My Love Affair With Denver by Ron Kapon

When one thinks of Denver Colorado, often the first thing that comes to mind is The Mile-High City because its elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level, making it the highest major city in the United States. Because it is only about 12 miles east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is an outdoor city with 85 miles of paved bicycle trails and 800 red bikes at 87 stations (bike share program). One can ski and snowboard in the winter and hike, climb and camp out in the summer. That proximity and the many days of sunny weather, with an average year-round temperature of 64 degrees, led to the city being named in 2016 as the best place to live in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The metro area population has approximately 2.9 million people. Since the 2010 census there has been an almost 16% increase in population with very little unemployment. I saw construction cranes everywhere and was told that one large builder offers scholarships at a local college for students completing a course dealing with building construction. They could not find enough qualified workers for their open jobs. Businesses headquartered there include: Molson Coors Brewing Company, Newmont Mining Corporation (second-largest gold producer in North America) and MapQuest. Other large employers include: Lockheed Martin Corp., United Airlines and Kroger Company. I was told that Smashburger, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Quiznos were founded in Denver. Did I mention the 35 breweries on the Denver Beer Trail with over 100 different brewpubs and breweries in the metro area?

I was the guest of Visit Denver for my four-day visit that included airfare from NYC and the availability of Hermes Worldwide limo service while in town. Airport to hotel; hotel to downtown for my walking tour and then back to the hotel. Downtown for a free day of touring and to my new hotel The Brown Palace. Finally, back to the airport and home. Founded in 2007 by Jorge Sanchez and his wife Rocio, Hermes Worldwide has 30 vehicles and the best and most professional staff I have ever encountered. A big shout out to them for making my trip so enjoyable.

I was in town for the Denver International Wine Festival run by Chris & Darcy Davies and their company Wine Country Network (I write for their magazine). Named “One of the Best Wine and Food Festivals in America” by Food & Wine Magazine.,

I was a guest of the Denver Marriott Westminster Hotel that was the site for the 13th annual wine festival. Located a half hour from the airport and equidistant from downtown Denver, Boulder and Golden, it has 215 rooms with a fitness center and indoor pool. I found it very convenient to ride down the elevator and into the wine festival.

Thursday night was the Pairsine Chefs Fine Food & Wine Competition with 10 chefs/restaurants in addition to vendors for non-wine products. The silent auction items benefited There With Care. There was a VIP early admission area that included wine seminars and a private room with a raw seafood bar and premium cocktails and additional wines available. VIP admission- $195; regular admission- $120.

Friday night was the Grand Tasting of International Wines that had 80 wineries and distillers with food and food products as well as wine accessories and another silent auction- VIP- $175; regular- $95.

The following is an overview from both of my walking tours (the second one occurred when I moved to the Brown Palace Hotel located downtown). In addition, the nice drivers from Hermes pointed out many of the sites before dropping me off. I did not visit any museums or any of the sports venues.

Visit Denver arranged a walking tour of downtown Denver that started at Union Station. My guide was Austin and he knew his stuff. Union Station is a working transit station that was built in 1917 and was renovated starting in 2002. There is an Amtrak hub and bus concourse. The neighborhood is called LoDo (Lower Downtown and it is within walking distance of the financial center). Behind the station there is a light rail system that one can ride to the airport for a cost of $9. The station reminds me of NYC’s Grand Central Station with its dining options and boutiques. I only wished New Yorkers had a train to the plane. In addition, there is a hotel- The Crawford within the station (I hope the rooms are soundproof- they are). I relaxed on the benches and people watched. Everything was so clean for a working terminal.

Larimer Square is home to many restaurants, shops and nightlife venues. Located between 14th and 15th streets on Larimer I did not stop at any of its stores but did notice several street performers.

The 16th Street Mall is to Denver what Rodeo Drive is to Los Angeles. This mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare, which stretches across the southern end of the LoDo district and bypasses Larimer Square, is lined with a variety of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, making it a popular place to visit. My only problem was the homeless population who often sit along the mall and/or in the parks. I never felt threatened especially with the large police presence. I am told outdoor smoking is now banned along the mall.

Denver Pavilions- On the 16th St Mall- 40 stores and restaurants- retail/entertainment center.

If you’re not up for walking, hop aboard the free 16th Street Mall Ride shuttle bus, which passes by every few minutes and stops at every street corner. After sundown, skip the bus and opt for a horse-and-carriage ride instead.

Rockmount Ranch Wear is a three-generation business started by Jack A. Weil (1901-2008) who worked until age 107 and was the oldest working CEO in the US. He introduced the first western shirts with snaps and also made the first commercially produced bolo ties.

Tattered Cover Book Store is a large indie bookstore and cafe furnished with comfortable sofas and overstuffed chairs. I rested on one of those chairs while sipping tea. They sell new and used books.

Named for Denver’s famed beer, Coors Field in Denver’s LoDo district is home to Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies. The stadium occupies over 75 acres and has a capacity of more than 50,000. I was told that attendees could sample some of Denver’s local brews on the Rooftop, a 38,000-square-foot platform with fantastic views of the field and downtown Denver.

Sports Authority Field (company is bankrupt so I guess they will need a new name) at Mile High (known to Denverites as just “Mile High Stadium”) is home to the NFL Denver Broncos’. It can seat more than 76,000 fans and it boasts something you don’t normally associate with football games- public art displays.

Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets (Basketball), Colorado Avalanche (hockey), Colorado Mammoth (lacrosse) & over 200 events. Seating capacity is almost 20,000.

The Colorado State Capitol Building is the home of the Colorado General Assembly and the offices of the Governor of Colorado. It was constructed in the 1890s from Colorado white granite. The distinctive gold dome consists of real gold leaf added in 1908. The building sits slightly higher than the rest of downtown Denver. The official elevation of Denver is measured outside the west entrance to the building, where the thirteenth step is engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.”

The River North Art District “where art is made” goes by the nickname of “RiNo” and has even adopted a rhino design for its official logo.

Lunch was at the Central market-

Denver’s gourmet food hall and grocery, located in RiNo. Showcasing 11 of Denver’s top chefs and food purveyors. I choose Vero- with hand-made pasta and wood-fired pizza.

After lunch I walked down Larimer Street to Our Mutual Friend Brewery. They were not open but a knock at the door and voila I was able to spend ½ hour talking to the brew master. It opened in 2012 with the goal of creating a place for community through their small neighborhood taproom.

A few blocks away were The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. Here I only had to wait a few minutes for them to open for the day. I tried portable, single-serve canned wine that was available in white, red, rose, Moscato, Dry Hopped Pear Cider and Dry Hopped Sauvignon Blanc.

Briefly stopped into The Source, which is a European-style artisan food market in RiNo. Housed in a 1880s ironworks building, it has a bakery, coffee roaster, taqueria, brewery, butcher, produce vendor, bottle shop, bank, wood-fired restaurant, florist, cocktail bar, cheese shop, and design store.

Shipping Container Project at 25th and Larimer in RiNo is a mixed-use complex comprised of 8,200 sq. ft. of mixed retail and office space, built using 29 reclaimed shipping containers.

Five Points is on the northeast side of Downtown Denver’s central business district. It has been called the Harlem of the West. I loved the small mainly single family, well kept homes but wondered if development was down the road. I noted many homeowners walking to work.

The Big Blue Bear looking into the Convention Center- The 40-foot-high bear is the creation of local artist Lawrence Argent. It was installed in 2005 and has quickly become a bona fide Mile High City icon.

Denver Performing Arts Complex- 10 performance spaces (4 block area)- second largest performing arts complex under one roof.

Street Art- Many of the works were business or community commissioned, while others were unsanctioned paintings or graffiti — all are in the open air for anyone to view and enjoy. They are often found in alleyways, under bridges or in abandoned lots.

Chris Davies drove me from the Marriott to my overnight stay at the legendary Brown Palace Hotel. On the way we had breakfast at Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen. There was a 15-minute wait just to place your order but it was worth the wait. And that is from a New Yorker who loves the Second Ave. Deli, Katz’s and Zabar’s. Owner Joshua Pollack had great bagels, smoked fish, salads and pastries.

The 241-room Brown Palace Hotel (AAA Four Diamond) and Spa was built in 1892 in the Italian Renaissance style using sandstone and red granite. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the second-longest operating hotel in Denver and one of the first atrium-style hotels ever built. It joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels in 2012. It was named for its original owner, Henry C. Brown, who donated 10 acres for the new capitol building. The hotel was built on a triangular piece of land with an iron and steel frame covered with cement and sandstone and was one of America’s first fireproof structures. There are six tiers of cast iron balconies to the stained glass skylight. The spa opened in 2005. The silver drinking fountain in the lobby is from the hotels artesian well located 750 feet beneath the hotel. An escalator to the second floor was added in 1959 to cross over Tremont Street to the now named Holiday Inn Express (22 story- 231 rooms). The spa is located on the fifth floor of this property. There are free-guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3PM for overnight guests. The honey from rooftop bee colony is used in the spa products sold in the hotel. Afternoon tea is a highlight as is Ellyngton’s Sunday Champagne brunch (which I attended). Costs start at $53.95. Children 6-12 cost $20.95 and those under 5 are free. Add $10 if you want Domaine Chandon California sparkling wine; $73.95 for Moet & Chandon. Dom Perignon is $315 a bottle.

I met with Udit Dang the Director of Food & Beverage; Christopher Rogers the manager of Ellynton’s and Christopher J. Messler the Palace Arms manager & sommelier for a tour of the beverage facilities. There are 800 plus wines on the list with over 6,000 bottles in storage. The best selling high-end wines include: 1985 Petrus and 1982 Cos d’Estournel. For the wine by the glass program Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Rombauer Chardonnay and Prisoner Zinfandel do exceptionally well. The Palace Arms is open for dinner and Churchill’s Bar serves as a cigar Lounge (grandfathered in before the no smoking rules took effect). Ship Tavern opened in 1934 and serves lunch & dinner. Ellyngton’s was a 1940’s jazz club purported named after Duke Ellington. I assume there are legal reasons why the name of the restaurant is spelled differently. It is open for breakfast & lunch. The hotel also holds six wine dinners a year for 20-30 people with winemaker/owners speaking.

Chris & Darcy Davies took me out for dinner on my last night driving about ½ hour from my downtown hotel to the area around Red Rocks Park. It is a mountain park in Jefferson County, Colorado owned and maintained by the city of Denver as part of the Denver Mountain Parks system. The park is known for its very large red sandstone outcrops. Within the park boundaries is the Red Rocks Amphitheater, a world-famous venue that added seats in 1941 and hosts many concerts and other events.

We ate dinner at The Fort Restaurant- The Fort is a western restaurant located just southwest of Denver. It sells sells more buffalo steaks than any other independently owned restaurant in the country. Featuring fine beef, buffalo, game and seafood, The Fort’s menu offers a tantalizing selection of old and new foods from the Early West. The place was packed but management kept a table for us.

My four days in Denver were eye opening. I love NYC and where I live on the Upper West Side. If I ever did decide to move Denver would be my first choice.