’s at. The place is absolutely peppered with breweries, distilleries, cool cafés, bars and restaurants to enjoy the goods, alongside fantastic modern food that veers far from the stereotypical deep-fried US food offerings of the past.
For beer tastings, I visit Ratio, Our Mutual Friend, 10 Barrell Brewing (with great sours including a hit cucumber variety) and The Block Distilling Co, which creates an awesome gin in a beautiful bottle worthy of a souvenir. I top the afternoon off by spending a couple of hours in Denver Central Market, an exciting emporium of awesome produce and fabulous food. It’s home to a bakery, coffee shop, fish market, butcher, rotisserie, chocolate shop, ice cream parlour, wood-fired pizzeria and more. The focus is on healthy organic food, and the central attraction is its outstanding bar, serving up cocktails, beer, and a wide range of wine.
Restaurants & Cool Refurbs
One of the most exciting recent developments in downtown Denver is the restoration of the historic 100-year-old Denver Union Station, which has led to the revitalisation of the entire district. The station is home to ultra-cool eateries, including the playful 60s-style Snooze, which focuses on celebrating the AM (AKA breakfast) dining experience. The two brothers who created it give classic American breakfasts a twist, and its brekkie menu is possibly the largest in the world.
In the same building is Mercantile, which is considered one of the best restaurants in Denver. It dishes up ‘elevated comfort food’ (which is a wonderful way of describing its relaxed fine dining), with a focus on the solidification of sustainable relationships between restaurant, farm and market.
The atmosphere is as intoxicating as the scents drifting from the kitchen, where head chef Alex Seidel works with a passionate and talented team to create perfectly balanced culinary masterpieces. A James Beard-winning chef with even more awards than kitchen knives, he and his team take food, wine, beer and spirits seriously, and yet are fun, welcoming and excited about sharing their melting pot of knowledge. They also sell their spices, so if one takes your fancy, you can take a little dash of Mercantile home with you for your next dinner party.
Another lovely choice for a modern restaurant where the chefs, sommeliers and staff are equally dedicated to their craft, is modern Italian gem Tavernetta, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from Mercantile in the station area.And, like many places in Denver, Tavernetta is dog-friendly!
Seamlessly merging a marketplace with a cool hotel, 25 independent retailers and restaurants, a rooftop gastropub, a beer garden, and a pool terrace is the very hip Source Hotel and Market Hall, located right in the middle of the RiNo district.
Another recent great renovation can be seen at The Ramble Hotel. Soaring church-high ceilings, deep blue and chocolate hues on luxe velvet, leather and wood furnishings come together to create an uber-cool yet welcoming space. The hotel is home to Death & Co, which is a New York-based bar and online retailer that pays homage to the speakeasy era. Denver was chosen as the first location outside of NYC and includes an intimate theatre and event bar, alongside a new restaurant from Denver’s acclaimed Work & Class, which offers Southern and Latin American cuisine, complemented by wonderful cocktails.
If you’d prefer to be in downtown Denver, Hotel Indigo is another newcomer, very handily located directly across from Denver Union Station. The tagline suits this cool place: ’Travel Like an Explorer. Stay Like a Local.’ It has an awesome bar downstairs, which has more than 500 whiskeys, and one block away is the much-loved American grocery chain Whole Foods Market, which is basically heaven for lovers of real food and other products that are related to health and wellbeing. Saving the planet and living well is the aim of the game here.
If you can drag yourself away from trendy RiNo, another way to get a good fix of art is to visit the trio of musuems and galleries that you can purchase a 'passport' for: Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum. Each as inspiring as the next, by the end of the day you might feel like a cooling ale. Luckily, as you may have gathered by now, a bevvy is not too difficult to arrange in Denver.
Snooze: an AM eatery:
Denver Central Market: denvercentralmarket.com
The Ramble Hotel:
The Source Hotel and Market Stall:
Denver Graffiti Tour: denvergraffititour.com
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art:
Denver Art Museum: denverartmuseum.org
Clyfford Still Museum: clyffordstillmuseum.org
Death & Co:
Our Mutual Friend:
10 Barrell Brewing:
The Block Distilling Co:
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