Up until recently, my only association with Denver was the 1980s TV series “Dynasty” which was set there. The erstwhile prime time soap opera centred on oil, money and power - and on the conspicuously pompous wardrobe of the two rivals Alexis (played by Joan Collins) and Krystle (played by Linda Evans). That being said, it was only after my visit to the capital of Colorado that I realised the hit series was set in the vicinity of the famous Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountains are still as they were back then. Unlike Denver. The city has undergone a dramatic transformation since the 1980s and is, today, a cool, urban and trendy stronghold for hipsters. Denver is alive, bubbly and vibrant. “As well as Denver, Portland and Austin (in Texas) are America’s up-and-coming cities,” as Eric Guest, Relation Manager of the Café Mercantile Dining & Provision, says. He goes on to add: “In the last five years, the government has invested substantial amounts of money in the city.” Apart from attracting companies like Google, Twitter or Amazon, Denver is also a magnet for all sorts of people from across the US. Above all, the city is attracting young people for whom New York, Los Angeles et al. have become too boring and quite simply unaffordable. So the “big buzz” about Denver is not a total surprise. This buzz can be felt in every nook and cranny of the city that boasts a slew of charming cafés, cool beer bars and interesting people with fascinating stories to tell.
LoDo, RiNo and eTuk rides
The centre of Denver consists of nine neighbourhoods: LoDo (Lower Downtown), LoHi (Lower Highlands), RiNo (River North), Five Points, Uptown, East Colfax, Capitol Hill/Golden Triangle, South Broadway and Cherry Creek. “Each neighbourhood has its characteristics,” Ashley, Communication Manager at Visit Denver, explains, “and they all have their own special charm.” There are two ways for visitors to experience that charm: a tour on a “B-Cycle” rental bike or in an “eTuk”. The first option reflects Denver’s new awareness: pedalling instead of being chauffeured around. Indeed, Denver is currently America’s most cycling-friendly city. With 88 B-Cycle stations and 700 bicycles throughout the central neighbourhoods, it is really easy to pick up and drop off rental bikes using a convenient app. The second option requires less physical exertion but is just as fun: passengers are picked up at an agreed spot by a guide in an electric three-wheeled vehicle (e-Tuk) and taken on a roughly one-hour tour during which their guide provides the ins and outs of the city. “I am originally from Texas,” Ty, my personal eTuk guide tells me during the tour. “But Denver has so many amazing facets that one ends up staying. Personally, I am a huge fan of the city’s multifarious comedy scene.” And Ty is not alone. Whereas the Gold Rush in the nineteenth century drew a large number of gold diggers to the “Mile-High City”, these days, people are drawn to Denver for the purpose of personal self-actualisation and a dose of the famed American Dream.
Denver’s living room
Since 2014, the heart of Denver is tantamount to Denver Union Station in LoDo. Up until 2012, prior to being renovated for a staggering $54 million, the train station resembled a ghost town. With just one train passing through a day, the residents of Denver avoided it like the plague. Largely thanks to architect Dana Crawford, Union Station is known today as “Denver’s Living Room”. And, indeed, it is something of a 24-hour sitting room with cafés, flower shops and sandwich bars in the main concourse, as well as comfortable settees and armchairs that are in very popular demand thanks to free WIFI. According to Julie Dunn, Communication Manager for “The Crawford Hotel”, Denver‘s living room is so popular that other US cities, including Atlanta and Las Vegas, are eager to transform their own forgotten and dilapidated station halls into trendy temples. Visitors should definitely allow for plenty of time in Denver Union Station. My personal recommendations: breakfast in the wonderful “Mercantile Dining & Provision”, an after-work drink in the stylish “Cooper Lounge” and an overnight stay in “The Crawford Hotel”. And for in-between, there’s Denver’s historical centre to explore, by means of a walk along Blake Street up to the Coors Field baseball park, for instance, followed by a stroll along Larimer Square where history comes alive.
RiNo – Denver‘s trendiest neighbourhood
In recent years, RiNo has rocketed to the top of the popularity scale. Why? According to the locals, “RiNo is where art is made”, which is visible everywhere. To a large extent, this is thanks to the graffiti and street art festival “CRUSH” held every year in September. The week-long event gives national and international artists an opportunity to paint and spray the facades of public or private buildings. The festival even attracts renowned artists like Stikki Peaches or Whatisadam who seize the opportunity to become immortalised in the streets of Denver. “CRUSH was launched in 2010, with the goal of beautifying RiNO,” Ashley from Visit Denver explains, “because the neighbourhood was long considered decrepit and shabby.” That goal has definitely been achieved!
But it’s not just graffiti and street art that make RiNO so unique. The neighbourhood’s small galleries, boutiques and old industrial warehouses also contribute to its uniqueness. “The Source” and the “The Denver Central Market” are two such warehouses which, today, are wonderful food temples. The concept is simple: seasonal products sourced from local producers served by locals. The dishes, even if just a green smoothie, are a divinely delicious treat for the palate. My tip for a menu in “The Denver Central Market”: start at “Green Seed” with a ginger shot, then treat yourself to a meat platter from “The Local Butcher” and top it off with an ice cream from “High Point Creamery”. Denver’s local beers are great thirst quenchers. With more than 100 beer companies in the city, Denver has the highest concentration of breweries in the US – and that’s saying something! An excellent way to get to know the various sorts is on a beer trail. The go-to place to try something new is “The Source” food market where America’s new way of cooking can be experienced to the full: simple, fresh, regional, but with a special twist.
Golden Triangle, Cherry Creek et al. in a nutshell
Those who, after RiNo, still want more art will love the Golden Triangle neighbourhood, which is home to the Denver Art Museum built by Daniel Liebeskind. The museum façade is, in itself, a sight to behold. Situated next to it is the Clyfford Still Museum that houses more than 3000 expressionist works and paintings. The obvious next stop from there is the Cherry Creek neighbourhood with the Cherry Creek Mall, a typical American shopping centre. Cherry Creek also hosts a string of small boutiques good for hours of delightful browsing.
The city of Denver is still in full development – most notably in the other neighbourhoods which often give the impression of being slightly unfinished. As for my original image of Denver as the setting for the TV series “Dynasty”, there is absolutely no sign of it. No cowboys and no Joan Collins clippings. Instead, the city is full of cool, open and creative people - and so much fun to get to know.
Small excursion and insider tip: Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
Technically speaking, the “Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre” is not a part of Denver. But since the entertainment venue features a truly spectacular stage -with breathtaking vistas- it should be mentioned here, and is well worth the thirty-minute car drive from Denver. On arrival, visitors will instantly know where the prefix “Color” in Colorado comes from: from the bright red rocks.