A mile above sea level but even farther from most tourists’ minds, Denver is usually a quick stopover for outdoor-adventure travelers seeking Colorado’s natural beauty and geographic diversity. Denver, though, has a young, individualistic energy, strong local pride and has quietly grown a forward-thinking food-and-drink scene to rival much trendier destinations.
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa opened in 1892, at the end of a 20-year silver boom that inflated Denver’s population from fewer than 5,000 to more than 100,000. With the exception of Calvin Coolidge, it has hosted every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt, and it has not closed in 120 years.
Get wake-up calls from Elvis and Yoda at the quirky Curtis Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton, where you’ll find pop-culture-themed rooms, a retro five-and-dime store in the lobby and staff members available to play board games with solo travelers.
Need in-room yoga? A pet massage? Service is king at Hotel Teatro in rooms with 12-foot ceilings and deep soaking tubs.
When painter Clyfford Still, famed for his Abstract Expressionism, died in 1980, his will stipulated that his estate of roughly 2,500 works be given to a U.S. city willing to devote a museum to him. In November 2011, The Clyfford Still Museum opened, a profound addition to the narrative of American art.
Catch a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, an arresting outdoor venue. Nestled between huge red-sandstone outcrops, it has hosted acts from Igor Stravinsky to U2.
Colorado’s exciting microdistillery scene is best experienced on a tour of Downslope Distilling, whose output includes a vodka made from malted Colorado barley and rye—the same raw ingredients as their Irish style whiskey—and a wine-barrel-aged rum, currently resting in Tokaji, Chardonnay and Merlot barrels.
Wine & Food
Housed in a converted 1950s auto shop, Root Down serves updated global comfort food for the local/seasonal/sustainable crowd, and has become a neighborhood classic in a few short years. Try rhubarb risotto with black quinoa, candied walnuts and mint grown on-site, with a biodynamic wine or a cocktail made with local spirits.
Colt & Gray (coltandgray.com) joins a spate of first-class gastropubs like Williams & Graham and Green Russell, serving bar food that Denver would never have seen even five years ago. Go for the array of house-made charcuterie (coffee-cardamom pork belly; trout cleverly cured with caraway and rye whiskey), or beef-heart tartare with Olivier Jouan’s 2007 Charmes-Chambertin from the smart, well-priced list.
Finnish chef Ryan Leinonen is pioneering Scandinavian-Colorado fusion at Trillium, one of several hip restaurants that have revitalized the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood. Dishes like pan-roasted steelhead trout in mussel-dill broth pair well with a lively food-friendly wine list heavy on Riesling and Pinot Noir.
The explosion of quality restaurants has even driven stalwarts like 20-year-old Barolo Grill to up its game. A must for fans of its namesake, the restaurant still has one of the largest Barolo collections outside Italy. It offers over 250 Barolos on the list at any given time, but it also features small family producers and environmentally conscious winemakers.
For beer lovers, Denver is a big brew town, so spot a Yeti (an oak-aged Yeti, that is) at Great Divide Brewing Co..