The New York Times - 36 Hours in Denver
THE shifting political landscape of the American West, where Democrats hope to make significant gains in several battleground states this fall, helped sell Denver as the site of the party’s national convention, Aug. 25 to 28. But as easy as this city may be to navigate — you can practically see from one end to the other, it’s that flat — Denver’s political and social landscapes can still be tough for outsiders to read. With a convention that has already been beset by cost overruns and a severe cutback on pomp, some delegates may find it hard to see the gold here without first striking the surface. Still, as Molly Brown would attest, it’s worth packing a pickax.
1) CHANGE TO BELIEVE IN
Brush up on your federal history at the Denver Mint (320 West Colfax Avenue; 303-405-4761; www.usmint.gov), where presidential portraits are stamped out on coins by the millions. You might even catch a glimpse of some of the new $1 presidential coins, like the Jacksons and Van Burens being released later this year, but don’t hold your breath for your own dollar, Bill, as the chronological series is currently planned to end with a Gerald Ford coin in 2016. (Admission is free, but reservations are highly recommended; www.usmint.gov/mint_tour). About everything in your pockets is forbidden, so dress as you would for the airport.
2) HIGH OFFICE
Walk across Civic Center Park to the steps of the imposingly gray state Capitol, a dead ringer for the one in Washington, only made of sound Colorado granite. Ascend the west side to find the spot, around the 13th step, that is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, giving Denver its altitudinal nickname.
3) NO NEW TAXIS!
You’ll be hearing a lot about this convention’s efforts to be environmentally sustainable, so do your part to offset all that hot air and borrow one of the 1,000 bicycles that Freewheelin, a bike-sharing program (www.freewheelinwaytogo.com), plans to provide for free use. Or hop on the MallRide, a free bus service along 16th Street from the Civic Center to Union Station. While you’re waiting, familiarize yourself with local issues by watching the zipper that rings The Rocky Mountain News building near Cleveland Place: “Wolves Now Under State Protection ... Bison Slaughter Probe May End Next Week ... Police: Angry Husband Kills Cat ...”
4) WHERE’S THE BEEF?
There’s no getting around Denver’s culinary specialty, red meat, the starring attraction at Old West-themed barbecue joints all over town. Be grateful that about the only species not represented in the form of taxidermy on the walls (or the menu) of Buckhorn Exchange, billed as Denver’s oldest restaurant, is the donkey (1000 Osage Street; 303-534-9505; www.buckhornexchange.com). Here, steak can be ordered by the pound, about $45 per. Another option is to drive to the Fort, 18 miles southwest in Morrison (19192 Highway 8; 303-697-4771; www.thefort.com), where 80,000 buffalo entrees are served annually in what appears to be a 1960s rendition of the Alamo. The food and service may be as wooden as the décor, but seldom is heard a discouraging word, as the music is turned up real loud.
5) THE OLD GLASS CEILING
One of Denver’s most famous homes belonged to a backwoods social climber who set out in the 1880s to land herself a rich husband and a big house, curiously enough, on what was then called Pennsylvania Avenue. (Now it’s Pennsylvania Street.) Margaret Tobin Brown, later mythologized as Molly Brown, was a suffragette who survived the sinking of the Titanic and ran for United States Senate, unsuccessfully, years before women won the right to vote. Certain spurned trailblazers might find solace in a tour of Ms. Brown’s Victorian mansion (1340 Pennsylvania Street; 303-832-4092; www.mollybrown.org; $7). They might even be inspired to stand on the front porch like Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and holler, “Pennsylvania Avenue, I’ll admit you gave me a nose full of splinters, but it’s all good wood from the very best doors!”
6) NO PRESIDENTIAL POKER
If your idea of fine art does not include those caricatures of “Presidents Playing Poker,” Denver has a wealth of remarkable galleries, concentrated in Lower Downtown (LoDo) and also along Santa Fe Drive (convenient to the local D.N.C. offices). For novices, one of the most accessible is the Artists on Santa Fe gallery (747 Santa Fe Drive; 303-573-5903; www.artistsonsantafe.com), a warren of studios where sculptors and painters in residence will personally explain their work. A few doors down, the Limited Addiction Gallery (825 Santa Fe Drive; 303-893-4234; www.limitedaddictiongallery.com) offers an exciting contrast of cutting-edge works, including a show starting this month of Matt Curry’s ghoulish fish-scaled figures and Robert Hargrave’s cartoonlike mashup creatures.
7) HOW THE WEST WAS WORN
Let’s say you have an image problem. Some people, misguided as they may be, think you are an elitist. Now, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little fashion makeover at Rockmount Ranch Wear (1626 Wazee Street; 303-629-7777; www.rockmount.com), a LoDo shop famous in these parts for introducing the snap button to the western shirt, making it easier for cowboys to ride the range or re-enact scenes from “Brokeback Mountain.” (Yep, Jack and Ennis were Rockmount customers.) The store — and an accompanying museum — have the fascinating feel of a ghost town relic, with a lasso-rope logo and dusty displays, but the shirts have modern-day prices, most of them $62 to $84. Steve Weil, the president of Rockmount, is creating a special style for the convention, based on Denver’s abstract mountain flag, which he hopes to hand out to delegates.
8) DITCH THE PRESS CORPS
The best of Denver night life can be found near the city’s roots in Larimer Square in LoDo, where gold was first discovered in Colorado in the 1850s. Now the closest thing to gold around here is more likely to come in a bottle of Cuervo. At Rioja, for example, be sure to try the Loca Hot, $10, made with Fresno pepper-infused tequila, plus Agavero (tequila liqueur), orange and lime. Within a three-block radius, there’s also a wine bar, Crú; a Champagne bar, Corridor 44; and a nightclub called Open Bar. Given the intensified effects of alcohol at high altitudes, you might want to head underground to Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret in the basement of the D&F Tower (16th Street and Arapahoe Street; 303-293-0075; www.lannies.com). You might try to lose the press, as the raunchy burlesque shows on Saturday nights typically involve some sort of spanking or drag acts. Tickets are $12 to $20, depending on the performance.
9) THE ELECTORAL COLLAGE
The Denver Art Museum’s two-year-old jutting addition designed by Daniel Libeskind looks like an Imperial Cruiser from “Star Wars,” and once you are inside, the vertigo-inducing floor plan will make you long to get your feet back on earth (100 West 14th Avenue; 720-865-5000.; www.denverartmuseum.org; $10 for Coloradans, $13 for others). But the museum’s juxtaposition of the work of contemporary art stars with American Indian artifacts is oddly compelling. And if you happen to be having trouble giving up smoking, be sure to look for Damien Hirst’s “Party Time” installation, an ashtray the size of a kiddie pool filled with thousands of burned cigarette butts. Dive right in.
10) GRASS ROOTS MOVEMENT
The Mile High Flea Market could just as well be named the Mile Wide Flea Market, given that its hundreds of tightly packed, pastel-colored stalls cover 80 acres of pavement (I-76 and 88th Avenue; www.milehighfleamarket.com). The big trend here this summer — go figure — is merchandise printed with the distinctive leaf of a marijuana plant, including on wallets, T-shirts and even mud flaps, no inhaling required. You can also sample delicious street fare, like $2 corn on the cob rolled in a tray of butter, Parmesan and seasoning salt. And if you’re man enough, try a chelada, a stomach-churning brew of Clamato juice and Budweiser.
Denver International Airport, about 20 miles from downtown, is one of the busiest in the nation, served by several major carriers. In late August, flights from the New York area were as low as $299 according to a recent online search. A cab from the airport to most downtown hotels is $47.
Good luck finding a room during the convention (even the Comfort Inn is sold out), but otherwise try the boutique Hotel Teatro (1100 14th Street; 303-228-1100; www.hotelteatro.com). The rooms are small, the layouts are quirky and the service is the best you’ll find for the price. Rooms start at $269.
The Brown Palace Hotel (321 17th Street; 303-297-3111; www.brownpalace.com) looks presidential with its nine-story atrium and the Palace Arms restaurant, where you can see two golden eagles made of papier-mâché — parade decorations from Napoleon’s march from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame to crown himself emperor. Rooms from $189.
There’s a new Ritz-Carlton (1881 Curtis Street; 303-312-3800; www.ritzcarlton.com), but it still sort of looks like the Embassy Suites it replaced, and it’s across from a Greyhound station. Rooms from $309.
A version of this article appears in print on Page TR11 of the New York edition with the headline: 36 HOURS IN DENVER