Top of the Town 2009
A peek at our must-read annual round-up of who's who and what's what in the Mile-High City.
In a town obsessed with history, we reserve a special place in the local lore for the classics, those institutions that weave a tapestry of character into the city they inhabit. The following classics are a small selection of Top of the Town's longtime winners—the spots both readers and editors alike have returned to over and over throughout the years.
What Makes it a Classic: The ability of this super-casual burger-and-sports joint to flourish in tony Cherry Creek North endears it to bar-loving Denver-ites. But it's the outstanding burger and fries that draw in customers from every walk of life: families, couples, barflies, the chi chi set, the sports fans—and everyone in between.
Did You Know That: A strong-willed woman named Mary Zimmerman opened the original Cherry Cricket as Mary Zimmerman's Bar in 1945.
Just the Facts: The Cricket serves up more than 3,500 burgers every week—182,152 patties in 2008. That's a lot of cow, folks.
What Makes it a Classic: There's something alluring about ordering a fierce Bloody from the bar, pulling up a piece of grass to leisurely read the Post, and waiting the inevitable 45 minutes to get a table. Anyplace else and you'd be getting fierce yourself, but the breezy vibe makes you slow down and realize you've got no better place to be anyway. Plus, where else can you get killer red beans and rice to go along with your tasty tomato-y beverage?
Did You Know That: Until Lucile's opened in 1980 in Boulder, a breakfast and lunch restaurant serving a Creole theme had never been attempted in the state of Colorado.
What Makes it a Classic: In a city with no shortage of cheesesteak options—from classic Phillies to gourmet twists and slider-size gimmicks—Pat's delivers the most consistent, tasty sandwich time and again in a truly Phillylike environment. The LoDo location morphs into a Penn State bar on autumn Saturdays, an Eagles bar on Sundays, and a Phillies showcase during baseball season.
Just the Facts: Owner Patrick Neely, a Philly native, decided to open his first franchise 10 years ago after visiting his friend, former Broncos linebacker John Mobley, and realizing that Denver had "no good East Coast sandwich shops."
What Makes it a Classic: When John Hickenlooper opened Wynkoop in 1988, it was an outpost in an abandoned neighborhood of warehouses and old buildings. Hick and the 'Koop held on, though, and became the anchor of modern-day LoDo, as bars, restaurants, and Coors Field sprung up around it. The city's oldest brewpub, Wynkoop continues to brew small-batch beers like the smooth Railyard Ale and the dark, complex B3K Schwarzbier.
Just the Facts: The bar's namesake, Edward W. Wynkoop, Denver's first sheriff, was also an actor, a soldier, and reportedly an unwilling participant in the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.
What Makes it a Classic: The Garment District is an anachronism, a throwback to a time when retail shops were full-service, offering designer shoes, belts, handbags, suits, dresses, casual wear, tailoring, and personal shoppers all in one tight package.
Did You Know That: The original Garment District was located in Fort Collins at the corner of College Avenue and Laurel Street.
Just the Facts: The Garment District celebrates 37 years of serving the Front Range next month.
What Makes it a Classic: Where you get your hair cut is typically a very personal choice. You like a salon for its funky ambience. Or you dig your stylist because she reads Us Weekly too. Maybe you enjoy an easy-in, easy-out experience. With Luxe, it seems that everyone is getting exactly what she (or he) wants. This 10-year-old LoDo salon is everything to everyone—and that's as classic as it gets.
Just the Facts: With only 12 stylists on staff, Luxe still boasts more than 100 years of combined experience—a rarity in the salon world.
What Makes it a Classic: At Little India, sitting down for a meal rich with complex flavors and layered spices is a bit like taking an Intro to Indian Cuisine class. The staff happily explains the nuances behind a masala sauce or tandoori preparation, and knowing how your food is prepared makes it taste just that much better.
Just the Facts: Little India's chefs, all of whom are trained in northern India, cook up seven different types of saag—a curry dish made with spinach or mustard leaf.
What Makes it a Classic: In a sports-crazed city like Denver, the fact that we keep naming Chopper's as our fave sports bar means this place does it right, with all the trappings a sports bar should have. But it's the ghost of the bar's namesake, Chopper Travaglini—the beloved former Denver Nuggets trainer and traveling secretary—that gives this bar its wistful and laid-back disposition.
Just the Facts: Chopper's has a cumulative 93 feet of big-screen TVs.
What Makes it a Classic: Alex and Cindy Ollig have been designing inspired floral arrangements and stocking chic houseware gifts for 11 years, and they do it with flair and pizzazz rarely found anywhere else.
Did You Know That: The Petal hosts "Third Thursdays"—the boutique's take on "First Fridays"—to showcase local designers and support community networking with wine, cheese, music, and shopping after hours. In the summer, the entire block joins in the fun.
What Makes it a Classic: The original Heidi's—the well-worn, humble digs huddled on the corner of 32nd and Lowell—is a classic. Great delis have an authenticity that shine through in sandwiches that taste like they were made with a bit of pride and extra care. And that's how the sandwiches still feel at Heidi's Highlands Square location. Not that there's anything wrong with the company's franchised locations—but, for our money, we'll make the trip to the original.
Did You Know That: The first Heidi's, which opened in Denver in 1994, once was called Heidi's Bagels and Ice Cream.
What Makes it a Classic: We always mean to have just one cocktail at the Cruise Room, but several hours later, we stumble out, nod to the top-hatted doorman, and stare at the bright Union Station sign glowing in the night. It's a moment that's been repeated over and over since the Cruise Room opened in 1933—and we have to admit that we always get a little teary-eyed at this Denver rite of passage.
Just the Facts: Mixologist Lisa Johnson has more than 20 years of experience mixing behind the Cruise Room's bar. And while she's happy to pour you an Old Fashioned, ask her to make a traditional martini—one of her specialties.
What Makes it a Classic: For more than two decades this sushi palace has set the standard for a night out in Denver. And that's because of the lively atmosphere—and, of course, the fresh fish. Less than 24 hours before it landed on your plate, that little piece of toro was in a Japanese fish market. And with the servers at the ready with refreshing salads (get the cucumbers dressed with lobster meat and a sesame-soy sauce) and other apps like calamari and egg rolls, when you finally do get a table, the wait—and the hefty bill—is always worth it.
Did You Know That: There are about 50 varieties of fish available on the Den's menu.
What Makes it a Classic: Since owner Joyce Meskis purchased the original store in 1974, the Tattered Cover brand has become a model nationwide for independent bookstores.
Did You Know That: In 2000, the store refused to comply with a search warrant that tried to connect a customer's purchase with meth production. The contentious tome? A book on Japanese calligraphy. The store argued a violation of First Amendment rights to the Colorado Supreme Court and won.
What Makes it a Classic: Benny's just feels right: loud, busy, and chaotic, in a good way. After all, you don't want your Mexican served on a white tablecloth; you want your chips in a red basket, your plate doused in gooey cheese, and your margarita in a troughlike salted glass. And, you want your Mexican dinner to feel at least a little like a vacation south of the border—which Benny's delivers, right in the heart of Capitol Hill.
Just the Facts: Benny's serves more than 350 gallons of margaritas every weekend.
What Makes it a Classic: Every staff member at Wheat Ridge is like a well-educated sommelier, helping you pore over a finely edited but expansive wine list. Only, in this case, the inventory is simply the best in everything cycling, from commuter bikes to hard-core carbon road racers to stump-jumpers.
Did You Know That: General manager Ron Kiefel was the first American to win a stage of the Giro d'Italia race and competed in the Tour de France seven times.
What Makes it a Classic: The brusque folks toting pizza peels behind the counter; the well-worn and slightly dingy California Street location; the simplicity of the pizza; the bubbly fountain sodas; and, most of all, the giant, fold-'em-in-half slices.
Just the Facts: The flagship location, off the 16th Street Mall on California Street, has been serving up slices and pies since 1984, a veritable lifetime in downtown Denver.