The Dallas Morning News - Denver's Revitalized Downtown Gets More Hip by the Minute
April 26, 2010
Denver's revitalized downtown gets more hip by the minute
By JEFF MILLER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
DENVER – Twenty years ago, its abandoned brick warehouses and deserted streets couldn't draw two people, let alone a crowd. But with the saving of nearby historical Larimer Square, the establishment of Denver's first brew pub (the Wynkoop) and the building of Coors Field, Denver's lower downtown (affectionately known as LoDo) is now one of the city's coolest spots to eat, drink and be entertained. Officially consisting of 26 square blocks, LoDo is home to the largest concentration of Victorian and early 19th-century buildings in the nation, and sports 90 restaurants, brew pubs and cafes, as well as riverside walking and biking trails, numerous galleries, one of the nation's finest bookstores and the new Museum of Contemporary Art.
Here's a sampling of what to see, do and experience in LoDo.
Foraging for food
Breakfast: Flocks of young urbanites waiting outside Snooze, an A.M. Eatery (2262 Larimer St.; 303-297-0700; www.snoozedenver.com) must know something. Try the peanut butter and jelly pancakes or the "salmon of all benedicts."
Photos: Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau
Coors Field is within walking distance of an outdoor cafe atop LoDo's Bar & Grill.
Pizza: Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria (2129 Larimer St.; 303-296-7000; www.marcoscoalfiredpizza.com) is the state's only Neapolitan restaurant certified by the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (and one of only 40 in the nation).
Seafood:Jax Fish House (1539 17th St.; 303-292-5767; www.jaxfishhouse denver.com) has been voted by numerous local publications as the city's best seafood restaurant. Housed in a building where Jack Kerouac once lived, Jax boasts a raw bar and creative fish dishes. For a more traditional take, try McCormick's Fish House & Bar (1659 Wazee St.; 303-825-1107; www.mccormicks fishouse.com) in the restored Oxford Hotel building.
The great outdoors
Bike riding: Denver has more than 850 miles of paved off-street bike and hiking trails. Starting last week, 40 to 50 city-owned bicycle kiosks opened throughout downtown. Anyone can swipe a credit card and pay $5 for 24-hour access to 500 bikes for unlimited rides, as long as each trip is less than a half-hour (more than 30 minutes, $1 for next hour). So, grab a bike and ride to another kiosk, stop for lunch, grab another bike, stop for a snack, pick up another bike, etc. It isn't a bike rental system; it's a bike sharing program. All kiosks and bike availability will be viewable on iPhones at www.denver.bcycle.com.
A bridge in Commons Park connects LoDo with the rest of Denver. Bike-rental kiosks are plentiful.
Kayaks: You can rent a kayak and get instruction at Confluence Kayak (2373 15th St.; 303-433-3676; www.confluencekayaks.com), then run the course where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River meet at Confluence Park (2200 15th St.). For all others, it's a hoot to simply watch the watery daredevils shoot man-made rapids.
Boat rides: From June 1 through Aug. 31, Venice on the Creek (Larimer Street and Speer Boulevard; 303-893-0750; www.veniceonthecreek.com) offers half-hour rides in punts (similar to gondolas) on Cherry Creek. As your guide poles you along on a day ride or romantic candlelit evening float ($50 to $75), you'll learn about Denver's pioneer history. Surprisingly enjoyable.
Fun park: Seventy-acre Elitch Gardens (2000 Elitch Circle; 303-595-4386; www.elitchgardens.com) is the only downtown theme park in America. It offers 48 thrill rides and a complete water theme park. Just outside of official LoDo, it can be reached by taking light rail from Union Station.
Denver has 850 miles of paved off-road bike and hiking paths, including this section featuring artwork.
Baseball: Coors Field (2001 Blake St.; 303-292-0200; www.rockies.mlb.com) is home of the Colorado Rockies and hosts about 80 home games a year. A number of tickets in the "Rockpile" are held for walk-ups on each home game day. If you get seats, look for the purple line of seats that rings the stadium. It marks one mile high.
Model train: In the basement of Union Station (1701 Wynkoop St.; www.denverunionstation.org) is one of the nation's oldest (75 years) and largest O scale model-train layouts. Open to the public (free) only on the last Friday of each month, 7 to 9 p.m. (Denver Society of Model Railroaders; 303-572-1015; www.denveroscaleclub.org).
So many to name, so little space. Three examples: Rockmount Ranch Wear (1626 Wazee St.; 303-629-7777; www.rockmount.com) is where the famous snap-button Western shirt was invented. A small museum in the store tells the story of Western shirts. The Tattered Cover (1628 16th St.; 303-436-1070; www.tatteredcover.com) was once named by The New York Times as the best bookstore in America. William Mathews Gallery (1617 Wazee St.; 303-534-1300; www.william matthewsgallery.com) sells works by the watercolorist whom Forbes hailed as the new Remington of American painting.
Night life, entertainment
Brew pubs: Denver is the Napa Valley of beer, brewing more than 100 different beers daily. The Great American Beer Festival, held in Denver each September, is the nation's largest celebration of suds, with more than 2,300 beers to sample. One of the largest brew pubs in America is Wynkoop Brewing Co. (1634 18th St.; 303-297-2700; www.wynkoop.com), founded by Denver's current mayor, John Hickenlooper. It has a pool hall, hearty pub fare and brews such as Sagebrush Stout that's "rich with kisses of chocolate, coffee and oats." The largest selection of beers (200; 75 on tap) is at Falling Rock Tap House (1919 Blake St.; 303-293-8338; www.fallingrocktaphouse .com). A handful of brew-pub tours is available (go to www.visitdenver.com).
Founded in the 1950s, El Chapultepec is one of Denver's oldest jazz establishments.
Jazz: El Chapultepec (1962 Market St.; 303-295-9126) is a renowned jazz joint founded in the 1950s. It's still serving nightly jazz in a friendly, usually standing-room-only dive that looks seedier than it really is.
Atmosphere: The day Prohibition ended, the Cruise Room (Oxford Hotel, 1600 17th St.; 303-825-1107; www.theoxfordhotel.com) opened. Fashioned after an art deco lounge on the Queen Mary, it's known for classic martinis and the cool lighting. If nothing else, walk through it.
Rooftop cafes: Golden-hued sunsets over the Rockies can be seen from LoDo's Bar & Grill (1946 Market St.; 303-293-8555; www.lodosbarandgrill.com), The Tavern (1949 Market St.; 303-299-0100; www.tavern hospitalitygroup .com) and the cafe atop the Museum of Contemporary Art (see below).
Museum: The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (1485 Delgany St.; 303-298-7554; www .mcadenver.org) opened in 2007 and is the city's first institution devoted entirely to contemporary art. Housed in a new, environmentally sustainable facility designed by David Adjaye, it has one-cent admission every Saturday of the month and boasts a rooftop cafe.
Historic hotel: The 1891 Oxford Hotel (1600 17th St.; 303-628-5400; www .theoxfordhotel.com) is a stylish luxury boutique hotel with spa, salon and complete fitness center. It's also home to the legendary Cruise Room lounge and McCormick's Fish House & Bar (see above for both ).
Funky hip: The Jet Hotel and Lounge (1612 Wazee St.; 303-572-3300; www.thejethotel.com) is locally owned and has just 18 rooms. Offering a mix of old Denver and urban chic, the Jet also has a hopping cocktail lounge and a private club, Twenty, in the basement.
Two more tips
Getting around: LoDo is pedestrian-friendly. You also can hail a cab, take a free bus from Union Station up the 16th Street Mall or jump into a pedicab (human-powered) or a horse-drawn carriage.
Research: Visit Denver, the Convention & Visitors Bureau (1-800-233-6837; www.visitdenver.com) and LoDo District Inc. (303-628-5428; www.lodo.org).