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Chicago Tribune - Denver hosts the Democrats - and a ton of fun

Denver hosts the Democrats—and a ton of fun

By Anne Spiselman | Special to the Chicago Tribune 


For the first time in a century, the Democratic National Convention is in Denver. The Mile High City will be jammed with candidates, delegates, journalists, lobbyists and assorted hangers-on this week, but soon after is a fine time to visit. You'll find an expanding metropolis that manages to retain a compact feel, as well as increasingly "in" neighborhoods with names like LoDo (Lower Downtown) and LoHi (Lower Highlands). Getting around on foot or public transportation is easy, and the buses that run along the 16th Street Mall (a pedestrian shopping strip) are free. For more, go to www.denver.org

Colorado State Capitol

The white granite, gold leaf-domed Colorado State Capitol, designed by Elijah E. Myers and built in the 1890s with mostly local materials, is a must-see, whether you take a free 45-minute tour or wander around by yourself. Be sure to notice Denverite Alan True's murals depicting Colorado water use, bronze elevator doors chronicling the state's history and the council chambers. Presidential portraits lining the third-floor rotunda were donated in 1979 with a trust fund to keep the gallery updated in perpetuity, so Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain will join them soon. Make an appointment to visit the Dome for panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. A tip: Stand on the 13th step on the west side of the building and you're exactly one mile above sea level.

Denver Art Museum

Daniel Libeskind designed the dramatic, titanium-clad Frederic C. Hamilton Building, which opened in 2006 and connects to Gio Ponti's 1971 North Building via a glassed-in second-floor bridge. More than 50,000 square feet—nary a straight wall, tons of maze-like layouts—showcase modern and contemporary, Oceanic and Western American art as well as temporary exhibits, among them "Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism" (through Sept. 7).

Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver

Opened with great fanfare last October, this striking glass box designed by architect David Adjaye is the first contemporary art museum in the country to obtain Gold LEED certification as a "green" building and deserves kudos for taking advantage of natural light. Exhibits are temporary. Best bet: Hang out at the rooftop MCA Cafe and enjoy the garden and people-watching.

If you go

Larimer Square

Saved from destruction in the 1960s and renovated as an urban-renewal project, Denver's oldest block is lined with Victorian brick buildings housing trendy stores, restaurants and night spots. Start by shopping for Western- and Asian-influenced clothing and accessories at Cry Baby Ranch, have a glass of bubbly at Corridor 44, the city's first Champagne bar, and finish with fresh bacon on curry-scented chickpea puree and grilled Colorado lamb at Rioja.

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Denver's quirkiest museum feels more like a classy antiques shop, thanks to the organized jumble of decorative arts, regional art (with an emphasis on Colorado Modernism) and Vance Kirkland paintings. Kirkland used the original 1910-11 Arts and Crafts building as his art school/studio, surrounding himself with works by his contemporaries, as well as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and other beautifully designed objects. His heir, Hugh Grant, kept adding to the furniture, ceramics, glassware, etc., eventually expanding the building and opening to the public in 2003. Afterward, walk up the street to Liks Ice Cream Parlor for creamy house-made ice cream in myriad flavors, quite a few of them invented by customers.

Denver Performing Arts Complex

Ten venues make up the country's second-largest performing arts complex. The Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which opened in 2005 as the state-of-the-art home of Opera Colorado, is in the building that originally was the multipurpose Municipal Auditorium, where the 1908 Democratic National Convention took place.

Big Blue Bear

More than 300 public artworks dot the city, and part of the fun is coming upon them by surprise. Everybody loves the 40-foot-high, vibrant blue bear peeking in the windows of the Colorado Convention Center. Its real title is "I See What You Mean," and artist Lawrence Argent, who created it in 2005 out of steel encased in a concrete/fiberglass composite, has called it his "stylized representation of native fauna."

Rockmount Ranch Wear

No enterprise epitomizes Denver's pioneer spirit more than Rockmount, started in 1946 and known for making the first Western shirts with snaps. Worn in dozens of films by stars ranging from Elvis Presley to Meg Ryan, the signature "diamond" snap, "sawtooth" pocket designs in more than 100 fabrics fill the racks, complemented by skirts, boots, hats, belts and everything else a cowboy or cowgirl needs.

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