By Kim Fuller Published in the Summit Daily News
The mountains are melting, but Denver has a spring in its step. You can travel from your Summit County door to downtown in less than two hours, and there’s really no better time to see this city in full bloom.
“Denver is finding itself right now, and it’s special to be able to be here to witness the change and innovation,” said Sam Alviani, Denver resident and editor-in-chief of “Fellow Magazine.”
The feeling of innovation is present, no doubt, and takes place in spaces like The Source, an old brick foundry building from the 1800s located in the city’s up-and-coming River North district (known as RiNo). The classic building has been made into a collective of 15 different food artisans and retailers that are separated only by industrial-style steam beam “walls.”
Alviani said Denver locals maintain a growing awareness that they are amidst a city of restaurateurs, business owners and budding entrepreneurs — all in collaboration to help continue to develop the city’s cultural legacy.
“For visitors, the Denver experience is showing itself as a medium between our Western roots, rich pioneer history and the pioneering spirit that continues to be an integral force of our personality,” she said.
Last spring, The Renaissance Denver Downtown emerged out of a lasting establishment. The hotel opened in the historic Colorado National Bank building, restored to highlight the timeless tales of the multi-level space alongside the accessories and amenities of modern design and hospitality.
Check out the series of murals that span the perimeter of the ceiling, painted by Western artist Allen Tupper True. Cleaning the wall art meant a lot of time spent detailing it with toothbrush-sized tools before the hotel opened last May, and each of the 16 frescoes are as stunning as ever.
Start your day with a green breakfast smoothie from the on-site restaurant, Range, and then take advantage of the convenient location of the hotel, with prime downtown accessibility. It’s a block from the 16th Street pedestrian and rickshaw-run mall, but within walking, biking or Uber (an app-driven cab service) distance from many must-see spots, including the newly renovated Union Station, a bus facility and light rail station that hosts the boutique Crawford Hotel and a variety of restaurants and retailers. Two standout, station-based eateries to try: The Kitchen Next Door for afternoon Community Hour and, for breakfast all day, Snooze.
Also nearby is Coors Field, where many spend days and evenings eating foot-long hot dogs and watching the Colorado Rockies play ball.
“Where to begin?” is a likely question you will ask before dining in an emerging foodie city like Denver. Alviani calls this spring an “era of openings,” as the next three months alone will see the opening of more than 20 new restaurants, breweries and multi-use food markets. There’s a lot to try, so don’t overdo it anywhere. Rather, eat a little here and a little there.
If you stop into The Source (located at 3350 Brighton Blvd.), take your first right into Acorn (it’s popular, so you may want to call ahead). This is the sister restaurant to Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth, with a similar, “New American” cuisine that is specifically inspired by ovens and grills fired by oak.
The ingredient-driven cocktail list really stands out, crafted by co-owner and beverage director Bryan Dayton. To start, try the Brighton Boulevard, a bright, non-spritz rendition of Aperol with Reyka vodka, St. Germain, grapefruit and aloe. To be blown away by a food dish that you think will be predicable, order the kale and apple salad, and for even more of a unique and delicious surprise, get the crispy egg shared plate, served with chanterelle mushrooms, shishito peppers, squash and a goat dashi crema.
New eateries are emerging in old warehouse spaces all over town and even retired shipping containers. Cart-Driver, on east Larimer Street, was born from another Boulder-based pizzeria, Basta, and is a dine-in or take-away, fixed food cart that is in a 640-square-foot shipping container.
Go in for prosecco on-tap and their freshly flown in oysters, but ordering a wood-fired pizza is a must. If you’re truly gluten-free, get the chickpea crust, but otherwise it would be a sin to miss out on the flour-fastened perfection that holds together every pie. Go classic with the Daisy, made of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, or rustic farm with the Cart-Driver, topped with mozzarella, smoked ricotta, basil and garlic.
Stephen McGregor, daytime manager of Cart-Driver, said that the restaurant scene keeps expanding east of downtown.
“You hear about places opening up, especially in this neighborhood, every single week, with a new concept or a new idea,” he said. “It’s really neat because there’s all these spaces, warehouse spaces, that are available for redevelopment, and I think people are just waiting for their time.”
Scott Mattson and his wife, Nicole, found their time less than two months ago. The longtime Vail-based couple moved to Denver a few years ago to follow their dream of opening a jazz and supper club, Nocturne.
Nocturne just opened in March, nestled in the RiNo arts district in its own redone industrial warehouse. Imagine a mid-20th century jazz club, modernized by its menus of “sound bites” and drinks, with live jazz every night. If you plan to order wine, have Mattson pair your plates. If your palate is ready to play, consider ordering the five-course chef tasting menu — it’s like a complex, but completely satisfying, dining dance.
The squid and octopus dish with braised beans, edamame, baby artichokes, broccolini and lardons is the surprising showstopper. Follow your set with the Cannoli in a Jar dessert for a sweet and satisfying encore.
Pre- or post-eating downtime in downtown means time for shopping and art appreciation.
“Events like the Denver Flea celebrate Colorado culture by offering an interactive experience that combines art, goods, food and beer all made by makers who cultivate the Colorado lifestyle,” Alviani said.
When traveling by bike, foot or cab won’t cut it, jump on the Regional Transportation District (RTD) FasTracks system, passed by voters in 2004 to expand transit service across all of Denver. Union Station is a hub for the region; it’s a stop for light rail and commuter rail lines, Amtrak rail services, regional buses, taxis and shuttles.
Be sure to head to the Denver Art Museum because kids are now free. The “Joan Miro: Instinct and Imagination” exhibit runs through Sunday, June 28, and highlights the work the Spanish artist created during the end of his career.
Sit by the windows facing the Hamilton building (an art piece in itself) for lunch, or the new champagne weekend brunch, at Palettes. The flavors are fresh and dynamic, and a glass of bubbles to wash down spoonfuls of lemongrass coconut soup, as well as forkfuls of crab salad with mango-cilantro coulis, tops off an artsy afternoon.
What seems much clearer than mud season in the mountains is how Denver is blooming as brightly as all the spring blossoms popping up in the parks and alongside the multi-use recreational paths, where you can walk, stroll, run, bike or cruise your way alongside the South Platte River and Cherry Creek.
“For mountain dwellers, these things are just a few hours away, but provide a world-class experience and chance to witness Denver’s rapid growth on all fronts,” Alviani said.