Feature

Reasons to Love Denver

December 2012

Because everyone is so damn happy. 

Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen. Or maybe it’s all the pot we’re smoking. Or maybe it’s that “runners’ high” everyone’s always talking about. There’s not a ton of hard-core scientific data to prove that Denverites are a cheery group—a 2011 Gallup-Healthways survey did rank Denver at 42 (out of 190 cities) on its well-being index, which analyzed factors like emotional and physical health, work environment, and healthy behavior. But the anecdotal evidence certainly suggests we’re blissfully content. We don’t have a particularly high incidence of road rage. We don’t have a reputation for being nasty sports fans. We like a good craft beer, but our bars rarely devolve into WWE-like debauchery. Our downtown sidewalks aren’t full of people who would spit on you as soon as look at you when you ask for directions. And our bevy of sunny days means we rarely get the rainy-day blues. Being angry and unhappy just isn’t our style. After all, life’s too good here in the rarefied air to waste time being miserable.

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Because you can find killer Mexican food in really weird places.   

 Looking for the real deal in the town where Chipotle was born? Here are five amazing off-the-beaten-path spots. 

La Casita at…Denver International Airport

The New Mexico–style green-chile tamale plate at this spin-off of the Sandovals’ north-side institution is the best meal to be had in DIA. $7.29, Terminal C Food Court, 303-317-1005, tamalesbylacasita.com 

Nancy’s Fancy Burritos at…Coors Field

That no-frills menu; that cooler full of steaming-hot, handmade burritos; that $3 price tag. Nancy’s is tinfoil-wrapped pregame perfection. $3, corner of 20th and Blake streets

Milagro Burritos at…your office

What do you call it when your employer arranges to have Milagro’s steak and chile burritos delivered to your workplace on a regular basis? Golden handcuffs. $2.75–$3.50, 303-534-1896, milagroburrito.com 

Tacos el Pancho at…the Home Depot parking lot

No disrespect to the fancy-schmancy-taco trend, but we’d take tacos de pollo with chopped cilantro, onion, and green heat from this authentic food truck any day. $4.50 for two chicken tacos and a soda, corner of East Kentucky Avenue and Colorado Boulevard

• Asada Rico on…the 16th Street Mall

With so many quality tacos and wraps downtown, it means something that Asada Rico’s perfectly portioned egg-and-potato breakfast burritos are a 16th Street Mall staple. $3.25 (bean and cheese burrito with guacamole), corner of 16th and Stout streets

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Because you can still shop like a cowboy right in the heart of downtown.

You’d have to be one hell of a successful ’poke to afford the duds at LoDo’s Rockmount Ranch Wear—the signature snap-front shirts cost upward of $100—but wearing them puts Denverites in good company. Not only have honest-to-goodness cowboys worn Rockmount’s apparel since 1946, celebrities from Matthew McConaughey to Bonnie Raitt have also donned the sometimes plaid, sometimes embroidered shirts that were engineered by founder Jack A. Weil to be form-fitting, which made the clothing less apt to get caught up while riding the range. Today, the business is located in the same building it began in more than six decades ago. Weil died in 2008, but the spirit of the West lives on every time we walk out of Rockmount with a shirt we can’t wait to put on.

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Because we work to live—we don’t live to work.

Dear American workers: No one gives a damn about what you do for a living. Seriously. We hate to break it to all you accountants, computer programmers, and real estate agents, but your work is soul-crushingly boring to the rest of us. Unless you’re an emergency room doctor and are able to tell an awesome tale about how a couple of meth-heads attacked each other mid-orgy with steak knives—true story!—we really don’t want to hear about your day at the office. Need to vent about your boss? Fine: You get five minutes, profanity encouraged. After that, take a big swig of your IPA and let it go.

Unlike most cities, Denver understands that work is, well, work. In Manhattan, you’ll find a bunch of overgrown frat boys in $5,000 suits physically incapable of shutting their yaps about how they’re going to slay the market or close some balls-to-the-wall real estate deal tomorrow. In Silicon Valley, strangely aggressive nerdy types can’t stop talking about their mind-blowing app that lets people integrate their shopping lists with Pinterest, or how soon their options vest. In both places, and others like them, everyone is trying to one-up one another by bragging about their all-nighters and 100-plus hour workweeks, like they’re going to get gold stars for being hard workers. Hey guys: No one cares!

Compare that to Denver, where we’ve had friends for the better part of a decade and still barely know what they do for a living. It’s not that we don’t care about our jobs in the Mile High City. We do. But unlike many other places, work doesn’t define our lives here at altitude. (Hell, the worst traffic of the week is on Thursday evening because hardly anyone even bothers to go into the office on Friday.) Instead of work, we talk about more interesting things at happy hour: politics, relationships, God, homebrewing recipes, triathlon training, volunteer work, sports, and where to camp next summer. Life outside the office, after all, is a lot more compelling than what happens in your cubicle.

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Because it’s the perfect size.

I’ve often stood atop Lookout Mountain, turned my back to the Rockies, and gazed toward the Mile High City. From a distance, Denver’s modest skyline juxtaposed against the flatlands imparts a reassuring feeling that just about everything is manageable here. 

But it shouldn’t be. The population of greater Denver is about 2.5 million, making it 21st among metro areas in the country, just shy of Seattle and San Diego, and ahead of Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Sacramento. Conventional wisdom says size is inversely proportional to manageability. And yet I’ve always found Denver eminently approachable. 

The question, I suppose, is how can this be? Clearly there’s no way to quantify approachability. Instead I think it’s fair to say that in every way, Denver just feels easy. It takes me less than 30 minutes to drive to the opposite side of the city at nearly any time of day. Walkers, runners, and cyclists blanket our sidewalks and bike lanes, making transportation appear effortless. There are pockets of retail where I need them to be. The highways don’t bisect downtown. I could go on. But I think the thing is this: I don’t have to melt my mind trying to make my daily life mesh with Denver’s. Living here is a breeze.

Henry Thoreau once wrote: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” When I gaze at Denver, although I’m looking at a city of 620,000 people, I see a small town. And to me, that size is just perfect. —Chris Outcalt

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Because our weed is cheaper and better.

Ounce for ounce, our bud is some of the country’s least expensive, and we can thank our friendly neighborhood dispensaries for that superb street value. Although Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 (and Amendment 64 legalized the drug entirely in November 2012), the boom in dispensaries over the past four years has incentivized more growers and amplified the amount of product flowing into both legal outlets and the booming black market. It’s a simple exercise in supply and demand.

“I just bought an ounce for $240,” says a longtime pot aficionado in Denver, who we’ll call Steve. “Back in the day, the going rate was $400.” The latter price is closer to the current per-ounce cost in Illinois ($401.50*) or North Carolina ($403.75), according to
priceofweed.com, which crowdsources data on what users pay per ounce across the country. Predictably, the website’s marijuana map reports that grass is priced lower on the pot-friendly West Coast—think Oregon ($223.72)—and higher in inland states such as Missouri ($414.46), where it’s less available and possession is more highly criminalized. According to the site, Colorado’s black-market weed is priced to sell at an average of $260.03 per ounce. “It’s the only state surrounded entirely by more expensive states,” says priceofweed.com’s founder, who asked to remain anonymous. “You could call it a marijuana island. They’re not getting a lot of weed in Kansas ($399.03).” 

But affordability doesn’t indicate inferiority, says a local grower, who on a recent visit to
Philadelphia saw weed offered at “about $400 per ounce for product nowhere near the potency you can get in Denver.”

The proliferation of dispensaries has also commodified the selection on the street: Move aside Maui Wowie. The discerning smoker in Denver can now choose from Agent Orange, Jack the Ripper, Cheesequake, the Flave, Diesel, Chemdog, and other potent strains. The ability to pick your poison—and the resulting altered state—is much like going to the local bar and choosing between a Cabernet and a Kamikaze. Steve says he tells his guy, “I want the uppity stuff; I want something that makes me want to ride my bike—not sit on my couch.” 

So, yeah: It’s good to live in a land of inexpensive choice. Smoke it if you’ve got it.

*All prices refer to high-quality pot and were pulled from priceofweed.com on Oct. 23, 2012.

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