Tag Archives: Downtown Denver

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.