Author Archives: Ruth Tobias

Eco-Friendly Living at The Queen Anne Urban Bed and Breakfast

As the owner of The Queen Anne Urban Bed and Breakfast with a Picture 5background in both hospitality and sustainability, Milan Doshi has gone to great—make that green—lengths to make this pair of nineteenth-century Victorian houses a home for his guests.
Dotted with log fireplaces, bay windows, exquisite antiques, and even a turret as well as recycled materials galore, Doshi’s twinned inn also features woodworks, murals, and amenities courtesy of equally eco-minded area artisans—from your bath products to your morning coffee.

So before your very eyes, the historic turns progressive, the old-fashioned turns new wave—and you become an honorary local, whether over breakfast in the garden or during a happy hour that features Colorado wine and cheese.

Newman Center for the Performing Arts: Eclectic, Electric Entertainment

Three theaters in one, the University of Denver’s year-round performing arts venue isn’t just for students. Indeed, entertainers of all stripes—local, national, and international; emerging and established—make touring stops here. In any given academic season, enthusiasts can catch the acts of flamenco and ballet troupes; concerts by chamber orchestras, jazz ensembles, and a capella groups; and even spoken-word pieces and lectures by authors and professors as well as performers. Among the big names gracing the marquee of late: the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Bill Frisell, and Joyce Carol Oates. Insider’s tip: the Newman Center is only a couple of miles away from Old South Pearl; south Denver’s Restaurant Row is your best bet for dinner before the show.

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Green Russell: Frank Bonanno’s Genuine Gin Joint

Tucked away in a subterranean space below Larimer Square, Frank Bonanno’s new cocktail lounge is literally underground. But unlike the Prohibition-era speakeasies it’s modeled after, Green Russell is otherwise aboveboard. Indeed, given the buzz it generated prior to its opening, you’d be hard-pressed to find a drinker in Denver who doesn’t know about this dark, cozy den, where local masters of mixology tailor their libations to your tastes Thursday through Sunday nights. The friendly crew also gladly serves up a limited but cheeky selection of eats that includes slices from Wednesday’s Pie, the tiny shop that Bonanno has installed as a faux-front for the bar.

Starlet: You Go, Girlie

Release your inner girlie-girl at this sweet-as-candy boutique in Highlands Square. Hardly bigger than a shoebox, the crayon-bright space is lined with framed photos of seductresses from the golden era of the silver screen, beneath whose scarlet smiles racks burst and shelves spill with all kinds of finds at generally reasonable prices: belts, hats, shades, bags, scarves, and costume baubles complement a smaller selection of apparel. And the easygoing staff strikes the perfect balance between helpfulness and the hands-off approach, so you can browse at your leisure.

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Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill: Where the Beat Goes On

A major stop on the The Beat Poetry Driving Tour, this well-worn bar on the ground floor of The Colburn Hotel was a favorite of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady—and it remains dear to Denverites today. From the sing-alongs around the grand piano to Sunday night karaoke to summertime pig roasts on the patio, the goings-on are always convivial—and they’re only enhanced by the comfy leather seats and cheap drinks (which are even cheaper during the two-for-one happy hour). No wonder the crowds are so diverse—be it nattily dressed grandfolks humming to the oldies, families with toddlers, or lawnmower-beer-drinking hipsters, there’s something for everyone here.

Cherry Creek State Park: The Great Outdoors in the Big City

Situated in Aurora about fifteen minutes south of the airport, this park is a giant hive of activity year round. In warm weather, the 880-acre reservoir opens to swimmers, boaters, jet-skiers, volleyball players, and fishermen; in wintertime, there’s cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and sledding. And that’s just the beginning: picnic areas and campgrounds mean that you can go biking, hiking, horseback riding, sharpshooting, birding, model airplane flying, and more for days on end. Gather all sorts of materials about local flora and fauna, equipment rental, and children’s programs at the park office.

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Dance the Night Away at The Church

Not only is this place voted to be Denver’s coolest nightspot but it is located in an abandoned church. Dance between confessionals and offertory underneath the beautiful stained-glass windows. Complete with a Goth downstairs and a small snack bar and lounge this place offers everything you need to dance the night away.

ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro: East-West Extravagance

This sleek downtowner is a treasure trove—and its crown jewel is chef-partner Lon Symensma, whose world travels are reflected in his contemporary East-West cookery. The menu is designed for grazing and sharing such artistically presented creations as green papaya salad with tamarind sorbet, egg noodles with squid and scallops, and elegant sandwiches like the pulled beef with raclette and spicy radish. But once you take a bite of the luscious kaya toast with coconut jam and an “egg cloud,” you’ll be hard pressed to let anyone else near it. As for the service, it’s as polished as everything else.

The Shag Lounge: Getting Down(town) and Dirty

The cheeky name of this downtown nightspot is at once a double entendre and an homage to the eponymous artist, http://www.shag.com whose jazzy retro sensibilities inform the décor, which evokes a groovy Space Age swinger’s pad (complete with tiki torches and a stripper pole). If the motto “cheap drinks and good times” doesn’t say it all, theme nights like Rhythm & Booze Saturdays and SCuMBag SuNDaYS sure should—Shag is for guzzling up, getting down, and being seen doing it, whether on the dance floor or out on the patio. Whether it’s for you depends on your tolerance for hipster hysteria on any given night.

Heidelberg Antiques: A Bit of the Black Forest on Broadway

The short stretch of South Broadway known as Antique Row is jam-packed with storefronts crammed in turn with bric-a-brac for weekend browsers and serious collectors alike. Occupying its own eye-opening niche is this specialist in German, Austrian, and Swiss antiques. Black Forest woodwork abounds, of course, in the form of cuckoo clocks, mirror frames, chandeliers, walking sticks, and plaques, but there’s plenty more to gawk at. Glass and pewter beer steins line shelves; hand-painted goblets and figurines fill display cases; and World War II memorabilia is arrayed behind glass to tempt the history buff. And still that’s not all: from brass cowbells to felt fedoras made in the Tyrol to old postcards, owner Diana Neisler—herself from Heidelberg—stocks every inch of her shop with fascinating finds.

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Paramount Theatre: Downtown Denver’s Performance Palace

Denver’s a wonder of early to mid-twentieth century architecture, and the Paramount Theatre is no exception, boasting as it does a sweeping Art Deco interior complete with a 1600-pipe Wurlitzer organ—a feature it shares with only one other venue in the nation, namely Radio City Music Hall. But this inductee into the National Register of Historic Places is also a vibrant showcase for performers of all kinds, from alternative songsters like Sufjan Stevens and star comedians like Louis CK and Margaret Cho to TV celebrities like Buddy Valastro, aka The Cake Boss. The Paramount screens films, hosts lectures—think talks by famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass—and of course stages holiday classics like The Nutcracker. In short, it’s a glitzy, posh one-stop entertainment shop.

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Bovine Metropolis Theater: Moooving You to Tears of Laughter

This comedy troupe’s slogan is “Improv Your Life,” and you had better believe you can, at the very least, improve your prospects for a delightful evening. Its weekly roundup of shows, both short-form and long-form, range from the team-tagging Tuesday Night Throwdown to the long-popular On the Spot—which takes shape through audience input—to the Improv Hootenanny, guest starring comics from across the city. Bovine also offers classes and workshops for aspiring sketch performers in its colorful little downtown space, while doing customized shows for private groups—so even if you’re in town for a busy convention, you can make time to laugh with (and, let’s face it, at) your colleagues.

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Four Mile Historic Park: The Name Says It All

Located on the 12-acre plot of land that once marked the end of the Cherokee Trail, former wayside inn Four Mile House is a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it’s also a thriving destination for history buffs and their families, who can take tours of the property and its farm, bring picnics, embark on weekend carriage rides, sit in tee-pees and visit the reconstructed camps of Colorado’s trappers and miners, even learn how to pan for gold. The park also hosts special events, from activity-filled harvest festivals to lectures on the expansion-era history of the area.

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Wild Ivories: Tickling the Keys and the Karaoke Crowd

Denver’s karaoke bars are getting a run for their money since the opening of this self-styled dueling piano saloon in Lodo. Part old fashioned singalong, part comedy showcase, the performances (Tuesday through Saturday nights) star pianists who take requests from the audience, so don’t be shy about your Billy Joel fixation or your soft spot for honkytonk blues! Downstairs, dance club Juke keeps things current with DJs, but the same fun interactive format applies: while you call the songs, the turntablists try to trump one another in granting your every rockin’ wish. One caveat: if you fear the wild bachelorette party crowd, come on a weeknight.

Savory Spice Shop: A Sanctuary of Seasonings

With its extraordinary array of herbs, spices, extracts and more, this Denver-based franchise has caught the attention of everyone from avid local home cooks to the Food Network, which produced a 2010 miniseries called Spice & Easy starring owners Janet and Mike Johnston (who have also made guest appearances on Paula’s Best Dishes and Down Home with the Neelys). Looking for white, green or black cardamom pods? You’ll find them here. Black, brown or yellow mustard seeds? They’re here too. What about asfoetida, epazote, charnushka or grains of paradise? Never even heard of them? Rest assured the knowledgable employees can share their secrets for usage.

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Denver Bouldering Club: Peak Experience

Not quite ready for the Rockies? At this rock-climbing gym, you don’t have to be ready—just willing. Come on a Tuesday night, when it’s open to the public (for a $10-per-person fee), and you’ll get a vertical workout for both your body and your brain as you climb 15-foot walls in a 1,500 square-foot space designed with routes to create more than 100 obstacles. If you enjoy the experience enough to become a member, the perks are as countless as the mountain peaks you’ll eventually tackle: 24/7 access to the club includes instruction and the opportunity to engage with a keen built-in community.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fun: The Robusto Room

Named for a type of stogie, The Robusto Room serves as a rare sanctuary for smokers—and a swanky one at that. One part cigar bar, one part martini lounge, The Robusto Room boasts a robust amount of Citysearch Awards, cleaning up everything from Best Club to Most Romantic Bar and Singles Scene.

Hidden in a courtyard off a suburban street, this dark, wood-and-leather-filled Lone Tree martini lounge and cigar bar doesn’t only sell hundreds of tobacco labels but also rents private humidors for regulars to maintain their stashes. And though there’s not much food on the menu—with only a couple of appetizers, you should plan to dine elsewhere—there’s lots of entertainment in store: besides plasma TVs and free Wifi, karaoke, poker, trivia, and DJs all turn The Robusto Room into a refined rec room on any given night.

Go Wild at the Denver Zoo

Spanning more than 80 acres in Denver’s historic City Park and home to numerous endangered species, the Denver Zoo is itself a rare bird among animal parks. With Bear Mountain, it was the first in the nation to create a naturalistic habitat; since then it has gone on to build Predator Ridge for African wildlife, the world’s largest Komodo dragon exhibit, and various other sanctuaries for the threatened likes of Andean condors, Pallas’s cats and Bactrian camels. But there’s nothing like Mshindi—a rhinoceros who paints with a brush and whose works are on permanent display in the Pachyderm House.

Sartorial Stampede at Buffalo Exchange

Call it a trading post for fashionistas: Buffalo Exchange not only sells clothes but buys and trades them, too. The funky Capitol Hill branch of this national resale chain is lined with rack upon rack of vintage, designer, and “gently used” duds as well as display cases cluttered with jewelry, hats, bags, sunglasses and other goodies—many of them priced just as they might have been back in the day (think silk sheaths for $10 and cowboy boots for a fraction of the cost of a new pair). Bring your own bag to tote your purchases in, and the store will donate a nickel to the charity of your choice—so you can do good while looking even better.

Tracks: For the Rest of Us

Gay oriented but straight inclusive, Tracks sends out good vibes to any and all who sport open minds and boogie shoes, hosting a horde of theme nights. Gaga for Goth? Fulfill your dreams at Deathwish. Dig drag? Then don’t forgo Drama Drag (complete with sightings of Nina Flowers, a hit on RuPaul’s Drag Race). Love ladies’ nights? Babes Around Denver hosts a First Friday that scored Westword’s reader’s choice award for Best Club Night 2010. Located northeast of downtown, Tracks is just this side of paradise for partiers.

Insider Tip: Just a cheerful cheapskate? Show up before 11pm on Thursdays or 10pm on Saturdays and you’ll be ushered in for free, in time to guzzle drink specials galore.

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Vital Spa: Maximum Luxury for Mind and Body

Luxury’s a given around Cherry Creek. But Vital Spa, located in exclusive health club Pura Vida Fitness, takes it to the max. A single treatment gets you a full-day pass to the club, complete with a complimentary yoga class; buy five treatments, and you get a sixth free, be it a hot stone massage, a customized facial, or a firming body wrap. Acupuncture sessions, manicures and pedicures, and holistic nutrition consultations are also available, and so are “enhancements” like scalp rubs and dry body brushing. Add to all that interior design that combines the elegance of an art gallery with the peacefulness of a nature sanctuary, and you’ve got yourself a blissful urban escape.

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Plus+Gallery: New Art in an Old Paint Factory

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Named the Art Space of 2009 by the Denver Post, the decade-old Plus+Gallery, located in an old paint factory north of downtown, revels in the shock of the new. Local work is the focus, be it Tsehai Johnson’s strange arranged squiggles of porcelain and silicone, Devon Moore’s elegant metalwork, or Riva Sweetrocket’s Magritte-like canvases in soft pastel; owner Ivan Zeile also curates an Experimental and New Media Series for film projects and performance pieces. Of course, exhibitions aren’t all Plus hosts (hence the name); salons, wine tastings, and concerts make it a prime gathering spot for the Denver arts community as well.

La Rumba: A Taste of Lipgloss

The owners of Rockbar have earned a loyal following over the years with La Rumba, one of the city’s friendlier nightclubs. It’s best known for the long-running Lipgloss, a Friday night free-for-all where the tunes range from ’80s rock to techno, the cover charge is nil before 10pm (after that, it’s a measly $5), and PBRs go for $2.  On Saturdays, live salsa is the draw, complete with free lessons, but the genre is a focus on other nights as well: from 1opm to 11pm, also known as Salsa Hour, DJs spin merengue, cumbia, and more. Easygoing as La Rumba is, it does enforce a dress code: leave your shorts, sports gear, and flip-flops in your closet.

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Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys: A Vintage Wonderland

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Housed in a turn-of-the-century Dutch Colonial two-story, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys looks a lot like a dollhouse itself. Of course, it’s filled with them, fully furnished, as well as train sets and teddy bears; geisha replicas, kachinas, and other figurines from around the world; vintage board games; and all manner of special exhibits featuring puppets and marionettes, role-playing game pieces, and holiday decorations. In such a magical setting, you might even be inspired to attend a hands-on workshop on topics ranging from masks to gingerbread houses—and you’ll definitely want to make reservations for teatime in the Oak and Berries Tea Room. While the first Sunday of every month is Family Free Day, rest assured parenthood is totally optional at this wonder for all ages.

Falling Rock Tap House: The Opus One of Beer

If Denver is the so-called Napa Valley of beer, Falling Rock Tap House is its Opus One—a legend. Though it’s not itself a brewery, beer geeks come from far and wide to sample the constantly changing selection of about 80 drafts and more than 130 bottles—which itself comes from far and wide as well as near, Coloradan and Belgian craft pours, many of them vintage, being the taphouse’s specialties. Shelves lined with 2000-plus beer bottles from the owner’s personal collection make the sprawling, ever-bustling (if not downright raucous) two-story feel like home—as does the cheeky sense of humor reflected in various words to the wise about customer etiquette that appear on the menus.

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Fuel Café: Revving To Go

fuel_cafe_barHidden away as it is in a mixed-use complex of lofts in the emerging RiNo district, no one saw Fuel coming two years ago. But come it has. Bob Blair’s quirky café is an oasis of inventive contemporary cooking that displays a myriad of Mediterranean influences at lunch—when the sandwiches range from pan bagnats to banh mi—and dinner, where scallop gazpacho beckons alongide peach barbecued pork. It’s the housemade pasta, though, that really puts this place on the map, paired with a wine list that emphasizes boutique finds. Speaking of finds, kicking back on the patio on a sunny summer’s eve, you’ll feel as though you just made a major discovery.

Starz Film Center: A Cinephile’s Sanctuary

starz film centerFor more than 30 years, the Denver Film Society has been hosting the Starz Denver Film Festival, acclaimed as the region’s best. Its cinematheque in the historic Tivoli—a onetime brewery turned student union on the UC–Denver campus—gives locals a year-round glimpse of the bold programming the organization is known for, especially when it comes to documentaries and cult discoveries: take series like DocNight, The Watching Hour—which Westword named the city’s best this year—and Mile-High Sci Fi, a live version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. All that and a full bar at the concession stand make the Starz Film Center a haunt for the city’s hippest cinephiles.

EVOO Marketplace: A Gourmet Gallery

evoo marketplaceIn its airy, almost starkly modern elegance, EVOO Marketplace could almost be mistaken for an art gallery. Or maybe that’s no mistake: given the stunning array of olive oils from all over the world—Greece, Chile, Australia—stored on tap in silver kegs, it’s a condiment connoisseur’s studio. Infusions come in eye-opening flavors: blood orange, cilantro and roasted onion, even wild mushroom and sage. The same goes for the balsamic vinegars from Modena: think cinnamon-pear, dark chocolate, and honey-ginger. You’ll get excellent pairing advice from the friendly owner, who also stocks a small selection of  imported pastas and sauces as well as accessories for proper storage of your new purchases (and there will be many).

Victorian Splendor at Castle Marne

Picture 38At nearly 125 years old, the huge stone mansion housing Castle Marne is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—and it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside. Each of this bed and breakfast’s nine rooms is a wonder, filled with antique furnishings of brass and iron and variously graced by cathedral ceilings, balconies, fireplaces, and even hot tubs. The piano parlor and frescoed dining room are equally sumptuous, and while breakfast and tea service are a given, guests can also arrange for private luncheons and six-course BYO dinners. Of course, a setting as grand as this is a natural for garden weddings—the proprietor is even licensed to officiate.

Izakaya Den: Sushi, Sake and Sexy Small Plates

izakaya_denTalk about the Midas Touch. Over two decades ago, Yasu and Toshi Kizaki struck gold with one of Denver’s first sushi bars, Sushi Den; in 2007, they did it again with Izakaya Den just down the street. (And in 2009, they did it yet again with Den Deli…but that’s another story.) More spacious than its sibling, with high ceilings and a rustic, woody interior, it too serves sushi—including sashimi with fresh wasabi, a revelation if you’ve only had the paste—but specializes in Asian-Mediterranean fusion small plates like crab panzanella in plum wine vinaigrette and grilled shiitake salad with avocado and tomatillo-jalapeño sauce. A high-end selection of sake—many served in the traditional wooden box—adds to the allure. So does weekend lunch service, featuring homestyle fare like “sobaghetti” with pork and fried shrimp with chili sauce.

A New Twist on Tryst: Dive on Fifteenth

Picture 35The name’s a bit cheeky—real dives rarely refer to themselves as such. And sure enough, Dive on Fifteenth doesn’t look all that different from its previous incarnation as Tryst Lounge. But its slogan, “LoDo in a Blender,” says it all: from rotating DJs and a Wii system to a shot wheel and the famous strawberry vodka (a Tryst holdover), it’s clear Dive’s ultimate goal is to be all things to all downtown bar-hoppers: a dance club, a rec room—and, of course, a watering hole.

Insider’s Tip: Speaking of shots, come Monday and you’ll score a free one on the house; “Cheap Ass Sundays,” meanwhile, are true to their billing with $5 martini and $1 PBRs all night long.

Colorado Ballet: Still En Pointe After 50 Years

Picture 47Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010, Colorado Ballet is perhaps the biggest jewel in the crown of the Denver Performing Arts Complex (most performances are held at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). Though classics like Romeo & Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, and of course The Nutcracker are its bread and butter, the company’s been known to bring wilder stuff to the stage as well—including hoots like Great Galloping Gottschalk and Buffalo Bill’s Saloon (complete with line dancing). It’s also known for its international makeup: the dancers hail from countries as far-flung as Japan, Russia, and Cuba—while the artistic director himself, Gil Boggs, has performed around the world in his stints working with every big name in ballet from Mark Morris to Merce Cunningham.

Insider’s Tip: Make a sumptuous night of it with dinner at Restaurant Kevin Taylor, just across the street, before the show.

See Why CY Steak Sizzles

Picture 36The CY stands for Cliff Young—and you’ll see why the name should resonate so deeply with Denverites the second you enter the joint. A pioneer on the city’s fledgling dining scene in the 1980s, Young recently returned here after years in France—only to make waves all over again by opening CY Steak on the premises of Diamond Cabaret, an upscale downtown “gentleman’s club,” to use the polite term.

Location (and late-night entertainment) aside, this is a classic steakhouse; handsome in red and black, it emphasizes a cellar full of big red wines and a menu laden with throwback riches—from caviar platters and Chateaubriand carved tableside to broiled lobstertail and duck-fat potatoes. What’s for dessert is up to you.

Giggles and Gasps at Buntport Theater Company

Think theater’s pretentious or all doom and gloom? Picture 23The locally acclaimed Buntport Theater Company will make you think again. This six-person troupe collaborates and hosts a variety of different projects, from original plays to monthly themed open mic nights—The Most Worthless Thing I Own, for instance—almost all of which are marked by the writer-director-actors’ characteristic brand of risky and borderline absurd wit (as the titles of recent productions Realism: The Mythical Brontosaurus and Kafka on Ice suggest). That’s not to say the Buntport Theater Company doesn’t do serious, heart wrenching work; it’s just that the company never forgets to have fun with the audience, including pint-sized playgoers (the seasonal family series tRUNks brings comic books to life).

Luxe L’Atelier

Picture 43Radek Cerny has been around the culinary world, and it shows in the sophistication of his successor to local legend Papillon—Boulder’s L’Atelier. The Czech native has cooked everywhere from New York to Vail, getting to know Paul Bocuse and Mick Jagger along the way; and in this spare, subdued “studio,” to translate the name, he distills those life lessons into exquisite contemporary French fare, from Escargots with Potato Foam to Lobster Ravioli with Beurre Blanc to the Sculptured Chocolate “Bag” filled with ice cream, fruit and topped with a mint leaf.

Insider’s Tip: To defray a bit of the cost, come on Tuesdays, when the entire wine list is half-off—or for lunch, a somewhat humbler but no less satisfying affair with housemade pâtés and breads for grilled panini.

Standing Ovation for Hotel Teatro

Named for its prime location adjacent to the Denver Center of Performing Arts, Hotel Teatro is itself plenty dramatic. Since opening, it has been accumulating awards as Denver’s Best Hotel (Zagat) and continually surfacing on Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotel List for both the U.S. and the world. Picture 57

Posters and costumes from performances past line the lobby and grace even the standard guest rooms—which aren’t large but are luxuriously appointed in sandstone, cherrywood, leather, and marble, plus all the key anemities: oversized tubs, rainforest shower heads, flat-panel TVs, and complimentary Wifi, to name a few. Speaking of luxury, this boutique hotel is also home to the acclaimed Restaurant Kevin Taylor as well as its namesake chef’s all-day Italian spot, Prima Ristorante—known for a weekend brunch that’s capped off with bottomless prosecco.

Let Izba Spa Whisk You Away—Literally

Picture 42First they beat you with whisks made of birch and oak, then they rub you down with honey—it may sound odd, but you won’t knock it after you’ve tried it at Izba Spa. Izba means “log cabin,” and this beautiful Russian banya, wood-lined and painted with frescoes, indeed transports you far from the grind of City Park. Although there are more basic options, a two-and-a-half-hour deluxe package includes a dip in the hot tub, a full-body massage, and a body polish as well as two traditional sessions in the sauna—yet costs only $135. So go for broke, or you may be kicking yourself for passing up a bargain later, which will be far more painful than the  treatment itself (really, it’s very gentle).

Chill Out at Mynt Mojito Lounge

Sometimes it’s chill, the calm enhanced by the woody, green-accented décor; sometimes it’s wild. mynt mojito lounge denverBut whether it’s catering to the after-work or the after-hours crowd, Mynt Mojito Lounge means business when it comes to play. From happy hour ($4 martinis from 4pm to 9pm!) until the wee hours, the bar whips up 12 different kinds of mojitos, from guava to ginger, many by the pitcher; at 10pm, bottle service begins—and so does the dancing, especially on weekends when DJs spin house and techno. If you need a bite to absorb the alcohol—and keep yourself on your toes—there’s a limited menu of small plates, appropriately Latin-themed.

Change Your Stripes at Fancy Tiger Boutique

Clothes may make the man (or woman), but accessories make the clothes—which means Fancy Tiger may just make your day. This extra-funky, staunchly indie Baker District boutique does sell plenty of frocks—many using recycled or organic materials—but it specializes in the small stuff, from suspenders and fedoras to combination handlebar/shoulder bags, laser-cut jewelry, and even handmade stationery; its adjacent craft-supply outlet also offers classes in needlefelting, embroidery, and more.

Cooler still, as part of the citywide First Friday Art Walk, it hosts Denver Made, an evening trunk show featuring local designers and libations to the tunes of live DJs.

Taylor-Made Refinement at Restaurant Kevin Taylor

Picture 58Luxury is Kevin Taylor’s middle name, so you can bet that his long-standing signature restaurant in the Hotel Teatro is a bastion of all the finer things in life. The elegant yet warm decor of this recipient of countless accolades (including the AAA Four Diamond and Mobil Travel Guide Four Star Awards) sets the mood for Taylor’s style of New French with Southwest and Asian flourishes: laden with traditional delicacies like foie gras, lobster, and truffles, it’s also graced with fresh, food-forward accents, from lavender flowers and corn shoots to maitakes and poppy seeds. Also befitting the upscale setting, all rich upholstery and silver sparkle, is formal, white-glove service.

It all makes for a prime spot to throw private parties, with seating in the extensive wine cellar- the list here is pricey but top rated- and a customized menu. Meanwhile, anyone who wants the full Kevin Taylor experience should consider the seven-course tasting- a veritable four-hour banquet to make any occasion special.

Quietude on Colfax: The Holiday Chalet

Picture 16Built in 1896 for a local jeweler, the brownstone mansion that now houses the Holiday Chalet is an oasis of gentility on raucous East Colfax. Though its nine rooms have been renovated to reflect the bed-and-breakfast’s Victorian origins, they’re also fully equipped with modern amenities (including Wifi and individual kitchens).

Still, the emphasis is on bygone civility, from full breakfast in the antique-filled tea room to ice cream socials in the flower-lined courtyard (which also contains a grill for barbecue-minded guests). And you can even dress for such occasions at She She, the on-site boutique of Chalet owner/fashion designer Crystal Sharp.

Livin’ la Vie Belle at Bistro Vendôme

bistro vendomeTucked into a downtown courtyard across Larimer Street from her celebrated flagship, Rioja, Jennifer Jasinski’s Bistro Vendôme fits the standard Parisian model—cozy yet lively, simple yet sophisticated—from the breezeway two-tops to the shady patio. The kitchen smartly concentrates on the classics: steak tartare and salade Niçoise, roast chicken and croques monsieur, crêpes du jour and crème brûlée. Likewise, beloved quaffs like kir royale and brunchtime hot chocolate round out the all-French wine list.

And then there are the weeknight specials: Monday means discounts on champagne and oysters, while wine and cheese samplers make for wonderful Wednesdays. No wonder the tiny bar is lined night after night with industry insiders.

From Mummies to Meteors: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Founded by Colorado pioneer Edwin Carter to house his natural history collection- and growing ever since- the venerable, solar-powered Denver Museum of Nature and Science is as major a find Denver Museum Nature Scienceas the million-plus artifacts and specimens it displays (including the original Folsom point).

Located at the same City Park address since 1908, it has expanded over the decades to include a planetarium and an IMAX theater among its exhibitions of Native American culture, dinosaurs, gems and minerals, Egyptian mummies, and more (to ensure you’ve got the energy for it all, there’s a café on site as well).

And just as the Discovery Zone provides an interactive wonderland for the kiddies, the Science Lounge caters strictly to adults with a monthly series of lectures and happy-hour cocktails.

Royal Treatment at the Ritz-Carlton Denver

Opening in 2008, the Ritz-Carlton Denver is the newest kid on the block—and boy, is he rich. Befitting one of the world’s most celebrated luxury hotel chains, this downtown accommodation lavishes its guests with every amenity imaginable. Nearly half of the 200 rooms are suites, but even the “basic”Picture 11 accommodations—purportedly the largest in the city—boast featherbeds and Frette robes, flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations.

Meanwhile, if you need to whip your body back into shape after an extravagant meal at Elway’s Steakhouse, the health club is equipped with everything from a basketball court to a climbing wall, while the spa offers such specialized treatments as a Thai herbal poultice and a four-hand massage.

Domo: A Country Japanese Jewel

Picture 8Domo hasn’t won Westword’s reader’s choice award for Best Japanese Restaurant fourteen years in a row for nothing. On the contrary, it’s a Denver treasure all the way around.

To open the heavy wooden door is to enter a rustic cottage in the feudal-era countryside, scattered with fascinating knickknacks like jars of viper wine and three-million-year-old chunks of rock salt; to exit out the other side is to discover a lush garden retreat, complete with a drum-bridged koi pond and a traditional shrine.

The menu is equally uncommon: chef-owner Gaku Homma’s so-called Japanese country fare comprises one-pot specialties such as donburi, nabemono, teriyaki, and the signature, chirashi-like Wanko sushi—all served with an array of sides and the fruity house sauce. Meanwhile, if there’s one thing Domo’s not known for, it’s efficient service—prepare to linger for a spell.

Pirouettes & Prima Donnas at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House

Don’t be fooled by the downhome nickname: Picture 11the Ellie, as Denverites call the home of Opera Colorado and the Colorado Ballet, is a world-class venue through and through. The crown jewel in the Denver Performing Arts Complex spans four levels from orchestra to balcony, ringed by a soaring foyer spangled with modern art (including a spectacular Dale Chihuly chandelier). And while the main attractions occur inside the lyric auditorium—from Tosca and La Bohème to Romeo and Juliet and the annual run of The Nutcracker—pre-theater dining at Kevin Taylor’s downstairs makes for a sumptuous sideshow.

Screamers Among the Skyscrapers: Elitch Gardens

Picture 9Not many city skylines boast a Ferris wheel and roller coaster amid the spires and office towers. Thanks to Elitch Gardens, downtown Denver does. Moving to its current site alongside the Platte River basin from its original location in 1995, the 120-year-old theme park presents a kaleidoscope of classic thrill rides—from the Mind Eraser with its double corkscrew turns to the Tower of Doom, which drops daredevils groundward from 200 feet in the air. For the tots, old-time favorites abound: there’s a carousel, tilt-a-whirl, and teacup ride, as well as the Island Kingdom Water Park with a high dive, wave pool, and array of slides. Kicking off in May, the season ends with a spooky bang during October’s Fright Fest—a boo-filled blast of haunted houses and trick-or-treat trails.

3 Stories + 1 Rooftop = Vinyl Madness

Picture 12When size matters, Club Vinyl delivers. Occupying four stories, the huge, neopsychedelic space rises from a mellow basement bar to a rockin’ rooftop patio lined with sofas and fire pits; in between, of course, are pool tables, VIP areas, and dance floors galore, complete with go-go girls and a line-up of DJs from the world over (including Amsterdam’s Mason and Montreal’s Megasoid), playing everything from reggaeton, hip hop, and Latin house to trance and electronica.

Skewing young (18+) on Saturdays and gay-friendly on Sundays, the crowd is unusually diverse—after all, there’s room for everybody here.

Hot, Hot, Hot at 5 Degrees

Centered around an ultralounge that looks like aPicture 10 futuristic parlor—all mirrors and chandeliers, in shades of black, white, yellow, orange, Lucite, and chrome—5 Degrees aims to be as cool as its name. So does the flirty LoDo crowd, who dresses to kill before settling into wraparound booths and splurging on bottle service, mingling out on the patio, or meeting face-to-face on the small, tightly packed dance floor.

Special events are a club hallmark—from fashion shows and photo shoots to Whipped Wednesdays, as the often-themed ladies’ night is called (a recent, cheeky example: Barbie’s Birthday). In sum: keep the footwork to a minimum, the ogling to a maximum, and you’ll fit right in.

The Bluebird Theater’s Still Singing After All These Years

Picture 10From the Fillmore Auditorium to the Ogden Theatre, East Colfax Avenue is bejeweled with historic concert venues. But the Bluebird Theater, at almost 100 years old, is the crown gem.

Like the infamous neighborhood itself, the location has had its ups and downs—including a run as a porn house—but since 1994 it’s been welcoming the nation’s coolest up-and-comers (and even some of its more beloved down-and-outers) from a wide range of musical genres. Neither the main floor nor the balcony has seating (though both have bars), so sport comfortable footwear—unless, of course, you’d rather put on your dancing shoes, a must on New Year’s Eve when the local legends of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club return to town.

A Rainbow of Amenities at the Hotel Monaco

There’s colorful and then there’s colorful.Picture 6 The difference is clear at the Hotel Monaco. Every room, from the lobby to the themed suites, is awash in red, yellow, and turquoise, checkers, stars, and stripes.

In keeping with the riotous design, this downtown Travel & Leisure award winner also presents a bright palette of perks—including complimentary social hours, shoe shines, yoga equipment, pet friendly accommodations and even pet goldfish.

Although there’s an Aveda spa and salon on site, it offers some services in the privacy of your own room. And the signature restaurant, Panzano, just so happens to be one of the best modern Italian spots in Denver.

Vita: Eat. Drink. Listen.

Picture 5An early bloom in the blossoming East Highlands, Vita has endured in the light of its special perks. Funky and arty with the works of local painters, it boasts one of the city’s few rooftop terraces, thronged on warm evenings with couples taking in a stellar view of downtown at sunset; inside, jazz combos keep the mood cool several nights a week.

Despite the Italian name, the menu skews contemporary American, with an emphasis on entree-worthy small plates like seven-hour pork braised with cherry peppers and a mini-osso buco over blue cheese polenta, many of which go for $5 or less during happy hour. Speaking of deals, bargain-bin buffs take note: the entire selection of wines by the bottle is offered at half-price on Tuesdays.

For Swank and Steak, It’s Always Elway’s

Picture 14Although it may have owed its early fanfare to the popularity of its namesake, retired Broncos quarterback and co-owner John Elway, this Cherry Creek steakhouse has endured on its own merits: a swanky white-cloth setting, a legendary local bar scene, and a solid (if spendy) repertoire of chops, luxury seafood, and other modern American classics.

In fact, its success has spread downtown, with an even fancier, leather-swathed and wine-walled outpost in the Ritz-Carlton—where the day begins with power breakfasts and ends with sightings of sports celebs hunkered down over ribeyes and crab legs.

A Literary Landmark: The Tattered Cover

Picture 9The name evokes dusty shelves and cobwebbed corners, but the Tattered Cover Book Store is a sprawling, gleaming, three-location Denver institution—and its owner, Joyce Meskis, a local hero. No mere literary retail outlets, the trio of stores are veritable community centers, boasting in-store coffeehouses and hosting everything from film and lecture program series to book clubs for adults and kids alike to the city’s best readings (think Dave Eggers, rising star Joshua Ferris, and Barack Obama!). Yet another bonus: a mind-boggling magazine selection.

But it’s Meskis’ involvement in the community beyond the bookstores’ walls that really stand out, from making donations to local charities through the Tattered Cover Gives Back program to her participation in the annual citywide literacy promotion event One Book, One Denver.

Tacos, Rockies-Style at El Taco de Mexico

There are as many taquerias as there are mountain peaks around Denver, bETDMtacosut as with the Rockies, a few rise above all the rest. El Taco de Mexico is one of them. The women behind the counter are as notoriously no-nonsense as the food is simple: tacos and burritos alike serve as lessons in Mile-High Mexican 101, with their perfectly cooked meats and stellar sauces—namely the smokiest of salsas and purest of green chiles, thin and smooth. Throw in an extra-cinnamony horchata to wash it all down, and you’ll still leave with nearly as many pocket pesos as you came in with.

Beta is Alpha for World Famous DJs

Picture 11Owned by online EDM store Beatport and famed for its Funktion-One sound system, Beta is all about the house music—and the clubbers who thrive on it. Beyond the giant dance floor and equally spacious patio, the sustainably designed downtown club has an upstairs lounge with bottle service and a bird’s eye view of all the action. And the action is considerable—Westword named Beta Best Dance Club of 2009 for its lineup of DJs known locally, nationally, and even globally a la powerhouses Armin Van Buuren and Felix Da Housecast. Like any good nightclub, there’s a bevy of scantily clad dancers and amazing light displays, but the unique layout of Beta allows such close access that you can literally touch the superstar guest DJ’s while dancing to their amazing mixes.

Boots, Buckles, Booze at Grizzly Rose

Denver may not be a cowtown at heart anymore—but on its fringes, country-and-Western culture still Picture 11thrives. Voted Country Club of America by the Country Music Association, Grizzly Rose is its headquarters.

The sprawling honkytonk has it all: a roster of concerts ranging from Grammy darlings like Taylor Swift to venerable old-timers like The Bellamy Brothers (along with the occasional ’80s hair band), a mechanical bull, cheap (and sometimes even free) beer, line dancing and two-stepping—as well as free weekly classes for the slickers.

On top of all of Grizzly’s activities, there’s some of the greatest people-watching in the city: nowhere else are you likely to find cowboys whooping it up with hipsters and confused but gung-ho tourists.

Jazzed by Dazzle

Picture 6The yin to El Chapultepec’s yang, Dazzle is Denver’s other most esteemed jazz venue—and every bit as amenity-oriented as The Pec is no-frills. While its nightly lineup of both local and national talent—swing, bebop, fusion, et cetera—has won it numerous awards from both local and national media (including Downbeat), the club also gets its audience into the act via fascinating interactive programs like First Monday Art Talks and Jeff Jenkins’ Piano Conversations.

Moreover, it’s made fans, even among non-enthusiasts, with its freewheeling happy hour and the Friday Lunch Club—both featuring live music and a $5 menu—as well as the famed Sunday Urban Brunch, a sprawling all-you-can-eat affair complete with a bottomless bloody mary and mimosa bar.

Rock-and-Rolling with the Punches: Denver Roller Derby

Picture 17For a 21st-century cosmopolis, Denver still hasn’t lost its rough-and-tumble Wild West edge. Case in point: the super-popularity of roller derby. The city supports not one, but two leagues, the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls and the Denver Roller Dolls—sponsored by none other than good old PBR.

Whether taking place at the Fillmore Auditorium or the new 1STBANK Center, bouts between teams with names like the Dooms Daisies and the Green Barrettes can get deliciously fierce—and the surprisingly mixed crowd, from hipsters to families, loves it, cheering on the likes of Aphromighty and Fonda Payne. But the fun doesn’t stop or even start at the rink: take the RMRG’s Party Bus, and you’ll be whisked to the match, piled with free beer, and returned to the afterparty at the Skylark Lounge.

The DAM Bursts with Surprises

Picture 9You don’t even have to step inside to see the art of the Denver Art Museum (a.k.a. the DAM): its ultramodern, extra-angular two-building exterior is a masterwork in itself, designed by world-famous architects Gio Ponti and Daniel Libeskind, respectively.

But once you do, you’ll discover a collection that’s remarkable for a mid-sized metropolis. While it runs the standard gamut from European painting to pre-Columbian artifacts, it’s especially strong in some unexpected areas, namely American Indian art and American graphic design.

But the biggest artistic surprise awaits in the bathroom: when you wash your hands, you’ll be treated to a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” courtesy of Jim Green’s notorious automatic singing sinks.

Mile-High Marks for Osteria Marco

From fancy to funky and fusilli to udon, no Denver OMartichokesrestaurateur uses his noodle quite like Frank Bonanno, who has made a go of Italian destinations and Asian hangouts alike (see Luca d’Italia and Bones, respectively). Osteria Marco is his savvy nod to the enoteca.

Occupying a dark, glittering, buzzing subterranean cave on Larimer Square, it serves up a deceptively casual menu of salumi, antipasti, panini, and pizzas—all of which are as carefully crafted as Bonanno’s most elaborate $40 entree at Mizuna. While the housemade burrata is a justly ballyhooed must, there’s nary a miss on the menu, be it the whole grilled artichoke or the Sunday special—whole roast suckling pig.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: From Mixed Media to Mixed Taste

Accessible by a long walking ramp, the MCA Denver bills itself as “the museum without a front door.” And to be sure, it does open wide to let the world in. Picture 17

Eschewing a permanent collection, it stages ever-rotating, often highly provocative exhibitions that interrogate postmodern society and our place in it: existentially inclined short films by Yang Fudong, the wacky soundscapes of local artist Jim Green, even Damien Hirst’s famed mixed media installations.

And following a merger with The Lab, it now hosts some of the city’s most eye-opening programs—above all Mixed Taste, a seasonal series of lectures each comprised of two unrelated topics: imagine (if you can) the Human Genome and Leadbelly or Absinthe and Arctic Ice Caps.

LoHi SteakBar Raises the Stakes—and the Bar

Picture 7When locals heard chef-about-town Sean Kelly had turned up at this smart, sexy Lower Highlands spot, they swarmed in pronto—and they haven’t left since. Hopping nightly with the city’s hipper foodies, LoHi SteakBar features a highly likeable menu that centers on an array of steak frites and burgers, rounded out by funky snacks, sandwiches, and sides—from blue cheese fondue to rock shrimp po’boys to creamed spinach, plus retro desserts like banana splits.

The bar mixes a mean cocktail or two as well, including a fresh update of the banana daiquiri, and 3-for-1 bloodies come with weekend brunch.

Glamour and Grandeur Alike at The Oxford Hotel

Picture 18Opened in 1891, The Oxford was Denver’s first hotel, and it’s still going strong. Built by brewing magnate Adolph Zang, it looks every part the stately Grand Dame, with its sumptuous marble-floored lobby and collection of Western art. But the 21st-century amenities are plentiful, including free WiFi, iPod docking stations, and plasma TVs in every room.

While the hotel’s richest jewel is the Art Deco–era Cruise Room, a visit to McCormick’s Fish House off the lobby may be in order just for a glimpse of the cathedral stained-glass panels lining the bar (and perhaps a round or two of oysters on the half-shell).

In the Swim at Sushi Den

Picture 7Attention, fishheads! It may be land-locked, but Sushi Den can swim with the best of ’em. That’s because owners Yasu and Toshi Kizaki have been in the business for 25 years and counting, importing seafood from Japan to the United States and turning out some of the best nigiri, sashimi, and maki in town.

The ambiance is chic yet casual, luring dates and families alike—a lot of them: since reservations are only accepted for parties of five or more on weeknights, the crowd is constantly spilling out on to the sidewalk, day and night, enduring 90-minute waits for a taste of the action. But when you finally get in, your every fish wish will be granted, from all the usual suspects like maguro and unagi to the excellent Rocky Mountain Roll with smoked trout and the famous broiled miso cod.

All the City’s a Stage at the Curious Theatre Company

There are comPicture 7munity theaters, and then there are professional theaters that deeply engage their community. The Curious Theatre proudly falls in the latter category, often staging works by Denver-area scribes.

The company also offers annual playwriting workshops for young talent and hosts a unique fundraiser called Denver Stories—a gala performance of four plays, each inspired and co-written by some of the city’s most illustrious residents, from political figures like Governor Bill Ritter to sports heroes such as former Broncos star Reggie Rivers.

True to the notion that the personal is the political, it tends toward edgy, socially conscious productions that have won over many a local critic: Curious (as it’s known) has won the Denver Post’s Ovation Award for Best Year by a Company five years in a row!

On the Road Redux: The Beat Poetry Driving Tour

It won’t come as aPicture 14 surprise to fans of Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg, and Burroughs that the Beat Poetry Driving Tour isn’t officially instituted; like the mid-century literary movement itself, it’s DIY. But since Denver (along with Boulder) was a temporary or permanent home to many of the Beats’ brightest lights, the city government has created a thoroughly engaging webguide to all the signficant sites in their lives, from parks and baseball diamonds to Larimer Square (Skid Row in Kerouac’s day, it now boasts some of Denver’s best dining and shopping).

Quick tip: save Stop 2, The Colburn Hotel, for the end of your tour so you can wind down with a drink at historic piano bar Charlie Brown’s.

Mix-and-Match Moxie at Babareeba

Carrying a mix of nPicture 22ew and vintage threads, Babareeba! Then & Now is a comfy, welcome departure from the super-trendy, spendy boutiques of Highlands Square.

Owner Jerilyn Berardi is a stickler for mint condition pieces, be they designer pumps, faux fur and leather jackets circa 1973, or insane vintage gems—but she’s also got an eye for combining her finds with the duds of today. Head downstairs to check out the one-of-a-kind lingerie, charmingly displayed amid boudoir-style décor.

From Jackie O-style suits to designer gowns, Babareeba! maintains your flair—retro or cutting-edge—at prices that are more than fair.

Small on Size, Big on Surprise: Denver’s Downtown Aquarium

If you can get past the unsettling fact that it’s owned by a giant restaurant chain—and operates its own seafood eatery in full view of the tanks—you’ll discover that the Downtown Aquarium contains many otherPicture 17, far more pleasant surprises.

Aside from all the tropical fish, sharks, eels, otters, and turtles you’d expect, there are also stingrays in a petting tank, birds, reptiles, and, of all incongruous but exciting things, a tiger exhibit.

Best of all, due to its relatively late hours (not to mention its cocktail lounge), it’s the setting of many a quirky date night long past the kiddies’ bedtime.

More than Hoops and Hockey Pucks at the Pepsi Center

Though it’s best known as the home of thepepsi center Nuggets and the Avalanche, the 5-story, 20,000-seat Pepsi Center is no mere sports venue. Located at the edge of downtown, the site of the 2008 Democratic National Convention also hosts concerts (think Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga), ice shows, and family fare galore (the Harlem Globetrotters regularly perform here). What’s more, amenities abound—from a full-service restaurant, the Blue Sky Grill, and a merchandise outlet to private event suites and even a state-of-the-art business center and meeting space. If it weren’t for the thunderous crowds cheering on Carmelo Anthony and Chris “Birdman” Anthony, you could practically mistake the place for a grand hotel.

A Slice of the Lush Life at El Chapultepec

Picture 8The smoke that hung thickly for decades has cleared, but that’s about the only difference between the El Chapultepec of yesteryear and the Pec, as it’s affectionately known, of today.

Tiny, dark, and frankly pretty dumpy, this legendary club at the edge of downtown nonetheless shines white-hot with live jazz and blues nightly, just as it has since the 1930s.

Along the way, everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Stan Getz to the Marsalis brothers has played the Pec—but musical magic seems to happen no matter who’s onstage. And the fact that there’s no cover—just a one-drink minimum—only sweetens the good vibe.

2 Stores + 100s of Bright Ideas = 5 Green Boxes

HPicture 6oused in two separate storefronts on Old South Pearl, 5 Green Boxes spilleth over with the stuff of great splurging. In the larger home boutique, you’ll encounter the likes of wastepaper baskets shaped like Chinese take-out containers, floral-patterned garden tools, chunky embossed belt buckles, and all kinds of rugs, pillows, place settings, candles, and carryalls made from unexpected and recycled materials and one-a-kind chairs made from the in house design studio.

The smaller shop, meanwhile, is fashion-filled, emphasizing colorful knits and tunics in exotic prints along with a wealth of funky accessories, from cool costume jewelry to scarves and tights to crayon-bright eye frames.

Perks Aplenty at Peaks Lounge

You’d think downtown Denver would be bursting with bars boasting panoramic views of the skyline and the Rockiegallery_57s beyond. Incredibly, you’d think wrong: Peaks Lounge, at the top of the Hyatt Regency, is the one and only—and well worth the price of admission (that is, the hefty drink tab).

Long, narrow, and lined with cozy banquettes, it draws as many canoodling locals as tie-loosening conventioneers, who soak up the sunset glow along with martinis accompanied by complimentary cocktail nibbles. But should something a little more alcohol-absorbent come in handy, the small menu of appetizers and desserts is quite a bit better than it has to be.

Sparkling Sushi Sasa

There are only two contenders for Denver’s best sushi—and they’re polar opposites. One is Sushi Den, a dark and rollicking madhouse on Old South SasaflyingfishcarpaccioPearl. The other is Sushi Sasa. Opened by former Sushi Den employee Wayne Conwell just north of downtown, it’s spare and serene, all pale hues and hushed conversations—the ideal setting for precise, pristine pieces of toro, needlefish, Spanish mackerel, and more. But then, that’s to be expected: order omakase, and you’ll be treated to all sorts of stunning surprises from the kitchen as well—think sea bass in black bean sauce and wasabi cheesecake.

It’s those contemporary global influences that so distinguish Sushi Sasa and compel its clientele of sophisticates to crowd in constantly; reservations are strongly recommended.

The Brown Palace: Luxury Set in Stone

Only three decades younger than 150-year-old Denver itself, The Brown Palace is not only a historic downtown landmark, but a living treasure. The can’t-miss triangular maPicture 6ss of red granite and sandstone has accommodated famous guests from the Beatles to nearly every US president since Teddy Roosevelt—not to mention the champion steers who parade through the lobby during the National Western Stock Show every year.

The amenities are through the stained-glass atrium roof—think afternoon tea in the lobby, pre-embargo Cubans in the swanky cigar bar, “altitude-adjustment” facials at the spa and artesian well water in every room. Of course, the prices are sky high too, but you get all you’ve paid for and then some.

Last Stop, Rockbar

It’s on East Picture 8Colfax. It’s ensconced in a motel called the All In whose history of ill repute is far from ancient. And its logo is a burst of flames. Rockbar is marked by warning sign after warning sign—otherwise known as green lights to Denver’s anything-goes afterparty crowd.

Low-ceilinged and packed tight, the dance floor’s made for getting down and dirty—and so is the music, from 80s faves to heavy metal and back again. For that matter, so are the drinks: aside from the requisite cans of PBR, cheap shots of Mad Dog are a no-brainer—almost literally.

Black and Read and Funky All Over

Picture 10If Tattered Cover is Denver’s 800-lb. gorilla, Black and Read is its bespectacled bookworm burrowing into the local literary underground. Granted, new and used books in dizzying array—or disarray, as the case may be—aren’t the half of it: indie music buffs browse the aisles for obscure recordings on vinyl, while fanatical gamers (are there any other kind?) gather to gab about the latest releases with employees who are, of course, almost comically knowledgeable about the inventory, be it MMPORGs or 1980s SoCal punk. Owner Danny Graul, for his part, is a true cinephile, and it shows in his selection of film texts.

Ultimately, Black and Read is less about finding any purchase in particular than about losing yourself in the search.

Meet The Pioneering Heroes of The Black American West Museum

The history of African Americans on the Western frontier is far richer than the average gradeDENblackcowboy-school textbook lets on. It comes to life at the Black American West Museum, one of Denver’s most undersung treasures. Set in a handsome Five Points two-story building that was once home to the state’s first female black doctor, the exhibits cover surprising ground: from the open range where black cowboys roamed to the battlefields of the Buffalo Soldiers to Dearfield, an early-twentieth-century all-black settlement that’s now a genuine Colorado ghost town.

Bonus: the museum’s just about a lasso’s toss away from Tom’s Home Cookin,’ a long-standing lunchtime favorite for soul food.

Glitz and Giggles at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret

Of all the things you might find in the basement of a hundred-year-old downtown office building, a gorgeous, chandelier-hung cabaret may be the least likely. But it’s the most fun.

While the undisputed star of the Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret stage is Lannie Garrett herself—especially when she appePicture 7ars as Patsy DeCline in a hearty send-up of country music—the spotlight shines on a variety of acts Denverites hold dear, from the Demented Divas to Naughty Pierre’s Burlesque and Comedy Extravaganza; risqué as they are, their real appeal’s due to their surprisingly strong talent.

If your taste runs toward subtler stuff, however, you’re still in luck, as nationally touring torch singers, jazz combos, and blues crews also regularly book stops here.

My Brother’s Bar Belongs to Everyone

From the late great Terminal Bar (immortalized in song by Tom Waits) to the Satire Lounge (where the SmotPicture 15hers Brothers got their start), Denver’s a treasure trove of storied dives. Among its most colorful gems is My Brother’s Bar, a scuffed and stained Depression-era time capsule revered by generations of fans of Jack Kerouac—who famously whiled away the hours here with fellow Beat hero Neal Cassady.

Yet this is no mere hipster hang. Another quirk of the Mile High City’s more historic haunts is their diversity, frequented by grizzled guzzlers and families alike; here, young and old, stoned and stone-cold gather ’round as much for the signature JCBs (jalapeno cream cheese burgers) as the booze.

Mile-High Honky Tonk: Charlie’s

Picture 13Having launched the career of RuPaul’s Drag Race runner-up Nina Flowers, Vivid still glitters with up-and-comers like Felony Misdemeanor Sunday in and Sunday out. But cowboy-themed GLBT bar Charlie’s is much more than just a weekly stage for Denver’s premier drag show. Depending on the night (it’s open all 365), an extra-diverse and welcoming horde descends for free line-dancing lessons, raucous rounds of bingo and trivia, unreal happy hour deals—and even, yes, the occasional wet jockey shorts contest. Meanwhile, if more than the occasional Jello shot is your guilty pleasure, Charlie’s is your watering—er, gelatinizing—hole.

Get Saucy at Vesta Dipping Grill

Picture 9Replete with sensual swirls of fabric amid steel sculptures and secluded circular banquettes, Vesta Dipping Grill maintains an invigoratingly sexy appeal right down to the menu.

Expect the unexpected from the kitchen, which specializes in eclectic mix-and-match dishes meant to be shared. Appetizers and entrees centering on grilled meats, fish, and vegetables come with your choice of several dipping sauces (hence the name) that range from the familiar—Carolina barbecue, peanut sauce, chimichurri—to the inventive (try bacon aioli, Asian pear chutney or rose blossom yogurt on for size). Desserts follow the same formula; order the caramel apple with hot fudge for you and your date, and you can rest assured the evening won’t end at the restaurant. Reservations are essential.

Perennial Panzano

PanzanoswordfishrisottoThe hype’s as low as the loyalty is high at Panzano, a downtown fixture that’s so dependable day in and day out you could almost be forgiven for taking chef Elise Wiggins’s enormous talent for granted. But don’t. Even as it morphs from a power breakfast and lunch spot to a happy hour haunt to a pre-theater rendezvous, Wiggins’s creative energy never wanes, whether she’s popping out zeppole (doughnut holes), flipping her signature crespelle ai funghi (mushroom crepes), or whipping up ever-intriguing pastas (keep your eyes peeled for dried fruit). Meanwhile, matching her knack for contemporary Italian cookery is her passion for sustainability; going beyond organic, she launched a nose-to-tail steer program in mid-2009.

Yet another bonus: the bread basket’s one of Denver’s best.

Rioja: LoDo’s Mediterranean Mecca

RiojagnocchiFrom the moment its doors opened in 2004, handsome Rioja has been on the short list of candidates for Denver’s best restaurant not only among locals but in the national press (including GQ and Details).

Though Colorado is always in the background, chef-partner Jennifer Jasinski keeps her focus admirably sharp and tight on the cuisines of Italy and Spain, and the result is a seasonal repertoire as robust and colorful in flavor as it is precise in presentation. Handmade pasta is always a must, as is the signature appetizer of spiced pork belly in fresh chickpea puree—but then, so are the remarkably rich soups and fruit-based desserts. Perhaps the ultimate must is more than one visit.

You Gotta Hear It to Believe It: Jim Green

In a city known for its idiosyncratic tastes in art—including not just one but two giant blue animal sculptures—local visionary Jim Green fits right in, notPicture 9 least for the fact that you can’t actually see his work. What you can do is hear it: take a ride (or two) on his Laughing Escalator at the Colorado Convention Center; wash your hands in his Singing Sinks at the Denver Art Museum; pace the intersection of 15th and Curtis until you hear the whistles and hoofbeats of his Soundwalk rising up from the pavement grates.

Green’s recorded installations defamiliarize the mundane environment through which we usually move so thoughtlessly, startling us into laughter—and his exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, continuing through January 3, 2010, is no different, centering as it does on whoopee cushions.

Color and Pop at The Curtis Hotel

From the Wii in the pop art–filled lobby to the cheeky recorded anDENcurtisnouncements in the elevator, The Curtis Hotel positively revels in its own hipness—charming even the most curmudgeonly guest in the process. Who, after all, can spite the wacky decorative themes distinguishing each floor, be it One Hit Wonders on five or Big Hair on nine? Who can begrudge the borderline louche after-work scene at signature lounge The Corner Office, where colleagues canoodle over chicken and waffles?

And hey, there’s even something for vultures of high culture—the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, right across the street.

Putting the Decade in Decadence

Along a stretch of South Broadway where they’d have sounded downriPicture 6ght foreign a few short years ago, the adjectives “quirky” and “luxury” are becoming not only apt, but synonymous with the area thanks to finds like Decade.

A fixture in the gentrifying Baker district, this funky apparel and accessories boutique is a browser’s (not to mention buyer’s) dream, filled wall to wall with the likes of colorful handknits and Audrey Hepburn–retro wool trenches, cheeky piggy banks and cheekier lingerie, coffee table–worthy cookbooks and sumptuous Shiraleah handbags with all the bells and whistles (or, as the case may be, straps and buckles). In the back room, tot-sized togs and trinkets abound.

The collection is as varied as the kudos it receives from local publications, from “Best Paris-Flea-Market-Style Store” to “Top Maternity.”

As you take it all in, keep your eyes out for Stella the Fella, the feline mascot in the gem-studded collar.

The Cruise Room: A Come-What-May Place

Picture 5It’s a suave moniker for a swanky joint. Not just old school but downright historic, The Cruise Room in The Oxford Hotel was downtown Denver’s first post-Prohibition bar. And it’s still every inch an Art Deco–era wonder—resplendent in red neon, leather, and chrome and replete with elegant murals, a classic jukebox, and natty bartenders who pour proper martinis (the real three-to-one deal, even if the rest of the cocktail list is a tad twee). Throw in some oysters on the half-shell from McCormick’s Fish House (located just across the lobby, it services the bar)—and prepare to lose yourself in retro reverie.

A Taste of Whimsy at Beatrice And Woodsley

Tree trunks form columns and tables; gas lanterns hang from the ceilings; chainsaws support the back bar shelves. With decor inspired by the true story of a pair of nineteenth-century lovebirds who eloped to a caBWsweetbreadsbin in the Rockies, Beatrice & Woodsley is a mesmerizing place to be.

Executive chef Pete List’s romantic seasonal menu of small plates, by turns daring and quaint, only deepens the mood: from corn pots de crème with horchata froth and sweet potato croquettes with huitlacoche honey to sherried turtle soup for brunch, the descriptions read as dreamily as the dishes themselves taste.

The Lowdown On The Hi-Dive

With a line-up that reads like a who’s who of underground buzz bands, the Hi-Dive (emphasis on “dive”) is one of the coolest indie-musicPicture 4 venues in a town that knows indie music.

Small and dingy, it nonethless draws the idiosyncratic likes of string maestro Anni Rossi; Dengue Fever, influenced above all by old Cambodian pop and surf rock; and neo-psychedelic groovers Starlight Mints.

And when you get your fill of tunes, you can load up in turn on suds and grub like the famous sweet potato fries at Sputnik, the hi-dive’s adjacent sibling.

Psst: PS Lounge is a Local’s Secret

In a town whose cup—Main Page--Entertainmake that tallboy—runneth over with legendary dive bars, PS Lounge floats to the top. What makes the dark, kitsch-filled corner joint on Colfax—once dubbed the wickedest street in America by Playboy—so special? You. At least that’s how you’ll feel when your first round comes with Alabama Slammers and long-stemmed roses for the ladies, compliments of the house. The icing on the cake (or topping on the pie, rather): you can even have a pizza delivered right to your booth from Enzo’s End next door.

Bones Gets to the Marrow

The name Bones is appropriate for such a spare, sleek space. It fits the streamlined menu, too. But the flavors of the Asian-inspired small plates and noodle bowls flowing from the tiny open kitchen? They’re anything but bare bones.

BmarrowKnown primarily for his simultaneously soulful and sly approach to contemporary Italian cookery at Luca d’Italia and Osteria Marco, chef-owner Frank Bonanno (who also owns the much-celebrated Mizuna) takes a no less playfully forward tack here—pulling short ribs for eggolls, ultra-refining ramen with poached lobster, and roasting the best, yes, bone marrow in town.

Rocky Mountain Menagerie: Buckhorn Exchange

Picture 40History buffs and extreme carnivores alike get a kick out of Buckhorn Exchange. Granted Colorado’s first liquor license granted over 100 years ago, it’s still got all the trappings of a rustic saloon, from the walls covered over with trophy heads to the cowboy-hatted country crooners serenading the crowd in the upstairs bar.

And the menu reflects the décor, featuring savory game dishes—slow-roasted buffalo prime rib, elk, pheasant and quail. Even yak pops up occasionally. Better still for the adventurous of palate are the appetizers: Fried Alligator Tail, Chile-Marinated Rattlesnake and yes, even Batter-Fried Rocky Mountain Oysters are available for the (gulp) asking. Food prices aren’t cheap, but the wine list compensates, with many bottles in the $20 to $40 range. Just a couple of light rail stops from downtown, this legendary joint has to be seen to be believed—even if vegetarians would rather look the other way.

Alta Cucina at Barolo Grill

Barolo Grill DenverExposed brick walls lined with vintage posters, brass urns filled with dried flowers, hand-painted porcelain, and straw baskets: Barolo Grill looks the part of a Piedmontese farmhouse—and acts it too. Not only does the seasonal menu maintain a typically Northern Italian balance between rustic and elegant cookery (think risotto with frog’s legs and homemade pasta with lamb sausage) but the 1,600 bottle, high-end wine list heavily emphasizes the celebrated wines of the region—including, of course, its namesake Barolo. As a special occasion destination, it also offers a splurgeworthy five-course tasting menu—so bring your appetite as well as your wallet.

Beers & Steers at Denver Chophouse & Brewery

Set within of the historic Union PacificDenver Chophouse Brewery railstation complex, this link in a small national chain hearkens back to Denver’s cowtown past, when beer and beef were what was for dinner most every night.

Handsomely high-ceilinged and woody, Denver Chophouse & Brewery is a decent place to dine (tip for filet fiends: order yours one shade pinker than usual). But it’s a better place to imbibe, with a good-sized selection of wines by the glass, generous cocktails, nearly ten housebrews on tap—including an oatmeal stout conditioned in Wild Turkey barrels—and bottomless bloody marys and mimosas for weekend brunch.

New Saigon: An Old Standby

Picture 36Loyal locals have been thronging New Saigon for nearly 25 years—but even the most avid among them have yet to explore every inch of the menu: it’s that big. Denver’s first and foremost Vietnamese restaurant offers literally hundreds of options, from the obvious—pho, noodle bowls, and fresh spring rolls—to the obscure, be it frog’s legs stir-fried with grape leaves, goat cooked and served in a firepot with lotus and taro, or salad with squid, snails, chicken feet and pork ear. And if all that’s not adventurous enough for you, ask about the untranslated items (your server will try to dissuade you, so some persistence is required). Cheap and casual, it’s ever-popular, so go in the off-hours to ensure immediate seating.

Insider’s tip: For a take-home treat, buy a bag of the spicy sesame-cashew beef jerky from the large jars lining the back wall.

Eclectic Colorado Cuisine at 1515 Restaurant

1515 Restaurant is fine dining Denver style. It’s a nationally recognized, award-winning restaurant that takes contemporary American cuisine, splashes it with some European flair, and adds some one-of-a-kind “eclectic Colorado cuisine” to top off the menu.

People come for the food as well as the ambiance. The bar scene on the first floor is usually crowded with a hot crowd, with lots of people watching of those who come through the door. The upstairs dining room is a bit quieter, and focused on the fabulous food like braised lamb shank or Kobe beef with saki-glazed ahi. There are a few vegetarian options and features an award-winning wine list that’s received praise from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator.

Potager: Where the Perennial Meets the Seasonal

Picture 15The name means “kitchen garden,” and with good reason. Though Potager’s dining room is decidedly urban- with its high ceilings echoing cement surfaces, floor-to-ceiling windows, and exposed ducts- it leads to a positively pastoral back patio surrounded by, you guessed it, a vegetable and herb garden. Chef Teri Rippeto was espousing locavorism before it was trendy, and to this day her oft-changing menu is rife with farmer’s market finds and sustainably raised meats, be it Gnocchi with pea shoots, baby leeks, mint, bacon, and goat cheese or a Grilled Pork Chop with rhubarb sauce and pickled turnips. The wine list, too, emphasizes boutique labels. And Rippeto’s eco-consciousness doesn’t end there: Potager recycles, composts, and relies partly on solar and wind power. No wonder it’s perennially popular. On that note, be prepared for a wait at the bar: reservations aren’t accepted.

Melting Pot

For over 3 decades, The Melting Pot has offered patrons a decadently different dining experience. This fondue restaurant follows its “Dip Into Something Different” slogan. A stately décor appeals to diners with a fondness for fondue, and tables are equipped with individual burners to keep the pot hot. Asian and French Quarter style fondue are also served here, and there’s a substantial selection of fruit, bread, and vegetables for your dipping pleasure. These vibrant dishes are almost too beautiful to eat, including the chocolate fondue. The Melting Pot promises a truly memorable meal time.

Ted’s Montana Grill

Beef and bison are king at Ted Turner’s restaurant chain. Ted’s Montana Grill is known for its burgers — but has other great dishes like beer-can chicken, bison prime rib and cedar planked salmon. It’s comfort food done in an intimate masculine setting. The vibe is cozy with plenty of mahogany, tin ceilings and Arts and Crafts-style décor. Catch a drink here after work or bring in the family. Ted’s is always packed with people looking for a filling meal.

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Sushi Hai

Tucked in the Highland Area lies a restaurant that could only be described as the perfect juxtaposition between Denver’s art district and the Japenese Orient. View local modern art while the masters prepare your meal. Sushi Hai uses only the freshest ingredients to deliver the top-notch sushi to satisfy your cravings. Sip on hot sake or premium saketinis with friends in the Hai Bar. The atmosphere is perfect for an intimate evening.

Midtown Mainstay: Baraonda Caffé Italiano

With its Peachtree address, intimately rustic decor and flower-lined sidewalk patio, Baraonda Caffé Italiano could easily coast on atmosphere. But the wood-burning brick oven is a sure sign that this lively pizza-and-pasta parlor does no such thing. The thin-crust pies are the real deal, most topped with simple, classic combinations like prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula—no barbecue sauce or ranch dressing here. In fact, the whole menu hews to Italian tradition, be it Sicilian-style rigatoni alla Norma with fried eggplant and ricotta salata; beef carpaccio with parmesan, capers, lemon juice, and olive oil; or uove in purgatorio (eggs baked in tomato sauce) for brunch. Meanwhile, oenophiles are sure to appreciate a wine list scattered with lesser-known varietals like Insolia, Brachetto, and Rosso di Montalcino—not least because the prices rarely break $40.

No Mas! Cantina

In the heart of the newly revitalized Castleberry Hill area of downtown Atlanta you’ll find YUP’s on the patio sipping margaritas and enjoying the sounds of flowing fountains amidst lush greenery, while munching on muchas Mexican. An offshoot of the popular No Mas Productions home décor shop, it’s South of the Border all the way.

Can’t-Miss Mizuna

Picture 16Downscale, upscale, Asian, Italian—as chef-owner of four of Denver’s best-loved eateries (including Bones and Osteria Marco), Frank Bonanno does it all.  At small, elegantly low-key Mizuna, he does it with a contemporary bent that has won him acclaim for a decade and counting. With the exception of lobster mac-and-cheese—Mizuna’s neoclassic signature dish—most of the menu changes monthly, but the emphasis is always on seasonal, carefully-sourced luxuries: a three-course meal might run from crisped veal sweetbreads served with caper aioli over a garlic-potato fritter and grilled ramps, move on to rack of lamb with herbed goat cheese gnudi in a parmesan emulsion, and end every bit as lusciously with a lemongrass parfait or butterscotch soufflé. It might also run you a tab in the three-digit range—but what’s a special occasion for if not splurging?

Give Red Square Euro Bistro a Shot—Literally

Picture 24Tucked away in Writer’s Square just off Larimer, Red Square Euro Bistro is like no place else in LoDo. First and foremost is the vodka bar: rounding out a list of nearly 100 from 20 different countries (including El Salvador and Kazakhstan!), all available by the shot or the bottle, is a wild selection of house infusions—dill, horseradish, and honey being especially good choices. (If spirits aren’t your poison, check out the imported Russian and Czech beers instead.) Then there’s the contemporary European food: borscht with eggs, veal dumplings, beef stroganoff, and pavlova with champagne sabayon help absorb all that alcohol. And in warm weather, the courtyard patio beyond the sleek red-walled dining room is a locals’ hangout from happy hour onwards.