when in denver: the layover guide
Many years ago, back when the Man was living in DC and I in San Francisco, I met Denver. Denver was an unexpected midnight emergency stop when the flight I was on--the flight that was so, so close to my apartment with its ready-to-go Ben & Jerry's and nicely made bed where I could wallow and eat my emotions away--unexpectedly hit terrible weather. And next thing you knew I found myself in the no man's land of an airport that had shut down for night.
And so, many years later it seemed utterly appropriate that I would land up back there again, except this time with man in tow and the nice fact that should I get stuck in that enormous (and admittedly really pretty) airport with its tornado shelters, well, he'd be stuck there too.
Given that we had spent a week doing fairly active things (bellinis take a lot of arm strength, if you know what I mean), we decided we would have a low-key city day, centered a few meals. It was also, I should add, blazingly hot, so we were not moving at exactly a marathon pace.
Beyond seeing Sister Billimoria, in for the day from Boulder, the real reason for our detour was a little spot called El Taco de Mexico. Situated in the Art district right off Santa Fe Drive, it's a low key joint, recognizable by the handful of tables out front and line of rabid fans. An old school menu lists the options, but all you need to know is green chili. Get it on anything and everything, and throw an horchata on the side -- by far the best I've ever had. Between the spicy, melty mess and the clean, frothy, cinnamon, it was not surprising that we nearly missed our flight the next day trying to return.
Heading down the block, pop into the cavernous space and browse all the usual categories plus local picks, Shinola journals, and a great kid's section.
When you finally drag yourself away, head over just a few blocks to Rockmount Ranch Wear. Stuffed with country shirts, cowboy boots, belt buckles, and everything you need to dress yourself for Denver. (This would have been an excellent stop before my visit to the Rodeo).
Upstairs, a mini "museum" includes sweet notes on the origins of the store and its colorful history as the creator of snap-front western shirts.
From there, head on east passing Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, which has built a cult following with meats like rattlesnake and boar.
As you start to meander north, the neighborhood quickly turns hipster ideal -- industrial, with lots of small shops, tiny breweries, tatted kids drinking at said breweries, etc.
We decided it was a two-stop coffee kind of day and started the run at Huckleberry Roasters. With a friendly barista, awesome espresso, great vibe, it honestly was what all the chain roasteries hope they can become.
Next door, we popped into Topo Designs to browse camping mugs and the most expensive travel-body-wash I've ever seen (but good lord, it smelled awful nice....)
Continuing to proceed down the block, we detoured to Crema for a round of iced tea. If Huckleberry was the hip older brother with skinny pants and carefully ripped tees, Crema was the free-loving hippie sister with flowers in her hair.
Continuing to wander the neighborhood, we were tempted to pop into the whitewashed brewery Our Mutual Friend but decided we were probably better off cleaning ourselves up before our dinner reservation.
Dinner was a major dilemma: Acorn, a Bon Appetit top 50 in 2014, or ChoLon, a favorite of local chefs with retro Asian Fusion that's rumored to be the best? Or do we just go back to El Taco, because: green chilis.
We landed on Acorn, for the simple reason that it's located in the Source, a reclaimed 1880s foundry-turned-market with a small butcher, jewelry shop, bar etc. It's the sort of space that simply can't exist in NY, and with the perfect summer evening sun streaming in, the mood was festive.
The dinner itself was totally enjoyable. Revolutionary? Not at all, but it was warm, and fun, and the small plates format ensured we were constantly trying new things. The yellowtail on eggplant was terrific, and we had a great time making our way through a pile of pâté, topped with peaches. The cocktails were admittedly a bit prettier than they were delicious, but we happily moved on to wine.
We were such bums that we ate so much that we were literally unable to make it to Little Man Ice Cream (alas my dreams were crushed) or you know, another drink. I hope you shall fare better, and if you do, I'd suggest a cocktail at one of the following. Or better yet, stay another night, and have a meal or two (and maybe a hike, because this is Denver).
- The Plimoth
- Williams & Graham
- Linger (rumor has it their 2nd floor bar is made entirely from lite-brites. seriously.)
- Lao Wang Noodle House
- Colt & Gray
- Beast & Bottle
- The Populist
- and, not to state the obvious or anything, but: breweries
Oh and if you feel the need to do something other than walk and eat and drink, there are several museums and my bets are on the Contemporary Art and Clyfford Still. Also, it's Denver so anything involving the outdoors is a go.