My first trip since COVID, Denver, Colorado, and … wow. Just wow.

Let’s get this out of the way: it is still dangerous to travel, and if you don’t have to, then don’t put yourself, and more importantly others at risk.

While everyone is hurting, and tourist destinations especially feeling the brunt of this lock down, it is a double edged sword to even mention tourism these days. Yes, the economy is important for people to survive, but so is their health. That said, what I found in Denver was inspiring; everyone very conscious of the world condition and doing their absolute best to minimize risk, while still being able to offer access to this amazing city. Open air electric tour busses, timed museum tickets, and tons of fantastic outdoor dining all offer some protection that allow tourism to happen safely.

Denver, the city with the least oxygen but the most love in the continental United States is definitely a magical place. I recently got to explore this and a few other Colorado gems, so lets get to the highlights.

First we descended upon the prim and polished Cherry Creek neighborhood which is full of shopping, fun eats, and our hotel, the Moxy.
This hip little Marriott owned boutique play-and-stay is a faithful rendition of your favorite hipster hotel right down to the reproduction vintage phot booth in the lobby.

One thing that you’ll notice (but not remember) is that the check in desk is actually the bar, a feature that I suggest be standardized in all hotels, and DMV locations. You immediately get that Denver is a beer town as the hotel is attached to a beer garden, you get beers in the elevator, and even beers waiting in the room for you. The rooms are cool and modern, with great views and great loo’s. There is a definite nod to being funky fun,
from the bath product, to the verbiage and even the funky windows. It’s a functionally smart hotel that makes maximum use of it’s minimal footprint with a surprisingly ingenious array of furnishing trickery.

Overall we were super comfortable in our new lil’ home but it was time to explore this cool city, so we headed to the famed Union Station in the heart of downtown Denver. Truly a charming and stylish building inside it’s art deco / beaux arts beauty will impress you making it a great place to chill out or check out the fun and funky art. One fun fact is that there used to be a great big arch at the entrance that said Mizpah, or welcome in Hebrew, and while the arch is no longer with us, Union Station now has Snooze, a must brunch place for anyone visiting Denver.

In this colorful-retro-casual brunch hot-spot you will find long waits for one of their coveted outdoor tables, and for good reason. The breakfast here is an event from their decadent flavor bomb pancakes to their elaborate savory eggs benny which require, for health reasons, one of their loaded Bloody Mary’s to make it all go down right.

Completely stuffed, we decided to be carted around in style while not leaving even one carbon footprint. Introducing ETUK Denver’s premiere fully environmentally friendly tour company sponsored by Bud Light Selzer which is White Claw for people with day jobs. These Denver made, fully electric Tuks come with heated seats and fantastic views of the city. In no time we were whipping around downtown taking in all the sites as our guide pointed out some of the finer features Denver had to offer, like the Cherry Creek pedestrian bridge perfect for morning runs, the decadent Cruise Room located in the Oxford Hotel, the lovely Larimar pedestrian mall and the opulent Performing Arts Center, which proudly showcases two giant Botero sculptures (which are miniscule compared to Denver’s giant blue peeping tom bear who’s origin story is so long winded and wildly convoluted I wont bore you with it but look it up).

Then across the street from a legendary house of ill repute, we got to adventure into the Brown palace. Despite a very unfortunate name, the Brown Palace is a very cool place to take in, with a simply cavernous atrium that will leave you spellbound. Denver’s old world origin charm drips from the walls to the floors here as you can see in every aspect of the lobby’s attention to architectural detail meant to impress even the most snobby of Easterners. Here’s a pro tip: head up to the top floor to get an entirely different view of the Brown Palace and test to see if your brunch at Snooze is still in your stomach. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the palace is its water fountain, where you can drink, get this, actual Denver artesian water from the original 1892 well dug 750 feet below the hotel. That’s something.

Leaving the old-school charm of downtown Denver we popped over to the River North or hip RiNo district famed for it’s abundant world class street art and super hobo-chic restaurants and cafe’s. A trip to RiNo isn’t complete I’m told without hitting up the Denver Central Market which is located in a beautiful reclaimed warehouse. Chuck full of anything you could possibly want to eat or drink, this is a great place to explore and even throw back a few before picking something up for dinner. Don’t forget dessert either. I mean look at these things! Do you eat them or wear them?

From RiNo We headed cross the Platte River to the hip Highland district, which has some very photogenic spots, like Happy Camper,
which is like an Instagram post that serves food. With its giant disco ball, garden nooks, and dripping bokeh it’s hard not to get a bunch of likes. There is also little man ice cream, which besides mixing up the craziest flavors, is housed in the largest milk pail I’ve ever seen. Photo ops aside we were here for lunch and to check out Avanti which is a collective eatery.

What’s a collective eatery you ask?

Well its like you die and go to comfort food heaven. This place is a foodies paradise, with amazing dishes from around the world to make it super easy to forget about your diet. Add in a killer space with lots of seating both indoor and out to nosh on you new favorite nibbles and you got it made. South American arepas, Kimchi scallion pancakes and Southern spicy fried chicken all washed down with local amazing beer will definitely satisfy.

Full on good eats, we decided to take in some culture at Denver’s world class art museum. This institution boasts some of the most outrageous exhibitions, this one was called simply Light which allowed for some
amazing artist interpretations of what light means to them. From Keith herring triptychs to skull riding cryptic this was a visual wonderland that gave good cause for Colorado’s stance on legal mamajuana. Minds properly blown it was time to take a quick trip out of the city to visit the infamous Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is by far the most
beautiful naturally occurring theater I’ve ever seen in my life. When not rocking out, locals use this breathtaking location as a giant gym. Try
that at Madison Square Garden.

It is a truly stunning place that will simply take your breath away, so unique and majestic, and when you consider its just a 20 minutes drive from downtown, it’s a no brainer to fit it into your itinerary.

As the sun set on the queen city of the plains, we submerged ourselves once more into downtown for dinner. Sure you could keep it low key and hit up Duffy’s Cherry Cricket who’s no frills charm is overturned by their delicious burgers and boozy milkshakes but we decided to class it up a bit and check out Rioja on Larimer. This class act of fine dining is one of the best restaurants to experience Denver’s cultured cuisine.

From delicate amuse bouche, to savory pork belly appetizers, and perfectly grilled Colorado rack of lamb to decadent deserts this my friends is the perfect way to end a perfect trip to the great city of Denver Colorado. Onward onto Telluride, possibly the best place to visit during COVID!


Rs

denver. eat it.

Continuing on our series about Denver (sounds so very 60 Minutes right?) we come to a very important segment (for an Italian)… foods. When someone says Denver, the first thing I think of is John Denver. The second thing I think of is John Denver eating a Denver omelet. The third thing I think of is him ordering it saying “Bring me my omelet!” and the waitress rolling her eyes, and Cookie, the fry cook saying “is that Denver acting a fool again?” and them having a good laugh, perhaps wading in each other’s eyes a bit too long, and in that precious moment living a life of love together unreclaimed, only to go back to the steam and grease that binds them to this unfair world. But the food in Denver is actually really good.

The first night we hit up Williams and Graham, a dope little speakeasy with a simple, delicious menu and a vast libation selection. Just like we like it. When you arrive, you are greeted by a dandy pair, that pushes a faux bookcase aside to walk into the back room. Kitch and fun, this place is designed within an inch of it’s life, but done perfectly so you feel like you are having an experience, rather than experiencing something at Disneyland. Our barkeep was a fine gent, who used ice that was seemingly mined by an Eskimo Michelangelo, hand-picked and polished. Usually I tend to like my drinks liquid and in a glass, but do appreciate the care taken here. What’s more I had the Pork Chop, and when done right, juicy and full of flavor, it is a magical thing. We were certainly off to a good start, so good in fact, we didn’t take any pictures. Those ice cubes went right to our heads. I did take one shot, in the bathroom, which was of the wall of comments; basically a very lo-fi version of Yelp which I adored.

williams and graham yelp

W&G is up in the Highland section of Denver, which is, as far as I can discern, the Williamsburg of Denver. Yes, as a New Yorker I have the right, and the duty, to compare every city to my own as a point of reference. What I guess that means is that you will find chic, hipsteresque places and well-funded artistic types in your ranks when traveling these streets. We did. On our way back we got a fine view of downtown as Highland lives up to its topological name, and stumbled into a swank rooftop bar named Linger which, again, looked like we were in a Edward Hopper painting…

linger

The next morning, feeding a well deserved hangover, we went to Snooze, which is a bit of an institution in Denver. It’s the kinda place that bellmen hate to recommend, and you know you’re there a block before you’ve arrived as there is a healthy line for pancakes. I will say this – it’s worth whatever wait you may have to endure. Having lived in both LA and NY I can say with certainty that I have a PhD in Brunch, and this brunch would have been a Breakfast Rhodes Scholar. May I offer exhibit A to the jury: their pancake menu.

Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes Buttermilk pancakes with caramelized pineapple chunks, housemade vanilla crème anglaise and cinnamon butter

Sweet Potato Pancakes Our signature sweet potato buttermilk pancakes topped with homemade caramel, pecans and ginger butter.

BanaNutella Pancakes Our Buttermilk pancakes filled with a molten, Nutella center and topped with caramelized banana cream and candied hazelnuts.

Literally cakes made in a pan. and you can get all three. On one plate. All three in your mouth if you want. Yes. Have your pancake and eat it too. They have an entire section entitled “The Art of the Hollandaise”. Finally, someone gets it. I had the Havana Benny which is shaved ranch ham and slow roasted pork served over a savory Swiss cheese bread pudding, topped with poached eggs, Dijon hollandaise and diced house pickles.  After I finished slowly rubbing my face in it (as I was making out with my brunch), I ate it, and was in heaven.

Denver_serrini-3256

That evening, looking for something a little more posh to see how eclectic Denver dining went, we checked out Beatrice and Woodsley (what is with the double names Denver? Everything sounds like a hipster folk band. Mumford and Sons much Denver?). We went down to the Washington Park area of town which harbors lots of cool vintage shops, bars, and tattoo parlors, which made me feel like we were in the right place, although, we couldn’t find it to save our lives. We walked up and down the block, three times, once through an alley, and nothing. Finally, we realized the place we passed 4 times was it; a yellow windowed restaurant that we didn’t even notice. Inside, past the Hunter S. Thompson window treatment, is a wood and linen dining experience that would be more akin to South Beach then Denver, save the amazing chainsaws stuck in the wall.

The service was impeccable and the food fit the service. Pimento Cheesecake (have you ever?) and Crawfish Bignets (have you ever?) were followed by Butcher’s Steak and fresh Chicken Pasta. A fine meal, and great wine to boot.

After this delightful dining experience we cruised down the street hitting up all the bars and finally ending at a place called the Punch Bowl. What to say about the Punch Bowl…. hmm… its like a 20-year-old with unlimited funds built a place to hang out with his closest 500 friends. And yeah, there is a doorman, at a bowling alley. Gigantic, full of games, bowling, darts, archery, video games, hidden bathrooms, several bars, and Jägermeister comes out of the walls. It’s a mecca to making poor choices. And no, there are no pictures from this portion of the evening.

The next morning (afternoon?) we needed some greasy spoon surgery, so we headed over to Sam’s No. 3 which is like a Denny’s on steroids. Not sure what happened to Sam’s No. 1 and 2 but I have a feeling Sam’s  No. 3 beat the shit out of them, stole their woman, and their car, and came to Denver. This place was epic, the wait was a bit long for a greasy spoon, but the pot edibles were kicking in so all was good. Besides, they had crayons. Score.

Sam's No. 3

When we got to the table we ordered the thing in the middle of the menu with a big starburst around it. After years of professional drinking I have learned that whatever is in that starburst is the answer to all our problems. It was basically a wave of fried, fatty foods meant to numb and comatose your problems, and yes, they did. Of course the Bloody Mary had a full plate of food in it as well. Seriously in heaven.

One of the highlights of the morning was when I told Tom, who had all the pot we bought earlier in his pocket, that there were two big cops right behind him. Brilliant. In my head it went something like this:

priceless-pot

To go out with a bang for our last supper, we decided to find a fantastic steakhouse and just be men about it. We settled on the Chophouse, which could not have been any better. Of course, like any other business in Denver, the Chophouse brews their own beer, which was delicious and cold, and helped sooth the amazing cuts of meats down our gullets. One of the highlights was the onion rings, which required scaffolding to serve to the table. Like any fine steakhouse the service was amazing, and it made it a perfect last meal in the mile high city.

With bellies full, and hearts open, we left that night 12 pounds heavier but with a spring in our step. Denver, our stomachs thank you.