The skinny-jeans-loving, tattoo-sporting, ironic-glasses-wearing set has descended on the Mile High City in a big way in recent years. But who are these tragically cool people, exactly? What drives them? And how is this notoriously apathetic counterculture shaping Denver’s landscape? (Not that we really care, of course.)
Hipsters are a nationwide phenomenon, but Denver's iteration is worthy of special examination. Photograph by C.J. Burton
As with many other shifts in American culture—e.g., fashion trends, culinary crazes, musical tastes—when it came to hipsterism, Denver arrived a little late to the party. Although the word “hipster” was coined during the 1940s to refer to jazz aficionados, the modern iteration of the term gained popularity in the early 2000s, mostly to pigeonhole the swell of hostile-to-mainstream-America-and-its-frenzied-consumerism twenty- and thirty-somethings living in places like Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s a common refrain, however, that the moment someone uttered the word hipster, authentic hipsterism died.
Not in Denver. While being a hipster in New York City or Portland or Seattle or San Francisco in 2017 might be borderline passé, the Mile High City has only become surly-chic enough to support a hipster community in the past five or so years. It took, among other things, an entrepreneurial flare-up, real estate expansion into once-dilapidated areas, the legalization of recreational marijuana, and an influx of millennials in the post-recession years to create the ideal environment for hipsterism to take hold. And take hold it has. A 2016 report from business-data giant Infogroup dubbed the Denver metro area the third most hipster city (of those with more than a million residents) in America, behind strongholds Seattle and Portland. The study zeroed in on the concentration of “hipster-related” businesses per 10,000 residents: places like liquor stores and microbreweries, record stores, thrift shops, tattoo parlors, music and live entertainment venues, bike shops, and independent coffeehouses. With those criteria, it’s little surprise Denver nabbed the bronze. What might be a surprise, however, is just how pervasive the hipsterfication of our newly with-it city really is.