Once a rugged cow town filled with gamblers and gunslingers, the Colorado capital has grown up. Today, it meets cosmopolitan halfway and learns to play nice while still kicking up a little dust.
Author Rachel Sturtz Photography Jen Judge
DAY TWO | Sleep in and head to Snooze (1), where you miss the midmorning crowd—and the hourlong wait. Unshaven, beflannelled young people fill the booths of this former 1950s nightclub, which boasts one of the best brunches in town (signature cocktails include the Snooze Julius and spicy Bugs Bloody). But save the calories for a stack of pancakes—your choice of three rich, buttery and unbelievably satisfying flapjacks in a variety of styles. Go for the Cinnfull, which contains white chocolate chips and is covered in bacon caramel, vanilla cream sauce, pecans and a rapidly melting scoop of cinnamon butter.
To repent for your calorie splurge, hit the streets of LoDo (Lower Downtown), the historic warehouse district that was empty 20 years ago and is now packed with bars, restaurants, coffeeshops and more. Peruse the shelves at The Tattered Cover Book Store (2), with its well-worn couches and creaky floors, then swing past Cry Baby Ranch (3), where Denver’s pervasive Southwestern culture expresses itself in the form of Frida Kahlo tribute pillows, turquoise-colored frames and cowboy boot baby socks. And don’t miss Rockmount Ranch Wear (4), birthplace of the snap-button Western shirt. Founder Jack A. Weil, who died in 2008 at 107, found a solution to the tiresome cowboy dilemma of losing a button to a stray branch and unknowingly created a phenomenon. (Clapton and Dylan are among the label’s fans.) Buy yourself a diamond-buttoned, sawtooth pocket shirt—a Rockmount original.
Keep your shirt in the bag until after you check into The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa (5) in time for afternoon tea. Frequented by as many locals as tourists, this tea party is worth dressing up for. Somewhere between the scones, Devonshire cream and custom-made black tea, your mind drifts into a sedate calm while a harpist plucks a dreamy tune. The jewel of the three-tiered silver tea tray is the homemade caramely and salty chocolate ganache truffle. Eat it slowly and make it last.
Walk two blocks to the nearest B-Cycle station, part of the first large-scale community bike-sharing program in the U.S., where shining red cruisers await. After purchasing a one-day membership for five dollars, you can borrow a bike for up to 30 minutes and drop it off at any of the 40 locations around Denver.
Bike north along Cherry Creek, past the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, to the confluence with the South Platte River—the spot where gold miners first panned a few ounces of the stuff. Dock your bike at REI (6), once the historic Tramway Power Station and now a behemoth tribute to the gods of outdoor sport. At 94,000 square feet, this store comes equipped with its own indoor mountain bike trail and a 47-foot climbing wall and is located next to a river with a course for testing kayaks. Check out the sweat-wicking underwear, and consider purchasing a cyclist-approved Timbuk2 messenger bag for the ride home.
Walk down Platte Street, an up-and-coming stretch lined with boutiques and cafés, then join the happy hour crew at The Squeaky Bean (7) for friendly company and a well-shaken martini. The trendy Highland neighborhood hangout is outfitted with a garishly illuminated Bingo board and stylish chrome accents. Order the Larry Tate, made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin—a perfect summer tipple.
Use your B-Cycle iPhone app to find another set of wheels three blocks away, and pedal over to Wazee Street, where you’ll grab a barstool at the upscale sports bar Big Game (8). The massive space is dominated by a 30-foot HDTV screen. A plate of savory boar sliders arrives accompanied by crisp Thanksgiving fries—homemade sweet potato frites smothered in marshmallow sauce and topped with pecans. Dig in and watch Planet Earth on the big screen.
Return to The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa and top the night off at Churchill Bar, a favorite leather-and-brass haunt of city politicians. Choose from 60 cigars and a wide range of Scotches, small-batch bourbons and other spirits, before settling into a stately armchair amid the polished brass and dark wood. Time to unwind.