No longer just a gateway to Colorado’s iconic ski destinations, Denver is now a destination in its own right.
Top-notch restaurants, achingly cool bars, boutique hotels, striking galleries and big-star appearances – Denver has it all. During our short visit to the city, Lizzo was performing at Fillmore Auditorium. The manager of the concert venue had booked the artist before she shot to international fame. No surprises there – Denver is good at that sort of thing: discovering mega-watt talent before the world’s gets to it. But have you discovered Denver before everyone else? Here’s a first-timer’s guide.
Visit a museum
Like a giant piece of origami, the pointed concrete façade of the Denver Art Museum (denverartmuseum.org) shoots into the crisp-blue Colorado sky. But the seven-story museum is just as striking inside. A vast open-plan staircase connects the floors, offering different views of the Daniel Libeskind-designed masterpiece from different angles. Even if you don’t like art, this is a must-visit, to experience the sheer scale, ambition and intricacy of the building.
Explore the street art
No trip to Denver is complete without a visit of the city’s River North Art District, where eccentric muralists and brash graffiti artists have transformed an entire neighbourhood into an open-air art gallery. You can wander through the roads, streets and little alleyways on your own, admiring one giant canvas after another. But if you want to go a bit deeper and learn the backstories, sprinkled with instances of political ambitions and civil unrest, you’ll have to sign up for one of Denver Graffiti Tour’s (denvergraffititour.com) highly insightful excursions.
There’s no dearth of luxury hotels in the heart of the city, but those in the know make their way to The Ramble (theramblehotel.com) – a 50-room boutique gem located in the River North Art District. Persian rugs, wooden floorboards, vast widows and dramatic black feature walls set the stage in the rooms, but it is the onsite bar, Death & Co, which brings to house down with its cool factor. The first outpost of renowned New York bar draws punters with its inventive cocktails and vibe that gets better as the night progresses.
Eat and drink
Housed in an exposed-brick building with super high ceilings and oversized windows, the Denver Central Market food hall (denvercentralmarket.com) is the ideal spot to kick off the day. Get your caffeine fix at Crema Bodega, which serves coffees from small-batch roasters, then make your way to Izzio (izziobakery.com) for eggs on artisan brioche or “farmer’s bowls” brimming with chorizo, potatoes and peppers.
Could the staff at Leven deli and restaurant (eatleven.com) be any nicer? We think not. Located next to Denver Art Museum, this is the place for lip-smacking pastarami sandwiches, hearty mushroom soups and fresh salads bursting with flavours, all of it served with some of the most friendly faces in town.
If you’re in the mood for something casual, make a beeline for the city’s fairy-light-strung Larimer Street, home to Rioja (riojadenver.com) – an excellent Mediterranean restaurant. There’s a happening bar and a cosy dining room at the back, but if you really want to soak up the Denver vibe, ask for a table out the front and dig into chef Jennifer Jasinski sensational fare – artichoke tortelloni or arctic char feijoada, anyone? If you want to turn the fine-dining factor up a notch, book a table at Tavernetta (tavernettadenver.com), which delivers Scandi-chic interiors, swift service and a sensational menu replete with Italian classics under one roof. The restaurant’s wine list is encyclopedic and cocktails classic, but in the end it’s chef Ian Wortham’s tagliatelle with Maine lobster that really takes the cake.