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.

Because the views from—and of—our city are unparalleled. Check out...

• The Denver Millennium Bridge for an immersed view of the city. Watch as the setting sun, glimmering off the skyscrapers, fades, and the lights of the city flicker on. 

Coors Field for a stunning mountain view that’ll cheer you up even when the Rox are down. Grab seats on the upper concourse, from sections 307 to 319, for the best perspective.  

• Green Mountain Trail for a way to see the city rise up from the plains. At the trail’s summit, turn around for an equally spectacular mountainscape.

• The Colorado State Capitol for a guaranteed view. State law prohibits the construction of any structure that would block the view—of nearly 200 mountain peaks—from the golden dome. 

• City Park for a sweeping panorama. From this vantage point, take in the greenery of City Park, the entire Denver skyline, and the soaring Rockies. 

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Because we have a museum full of Stills.

The paintings could have ended up anywhere, really. New York would have made sense. San Francisco would have been a good fit. Heck, Baltimore—not terribly far from the house American painter Clyfford Still lived in during his last 20 years—would have been logical. But Denver? Really?

Yes, the Mile High City—through a bit of luck, and lot of foresight by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper—was awarded Clyfford Still’s estate, which consists of some 2,600 paintings by the abstract expressionist. What we got in the 2005 deal is remarkable: With the Clyfford Still Museum, which opened a little more than a year ago in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, we have been given one of the finest museum buildings in the Western United States.

But, as wonderful as the building is itself, it’s the up-close access to Still’s massive, moody paintings that should make Denverites feel fortunate. Indeed, the collection provides a rare look into the mind of one of the 20th century’s true artistic geniuses. We like to sit on the benches and simply stare, or wander right up to the works to examine the splashes of color, the splotches of naked canvas, and the thick impasto. In these reflective moments the museum takes on an almost religious quality, as if it were a shrine. Clyfford Still, ever self-assured and cognizant of his place in the painterly pantheon, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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9 Because we socialize on Wednesday evenings while wearing costumes and riding cruisers.  

Wednesday night, an otherwise lackluster evening in most cities, rouses an almost religious reverence in the Mile High City, when thousands of costume-clad cyclists take to the streets on two wheels. They come wearing moose antlers, they come dressed as zombies, they come in nothing more than bubble wrap, duct tape, and some strategically placed cardboard. Most important, they come in droves, making the Denver Cruiser Ride (DCR) the largest social bike ride in the country. • Founder Brad Evans, a 45-year-old Colorado native, never envisioned the DCR catapulting to cultlike popularity. When he started the ride in the summer of 2005, it was an informal pub crawl with about a dozen friends. Today, several thousand festooned cyclists attend each outing, whooping and hollering and ringing their bells through the streets of downtown Denver. Evans estimates at least 40,000 participants pedaled in the 20 Wednesday-night rides during the 2012 season from May to September. • Since 2005, Evans has become a force in the growing social ride movement across America (there are more than two dozen in the state of Colorado alone). He bucks the critical mass concept that has arisen in some places, though, where anarchist throngs of riders blow off traffic laws. “Our number one rule is to have fun, but not at any cost,” Evans says. “We advocate critical manners—we stop at red lights, we share the road. And in that way, we’re getting more people out on social rides and taking back the streets one rider at a time.”

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10 Because we live 25 minutes from Red Rocks. 

Between Ship Rock and Creation Rock, at an elevation of 6,450 feet, we can revel in the world’s only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater. That’s right, we said perfect. We dare you to disagree.

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11 Because we seriously dig our four-legged friends.

Over the years, our exceptionally cozy kinship with man’s best friend has been well documented. Forbes ranked us in the top 10 U.S. pet-loving cities in 2007. And just this past August, Men’s Health ranked us number five for the country’s most dog-friendly cities. But what exactly is it that makes us so obviously into our canine companions that others are taking notice? We asked around. Here, an entirely incomplete (but completely true!) roundup of ways we routinely indulge our dogs.

"Burley eats what you could call dog food, but the ingredients—bison, barley, pheasant, kale—and the price seem to suggest otherwise."

"To ensure Bodhi doesn’t fall out of our open-air Jeep Wrangler as we’re four-wheelin’, we have a special doggy seat belt for him."

"Scout has her own pair of recycled-tire-rubber hiking booties, as well as a saddlebag for packing her food in."

"Visiting one of the Denver metro area’s dozens of bark-parks with Rover is a near-daily occurrence. "

"We bought an extra green tie so that Colby could be a groomsman at our wedding."

"When we buy a new tent, we always go up a size to accommodate Murphy, who sleeps inside the tent and has her own doggie sleeping bag."

"The end of the workweek usually means we head up the hill to find an aspen-lined trail to hike. But before we decide on a destination, we always make sure that the wilderness area allows dogs and that Buddy will be able to safely tackle the route."

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12 Because for the past 32 years we’ve had an organization dedicated to keeping roots, folk, and acoustic music alive.

Harry Tuft was supposed to become an architect. But life had other plans for the East Coast kid who rolled into Colorado with his guitar in 1960. Tuft went on to found the Swallow Hill Music Association in 1979. Swallow Hill is now the country’s second-largest folk-music teaching organization and an important cultural stop-off for Americana, acoustic, and indie-folk artists. 

You could call Swallow Hill a music school, but community center is a snugger fit. All people playing all instruments at all levels have a place there. Some days that means beginners strumming out bar chords on guitars; other days it’s didgeridoo-ists practicing low tones. There are even workshops for writing songs on a Mac. It’s a place where people come together around music, and where those of us whose fingers were once smooshed onto piano keys by well-intentioned instructors can finally learn to play a sweet riff instead of stolid scales.

Swallow Hill also hosts music fests and concerts. Joan Baez, Taj Mahal, and Ry Cooder have been known to swing by, as have artists like Patty Griffin, David Lindley, and George Winston. In fact, with 5,000 students and 200 annual performances, the organization is outgrowing its digs. Swallow Hill recently announced it will expand to a new venue in the Lowry Town Center. Not to worry though: Tuft will still lead his $3-to-participate jam sessions.

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13 Because in few other big cities will you see a teenager using a hair dryer to gussy up his prize heifer.

An admission ticket to the National Western Stock Show (Jan. 12–27, 2013) offers a glimpse of American culture that even those of us who live in the West don’t often witness. Bull riding, mutton bustin’, dancing horses, and freestyle reining are on display most nights of the 16-day event. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that illustrates that the 106-year-old stock show isn’t just blithe entertainment for the urbanites (although it certainly is a hoot). A stroll through the stables—where teenagers are grooming their livestock with round brushes and hair dryers for upcoming exhibitions—demonstrates just how integral Denver’s annual ag bash is to the farming and ranching communities in Colorado and across the country. Not only is the show about business—a ton of money and college scholarships are on the line—but it’s also a social gathering where like-minded folks can revel in an environment drawn up just for them (and more than 600,000 city-folk onlookers).

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15 Because exercising here makes us feel superhuman when we go to sea level.

When we travel, one of our favorite things to do is go for a run. No, it’s not our way of seeing a new place. And it’s not because we’re so into our exercise routines that we’re compelled to get in our miles even on vacation. It’s because we have superpowers at lower elevations. Yes, superpowers. We don’t have X-ray vision or Spidey-sense, but we can run forever. And fast. At least, that’s what it feels like when we breathe that oxygen-heavy air. It turns out that all those heaving, gasping workouts in Denver’s thin air pay off. Our extra red blood cells—thank you, 5,280 feet!—are able to deliver an enormous volume of oxygen to our bodies, sometimes 12 to 14 percent more than someone living at sea level gets. That’s why it feels like we can run faster than a speeding bullet, farther than Wonder Woman’s invisible plane can fly, and maybe even leap small buildings. Perhaps it’s an unfair advantage—and maybe we’re just kidding ourselves—but no one ever said superheroes weren’t allowed to flaunt what they’ve got every now and again.

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16 Because Joe Vostrejs and Larimer Associates believe in the entrepreneurial spirit. 

What initially began 12 years ago as a repositioning of Larimer Square (from mall retailers such as Ann Taylor and Nine West to independently operated retailers and restaurants) has led Joe Vostrejs, Jeff Hermanson, Rod Wagner, and Pat McHenry of Larimer Associates to bring thoughtful, community-minded redevelopment to more than a half-dozen other corners, strip malls, and neighborhood anchors throughout the metro area. “In the course of repositioning Larimer Square, we were surprised—and pleased—to find so many great entrepreneurs in Denver. They just needed opportunities,” says Vostrejs, who is the company’s chief operating officer. 

And what opportunities Larimer Associates has wrought: The group bought the southwest corner of 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard and opened Chipotle, Sushi Hai, Real Baby, and Perfect Petal; they refabbed Billy’s Inn on 44th and Lowell and bought the corner across from it, ultimately leasing it to Tocabe and an orthodontist. The group’s thumbprint is everywhere you look: Ernie’s; LoHi Steakbar; the Sixth Avenue strip that holds Satchel’s and, soon, a Novo Coffee outpost; 12th and Madison, where TAG Burger Bar opened in October; Lowry Beer Garden; and even the revitalization of Union Station. “We create opportunities for entrepreneurs in underdeveloped areas in Denver,” Vostrejs says. “There are great buildings that underserve a neighborhood. We re-engineer those buildings and look at how the neighborhood is changing.”
Up Next: In the coming months, Larimer Associates will announce the retail and dining establishments that will inhabit the new Union Station.

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17 Because Patagonia trumps Prada for style any day. 

Folks in other cities flock to sample sales for high-end fashion labels; Denverites converge on REI minutes after the announcement of a 60-percent-off deal on last season’s hiking apparel. We pillage the winter Patagonia sale with a ruthlessness other urbanites reserve for a half-off Neiman Marcus blowout. And we block off Labor Day weekend not for cookouts, but for the annual SNIAGRAB ski and snowboard sale at Sports Authority. For several days before SNIAGRAB, people pitch tents at 10th and Broadway because, well, there’s nothing like urban camping to ensure you’re the first person to grab that hybrid vest with insulated taffeta in powder blue. Here in Denver, people don’t care what designer’s name is inside your $1,000 pair of ankle boots; but they will compliment you on your breathable performance fleece. Gucci be damned…bring on the moisture-wicking hoodies. 

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18 Because we keep going to the games.

Denver is a great sports town. We have professional teams in the “four majors” (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey) as well as a few others; we have relatively new ballparks and stadiums; and we could hardly have better weather—save for the occasional early-autumn blizzard or mid-summer scorcher—for watching games in person. We go, we drink an adult beverage, we cheer, and we boo, usually when referees’ calls go against us and are thus, by definition, wrong. Win or lose, we tend to come back for more because, well, we’re a dedicated (and apparently optimistic) bunch. This isn’t Boston or Philly or New York or Chicago, where even a winning team gets an earful from ornery—and forever unsatisfied—fans. No, we’re generally happy to enjoy a plate of nachos at the Blue Sky Grill before an Avs or Nuggets game; we’re thrilled to hang out at the SandLot at Coors Field and try whatever new brew they’re serving; and, let’s be honest, we’d sell our firstborn for Broncos season tickets. We like a winning team—who doesn’t?—but we don’t have to have one to enjoy ourselves.

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19 Because we have nearly 6,000 acres of park space within our city limits. 

• Washington Park is the classic: The Old Boathouse, scores of exultant volleyballers playing pickup games, and frisky dogs and their owners taking the 2.5-mile loop serve as a varied and lively background. We love: sitting on the old, gnarled tree that overhangs the water on the north end of Grasmere Lake.  

• James A. Bible Park ranks as one of the sportiest of Denver’s parks with its ball fields, tennis courts, and running trails. We love: the access to the High Line Canal trail, which makes this southeast Denver recreational haven a great home base for your half-marathon training. 

• Confluence Park is one of the few water-oriented playgrounds in Denver. Kayakers, inner-tubers, and swimmers take to the water where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River rendezvous. We love: perching on the large flat rock that juts over the south bank of Cherry Creek and listening to the water rush by.

 • Civic Center Park hosts the Taste of Colorado festival and weekly food truck gatherings in the warmer months. We love: grabbing a plate of tacos from the Pinche Tacos truck, pulling up a patch of grass, and gazing at the murals hidden in the wings of the Greek amphitheater. 

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20 Because we have a pro cycling event—and terrain—that rivals the classic European tours.

Say what you will about the French, but it’s difficult to deny the fact that they’ve got a pretty damn beautiful country. Well, guess what? Colorado’s no slouch in the scenery department, and the Centennial State’s natural assets have no doubt played a huge role in the success of the USA Pro Challenge, the one-week-long stage race that was founded just two years ago. Between the mountains and meadows and, of course, the signature thin air, the USAPC has quickly become one of the biggest races on the pro tour calendar, and—if the sizes of the crowds on key stages are any indication—the race has already surpassed the Amgen Tour of California as the marquee cycling event this side of the pond.

And while the steady climb up Independence Pass and the epic crowds on Flagstaff Mountain are postcard-perfect images for the cameras, the race has finished in one city for each of the first two years. That’s right, Denver has become what Paris is to the Tour de France, the big-city ending to a race that winds its way through the lovely countryside. Civic Center Park may not be the Champs-Élysées, but having the USAPC cross the finish line in the Mile High City speaks volumes about our hometown.

21 Because going to the Pec is still cool.

Buckets of icy longnecks. Greasy Mexican food. Jazz music. It’s not exactly the combination you might expect to find, well, anywhere—but that’s exactly what we love about Denver’s El Chapultepec. Since the ’30s, this narrow bar at the corner of Market and 20th streets has welcomed some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Frank Sinatra, the Marsalis brothers, Woody Herman, and the entire Count Basie Orchestra have played here. But let’s face it, the golden age of American jazz has come and gone. What makes the Pec relevant today is the nightly live music that ranges from blues and funk to, yes, jazz.

Angela Guerrero owns the Pec, but the bar has been in her family, in one way or another, since it opened. Since she was a teenager—Guerrero began running the kitchen at 13 years old—she has been privy to some of the Pec’s most-celebrated performances. Today, though, Guerrero is simply trying to keep the jazz bar alive. Every night she brings in talented musicians—Diana Castro & the Big Time Band, the Freddy Rodriguez Quartet, and the David Booker Band among them—and relies on Denver’s true music lovers to stop in. 

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22 Because the low humidity makes Denver one of the best hair cities in the world.

I love Denver for many reasons, but I’d be lying if I said the nearby skiing or the mountain views or the quaint bungalow I live in on a street in Wash Park was the primary reason. None of them is. Not even close. This may be incredibly vain, but, well, I just don’t give a damn. I love Denver because it gives me a modicum of control over my unruly hair.

Yup, you read that right. In my opinion, Denver deserves some serious kudos for its salonlike environment. I’ve been to cities on six continents—never mind spending an adolescence in the dewy air of the American South—and my naturally curly hair has never looked less ridiculous than it does here. Low humidity, modest rainfall, warm chinook winds: It’s a climatic recipe for smoother locks. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I should be cast in a shampoo commercial; I’m not even saying my mane looks good. I’m simply saying that if I want to leave my hair in ringlets, I can do so without looking like a young, female, blond version of Albert Einstein. And if I want to straighten the mess, I can—without having my work summarily undone by infernal wave-inducing humidity.

If you think this sounds like a trivial reason to love a city, I’d venture a guess that you have straight hair. Or you’re a guy. Either way, your opinion means less than nothing. —Lindsey B. Koehler

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23 Because a one-time geologist turned brewer turned mayor is the perfect person to be 
our governor.

Forget about partisan politics for a second. Never mind that he’s a Democrat. Instead, behold the man, the personage of John Wright Hickenlooper, the two-term mayor of Denver and now governor of Colorado. If we mustered the brainiest brainpower from the labs of the University of Colorado and paired it with, say, the most advanced technological savvy of the local Lockheed Martin campus, and were allotted an unlimited budget, and we contracted this team to engineer a Six Million Dollar Man–like humanoid to represent the political persona of Denver, someone to represent us, no one—not even in this positively ridiculous fictional scenario—could concoct a more fitting character than Hickenlooper.

The Denver of now—and for that matter, the Colorado of now—is a unique New West amalgamation. We are amply comprised of transplants who chose to stake their claims here. We opt (mostly) for civil discourse and aim for bipartisanship. We take leaps of faith, even though we may not all call it “faith.” And though we decide with our minds, we do so mindful of what is in our hearts. We produce some of the country’s best craft beers. We aspire to be healthy and green. We like solar and wind. We fancy ourselves as sturdy as mountains. We look just as good in cowboy boots as we do in hiking boots. We are grieving. We are recovering. We don’t have all of the answers and we say so. We’re trying and doing better than alright. We are imperfect. And so, this guy, John Hickenlooper, this former brewpub entrepreneur turned politician, this transplant from Pennsylvania who doesn’t always say the right thing, but always means well, this shrewd nerd who pretty much always comes close to pleasing everyone and is resigned to pissing off the rest, well, he’s ours, he’s just like us—and we like it that way.

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25 Because chef Justin Cucci knows what we crave way before we do.

Justin Cucci, chef-owner of Root Down and Linger, two of the city’s hottest eateries to open in the past several years, has the unique ability to anticipate what Denver wants, often before we know it ourselves. He takes an idea—vegetarian dishes or street food or a refabbed gas station or an old funeral home parking structure—and he elevates it. The results of Cucci’s big brain are on display in the form of restaurants that champion Denver in a way that once and for all removes any remaining “cow town” label. “There are a lot of great restaurants, but only a small amount of them communicate on deeper levels,” he says. “We preach connecting with people and communicating on many levels.” That ethos is apparent when you dine at one of his restaurants—Linger in particular—and the experience leaves you breathless. The views! The flavors! The vibe! The crowd! This is local dining at its most exciting. Coming Soon: Cucci is opening a Root Down outpost at DIA this spring and a live-music venue on the edge of downtown in summer 2013. 

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26 Because you can live 10 minutes outside of the Central Business District and afford to have a yard.

Whenever someone asks me why I haven’t moved to the ’burbs (For more house! For the great schools!), I show them my backyard—and then my car’s odometer. I lived in city apartments in the Big Apple and Denver for most of my 20s, and I longed for a patch of dirt to call my own. But I also grew up in a small Midwestern town and simply cannot move away from all the amenities a city has to offer.

The solution? Buying a home in one of Denver’s metropolitan neighborhoods. Park Hill, Washington Park, Congress Park, and the Highlands all have a suburban feel complemented by an urban location—and unlike similar spots in other cities, these areas can be affordable. An equivalent four-bedroom home in New York’s Park Slope would cost about $1,000,000 more than my abode in Park Hill and have one-third the yard (and a sizeable subway commute). It’s no better on the West Coast: A similar house in San Francisco’s Richmond neighborhood has a speck of a yard and comes with a $1.3 million price tag. Ouch

In Denver, I live about five miles from downtown, which is close enough that I can walk home from my LoDo office. And when I get home, I have a front yard and a backyard to stretch out in. I have a garden. We play cornhole in the grass. We have two grills. And I can already picture my son, now just a month old, playing catch with his dad in the back. In truth, I have too much yard to keep up with. But don’t tell the assessor; I’m not giving up an inch of it. —Natasha Gardner

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27 Because we’ve got front-row seats to a legendary quarterback bromance.

John Elway says he wasn’t nervous about his first date with Peyton Manning last March. Yes, he wanted Manning to see the upside of going steady with the Broncos organization. And, OK sure, he wanted Manning to think there was no one else out there who would treat him as well as the Broncos could. But nervous? Not really. After all, Elway had a backup boyfriend in Tim Tebow.

Still, when the phone rang in his office on March 19, Elway snapped the cell phone to his ear. When Elway’s fantasy free agent told him he had decided to become a Bronco, Elway flashed Fox a thumbs-up and his signature gummy smile. Elway had scored a once-in-a-lifetime catch—a 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound dreamboat from Dixie with more passing yards than Dan Marino (not to mention Elway himself) and an uncanny ability to read defenses. 

Now, nearly a dozen games into the season, Manning is finally making the Broncos look like a playoff-ready team. But there isn’t any love lost. Elway lets Manning play the field, but insists that Denver’s newest star quarterback saves time to get dinner or play golf with the city’s most beloved Bronco every once in a while. Call it a working relationship, call it mutual respect, call it love, but the chemistry between two of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time is another reason to love Denver—especially on fall Sundays. 

28 Because we have the longest, grittiest, most interesting—and perpetually evolving—main street in the country.

Since 1993, 57-year-old bus driver Hinton Roberson has taken his seat behind the wheel of an RTD bus; checked on the picture hanging from his lanyard of his wife, Carolyn, and their five kids; and piloted down Colfax Avenue. RTD Route 15—which runs along the majority of Colfax’s 26.5-mile length between the Heritage Square Music Hall in Golden and the town of Bennett on the Eastern Plains—is not popular among other drivers. But Roberson loves it. “It’s a route where you don’t relax,” he says. “The 15, man, it keeps you wide awake.”

Roberson drives along a street that has ridden the booms and busts of Denver’s past. For the original elite of the city in the 19th century, Colfax was a passageway between the mansions on Capitol Hill and the brick buildings of downtown. Later, Eastern European Jews suffering from tuberculosis clustered around the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society on West Colfax. In the ’50s, Jack Kerouac romanticized the avenue’s drinking holes and jazz clubs. In the ’70s, Playboy denigrated Colfax, calling it the “longest, wickedest street in America” for its by-the-hour motels and all-too-available streetwalkers. In the ’80s, ’90s, and even now, Colfax has had a reputation for being the seedier side of the city—a highway of broken dreams, aglow in neon signs, that houses Denver’s disenfranchised.

Roberson has only been around to witness the latest changes along this infamous stretch of pavement. Through the curved glass windshield of his bus, he has seen the area around the old Fitzsimons Army Hospital transform into one of the largest medical complexes in the world. He’s seen the Tattered Cover Book Store and the Denver Film Center take over the old Lowenstein Theater on East Colfax and watched as Mayor Michael Hancock broke ground on a new library along West Colfax. Those are the big, obvious changes. But Roberson also notices the little things that most of us don’t, like the new streetlights along East Colfax. Most of them are green, but between St. Paul and Clermont streets the lights have been painted blue, a visual hint at the Greek heritage of those particular blocks.

Colfax, of course, will keep evolving. Heavy policing and new zoning laws, especially in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, have allowed chic cupcake shops, independent restaurants, and trendy bars to open along an expanse of avenue that not so long ago seemed too sketchy to invest in. Still, the street has retained its rough-and-tumble spirit and resisted complete sterilization à la New York City’s Times Square.

And that’s fine with Roberson, who keeps driving for the people. “I’ve been on routes where generally people don’t speak to you,” he says. “On Colfax, at least they acknowledge you. It might be in a bad way, but they’ll acknowledge you.”

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29 Because there is at least one decent beer on tap at every bar.

Pick a Denver bar. Nearly any bar will do. We’ve chosen the Squire Lounge on Colfax, but, really, choose any watering hole you like. If you’re not familiar with the Squire, it’s a particularly dive-y dive bar; the kind of place you’d expect PBR and well whiskey to be flowing—and they are. But this shithole—and many other shitholes just like it—is also pouring New Belgium’s seasonal brew, 90 Shilling, and Dale’s Pale Ale. This lineup of stellar beverages with ABVs well north of 3.2 is a most wonderful byproduct of our state’s brewing prowess. Colorado boasts 161 breweries, which, if you’re counting, is one for every 31,781 residents—more than enough to ensure that no matter where you choose to imbibe in Denver, good craft beer is always an option. 

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30 Because RTD is expanding, even if it’s slowgoing.

Denver’s multibillion-dollar comprehensive transit program began way back in 1994 when RTD paved the way for what is now 35 miles of operational light rail. Approved in 2004, the FasTracks plan has already begun beefing up complementary parking and bus services and opened several pedestrian bridges. Ultimately, that plan will add 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail to the region and 18 miles of bus corridors along U.S. 36. FasTracks, proponents say, will help define Denver as a world-class city and combat the congestion that goes along with such a designation. (Denver was recently ranked by USA Today as having the eighth-worst traffic congestion in the country.) That is, whenever it’s finished.

Everything from increases in construction costs and dwindling sales-tax revenues (which were supposed to fund the project) to allegations of gross mismanagement by the board have slowed light rail’s progress since its introduction in 2004. Sluggish headway aside, Denver is smart to continue building the lines.

FasTracks projects that the West rail line from Denver to Golden will open on April 26, 2013; Union Station renovations will be completed in the spring of 2014; and 2016 will be a benchmark year for connectivity, when rail lines connecting DIA with downtown Denver and Aurora will be completed. Those sections in particular will be a boon for commuters and travelers, but the plan includes additional rail lines from south Westminster to Longmont, and the north metro area up to Thornton that won’t be completed until 2044—unless new funding can be secured. 

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31 Because our votes matter.

When you’ve been standing in line at your voting precinct for more than an hour on Election Day, it helps stem your rising impatience to know that casting that ballot actually carries some weight. Happily, in Denver, your opinion does count because we are currently a solid shade of political purple.

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama—or one of their official surrogates—showed up in Colorado 28 times, including a nationally televised debate held at the University of Denver, over the course of the general election season. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, said that it would be “nearly impossible for Romney to win without Colorado.” Romney agreed. When polls in Ohio and Florida started tilting toward Obama in September, Romney’s campaign started pouring even more resources into Colorado. 

During the 2012 election, Romney, Obama, and outside groups supporting each candidate spent a total of $72 million campaigning in Colorado (as of Oct. 23, 2012). That put our state fourth in the ranking of states drawing the most campaign money, but first on the list of campaign dollars spent per capita. Your vote for president here was worth $14.85; if you had been registered across the border in New Mexico, your vote would’ve been worth about 2 cents.

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32 Because we’re a magnet for tech startups.

In the bright, shiny world of tech startups, the Denver-Boulder area has what’s called an ecosystem. Don’t mistake this for a simple community of like-minded nerds. Rather, it’s an infrastructure: venture capitalists, seasoned mentors, and an influx of entrepreneurs brought together by a throb of ideas and ambition. When you hear the Front Range startup scene talked about in the same breath as New York, Austin, Chicago, and San Francisco, that’s the result of our superdynamic tech ecosystem. 

Boulder may get all the love (it is home, after all, to TechStars, an illustrious program that nurtures startups), but Denver isn’t just riding our sister town’s coattails. Check out BrightNest’s DIY home website, Printfection’s merchandising swag, and Wayin’s social media app—all of which are based in Denver. Of course, established companies ReadyTalk and MapQuest have HQs downtown, too.

In October, local entrepreneur Jim Deters opened Galvanize in the Golden Triangle. With work suites designed for tiny startups and companies of up to 30 employees, Galvanize encourages a new generation of techies to put their most creative feet forward in a social workspace that’s the antithesis of a gray cubical. Though not an accelerator, per se, it’s a container meant to shape the ecosystem, Deters says.

But ecosystems evolve, and like any business venture, tech startups follow one of four paths: they max out funding and disappear, stay small and scrappy, get bought for a ludicrous sum and relocate, or grow and support investment in their own communities. 

What will transform Denver from a hobbyist startup town into a talent-catching tech nucleus? “Right now we are at a really important friction point in which we’re recognized as one of the five cities where you go to incubate a company,” says Luke Beatty, whose Denver-based startup, Associated Content, remained here after being acquired by Silicon Valley–based Yahoo! in 2010. “We need some of these companies to really establish themselves, bring jobs in, and impact Denver’s economy. We need all of these kindergartners to advance and go to college.” 

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33 Because we live and let live.

When my husband and I moved from Denver into our new apartment in Boston last year, I set up my marimba against the sunny windows of our dining room. We live on the bottom floor of a New England triple-decker, meaning we have two floors of folks stacked on top of us. After my first few practice sessions, our upstairs neighbor asked about the xylophone-like instrument. Not because he minded the music, but, he admitted, because he was peering into our windows one day and couldn’t figure out what it was. 

When people live so close together, this degree of intrusiveness is normal. Expected even. In Denver, which was my home for almost a decade, if my neighbors heard my music, they didn’t let on. They also didn’t comment when my then-boyfriend and I moved in together, spilling our extra furniture onto the shared lawn for a yard sale. No one stopped by when we lugged our wine-making gear into the backyard to purple the grass with Pinot Noir. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. Or that they weren’t friendly. Instead, I like to think it was because they were embodying a widely abided-by Denver motto—live and let live.

In the Mile High City, people seem to have (or maybe adopt) traces of the just-off-the-covered-wagon mentality. Those of us who migrated west see Colorado for the first time—wide-open spaces abutting rugged mountains, all bathed in eternal sunshine—and feel like we’ve discovered something special. A place where we can breathe, a place with an open mind, a place with a shorter history with which to contend. This modern-day urban-frontiersman vibe was perfect for me when I decided I wanted to create a new type of classical-music concert, staging performances in breweries, art galleries, and cafes. I wanted to mix the music with original essays and live painting. People everywhere said classical music was dead. I wanted to revive it—in Denver. 

Crazy as the idea may have sounded, the Mile High City gave me the room to do it. For five years, “Telling Stories” was a tremendous success. I learned that if you have a voice, confidence, and a strong work ethic, this town will give you a fair shake. No one is going to tell you that you can or can’t do anything. It’s an incredibly freeing reality.

Until I moved to the East Coast, though, I didn’t fully understand why Denver had been such a perfect incubator for my artistic pursuits. Denver didn’t have an entrenched way of doing classical music. When I started something new, people saw it as an exciting prospect, not a threat. Denver is a comparatively young city and it doesn’t feel as if its story has already been written. When I added a chapter, the city didn’t mind. In Boston, and other cities with a similarly provincial culture, I would have had to start in the back of the line, learn the traditions, and nod politely when people told me how things were supposed to be or how I should or shouldn’t do something. Instead of reveling in a live-and-let-live culture, I would have had people looking in my windows, wondering why I was playing around with such silly dreams. —Jennie Dorris

34 Because so many people here tell the same story: “I came to visit Denver and I just never left.”

We’ve all heard the tale a hundred times. Hell, many of us have told the yarn ourselves. The details change, but the moral of the story is always the same. Whether we were on a ski vacation, driving across the country on the way to a new job in California, or here on a quick business trip, a seemingly significant percentage of us made what we thought was going to be a brief pit stop—and never left. We actually wound up having to ask our families to ship our belongings to Denver. The city was so desirable, so completely intoxicating, we didn’t even want to leave long enough to execute a proper move.

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35 Because Lois Brink knows the value of play.

As the founder of Learning Landscapes, a CU-sponsored program, landscape architect and professor Lois Brink has been transforming Denver’s neglected schoolyards into multi-use playgrounds. Over the past 15 years, she has renovated 96 schoolyards and counting. We talked to her about her work.

5280: Tell us how Learning Landscapes began.

LB: It started in 1992 when my daughter was at Bromwell Elementary. I was so amazed that we could have such a scorched-earth schoolyard for our children. I thought as a mom and as a professor, I can’t let my child be involved in a space like this.

How does the program work?

It’s a collaboration. First, the University of Colorado Denver sees the value of research at the city level: We use courses in the landscape architecture program to develop Learning Landscapes’ master plans, then work with local landscape architects to complete the project for Denver Public Schools. Because Learning Landscapes gives back to the broader community through integration with the university, by creating work for local landscape architects and by encouraging neighborhoods to embrace the areas as their own, it allows DPS to continue to get bonds approved by taxpayers.

We’ve noticed that every playground design is different. Why?

Yes, they are. For example, Barnum Elementary, named for Barnum & Bailey Circus, has circus qualities. The shade structure is a big top; it’s bright red. There are podiums for the kids to sit on that are like what the seals and elephants used to stand on. We try to have each school have some special thing, and then we incorporate the common elements like archways, shade structures, and school banners.

Is there any one design tenet that you find most impactful?

The idea that you don’t isolate elements. We had an artist that made a great big Earth Mother statue that has a big lap. The kids wanted the Earth Mother in the play area, and the artist had a fit. Today, when a child has a bad day, she will go and sit in the Earth Mother’s lap. It’s always difficult to convince adults that you can put a piece of art in the midst of a bunch of play equipment and the children are going to be kind to it.

What are the benefits of having these playgrounds within the school setting?

Teachers have noticed they have up to 20 minutes more of instructional time during the day because the kids are coming into the classroom ready to be on-task. There is less aggressive behavior and more cooperative play on these playgrounds. We had a teacher say, “Oh, my God, the fifth-grade boys are queuing up to swing. They are not just bullying.”  

What has been your greatest challenge?

I know that these places are connected to higher test scores, but we haven’t been able to prove it. It’s the Holy Grail. 

Why is play important?

I’ll quote American psychologist Abraham Maslow: “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

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36 Because you can still buy a warehouse in RiNo for less than $500K.

Black Shirt Brewing Co. was destined for River North, the warehouse village and epicenter of creativity just north of downtown Denver. The artisanal brewery is one of the latest startup businesses to reincarnate a RiNo warehouse as a hipster destination. Branden Miller, head brewer and Black Shirt’s co-owner, says coexisting with other creative types was a key draw. RiNo’s proximity to I-70 and downtown helped, too, as did the fact that you can snatch up a 4,000-square-foot warehouse for less than the cost of a one-bedroom LoDo loft.

Compared to other cities’ fledgling Tribecas, RiNo is awesomely affordable. East Austin’s few remaining industrial buildings cost $80 to $100 per square foot. Portland’s Pearl District hovers at $140. And San Francisco’s SoMa? Well, that averages in the wallet-crushing $200s. Prices in RiNo start as low as $20 per square foot, says Brian Smith, chairman of the RiNo Neighbors District and founder of the Space Creators, a real estate development company that has rehabbed three RiNo buildings into unconventional group workspaces, or what Smith calls “micro-communities.” He says buildings with highly sought-after addresses like Larimer Street and Blake Street, and on Broadway near Brighton Boulevard, are pricier—in the $100s. And change—of the spend-your-life-savings variety—is likely on the way.

Among the new projects coming online: the completion of Kyle and Mickey Zeppelin’s TAXI development; Cyprus’ build-out of 300 residences at the Denargo Market; and the transformation of Bud’s Warehouse (another Zeppelin project) into the Source, an urban market with two restaurants, cheese and meat counters, and a bakery. Plus, Smith notes that small businesses, restaurants, and bars are opening up all along the northern stretches of Larimer. Such neighborhood elements bode well for Black Shirt, a company that might’ve gotten into the neighborhood just before it explodes.

“It’s definitely a rad time to be in RiNo,” Miller says. “We hope to see our little neighborhood grow in all of the right ways.”

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37 Because we have actually climbed our fourteeners. (Yes, Paul Ryan, we’re looking at you.)

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that experiencing certain outdoor pursuits in Colorado is a near requirement for residency. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if someday the state’s driver’s license application required proof that you’ve skied at least one alpine run, camped in the backcountry, or, maybe most critically, watched a sunrise from the summit of a 14,000-foot mountain. Dragging your ass up thousands of feet to gasp through a photo op on the top of the world is a rite of passage here in the Centennial State. So much so that people will more comfortably talk about the mountain peaks they’ve bagged—or failed to bag—than their career tracks (see number four). Which is why we were so irked when we found out that then-candidate for vice president Paul Ryan claimed (years before) to have climbed more fourteeners than, well, pretty much every Coloradan we know. We’re all for a little athletic exaggeration over beers at the end of a hike, but we never ever lie about how many fourteeners we’ve climbed. Never.

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38 Because downtown Denver isn’t noisy, chaotic, smelly, sketchy, and crowded like other big cities in this country.

Sure, we might miss the action—bustling sidewalks, hopping off the subway at Mid-town, and late-late-night pizza—of America’s big-boy burgs sometimes, but there’s something so refreshing about being able to walk through the streets of downtown without feeling accosted by your own city.

We dig: New Orleans

For its: Delicious Southern and Creole cuisine, outrageously good live music, lively bars, and gorgeous antebellum architecture.

But it’s not Denver because: On a summer morning our city doesn’t have to endure overpowering heat and humidity that cook up a mean combination of B.O., vomit, urine, and stale beer to create that ever-present eau de French Quarter.

We dig: New York City

For its: World-class cultural institutions, diverse population, Central Park, and restaurants and bars that stay open until dawn.

But it’s not Denver because: We don’t have to play Frogger with taxicabs and suited-up professionals as we make our way to, well, anywhere.

We dig: Chicago

For its: Unwavering commitment to its professional sports teams, passion for naming food after the city, surprising street-level cleanliness, and access to lakes the size of oceans.

But it’s not Denver because: Unlike those living in Chi-town, we can drive 30 minutes outside of the city and find ourselves completely engulfed in nature. 

We dig: Los Angeles

For its: Bohemian-meets-chic style, evolving arts scene, ladies with sun-kissed skin year round, and land-of-possibility idealism.

But it’s not Denver because: You can walk down the street here and take a deep breath. Yup, that’s crisp, fresh mountain air you’re inhaling.

We dig: Atlanta

For its: Authentic Southern hospitality, killer fried chicken, hip-hop music scene, and young people who still believe it’s just good manners to say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir.”

But it’s not Denver because: The Mile High City is comparatively safe—meaning you don’t have to look over your shoulder when you’re walking to your car after dinner.

We dig: San Francisco

For its: Breathtaking panoramic vistas, genuine diversity, groundbreaking California cuisine, ridiculous cultural scene, and proximity to the beach.

But it’s not Denver because: Our summers are actually warm, our homeless population is somewhat under control, and Sports Authority Field makes Candlestick Park look like a bad joke.

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39 Because it’s not Boulder.

OK, look: We like Boulder. It’s got the Flatirons and Pearl Street and the university and great restaurants and shops and the best farmers’ market around. It’s also got that unmistakable People’s Republic vibe, a mystique derived from a long history of being the preferred home of America’s extra-crunchy liberal set. Boulder is sexy; it’s a brand name. It’s one of the original purveyors of cool. Yet, we wouldn’t want to live there. No, we’d rather live outside those famous 25 square miles, in a land we like to call “reality.” That may seem boring and practical and lame. And maybe it is. But lower-density living, cheaper real estate, an international airport, access to more than one major highway, fewer drunken undergrads roaming our neighborhood streets, and a less politically charged atmosphere make the Mile High City approachable—and, to us, that’s superdesirable in a down-to-earth, girl-next-door kinda way.

40 Because our craft distilleries are nearly as good as our craft breweries.

The white buildings of a northeast Denver warehouse district are starved for signs of life. Although the address suggests this is the right place, the languid atmosphere implies otherwise. But then, through a half-lifted garage door, rows of oak barrels filled with whiskey come into view. Each wooden container has a stamp on its end. In black lettering, the mark reads “Leopold Bros.”

America’s whiskey tradition reaches back hundreds of years—and has historically been geographically centered in Eastern states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. However, in 2006, Denver, Colorado, found its way onto the whiskey map when Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey released its first bottle. The amber-hued spirit gained approval not only from local connoisseurs, but also from the American Distilling Institute and Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, which named Stranahan’s the best small-batch distillery of the year in 2009.

 Although Stranahan’s was sold to an out-of-state company in 2010 (its operations remain in Denver), its fast-paced success story paired with Colorado’s supportive distilling laws opened the door for 35 other locally based distilleries—distilleries like northeast Denver’s Leopold Bros. 

A family-run operation, Leopold Bros. came online in Denver in 2008 with a mission to make booze the old-fashioned way. For brothers Scott and Todd Leopold, that means naturally fermenting more than 250 daily gallons in wooden tanks without using dyes, preservatives, or a filtering process. It also means using locally sourced ingredients. It’s not the simplest way to make firewater, but for the Leopold brothers it’s not about ease; it’s about the craft. Which is one reason why the brothers think their hometown of Denver is a stellar place for their boozy business. “There is more careful attention paid to what people put into their bodies—using real fruit, real grain, it’s resonating with people here,” Scott explains.

Leopold Bros.’ hand-wrought approach does appear to be making inroads with craft-alcohol-savvy Denverites, who are snatching up bottles with the signature batch number handwritten on the bottom of the label. Soon those batch numbers will grow twice as fast; the brothers are planning a 2013 move to a new space, which will double their production capacity.

Try: Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Peach or Rocky Mountain Blackberry whiskeys.

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41 Because we still look good in our swimsuits.

Not sure if any of you have taken a good look around, but it’s a serious talent show in the Mile High City. Toned arms, rock-solid calves, abdomens chiseled out of granite, glutes you could bounce a quarter off of. It’s hard not to notice that most of us—almost 80 percent, in fact—living here at 5,280 feet have somehow avoided the epidemic of obesity that’s been expanding the waistlines of most Americans for decades. Whether that’s due to the altitude (hypoxia is an appetite suppressant), our fondness for a good triathlon every now and again (our mountains and open spaces make physical activity easier), or our comparatively low rate of poverty (12.2 percent), in March 2012 the Colorado Health Foundation’s 2011 Colorado Health Report Card reported that once again Colorado is the leanest state in the nation. Here’s the thing, though; our obesity rates are on the rise. If we want to continue to enjoy the, uh, scenery here in Denver, we need to keep up that swim-bike-run philosophy.

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42 Because Joyce Meskis owns a lovely bookstore called the Tattered Cover.

There’s nothing like walking into the Tattered Cover: historic red-brick walls, creaky hardwood floors, antique desks, racks of postcards, magazine stands, the smell of brewed coffee, the sound of turning pages, and a maze of dark wooden shelves packed with the printed word. And people. There are always plenty of people—at tables, in leather armchairs, sometimes on the floor—reading…wait for it…real books. For 38 years, Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis has been bringing Denver an intellectually stimulating and wonderfully comfortable place (in three locations, actually) to enjoy literature. We’ve got nothing against the Kindle, but there’s no replacing this Denver institution. Here, we talk to Meskis about her beloved bookstore.

5280: What is your favorite thing about the Tattered Cover?

JM: Seeing the magic of the reader and the writer coming together.

Do you have a favorite author?

So often, it’s the last book I’ve read.
Certainly, I love the classics. I’m very eclectic. I just finished Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It was fantastic. The way that he handled the language and vocabulary is extremely interesting.

How do you reconcile running a business and being a part of the Tattered Cover’s legendary experience?

They are so intertwined, because without paying attention to the business part, you will not be able to have the other. So it has to be a combination. But the reason most of us come into this business—whether it’s agenting, publishing, or bookselling—is because we love to read, we love books. I’m not out on the sales floor as much as I used to be because I’m so busy with things in the office, but when I see a child go up to a bookcase and see a particular book and his eyes go wide…that’s special.

During this digital age, anyone can download a book at any time. With that kind of accessibility available, why are bookstores still so important?

Because they are so much a part of the community, and they are meeting places in so many ways. The reader can meet the author. He can pull a book from the shelf; the feel of the book itself is part of the experience. Reading is not only a cerebral experience, it’s a physical experience, too. We are brick-and-mortar stores; we are the showroom. I believe that information will move in the most user-friendly way. And that’s fine, things change. I’m the eternal optimist. People are reading in all formats. We sell ebooks and so do our colleagues, other independent stores, so does Barnes & Noble.

Has the Tattered Cover been affected by digital reading devices?

The increased interest in reading devices came along about the same time the economy fell off. We certainly felt the effects of those occurrences. But it’s hard to say how much was attributable to digital publishing and how much to the economy. It’s still challenging, and a bit unpredictable as to the outcome of this dramatic change in our industry. But my firm belief is that we will continue to see information flow in the form of print books for a long time to come.

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43 Because we’re resilient.

The written word can’t accurately put into context the horrifying fact that, in July, the Denver metro area sustained its second mass shooting in the last 13 years. Combined, the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999 and the Century 16 theater in Aurora in 2012 took 25 innocent lives and left dozens more wounded. Now, look, everyone has a sad tale to tell. Pick any city in the United States and there’s an awful story of pain and loss available. (See Hurricane Sandy.) But this massacre was one of the deadliest in U.S. history and squarely places the Denver metro area in a very small group of cities that have endured multiple tragic killings of this magnitude.

We’re not going to lie; we rarely enjoy being on the national news. And in this particular category, we would like nothing better than to be left entirely out of the conversation. Regrettably, that’s not possible. We can’t ignore the fact that our home has been the unfortunate setting for two very public tragedies—and that our friends, families, neighbors, colleagues, and children have suffered.

But we also can’t—and we’d venture to say haven’t—let these heartbreaks cast a permanent pall over life here in Denver. We grieve. We struggle to understand. We wonder how we could have prevented such an evil—and then realize that we probably couldn’t have. And then we do what we can to cope, to help—more than $5 million in both public and private funds was raised to support the Aurora theater victims and their families, and some local hospitals limited or completely forgave any medical bills incurred by the victims—and to move on.