Having ticked most of these United States off our travel list, it was a bit odd to realize we’d never actually set foot in Colorado. But a great new hotel is often the only excuse we need to set about correcting such a situation. And sure enough, this past November Le Méridien threw open the doors on a very stylish new downtown sleep.
Denver is also pretty happening these days, having tapped into the zeitgeisty formula of urban renewal (run down neighborhood becomes artists district becomes playground for trend chasers). The city’s rustic, mountain charms, historic architecture and spectacular scenery combine with a new sense of possibility, from a thriving street art scene to a winery that has made it hip to drink it from cans.
Here’s what we did.
Yep, you guessed it. A former industrial district in Five Points, it became an incubator for Denver’s exploding street art scene – and you can see the results everywhere you look. Naturally, creative businesses followed, and now the neighborhood hosts design and architecture offices, as well as trendy restaurants like Acorn, Bar Fausto and Mister Tuna. Check out the contemporary exhibitions at Helikon Gallery & Studios, as well as the RedLine Contemporary Art Center. Don’t miss the fangeek Stranger Things mural, by local collective Arty Deeds.
Like New York’s Grand Central, Union Station is more than just a place to catch a train. It’s a striking architectural masterpiece dating to 1914, marrying neoclassical, Romanesque and Beaux Arts styles into a particular sort of grandiosity. It was given a splashy makeover by design coolsters AvroKO in 2014, and is once again a genuine social hub for the city. While puttering about the dramatic confines, pick up local crafts at 5 Green Boxes, as well as books and periodicals at Tattered Cover. There are also ten food and drink options, including the buzzy Terminal Bar and the strikingly designed Cooper Lounge, perched histrionically up on the mezzanine.
He was one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painters, having passed away in 1980, aged 75. But the museum dedicated to his work has a fascinating story: his estate offered to bestow his entire oeuvre on whichever city came up with the best proposal for a namesake gallery. Denver won, and the Clyfford Still Museum was opened in 2011. His visceral, perception-altering work from the ’50s and ’60s (along with that of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock) literally defined an era in American art. Featured exhibitions include Artists Select, for which the likes of Mark Mothersbaugh and Julian Schnabel have chosen works from the collection to a thematic end.
Of course, you can’t have urban renewal without the requisite trendy food markets. The Source is where the creative class come to fuel up for another round of artistic conceptualizing. The soaring, 19th Century brick foundry building houses modern taqueria Comida, and foodie-magnet Acorn, as well as a butcher shop, baker, Boxcar Coffee, and the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Alternately, hit the Denver Central Market, for something a bit less achingly hip, a bit more fancy pants.
A must visit for immersion in something authentically local and welcoming. In a charmingly rustic tasting room, sample their lemony Grasshop-ah, the tart Cherry Gilder, the earthy Ol’ Stumpy, and their new botanical Pome Mel, with notes of lavender and rosemary. Book a tour for the full experience.
You had to know it was coming: the hipster winery, run by British-born Ben Parsons. Fittingly, they have made a “thing” of wine in cans – and don’t be troubled, it’s actually really quite good. For proof of cred, it’s now available at the Brooklyn holy trinity of hip: Rough Trade, Brooklyn Steel and The Williamsburg Music Hall. They also sell bubbly in kegs – which means those bubbles stay fresh until the keg is dry (no more stale prosecco at brunch – phew). Their Cabernet Franc was a serious hit with us.
With its historic architecture and inviting shops (Element for home furnishings, Goorin Brothers for stylish chapeaus, Hailee Grace for chic women’s wear), you could while away an entire day on Larimer Square. But it’s also Denver’s buzziest restaurant destination. We loved Rioja for its creative take on Med cuisine – proprietors Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasinski also run Bistro Vendome down the street; Corridor 44 champagne lounge/restaurant brings the bubbly and charcuterie amidst the opulence of brick walls and baroque chandeliers; Napa-styled wine bar CRÚ has more than 40 selections by the glass; Russell’s Smokehouse does elevated barbecue in an artsy space with stained glass windows; and Tamayo is modern Mexican courtesy of Richard Sandoval. To name but a few.
Denver’s most happening new hotel, the moment one enters, a distinct sense of place takes over. Suave, urbane and buzzing from one end of the lobby to the other end of the lobby bar, it nevertheless unabashedly plays up a rustic/mountain ski-lodge vibe – with its cozy fireplace and warmly designed interiors. Rooms manage to be cozy and luxurious, cosseting and minimalist – and the bathrooms are to die for. The Corrine restaurant is all low-key cool, serving up lobster mac & cheese, maple glazed salmon and caramelized pork shank. But you’ll want to spend as much time as possible up on the 54thirty rooftop bar, with its clever cocktails and jaw-dropping views of the Rockies. The hotel has partnerships with the likes of Rocky Mountain Soda Company, The Real Dill, Leopold Bros Whiskey, allowing for a genuinely immersive Denver experience.