A peek at our must-read annual round-up of who's who and what's what in the Mile-High City.
Reporting By Georgia Benjou, Audrey Case, James Collector, Jenny Depper, Patrick Doyle, Julie Dugdale, Amanda M. Faison, Natasha Gardner, Luc Hatlestad, Lindsay Hislop, Kazia Jankowski, Lindsey B. Koehler, Maximillian Potter, Robert Sanchez, Geoff Van Dyke, and AJ Vicens.
Every year since 1997 we have faithfully, systematically, and eagerly explored our fair city in search of the most interesting people, the coolest places, the best businesses, and the top events Denver has to offer. It's been our pleasure, and our distinct honor, to then present these hotspots with a much-deserved Top of the Town award. This year, though, we had to take a step back and really look at what it means to be "on top." Because, let's face it, the past year has been tough. On everyone. Restaurants and retail shops are struggling. The service and travel industries are feeling the pinch. Sports arenas are sitting half-empty. Newspapers are failing. It's rough everywhere you look. But during dark times like these it's often easiest to see the brightest stars among us. Folks are stepping up under pressure, working harder, taking care of others, being creative, and finding ways to keep our city full of all the things that make it so special.
The Cookie Company
This Southlands Shopping Center gem bakes oh-so-tasty goodies—everything from peanut butter-chocolate chip to frosted gingersnaps, sugar cookies, and seasonal specialties—that are so big, chewy, and uniformly full of addictive, mouthwatering sweetness that we skipped lunch (twice!) just so we could take a bite of all of them. 6150 S. Main St., Suite I-108, Aurora, 303-928-7592
Paradise Bakery and Café
It's tough to argue with this local standby's gooey chocolate chip, snappy peanut butter, and perfectly doughy ginger molasses and sugar cookies. Yes, it's a chain, but that means they do it the same way every time—fantastically. Multiple locations
Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar
On the corner of Colfax Avenue and Grape Street, across from a paint shop and adjacent to an auto parts store, it's hard to imagine that Solera could have an inviting patio, let alone the best one in the city. But chef-owner Goose Sorensen's Mediterranean-influenced restaurant opens onto a quiet, green garden, lined with colorful pots of flowers and herbs. As diners linger under big umbrellas and twinkling strands of lights, evenings feel long and leisurely. Plus, tables are placed just so around a crackling fire, making intimate conversation easy. 5410 E. Colfax Ave., 303-388-8429
Lola's patio is one of the few city spots where you can sip a cocktail outside almost any month of the year. In the spring, hop on a stool and enjoy a mint-honeysuckle fizz next to the open bar. In the summer, when the narrow space is packed with thirtysomething Highland hipsters, order a stiff lime margarita. And come fall, cozy under the heaters with a cider house margarita—there, the autumn chill is barely noticeable. 1575 Boulder St., 720-570-8686
Pat's Downtown Bar and Grill
We've gone through many a frequent-buyer card at Pat's LoDo location, where the cheesesteaks are such a foregone conclusion we don't even need to look at the menu anymore. Pat's secret? It's the rolls—not the frozen, shipped, and thawed Amoroso bread so many Philly shops hang their authenticity on, but the fresh baguettes whipped up daily by Denver-based City Bakery. Combined with a steak-and-cheese blend that's consistent, lightly spiced, and not—like so many other cheese-steaks—overly gooey and drippy, Pat's delivers a winning sammy every time. Read more about Pat's in "Classically Denver." Multiple locations
The choo-choo-train smoker is almost as big as the adjacent Fotomat-size booth where these barbecue artists work their magic. For $7.50 you get a tender pulled-pork sandwich (don't forget the pickles), a side of tangy beans or creamy slaw, and a soda. Even out-of-towners like Vice President Joe Biden, who stopped by during the 2008 DNC, know this is hog heaven. 16th Street Mall and Lawrence Street
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
The only drawback to the Denver sausage king's stand at 16th and Arapahoe streets is the long lines, especially on balmy days. But for his consistent, cheap variety of savory and unusual links—try the Alaska reindeer or wild boar sausage with cream cheese and onions—Biker Jim's is worth the wait. 16th Street Mall and Arapahoe Street
The happy hour menu (3 to 7 p.m.) at this mod Vietnamese joint reads like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Separated into three columns ($3, $4, or $5), the list of munchies and drinks lets you mix and match as the night goes on. Our picks? The ahi tuna tacos, pommes frites, and blueberry-infused rum—all for $11. Bonus: On Mondays, the happy hour menu is offered all night long, meaning you can keep those kaffir lime vodka concoctions coming. 1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988
McCormick's Fish House and Bar
You'll want to cut out of the office early for this after-work menu—it only runs from 3 to 6 p.m.—because the happy hour food here is cheap, yummy, and ever-changing. Buying one frosty-cold beverage gives you entrée to the menu of eats, where prices start at $1.95 for offerings like seafood cakes with a creamy Sriracha sauce or fried zucchini. Take a cue from one of our fellow bar mates: Order two of the $2.95 cheeseburgers and create your own double-decker sandwich. Now that's cheap ingenuity. 1659 Wazee St., 303-825-1107
Stashed in an unassuming building along Old South Pearl Street, Izakaya Den's food is anything but ordinary. Gorgeous hamachi, maguro, and unagi chill out alongside creative treats like the Rocky Mountain roll (smoked trout) and the Red Dragon roll (an upscale take on the spicy tuna classic). The super-fresh fish melts in your mouth—and, for a quick minute, makes you think you're munching seaside. 1518 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0691
More than 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, Coloradans too often suffer from seafood deprivation. And in those moments of severe omega-3 withdrawal, this 23-year-old sushi mecca is where we turn. To learn more about this sushi success story, visit "Classically Denver.". 1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826
Steuben's Food Service
We scoured the city to track down the best libations—it's a tough gig, really—but we kept coming back to the same place time and again. If bar manager and third-generation bartender Sean Kenyon is mixing it, we're drinking it. From the complex Sazerac that improves as it warms to the subtle layering of lavender and juniper flavors in the sky-blue Aviation, these drinks are more than cocktails—they're culinary achievements. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001
The Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel
In a town renowned for its beer, sometimes you want to tip back something a little more refined. And that's what the black-tie-bedecked bartenders serve in this Art Deco drinking hole. Read more about this spot in "Classically Denver" . 1600 17th St., 303-825-1107
Da Kind Soups
When we first learned that this one-year-old Evergreen soup joint was located in a converted 7-Eleven, we were skeptical. But Da Kind's space works, with big, sunny windows, soup-ladle decorations, and an exposed brick wall. All of which we barely noticed as we spooned down a bowl of spicy clam. Da Kind whips up 10 varieties of soup daily (the pork green chile is super-savory), but our favorite option is to enjoy those flavors at home courtesy of Da Kind's boil-in-bag soups. Pick up a few on your way home from the hills. 27883 Meadow Drive, Evergreen, 303-674-7687
Served with freshly baked bread or in a generous bread bowl, the daily selections at Panera are a carb- and soup-lover's dream. A cup of the baked potato is an absolute must-slurp. Multiple locations
The moment the piping-hot dishes land on the buffet at this Aurora eatery, people crowd around it for nibbles (OK, heaping plates) of bhindi masala or gajjar halwa. The crêpelike dosas—a must-try—are more than a foot long, to boot. Go for a late brunch any day of the week and savor these veggie dishes that could convert even the biggest meat-lover. 3140 S. Parker Road, Aurora, 303-755-6272
Little India Restaurant
Known for its hearty buffet, the downtown location of this mini-empire of Indian eateries is packed for lunch on weekdays. If you ignore your grumbling tummy and go late, the buffet might be picked over, so go early and ask for a seat at the bar. You'll be that much closer to the buffet for quick refills—and the service is speedier. Read more about this spot in "Classically Denver." Multiple locations
King's Land Seafood Chinese Restaurant
Let's be clear: King's Land is not big on ambience. But it is big on taste, the likes of which you'd typically find only in eateries in Shanghai or Hong Kong. The cavernous dining room dressed with the requisite black chairs and white tablecloths can feel empty on a weekday evening—but the moment your food arrives you'll forget you don't have many neighbors. With a flourish of activity and the accompanying sounds of sizzling cuisine, a small army of servers doles out your spread. The hot and sour soup sings with a creamy, tangy broth and chunks of tofu and pork. The succulent Peking duck (order the half for a shared appetizer, the full to split for dinner) served with onions and buns will have you dreaming of your next visit. And the shredded pork in garlic sauce hits all the right taste buds with just a hint of heat. Yes, folks, this is the real thing. Eat up. 2200 W. Alameda Ave., Suite 44, 303-975-2399
Little Ollie's Asian Cafe
You can count on Little Ollie's for so many things—a quick business lunch, a casual first date, a girls' night out, or a chilly evening where all you want is Chinese take-out and a blanket. Denverites have been flocking to this Cherry Creek staple for the Yushan beef and Thai basil chicken for 13 years—and who can blame them? 2364 E. Third Ave., 303-316-8888
The trendy burger fad continues to sweep across the city, but we have to admit that when it comes to choosing a burger we like it done the conventional way: grilled up juicy with savory condiments and a just-right bun. The Encore burger's mixture of Gruyère, bacon, and blue cheese compote rests underneath a thick slab of juicy beef, and it's all topped off with a perfectly crispy bun. And, yes, you'll want the side of fries with the hot mustard drizzle, too. 2550 E. Colfax Ave., 303-355-1112
The Cherry Cricket
Settled down into that quintessential red basket, the Cricket burger simply tastes the way a great bar burger should: a little bit greasy with a stellar meat-to-bun ratio and tasty toppings like smoked cheddar and grilled onions. Want to know more about why Denver loves the Cherry Cricket? Read in "Classically Denver." 2641 E. Second Ave., 303-322-7666
Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria
Tangy San Marzano tomato sauce? Fresh, crusty bread? Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese? Perfectly textured meatballs? Yes, please! Although we also give the pies at this downtown pizzeria the Editors' Choice for Top Pizza, take a night off from the 'za and order up the ooey-gooey New York sandwich sliders for a worthy, downright delish substitute. 2129 Larimer St., 303-296-7000
Carbone's Italian Market and Deli
There's no denying the air of authenticity at Carbone's. This hole-in-the-wall deli off 38th Avenue in Highland feels like a spot you'd step into in Rome. Dry salami, sharp provolone cheeses, marinated peppers, and freshly cased sausages fight for your attention in the deli case as you contemplate mild or hot peppers on your meatball sandwich (you want hot, by the way). The sandwich, which is high on meat and lower on the marinara sauce, squishes down perfectly, allowing the provolone to squeeze out every which way. Buon appetito! 1221 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-2893
Bloody Maria, Billy's Inn
It's not that we object to vodka (what a silly thought!), but we found this tequila-based twist on the traditional Bloody Mary a welcome alternative. Mixed with a shot of Sauza and served up with fat Queen olives and a celery-salt rim, this spicy concoction tastes breezy like a Sunday morning—which is, in fact, the day when Billy's Inn serves these ladies up for $3.50 a pop from 10 a.m. till last call. 4403 Lowell Blvd., 303-455-9733
Lucile's Creole Cafe
Monday through Saturday, we Denverites adhere to our healthful breakfast rotation of granola, fresh fruit, and yogurt, but come Sunday morning we get up the gumption to order something that'll put a little meat on our bones and add a little kick to our day. Along with its killer red beans and rice with poached eggs, Lucile's serves the best Bloody Mary this side of the Big Easy. Done up with a tall stalk of celery, okra, and an olive, and just the right balance of spice, this beverage goes down smooth. Visit "Classically Denver" to learn more about this breakfast staple. Multiple locations
Super Star Asian Cuisine
The waits at Super Star Asian on Alameda Avenue can easily stretch to more than an hour on the weekends, but once seated, your patience is rewarded with cart after cart piled with steamed shrimp dumplings, sweet sesame balls, savory pork buns, starchy turnip cakes, and deep-fried taro balls. For the more adventurous, there are declawed chicken feet—along with dozens more eats that change by the day. 2200 W. Alameda Ave., Unit 5-A, 303-727-9889
If you ate here every day, you'd have to transfer extra funds into your checking account (lunch runs about $10). But you get what you pay for at Masterpiece: truly beautiful sandwiches. Take the Cubano: Slow-roasted pork, Black Forest ham, sharp Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard, and aïoli meld in an artistic blend of flavor. To be honest, passing these babies off as simple deli sandwiches might be doing them a disservice. Like the name implies, this food is a work of art. 1575 Central St., 303-561-3354
Heidi's Brooklyn Deli
You don't need a fancy-schmancy sandwich. Nope, you're into a good, old-fashioned, workmanlike deli creation. There's no fluff here, just a hearty meal with layers upon layers of meat and cheese or a perfect mound of egg salad. Read more about this citadel of sandwiches in "Classically Denver." Multiple locations
Tacos y Salsas
Ask 10 people in the metro area for their favorite Mexican food spot, and you'll likely get 10 different answers. But for money and taste, it's tough to beat Tacos y Salsas. First off, it oozes authenticity—this isn't your Americanized Mexican-food joint. And the most basic meal—tacos—is a fiesta of flavor, and the cooks don't skimp: The tortillas are corn, not flour, and the chicken is pull-apart tender and just spicy enough. Get at least three (they're about seven inches across) and keep it basic: Add some corn salsa, some fresh lettuce, and wash it down with a Coke served in a glass bottle. If you're a Mexican-food fan, you'll crave this staple una y otra vez. Multiple locations
Benny's Restaurant y Tequila Bar
Maybe it's the million-page menu or the deep fryer working overtime in the kitchen, but Benny's tasty cuisine comes out on top once again. Located just off Seventh Avenue and Grant Street, this eatery is one of those rare establishments that can cure a hung-over twentysomething and quiet a whining kindergartner. From the overstuffed burritos to the Bavarian cream-filled churros, we dare you to find something that doesn't keep you coming back. Learn more about Benny's in "Classically Denver." 301 E. Seventh Ave., 303-894-0788
Very few Denver chefs receive a nod from the lofty James Beard Foundation, but chef-owner Frank Bonanno has been named a semifinalist for the annual awards (the Oscars of the food world) five times. Experience what all the hoopla is about in Luca's technically perfect Italian cuisine and its waitstaff's unmatched service. No meal here would be complete without the house-made burrata cheese and an order of the Maine lobster ravioli bathed in mascarpone Alfredo. 711 Grant St., 303-832-6600
What we appreciate most about Fruition is the restaurant's ability to merge spectacular, inventive dishes with reasonable prices. Dinner here feels like a special occasion—due in part to ingredients such as house-cured duck prosciutto and the attentive-but-not-too-fussy service—but the bill at the end of the meal doesn't require it to be anything more extraordinary than a Wednesday night. 1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1992
Steve's Snappin' Dogs
We've been all over the metro area to see if anyone can unseat this purveyor of hot dogs, but let's face it, there's no better dog in the city. Order it Chicago-style (spicy mustard, green relish, red onions, sliced tomato, celery salt, dill pickle spear, peppers), do it up like Dallas (with chili con carne and cheddar-jack cheese), or eat it with nothing more than ketchup. And, now there's double the pleasure with a Steve's location at Infinity Park. 3525 E. Colfax Ave., or during events at 950 S. Birch St., Glendale, 303-333-7627
Firenze a Tavola
Parisi, a Highland-area, fast-Italian staple, has found its answer to fine dining in Firenze a Tavola. Downstairs from Parisi's main dining area, this tucked-away wine cellar turned dining room is only open Wednesday through Saturday nights. Owner Simone Parisi (who grew up in Florence, Italy) changes the menu regularly, but the show-stopping cartoccio di coccoli—an appetizer of lightly fried pizza dough served with prosciutto crudo and Stracchino cheese—is always available. Other dishes to look for: wood-fired artichoke halves and the traditional pappardelle pasta with wild boar. 4401 Tennyson St., 303-561-0234
Maggiano's Little Italy
With family-style portions, red sauce like Mamma used to make, and favorites such as the rigatoni "D" (herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms, and onions in Marsala cream sauce), Maggiano's always rises to the top. 500 16th St., 303-260-7707, and 7401 S. Clinton St., Englewood, 303-858-1405
Caveau Wine Bar
With just 75 wines for the tasting, Caveau's list has a boutique, selected-just-for-you feel. Many of the offerings—Jax Y3 Sauvignon Blanc and Fiddlehead Fiddlestix Pinot Noir—are lesser known, yet all of them sate even the most refined palate. But what we love most about Caveau is the happy hour (4 to 7 p.m. daily), where glasses of wine normally $12 and under ring in at $5, and glasses typically priced $13 and higher are half off. 450 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-3747
With more than 250 wines on its constantly changing list, Crú is sure to offer your favorite flavor. Not sure exactly what that is? Try one of the dozen or so flights—our pick to date is the Pinot Noir Perfection. 1442 Larimer St., 303-893-9463, and 8433 Park Meadows Drive, Suite D-155, Lone Tree, 303-708-8023
The Capital Grille
We usually make it a point to frequent local and independently owned spots, but when it comes to steak we head directly to the Capital Grille. The glamorous spot always serves up unparalleled service, a deep wine list, and—of course—exquisite steaks. We're partial to the Delmonico, a bone-in rib-eye that can be ordered as is or seasoned with a porcini mushroom rub and drizzled with 12-year-old balsamic. Either way, we take our steak in the bar, where the people-watching is just as rich as the meal itself. 1450 Larimer St., 303-539-2500
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House
Never short of star power, Del Frisco's is the place to go for a perfect porterhouse (24 ounces!), an ice-cold martini, and a sense that you're living the high life—if only for the evening. 8100 E. Orchard Road, Greenwood Village, 303-796-0100
Taquería Los Tres Reyes
This eight-year-old restaurant specializes in Mexican—and specifically Yucatán—cuisine, and the tacos are righteous. Chopped pork, chicken, or beef is folded into fresh corn tortillas and garnished with diced onion and slices of cucumber and radish. With a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of both the red and green salsas, each bite is as tasty as it is authentic. 1500 W. Littleton Blvd., Littleton, 303-794-9106
El Taco de Mexico
At this longtime Santa Fe Drive favorite, the best seats are at the counter. From that vantage point you can watch the señoras grilling, chopping, and flipping your taco fillings. Dine here for the stellar basics or for more adventurous items like beef tongue tacos. Cash only. 714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926
Big Fat Cupcake
The newest specialty bakery to hit the Denver scene serves cupcakes that are indeed big and fat. Browse the glass case and find 20 flavors (baked daily), many of which hearken back to childhood: Twinkie, Sno-Ball, and Boston cream pie. Most important, the cakes remain light and moist (not an easy feat when baking en masse), and the buttercream frosting tastes perfectly creamy. Don't miss the dreamy Creamsicle or the decadent coconut. 129 Adams St., 303-322-2253
Happy Cakes Bake Shop
Happy Cakes wins readers over with a rotating assortment of amusing flavors—think Jack-and-Coke, Snickerdoodle, and French toast—plus all the classics. A Friday favorite is the Pom Poms, a cupcake with vanilla buttercream rolled in Trix cereal or Cocoa Puffs. 3815 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-3556
Buchi Cafe Cubano
Already our go-to spot for stacked Cubano sandwiches and rich cups of cafe con leche, Buchi also serves the city's best brunch. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays, sit down to a traditional spread that includes picadillo (ground beef with cinnamon, olives, and raisins), arroz con pollo, Cuban roasted pork, black beans, plantanos, flan, and bottomless drip coffee and OJ. Quick tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, get there before 11 a.m. 2651 W. 38th Ave., 303-458-1328
Tables at this retro-cool breakfast spot are always at a premium—especially on the weekends. That's because the stacks of hotcakes (don't miss the pineapple upside-down-pancakes), yellow mugs of hot coffee, and platters of eggs and hash browns are just what you need to clear the cobwebs. 2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700
Moe's Original Bar-B-Que
We first discovered these smoky eats in Vail, but now Moe's has a Denver outpost—and it dishes up the same fresh-from-the-pit food. Our favorites are the smoked chicken with tangy white sauce, marinated slaw, and griddled cornbread, and the savory pulled-pork sandwich with sides of JoJos (fried sweet-potato wedges) and creamy banana pudding. 3295 S. Broadway, Englewood, 303-781-0414, ext. 3
With a menu that includes St. Louis-style ribs, Texas-style beef brisket, Georgia chopped pork, and country-roasted chicken, Famous Dave's does 'cue right. Have hungry kids? Children 12 and under eat free every Tuesday. 7557 E. 36th Ave., 303-399-3100, and 16539 N. Washington St., Thornton, 303-280-6227
This unassuming Boulder staple, halfway between Pearl Street and the university campus, serves up the best spring rolls we've tasted—extra-thin rice paper with refreshing mint sprigs for zing—hands down. Time and again we hit the comfy cafe for a heaping plate of noodles or rich bowl of curry, knowing the tofu, an ingredient that arrives disturbingly sodden at other eateries, is cooked to a perfectly firm texture here. Washed down with a dense and refreshing Thai iced tea, the Khow pad basil is a must if you're looking for some kick. 1600 Broadway, Boulder, 303-447-0273
With huge portions of Thai comfort food like Thai fried rice with pineapple and big, juicy shrimp, this Asian-fusion gem is the place to go for your Far East fix. Enjoy a cozy atmosphere lit with hanging lanterns, and order the spicy scallops in red curry—a dish somehow meaty and delicate in the same bite. Multiple locations
When the server brings you a heaping basket of yellow corn chips and six types of salsa (the first basket is free), all you feel is gratitude. After dabbling in the red and green tomatillo salsas, the authentic chile verde, the perfectly balanced pico de gallo, and the incendiary chipotle salsa, you'll feel your mouth searing with spicy pleasure. Then you'll discover the cool, creamy avocado, and the cycle will start all over again. 4309 W. 38th Ave., 303-458-1437
The people have spoken—with their mouths full of Lime's house chips and salsa. These thick, golden layers of flaky goodness manage to retain their crispiness even after a dunk in the racy red salsa. If you haven't chowed down yet, drop by one of Lime's four Colorado locations (we like the one on Sixth Avenue) for a happy hour margarita ($3) and a basket of crunch. Multiple locations
Steuben's Food Service
After 10 p.m., Steuben's offers up the best deal in town: a full-size cheeseburger, salty, delicious fries served in a can, and a cold, refreshing PBR. You get all of this—plus a cool late-night vibe—for only five bucks. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001
Across the board, Chipotle owns every other fast-food joint with its reasonably priced fare of ginormous burritos, tortilla-less bowls, lower-cal salads, and to-die-for guacamole. And now you can order online for a quick pickup. Multiple locations
Forest Room 5
Inside the confines of this LoHi hipster mecca is a menu exploding with 40 creative tapa options. The prosciutto-wrapped scallops over crostini are well-balanced in texture and divinely flavored with a zesty salsa; the portobello and mozzarella plate tastes fresh and original; and the butternut squash and eggplant risotto arrives as a rich, creamy bowl of deliciousness. Noteworthy: While not traditional tapas fare, the herbed, truffled fries are enough to make the staunchest "can-I-have-salad-instead-of-fries?" diner devour an entire plate. 2532 15th St., 303-433-7001
The 9th Door
With an ambience reminiscent of sexy nights in Barcelona, paired with an intoxicating wine list, this LoDo hotspot knows its tapas and serves them up with flair. Choose from cold plates like the flavorful pear, arugula, and Idiazábal cheese salad or hot plates such as the crispy calamari with three dipping sauces. Don't miss the calabacitas—roasted spaghetti squash with fresh basil, grilled asparagus, and mozzarella. 1808 Blake St., 303-292-2229
We're not going to lie—we may have been swayed by the Guinness floats (yes, really) this swanky Larimer Square gelato cafe was doling out on St. Patty's Day. But then again, who can resist any of the 32 flavors of fresh-churned gelato Gelazzi serves every day? Alcohol-laden gelato aside, the creamy confections here rival the treats from Italy's tastiest gelaterias (we've sampled extensively). From our go-tos like coconut and tiramisù—try them together—to more exotic fruity creations like grapefruit and rose, Gelazzi does gelato right. 1411 Larimer St., 303-534-5056
Is it wrong to eat gelato at 9 a.m.? Not if you're at Red Trolley, the year-old Highland coffee-and-cones cafe. Lured by irresistible flavors like banana-chocolate-peanut butter and honey lavender as we ordered our lattes one morning, we guiltily spooned up to find some of the tangiest, truest flavor combos this side of Rome. 2639 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-7200
Fine dining, brilliant wine, yadda yadda yadda. We head to Opus for the chocolate chip-cookie spring rolls. The perfectly wrapped golden pastries ooze with exquisite five-spice chocolate mousse and sliced bananas, all warmed to gooey perfection and served alongside a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Hardcore chocoholic? Try the melting chocolate soup. As in, a great big bowl—bowl—of warm, rich, melted chocolate draped like liquid velvet over a fresh berry-chocolate torte. 2575 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-703-6787
D Bar Desserts
Three words: cake and shake. If you haven't indulged in this menu item, drop this magazine and get thee to D Bar immediately. A sinfully hefty slice of rich chocolate cake with manjari frosting is complemented by a vanilla milkshake, complete with chocolate malt-crunchies floating on top. We're embarrassed to report we consistently finish the whole thing. Huge thanks to husband-and-wife owners Lisa Bailey and Keegan Gerhard (psst: host of the Food Network Challenge) for ruining our diets. 1475 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-4710
Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria
Truthfully, there's a lot of good high-end pizza to be had in Denver these days. Osteria Marco, Proto's, and Parisi do bang-up jobs. But, for our money, we head to north downtown for a Toscana pie done up right with fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, arugula, grape tomatoes, prosciutto di Parma, and extra-virgin olive oil. It's like the best salad you've ever had plopped down on a chewy yet crispy-enough crust. And, paired with a small order of coal-fired chicken wings, this 'za is enough for two. 2129 Larimer St., 303-296-7000
Anthony's Pizza and Pasta
You want a good pie? Fuhgettaboutit. You won't find a better slice in the Mile-High City than the triangles at Anthony's. A foldable crust plays host to tangy sauce, greasy cheese, and fresh toppings. Learn more about this pizza mainstay in "Classically Denver." Multiple locations
By Patrick Doyle
Last year, we grumbled about the dearth of decent breakfast sandwiches in the city. Our readers responded with a slew of suggestions, which we faithfully checked out. Here, the best of the bunch.
Deli Zone does the egg sandwich right—a freshly fried egg, crispy bacon, and a slice of melting cheese slapped on a kaiser roll. Greasy, fast, and delicious. Every homesick New Yorker will rejoice. Multiple locations
The Fancy Pants
Adagio Baking Company
We'll admit we were skeptical. Challah? Sure, it makes great French toast, but egg sandwiches typically call for less highbrow ingredients. We were wrong. The sweet, flaky bread provides the perfect counterpoint to the savory sausage, fried egg, and cheddar cheese. 4628 E. 23rd Ave., 303-388-0904
The Dark Horse
A spot known mostly for its cinnamon rolls, Duffeyroll also dishes up an excellent early-morning sandwich. We recommend the Rising Sun—scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese, and lightly spiced chipotle mayo on a rosemary roll. Bonus: You also get a mini Duffeyroll for dessert. Multiple locations
The Crowd Pleaser
Garden Spot Café
More than a handful of our readers sent e-mails incredulous that we missed the breakfast sandwich at the Garden Spot, and for that we apologize. Head over to RiNo and dig into the heavenly scrambled eggs with bacon and melted Swiss, all stacked high on buttered sourdough. 3163 Larimer St., 303-295-2440
By Kazia Jankowski
The foodies at Gourmet magazine kicked off 2009 proclaiming that this year ice cream would supplant the cupcake as the nation's dessert du jour. Denver, in true Western spirit, has only half-heeded Gourmet's directive. Yes, ice cream is big here (four new shops opened last year alone), and those trendy savory flavors are becoming more common, but Denver's true ice cream obsession reflects a love of the traditional paired with the occasional exotic twist. Here, our recommendations for a cone of something a little different.
2639 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-7200
The ingredients Homemade marshmallows, chocolate ganache, graham cracker crumb, and malted vanilla ice cream
The inspiration "Everything I make is inspired by a childhood memory. In the summers, my family used to camp out by a lake. We would make s'mores, and I remember the smell of the grass, burning fire, and melted chocolate." —Deanna Parker, executive chef
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Pajama Baking Company
1595 S. Pearl St., 303-733-3627
The ingredients Peanut butter and raspberry jam folded into Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream
The inspiration "I tend to put more peanut butter than jelly on my sandwiches, and this ice cream has slightly more peanut butter. The sweetness of the jam rings throughout." —Russ Tearney, owner
Little Man Ice Cream
2620 16th St., 303-455-3811
The ingredients Creamy dark chocolate ice cream with Savory Spice's Saigon Cassia cinnamon
The inspiration "I was originally going to make the Mexican chocolate with black pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon. I got the idea from a cookie I ate called Mexican chocolate chip. At the time, though, I didn't have black pepper or cayenne, so I tried the ice cream with cinnamon alone. It was perfect." —Kristen Maldeis, ice cream maker and general manager
Sweet Action Ice Cream
52 Broadway, 303-282-4645
The ingredients Honey ice cream swirled with pieces of flaky baklava
The inspiration "My mother's family is from Greece, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandmother cooking all sorts of dishes, from spanakopita to baklava. When we were experimenting with honey ice cream, Chia [co-owner] and I both thought that something sweet and chewy would make a nice addition, so we threw in some baklava." —Sam Kopicko, owner
By Amanda M. Faison
Just how many ways can you fry a potato? Lots, and all quite deliciously.
The Traditional: Thick-cut and salted just so, the basic fry at Mustard's Last Stand is served up beautifully. 2081 S. University Blvd., 303-722-7936
The Smothered: We've got to hand it to Jonesy's Eat Bar for piling pipin' hot shoestrings with cheese and bacon, truffle oil, or Frank's hot sauce and blue cheese crumbles. Pick two styles for $9. 400 E. 20th Ave., 303-863-7473
The Deluxe: Larkburger's delicately truffled frites come with just-grated Parmesan and freshly snipped parsley. 2525 Arapahoe Road, Boulder, 303-444-1487
The Sweet: Usually sweet potato fries are too, well, sweet. Not Root Down's, which are fried in an earthy rice bran oil, sprinkled with medium-crystal sea salt, and served with curry-lime aïoli for dunking. 1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200
The Alternative: City, O' City turns the french fry concept on its ear by serving fried cornichons, mushrooms, and other veggies with an assortment of dipping sauces. 206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443
Kevin & Friends
Our Australian shepherd has thick, knotted fur and an even thicker and knottier attitude. Yet the pooch seems to feel right at home with Kevin Sweets—and, even more surprising, looks like a show dog after $45 worth of bathing and grooming services with this longtime canine makeover artist. After working across the street at Remington & Friends for years, Sweets started out on his own about three years ago. And although his shop's interior is unexceptional, his way with dogs is anything but. 269 S. Downing St., 303-295-2400
Amenities like 14 outdoor play yards, 74 climate-controlled kennels, and the promise of plenty of TLC for your dog will have you wagging your tail just as ardently as Buster. Beds-N-Biscuits offers top-notch boarding, daycare, and a doggie day spa as well as bathing and grooming treatments. And with fairly reasonable boarding prices ($20-$27 daily) you can also bark about how full your wallet is even after a long weekend away. 4219 Xenon St., Wheat Ridge, 303-940-9188
Clips on Sixth
There's something unsettling about letting a stranger hold a sharp razor next to your jugular. (What if you gulp at the wrong time?) But with more than 25 years of barbershop experience, Tony Loicono has gained our complete trust. Located in the back of Cigars on Sixth, Clips' setting allows you to nab a stogie, practice your best Al Capone impersonation, and lean back for an old-school shave (creamy, warm lather and hot towels)—a luxury every man should experience now and then, especially considering the low $15 price tag. 707 E. Sixth Ave., 303-830-8100
Floyd's 99 Barbershop
Readers love this mini-chain, voting it the top barbershop year after year. While Colorado's rustic set may love its beards, when they're in need of a clean-cut look they head here for 30 minutes of pampering complete with steamy towels, lots of lather, and nary a nick. Multiple locations
Edgeworks and the Bicycle Doctor
You can tell a good ski shop by the smell of melted wax hanging in the air—and at Edgeworks it smells like a candle factory. These guys know what they're doing, and though tunes might be a tad more expensive than at area competitors, you get what you pay for—expert handling of your edges. 860 Broadway, 303-831-7228
Colorado Ski and Golf
Year in and year out, our readers love Colorado Ski and Golf. And with good reason—the retail shops sprinkled around the metro area hang up their clubs come winter and spend their time selling, repairing, and fine-tuning all manner of boards and skis. Multiple locations
Little Flower Market
As neighborhood shops go, it doesn't get much cuter than this quaint, family-owned space in Bonnie Brae. One step inside transports you to a vibrant fantasy world of two-toned roses, delicate blue-lace blooms, and exotic birds of paradise stalks. The apron-clad florists—four sisters and a mother who know their clients on a first-name basis—are most recognized for their customer service, colorful design in the style of European flower markets, and cheery outlook. "How could anyone have a bad day working with flowers?" one of the sisters told us on a recent visit. Good point. 709 S. University Blvd., 303-765-2008
The Perfect Petal
The back room of this Highland treasure chest is a beehive of friendly floral designers plucking, snipping, and arranging picture-perfect bouquets for a loyal clientele, which swears by their talents for special occasions. With a wide local delivery range and creations that go from exotic and edgy (think artful branches and red anthurium) to traditional and sweet, the Petal has our readers swooning. Want to learn more about this charming floral and gift boutique? Visit "Classically Denver." 3600 W. 32nd Ave., 303-480-0966
SOL (Store of Lingerie)
Let's face it ladies, sometimes we need a more personal version of customer service. After all, it's just not as easy as it might seem to find the perfect undergarments. The staff at SOL has understood this for 12 years. Using adept measuring and a keen eye, these experts will get you out of those tattered unmentionables and into a perfectly fitted Marie Jo or Prima Donna bra in no time flat. Have a sassy T-strap dress that you've never sported because you couldn't quite figure out what to wear underneath? Bring that in too, and let the professionals show you how it's done, fashion tape and all. 248 Detroit St., 1-800-466-1356
Honestly, we're starting to lose count of the nods we've doled out to Nordstrom over the years. But as they say, why fix what's not broken? It's good to see that the personable and upbeat staff at your favorite department store hasn't lost its golden touch. Multiple locations
The Sweet Life Nail Bar and Lounge
If there weren't 200 bottles of nail polish in the entryway, you might confuse the Sweet Life for a chic LoDo bar. Dressed in grays, whites, and blues, this Stapleton-based nail shop is upbeat, elegant, and inviting. Plus, with a drink menu that rivals your favorite Friday-night haunt, the Sweet Life caters to women looking for a little relaxation in a glass (we enjoyed a glass of Ménage À Trois, $8) along with the kind they're getting for their hands and feet (we recommend the Essential Plus mani and pedi, $65 booked together). 2373 Central Park Blvd., Suite 105, 720-496-4565
Tootsies, the Nail Shoppe
For three years running, this purveyor of polish has wooed our readers with its excellent customer service, sassy decor, expert technicians, hygienic bent, and Wash Park and Highland locales. For the best deal, make a reservation for the Express mani ($15) and Express pedi ($30). 1021 S. Gaylord St., 720-570-0971; 4230 Tennyson St., 303-433-0898
You know you've scored big when you check in for your massage appointment and the receptionist coos about the therapist with whom you've been paired. And score we did with Kimber Fournier, a 20-year veteran of the massage trade, who seems to know exactly how to manipulate workout-weary muscles. Our advice: Book the hour-and-a-half trigger-point massage. You'll feel like putty—in a really good way—on your way out the door. 201 Steele St., Unit 1-A, 303-962-8900
We have to give props to our savvy readers: After 5280 editors chose Elixir as last year's top massage winner, our readers took note, made appointments, and then made it their top spot for a good rubdown this year. Elixir's easy-access LoDo location, casual atmosphere, and monthly membership benefits make it a spot-on choice for folks looking for a no-frills, less spa-y way to ease the tension. 1518A Wazee St., 303-571-4455
Waxing the City
Not that anyone really wants to spend part of her day getting this mildly unpleasant procedure, but hey, it's gotta be done. And if you're going to do it, at least make an appointment at a place like Waxing the City, where there's an air of discreetness, a no-tipping policy, and the ability to reserve a time online. Multiple locations
Promila Kashyap, Centre Salon and Spa
If you have sensitive skin, use topical acne treatments, or simply don't love the idea of hot wax near your eyeballs, you might want to look into the ancient Indian art of threading. Unlike tweezing, where a single hair is pulled out at a time, threading—which is done using a white cotton string—can remove an entire row of hair, resulting in a straighter line. At Centre Salon and Spa in Arvada, Promila Kashyap wields the thread ($20) with impressive speed and accuracy, giving your brows a perfect arch and vacuuming up all those blondies you never would've plucked yourself. 15400 W. 64th Ave., Unit E-11, Arvada, 303-425-0931
Waxing the City
Let's face it, tweezing at home just isn't cutting it. After all, you never get the desired results (mismatched brows anyone?). Instead, book an appointment at one of Waxing the City's three locations and get those arches cleaned up in one fell swoop (OK, two or three swoops). Multiple locations
Ritz-Carlton Spa, Denver
Yes, it's the Ritz, so it should be nice, but the spa at Denver's first Ritz-Carlton hotel exceeds expectations—and thinks outside of the corporate box—with its Colorado-centric therapies like the Hops N' Honey pedi, the High Altitude Oxygen facial, the High Country Tranquility wrap, and the Organic Veggie Body Cocktail. If we had to choose between the four, the pedi (75 minutes, $125) is a no-brainer—after all, it does come with beer. 1881 Curtis St., 303-312-3830
Nectar Cherry Creek
You'll have to walk through Pura Vida health club—a journey that can make you feel slightly guilty that you're not breaking a sweat—to get to Nectar, but all your stress (and guilt!) will fade away once you snuggle down onto the massage table for the Melt Down treatment, a 50-minute Swedish massage designed to soothe your aching muscles. Located on the fourth floor of Pura Vida Fitness and Spa, 2955 E. First Ave., 303-999-2900
Luxe may have a new location (just across the street from its old digs) and a fresh vibe, but fear not: The same great services and staff remain. For an innovative look, we recommend stylist Dawn Addington. Need a natural-looking highlight? Sign up with Kelli Potthoff. Or try Lisa Pride for a simple blowout and style. Learn more about this classic Denver salon in "Classically Denver" . 1720 Wazee St., 303-296-0166
Bang has a lot of things going for it—skilled stylists, chic interior space, and a full roster of top-notch services. But it's Bang's two neighborhood locations—Washington Park and Park Hill—that really set this salon apart. Readers love the cozy residential vibe, the relatively easy parking, and the access to adjacent shops and eateries. These two spots feel like integral parts of their respective neighborhoods—and that's something we can all appreciate. 1207 E. Alameda Ave., 303-282-5444; 2200 Kearney St., 720-241-0355
Perry Shoe Repair
Boulderites don't trust their tired old soles to just anyone—they've sworn by the Perry family's experienced hands since 1922. In fact, residents of the Republic became so addicted to Perry's that the company had to create a repairs-by-mail system for clients who moved just a little too far away. Wanna try it yourself? Go to Perrysshoe.com, fill out a repair form, drop it and your shoes in the mail, and you'll get your spiffed-up kicks back in about 14 days. 1711 15th St., Boulder, 303-443-4580
Dardano's Shoes and Repair
In fairy tales, the shoe always fits. But in the event that yours doesn't—or doesn't fit like it used to—you can depend on Dardano's. Denver residents have proudly stood behind this locally owned family business for more than 60 years to keep their glass slippers (OK, hiking boots) in shape. 1550 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-692-9355
The Cherry Creek Bike Rack
There is no shortage of fine bike shops in Denver, so to pique our interest a shop has to offer something out of the ordinary. The Cherry Creek Bike Rack does just that. A bike shop for our times, the Bike Rack is the only shop in Colorado that provides free indoor bike parking for commuters—no need to worry about snow or thieves when your two-wheeler is parked safely in those cozy confines. Of course, you can get your bike tuned, rent equipment, and, yes, buy the requisite spandex and Lycra, too. 171 Detroit St., 303-388-1630
Wheat Ridge Cyclery
On those rare years when we editors don't pick Wheat Ridge Cyclery, there's got to be a good reason (see above), because this Front Range cycling mainstay is just about as good as any bike shop anywhere for nearly anything. To learn more about this local cycling shop's success story, see "Classically Denver". 7085 W. 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge, 303-424-3221
Qi Athletic Club
With a wide array of wellness and fitness opportunities, including yoga, yoga-spin classes, Kinesis, cardio, free weights, and top-of-the-line training equipment, this independently owned fitness center offers a more intimate workout environment than your typical big-box gym. And Qi, which has two Denver locations, hits the right balance between a Zenlike atmosphere and a high-intensity vibe. 3121 E. Colfax Ave., 303-993-4041, www.qidenver.com; 2636 Walnut St., 303-593-1593, www.qidowntown.com
24 Hour Fitness
With about 20 metro-area locations, sweet membership deals, high-quality equipment, and a host of different classes (boxing anyone?), 24 Hour Fitness' amenities might actually make you want to work out. Multiple locations
Lincoln's Road House
The slightly schizophrenic menu—meatloaf cheeseburger, pot roast burrito, and shrimp Creole bruschetta—at Lincoln's Road House is telling of its varied clientele. A biker bar at heart, this Platt Park joint also welcomes suits, area locals, and anyone looking for a good time. So pull up a stool, grab a cold Coors Light, and stop by for free live music on Fridays and Saturdays. 1201 S. Pearl St., 303-777-3700
Don's Club Tavern
Better known as Don's Mixed Drinks, this Denver dive bar mainstay has been kicking it since 1947 with strong drinks, old furniture, and ice-cold beer. Although Little Pub Holdings (owners of Wyman's and the Spot Bar and Grill, among other bars) purchased Don's in 2004, it looks like they haven't put a cent into the joint. For that, we thank them. 723 E. Sixth Ave., no phone
It's rare that our first visit to a bar earns the pub an instant spot on our go-to drinking list, but in Jonesy's case it was love at first beer. The self-proclaimed "gastro-pub" pairs upscale versions of home-style grub (truffle fries and lamb sliders, for instance) with the best selection of Colorado beers outside of Argonaut Liquors, including Avery White Rascal, Odell's Double Pilsner, and Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. 400 E. 20th Ave., 303-863-7473
Tavern Wash Park
For a city that has pretty darn good weather, we have a decided lack of outdoor patios. That is, unless you look toward the Tavern pubs, particularly the newest incarnation in Wash Park. The kid brother to the elder Uptown, Downtown, and Lowry locations, Tavern Wash Park has both a front patio—giving you a gander of Old South Gaylord Street—and a quieter back patio. Inside you'll find what you expect from the Tavern bars: loads of dark wood, big comfy booths, and a friendly mix of neighborhood inhabitants. 1066 S. Gaylord St., 303-733-0350
Vine Street Pub
We like everything about Vine Street Pub, the latest outpost from the Mountain Sun breweries collective up in Boulder. Intriguing house beers (the Java Porter in particular), great "guest" beers from across Colorado and the country (try anything from Oregon's Deschutes Brewery), and tasty pub grub (like the blackened chicken sandwich) combine to create an excellent neighborhood bar experience. 1700 Vine St., 303-388-2337
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Planted in Lower Downtown before the term "LoDo" was ever spoken, the 'Koop was the seed that helped our then-nascent bar scene grow. Today, this legendary brew bar—originally opened by Mayor John Hickenlooper—remains a touchstone for our much more mature (and oh-so-hip) nightlife landscape. Want to learn more about this LoDo legend? Read in "Classically Denver." 1634 18th St., 303-297-2700
Yeah, we know this English pub is not your typical American sports bar. But hear us out on this one: The British Bulldog is the place to go if you're a soccer fan in Denver. It also has some mighty fine imported beer and a riot-worthy sliced sirloin sandwich. The Bulldog leans toward dark and cramped, meaning it's the perfect place to get your drink on when the doors open at 7 a.m. for the weekend's first English Premier League game. Don't judge us, wanker, it's noon somewhere in the world. 2052 Stout St., 303-295-7974
Chopper's Sport's Grill
Dude, the place has televisions in the bathrooms. Televisions. In the bathrooms. That alone is worth a nod. But we're betting that you stay for the killer nachos and juicy hamburgers—or the 18 beers on tap. For more background on this Cherry Creek sports mecca, visit "Classically Denver." 80 S. Madison St., 303-399-4448
In February, Adam Lerner left the Lab at Belmar (the super-cool art museum and public-forum organization in Lakewood) to accept the directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver—a move that means good things for Denver's culturally savvy singles. Now, Lerner's innovative, interactive programming is in the heart of the city, and events like Mixed Taste (quirky lectures on random topics such as tamales and literary memoirs) make for easy after-work get-togethers. 1485 Delgany St., 303-298-7554
With 13 pours on tap, a menu of tasty bar food (Kobe beef sliders, chicken nachos), and TVs at every vantage point, the Tavern is an accessible spot to throw back. Which is why Uptown's young professionals pack the bar for Tuesday trivia, Friday happy hours, and Sunday game days. 538 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-9210
Each April, Aspen Film celebrates the genre of short filmmaking during its five-day Oscar-qualifying festival. These 40-minute (or less) flicks—like this year's She Who Measures and This Is Her—showcase quick and inspired themes. Pairing about 60 of the world's best short films (drama to documentary) with filmmaker and viewer discussions, the Shortsfest makes Friday nights with a blockbuster and popcorn seem so passé. Multiple locations, Aspen, 970-925-6882
Starz Denver Film Festival
Eleven days and 213 films. This was the tally of the 2008 Starz Denver Film Festival, and those numbers highlight what this regional festival is known for: more flicks than any other festival in the state. But the 31-year-old celebration of film feels approachable, offering evening and weekend screenings and a fair share of filmmaker Q&As, so you can drop by, catch a film, and then discuss it with the director. Multiple locations, 303-595-3456
Culinary Connectors Tour
Culinary Connectors takes reservations for its Denver-based restaurant and market tours up to an hour and a half before departure, so foodies can spend their drizzly afternoons learning to make ice cream at Red Trolley, sampling charcuterie with chef Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, Luca D'Italia, Osteria Marco, and Bones), or talking cinnamon at Savory Spice. 303-495-5487
Denver Art Museum
Step into the angular, vaulted entrance of the Denver Art Museum, and whatever the dismal weather outside, you're bound to forget about it. After all, in just the last year, fascinating exhibits on hand-crafted quilts, Western oil paintings, and rock posters have graced the walls and viewing spaces of this remarkable museum. 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, 720-865-5000
While you won't find fancy costumes or elaborate sets at this grassroots theater company, you can expect captivating shows. Paragon gets to the crux of good theater: thoughtful plays and evocative acting. Classics like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie ring with nostalgia, and comedies like the offbeat Love Song will have you laughing out loud. Even the Colorado Theatre Guild has taken note, awarding several Paragon actors its "Best Of" recognitions. Paragon performs at the Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St., 303-300-2210
Curious Theatre Company
Curious Theatre founder and producing artistic director Chip Walton travels regularly to New York City to scout new plays, and when he finds one he likes, he brings it to his well-oiled company. Thanks to Walton's travels, in the 2008-2009 season Denver saw Speech & Debate, a quirky off-Broadway hit, as well as Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class. For next year, Walton has already lined up several regional and world premieres. 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524
If dancing is your thing, there's really no better place than Tracks. Each of the club's two dance floors is packed nightly with young lovelies (both male and female) swaying to the latest house music. Grab a drink from one of the three bars and choose your groove. Be forewarned: The egalitarian bathroom system is...um...interesting, but people don't seem to mind the gender mixing once they've had a few cocktails. 3500 Walnut St., 303-863-7326
JR's Bar and Grill
With two floors (each with a bar), a huge balcony overlooking 17th Avenue, and a relentless supply of Britney Spears music videos, JR's has just about everything. Add great drink specials—Thursdays offer half-off wells, drafts, and bottled beer; Wednesdays boast $1 well vodka drinks and a shirtless staff—and there's little wonder why our readers dig the occasional crazy night at JR's. 777 E. 17th Ave., 303-831-0459
Suite Two Hundred
Yes, we know there's a line to get in. We're also aware that the drinks are a little pricey. But, honestly, if you're going out to a club, why not be where the action is? Suite Two Hundred opened last summer and has quickly become one of the hottest clubs in town. On a recent night, we partied with half of the Nuggets' bench as well as hockey god Peter Forsberg. Quick tip: Come early and dress to impress, or you might spend your night on the sidewalk. 1427 Larimer St., 720-560-4433
You could probably find a sound system comparable to Beta's, but you'd have to travel to Europe to do it. The club, which opened in March 2008, was the first in the United States to blast the world-renowned Funktion One Dance Array 4 Speaker Stack, a sound system most clubs would give one of their best beefy door guys for. And this downtown nightclub frequently hosts some of the country's sickest DJs, who take turns blasting the state-of-the-art system. 1909 Blake St., 303-437-3011
The Q Worldly Barbecue
Great barbecue—like the kind at the Q—can only get better with a side of down-home music. Every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, the corner stage at this garden-level meat purveyor explodes with the soulful sounds of blues, jazz, and bluegrass. On a warm summer evening, grab a seat on the terraced patio and soak up the tunes as they float through the open windows at the front of the eatery. Oh yeah, and don't forget to order the pulled pork sandwich doused with Memphis-style sauce. 2817 E. Third Ave., 303-399-7227
The Soiled Dove Underground
Swanky space. Groovy tunes. Cold beer. Bet the last place you'd think of finding all three of those things would be the Lowry neighborhood. But it's true. Tucked under the Tavern Lowry, the Soiled Dove Underground hosts eclectic shows (think Jackopierce, Leon Russell, the Paula Nelson Band) in a theater-style setting with plenty of space to get down and get funky if the mood strikes. 7401 E. First Ave., 303-366-0007
A Lower Highland Jaunt
The newer, trendier section of the Highland neighborhood—Lower Highland or LoHi—has a walkable grid and plenty of cozy spots to fill a date night. Start with glasses of wine on the rooftop terrace at Vita (1575 Boulder St., 303-477-4600), where you can soak in views of downtown. Then walk hand-in-hand a few blocks over to Root Down (1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200) for a dinner of shareable entrées (the veggie sliders are delectable) and creative drinks brewed up by the ace mixologists. Stroll back down the hill for a sugary nightcap of homemade ice cream or sorbet at Little Man Ice Cream (2620 16th St., 303-455-3811). Cruise halfway across the I-25 footbridge, take in the view, and consider your next move (wink, wink).
Vesta Dipping Grill
Locals love this sexy yet lively eatery for its sumptuous menu of snappy apps, entrées with mix-and-match dipping sauces, and decadent desserts. The atmosphere is just bustling enough that you can either enjoy the din or use the clamor as a reason to snuggle just a tad closer. 1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970
If you're still stuck in the film era (you know who you are), it's high time you made your way into the age of digital photography. And, if you let the fine folks at the Denver Darkroom help you, your transition will be seamless. Sign up for the series of three digital classes (you'll need a digital SLR camera) to learn the basics of camera operation, picture composition, and Photoshop techniques. Work your way through the third class, and we promise you'll be pleasantly surprised at how professional your images look. 4037 Tejon St., 303-298-0164
Art Students League of Denver
Just walking through the doors of this Grant Street building makes you feel artsy, like you've somehow magically acquired the talent to create. Fortunately, even if you can't produce wall-worthy art now, after a few classes at the Art Students League you'll be turning out fine sculptures, gorgeous oils on canvas, and ethereal watercolors. Check out the roster of classes online and choose one that makes you want to break out the beret. 200 Grant St., 303-778-6990
Culinary School of the Rockies
You can't help but feel like you're in good hands with Culinary School of the Rockies' esteemed professional culinary program conducting classes in the next room. Playing around in the giant, stocked kitchen and seeking out ingredients, gadgets, and technique advice, home cooks collaborate to accomplish their cooking tasks in classes like Totally Tapas and Classic French Bistro. Multitasking is essential, mistakes are taken in stride, and the end result—a veritable feast around a long, family-style table—feels like a well-earned prize. 637 S. Broadway, Suite H, Boulder, 303-494-7988
The Seasoned Chef
For 16 years this cheerful and immaculate kitchen has offered hands-on classes like Take-Home Tamales, Rollin' Sushi, and Handmade Truffles. Students interested in more than a one-time specialty feast can try the Culinary Techniques Series to learn long-term skills such as knife handling, baking at altitude, and sautéing. With a roster of diverse and highly accredited instructors that hail from Denver's best restaurants, bakeries, and culinary institutions, lessons here are always top-notch. 999 Jasmine St., Suite 100, 303-377-3222
Aspen Summer Words and Jazz Aspen Snowmass—together
Need a culture fix? Head to Aspen. The annual weeklong Summer Words soiree celebrates all things literary with author readings, panel discussions, and writing retreats moderated by an army of literary notables. Add to the mix Jazz Aspen Snowmass' multiweekend showcase, which offers a diverse lineup of jazz musicians and ensembles, from Jamie Cullum to Smokey Robinson. Our suggestion, if the timing is right (2009's June dates overlapped): Do a little of both—creative inspiration by day, rhythm and blues by night, all enhanced by the timeless allure of Aspen. Multiple venues, Aspen. Aspen Summer Words, 970-925-3122; Jazz Aspen, 970-920-4996
Mile High Music Festival
Last summer's inaugural weekend music extravaganza at Dick's Sporting Goods Park bowled us over here in the Mile-High—not to mention the scores of fans who traveled hundreds of miles to see the likes of Tom Petty, Dave Matthews, and John Mayer. The sun was hot, the lines were long, the beers in demand...but, all said and done, nearly 100,000 folks left their cares behind to groove at Colorado's largest-ever national band explosion. Headlining in '09 are Tool, Widespread Panic, and the Fray. July 18 to 19, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, 303-727-3535
Junior College World Series
Grand Junction has hosted the Junior College World Series for the better part of five decades, and it might be the most exciting baseball in the state. (Sorry, Rockies.) If you get there on the tournament's opening day, you'll see more than 30 innings of top-notch baseball. A 19- game pass for a week's worth of games is $30 for adults and $25 for students and seniors. Games start in late May. 970-245-9166
Cheer up, Rox fans. There's an upside to having a professional baseball team that isn't so hot this year: You can always get a ticket. Show up early and get autographs, then stalk the left-field bleachers for batting-practice home runs. For anyone with kids in tow, keep in mind that the third-base side of Coors Field is the best if you're looking for a shady place to sit.
By Patrick Doyle
A night of bar-hopping after work is always fun—a drink here, a second down the street, and before you know it you've hit five bars and have a (beer) pitcher full of stories. But here's the rub: You can't drive home, and cabs tax the wallet. With that in mind, we suggest the Light Rail Pub Crawl: Grab an RTD day pass ($6-$12), follow our ingenious map of rail-adjacent watering holes, and quaff your way home—the safe way.
Pepsi Center Although the ski lodge--like Blue Sky Grill only serves drinks when the Pepsi Center is open, it's one of our favorite spots to imbibe. Hop off the train, grab a Molson draft, and rub elbows with game-goers. Stadium closed? Walk over to the always-open Brooklyn's in the Pepsi Center parking lot.
Union Station The classic (and stiff) cocktails at the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel have been keeping taxis in business since 1933. Order a dry martini or a Manhattan. If the Cruise Room is packed, head next door to McCormick's, where bartenders make the same drinks in a more casual environment. Hop on the light rail at Union Station.
16th Street Mall and California Most of the bars in the business district lack a genuineness we crave in our bars; thankfully, there's a bastion of cool at the laid-back Appaloosa Grill. Happy hour microbrew drafts like Blue Paddle and Denver Pale Ale ring in at $3.
10th and Osage Just south of downtown, the light rail pulls in across the street from the legendary Buckhorn Exchange, a steak house that's been in business since 1893. If you need to soak up some of the alcohol, grab the rattlesnake or fried alligator tail appetizer. Your drink of choice: whiskey.
Louisiana and Pearl Street Hop off the southeast line at Louisiana and Pearl, walk a block west, and pull up a bar stool at Hanson's Grill and Tavern. Grab a velvety Guinness or a pint from the rotating New Belgium tap.
Downtown Littleton At this point in your evening, your final destination should reflect your mood. Looking for a glass of wine to wind down? Kate's Wine Bar in Old Town Littleton offers more than two dozen wines by the glass. Want to keep pounding until the bars close? Grab some longnecks at Old Towne Tavern (across the street from Kate's) and watch a game. Just be sure to hop the last light rail home: 2:09 a.m. for a southbound train; 12:50 a.m. for a northbound one.
Orchard Way Down south, the new Village Shops at Landmark offer a bunch of restaurants and bars, but we recommend the latest outpost of Lime for a fine coin-style margarita. The last southbound train typically leaves the station at 2:16 a.m.; northbound at 1:03 a.m.
Christian Vande Velde
He was supposed to be in contention to win the Tour de France this year—that is, until a crash at the Giro d'Italia a few months ago left Christian Vande Velde of Boulder's Garmin-Slipstream team with three fractured vertebrae, two fractured ribs, and a hairline fracture of the pelvis. Can he still compete? See page 102 to read more about the 33-year-old cyclist.
Just the fact that this Park Hill fan fave came home would have been enough for you, but let's not undersell our hometown hero: Billups saved the Nuggets' season. Sure, they lost the conference championship, but who knows if the Nugs would've gotten that far without the man teammates call "Smooth." Chauncey is a pro's pro, a guy willing to sacrifice personal stats for the good of his team. And he does it every game. Any fan anywhere can cheer for a player like that.
In these troubled economic times, you need a columnist who's going to boil issues down to the basics—and put a smile on your face. For the second consecutive year, we're going with Al Lewis, the former Denver Post business columnist who now works for the Dow Jones Newswire. Whether he's writing about used furniture, bank bailouts, or the closure of Linens 'n Things, he addresses issues with clarity, brevity, and—best of all—wit.
A progressive ideologist who's not afraid to stick it to both sides of the aisle, this Denver-based columnist/author/blogger/activist seems to be popping up all over the cable dial and has fast become a recognized media face outside the Mile-High. Sirota's writing also appears in more than 40 newspapers across the country, including the Denver Post.
Anchored by the luminous voices of Genny and Esmé Patterson and Sarah Anderson, this quirky septet's melodic, rootsy sound frequently sweeps through local joints like the Hi-Dive or Larimer Lounge on weekend nights. To fully appreciate Paper Bird's joyful depth and range, you can catch them at this year's Mile High Music Festival.
Despite being anything but prolific—the Greeley quartet took almost four years to write 10 songs and compile them into its eponymous second album—the Fray is our readers' pick for the second straight year. We look forward to hearing the band's head bob-able brand of piano pop on many a teenage-angst movie soundtrack for years to come.
Dom and Jane, MIX 100 FM
For 10 years, this tag team has enlivened Denver's morning commute with talk, music, quizzes, and live-audience Fridays. The Jane Report—a snarky rundown of the day's celebrity news—is especially amusing. At a time when shock-jocks and over-the-top antics routinely win the ratings wars, these two keep it good-natured, lively, and real.
Bret Saunders, KBCO, 97.3 FM
Given his enduring popularity among local listeners—who enjoy his reliable mix of amiable anecdotes, rock 'n' roll knowledge, and funny-yet-intelligent banter—we may soon have to rename this the "Bret Saunders Award." Catch his shtick during the weekday-morning drive time.
Ryan Warner, KCFR (NPR), 90.1 FM
With his evenhanded approach and smartly delivered interviews, the gentle-voiced host of Colorado Matters sometimes makes it easy to forget that he works for the notoriously left-leaning NPR. His show touches on a wide range of issues important to all Coloradans and does it in a way that educates and enlightens. Listen Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and again at 7 p.m.
Jay Marvin, AM 760
The onetime, self-described "house liberal," Jay Marvin has attracted a growing, devoted audience from across the political spectrum by sprinkling in doses of libertarianism that play well in the Mile-High City. Talk radio is too often overrun by broadcast blowhards, but Marvin tries to inject a little humanity into his weekday morning shows, and he usually succeeds.
David Wroblewski's literary debut, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is a masterpiece so elegantly crafted as to land him the Oprah Book Club seal of approval and countless other national accolades. The coming-of-age novel, packed with vivid imagery and ardent language, skillfully brings to life both human and animal personae as it draws the reader into its pages. It's an unexpected diamond in the rough in today's quick-lit landscape.
This Boulder-based scribe burst onto the literary scene with Beneath a Marble Sky in 2006, followed it up smashingly with Beside a Burning Sea in 2008, and is launching hit number three—Dragon House—a tale of power, sacrifice, love, and redemption in Vietnam, this fall. His poignant story lines and vivid drama make for honest-to-goodness page-turners, and Shors' finely honed knack for bringing history to life gives his work depth and context that set it apart from others in its genre.
Jared Polis, who was elected in November to Mark Udall's old congressional seat, is the kind of smart, young guy with legitimate business experience that's all too often lacking in the lawyer-heavy Democratic Party. And although much has been made over his being the first openly gay member of Congress to be elected to a freshman term, it's clear he's far more conservative than many of his fellow Dems. In December, while Washington, D.C., was scrambling to find a way to save the Big Three automakers, Polis penned a prescient editorial in the Wall Street Journal advising that bankruptcy might be the best option. Four months later, President Obama took the same tack.
It's little surprise our readers picked President Obama as their favorite newly elected politician: In November, he became only the third Democratic presidential candidate in the past 50 years to take Colorado. To win, Obama spread a lot of love and spent a lot of time in our square state during the campaign. Obama should tread carefully, though: He also finished second in our Readers' Choice for Top Politician to Vote Out of Office.
Truthfully, it was kinda hard to come up with someone deserving of this award—mostly because we've recently rid ourselves of so many bad apples. To wit: The 4th Congressional District voted Marilyn Musgrave out of office last November; Tom Tancredo (thankfully) retired; and State House Rep. Doug Bruce couldn't even win his primary this past August.
5280 readers ain't so happy with Governor Ritter, who's seen his once-deep political well dry up. He campaigned across the state for Amendment 58, which would eliminate tax breaks for energy companies, only to see it fail spectacularly at the polls in November. In January, Ritter upset the Democratic faithful—not to mention allies Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and former speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff—when he plucked Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, to replace Ken Salazar as U.S. senator. Ritter's popularity, once at 70 percent, has dropped to a paltry 50 percent. Ritter better hope it doesn't fall any farther in the next 18 months—he faces re-election in 2010.
Ephemeral moments of a nude woman on her bed. A graceful ballerina at the bar. Energetic chefs working in a Denver kitchen. With Denver's Quang Ho, you're never entirely sure what you're going to get when it comes to subject matter. What you do know is that it will be absolutely gorgeous—highly textured oils give each painting a breath of life, and Ho's use of color makes his work glow. The Vietnam-born artist, who has lived in Denver for decades, teaches at the Art Students League of Denver and owns his own gallery, Gallery 1261. Gallery 1261, 1261 Delaware St., 303-571-1261
If Tim Burton and Marilyn Manson were to create art together, you might get something as explicit and thought-provoking as the sculptures, illustrations, and photography that come from the mind of Denver artist Chris Guarino. Although Guarino works out of his home studio, his work is often displayed at Rock the Cradle and Motorsports Gallery.
Franki Morales Cook
Although she only began designing jewelry full-time in 2003, Franki Morales Cook's work can already be seen in boutiques across the country. A self-taught artist, her "Out of My Hands" collection ranges from a classic aesthetic—an abalone and pearl bracelet—to a found-object approach, like a Gustav Klimt portrait pendant decorated with crystals and set in an antique frame. See her work in the Denver Art Museum gift shop. 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, 720-865-4488
Lizzie Sarah Designs
A University of Denver international relations graduate, Samantha Sussman turned her passion for designing jewelry into a regular gig after a search for the "perfect job" proved unsuccessful. Letting her interest in far-flung locales spur her creative process, Sussman's gold and sterling-silver jewelry uses beads and items found during her travels abroad (Peru, Israel, Jordan, Egypt) as accents for her fun, colorful, and one-of-a-kind pieces.
CUBS Bags & Accessories
Boulder businesswomen Judy Godec and Alexis Baile got the fairly brilliant, environmentally sound, and increasingly profitable idea of collecting fabric remnants from local manufacturers that otherwise would have gone into a landfill, and turning them into custom-made handbags. The often high-quality fabrics also grace diaper bags, pet beds, and scarves. The CUBS (Cool Usable Belongings Sustainable) line is unique, gorgeous, and crafted in Boulder County. 1740 Skyway Drive, Unit B, Longmont, 303-547-6220
Drop Shots Tennis and Golf for Kids
Let's face it: Tennis and golf aren't the most toddler-friendly sports (hand-eye coordination anyone?). That fact got Matt Nelsen, the owner-operator of Centennial-based Drop Shots, thinking: Why shouldn't these activities be available to young kids? So he opened Drop Shots, where everything is miniaturized to fit the physical needs of kids. Of course, Nelsen doesn't promise that he'll turn your child into a Tiger Woods or Venus Williams, but he'll do his best to make sure your little ones have fun and develop fundamental skills. 8263 S. Holly St., Centennial, 720-276-0550; 8433 Park Meadows Center Drive, Lone Tree, 720-276-0550
In 2005, the chief cardiac surgeon at Children's Hospital asked a customer-service researcher to evaluate the satisfaction level of former patients—more specifically, the patients' parents. That researcher, Peg Ayan, not only discovered that the hospital could improve its bedside manner with the parents of severely ill children, she also took it upon herself to do so and formed the hospital's all-volunteer welcome program. Ayan or a member of her team is often the first person who greets parents at the door of the hospital, tends to their concerns, and is with them to the end, whether it be a successful surgery or an unthinkable reality.
Women's Global Empowerment Fund
Founded two years ago by Denver resident Karen Sugar, the Women's Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) works to reach poor and marginalized women around the world and helps them create viable opportunities to succeed. Since 2007, the nonprofit has arranged for about 900 women in impoverished northern Uganda to secure microcredit loans to start businesses and live lives otherwise impossible. 303-520-7656
Often the criticism leveled at Jason Bane's ColoradoPols.com is that it's driven by a liberal bias and trades in too much gossip. Well, duh. Welcome to the blog-osphere, where anyone can pretty much write anything he damn well pleases. Sure, ColoradoPols.com is infused by a Democratic agenda, and there's plenty of sophomoric mudslinging, but despite those facts, ColoradoPols.com is chock-full of valuable analysis about the politics of politics in Colorado.
"Helping Denver suck less, daily." That's the mission statement of TheDenverEgotist.com. Ostensibly, the site is dedicated to all things advertising—who's doing what campaigns, how, for how much, job opportunities, that sort of thing. But, really, TheDenverEgotist.com is a hilariously honest cultural commentary that transcends the ad game.
U.S. congressman Jared Polis told a convention of politically progressive bloggers: "I have to say that when we say, 'Who Killed the Rocky Mountain News,' we're all part of it, for better or worse, and I argue it's mostly for the better.... The media is dead, and long live the new media, which is all of us." Polis meant that Internet-based commerce and journalism had undermined the Rocky, but, regardless of whether we agree, it was, at best, a poorly phrased and insensitively timed statement. Look, we think Polis has the makings of an effective U.S. congressman [see Top Newly Elected Politician], but part of being a great statesman is knowing how to speak your mind without belittling people.
Imagine a radio talk-show host referring to U.S. congresswoman Diana DeGette as "Vagina DeGette"—no, that's not a typo—and you've got KHOW's morning mouthpiece, Peter Boyles. At a time when the nation appears to be attempting to focus on issues, and the electorate has had enough of politics of personal destruction, Boyles is doing his part to pollute the civic discourse. Thanks to the First Amendment, Boyles can call a congresswoman whatever he wants. Fortunately, we can simply change the dial.
With its extensive selection of hip casual wear, Rebel is the perfect place to pick up a new pair of jeans, a cozy sweater, or a cool cotton blazer. Owner Robyn Bairstow's breezy California style features on-trend clothing by the kind of classic, easygoing brands Denver women favor. Check out T-shirts by Michael Stars and Splendid, pants by Twill 22, and relaxed separates by Language and Trina Turk. 5910 S. University Blvd., 720-283-1004
With the average price of a T-shirt at $60 and jeans coming in at $150, the word "affordable" is definitely a relative term. But Nordstrom is a savvy retailer; the store's T.B.D., Narrative, and Point of View departments all offer up career and casual clothing by Halogen, MICHAEL Michael Kors, and Kenneth Cole, with much of it retailing for under $200. Multiple locations
With its offering of cool casual wear for men, Weekends brings together a great selection of brands under one roof. Check out cult favorites like handmade, organic denim by Nudie, T-shirts by Hozell, and shirts by Modern Amusement. Of course, if you like your fashion a little more familiar, the store also carries top men's lines like Converse by John Varvatos, polos by Lacoste, and separates from Vince. 1200 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-4231
What separates MetroBoom from the rest of the fashion pack is the store's focus on style guidance for men. Owner Jung Park has created an intimate space that offers men an edited selection of clothing, but he really emphasizes creating a total look through grooming services, image consulting, bespoke tailoring, and personal shopping. 1550 Platte St., Suite A/B, 303-477-9700
Owned by mother-and-daughter team Christy and Casey Rosen, this Cherry Creek North shop features chic-yet-casual wardrobe options that are never basic or boring. Jewel-toned silk dresses by Calypso, separates by Elizabeth and James, soft jersey dresses by Rachel Pally's, and novelty blouses from Catherine Malandrino are all beautifully arranged by color, making them easy to peruse and difficult to leave on the rack. 222 Steele St., 303-399-7779, and 1717 Champa St., 303-292-2245
Women have been flocking to Delish Demure for its unique mix of clothing and approachable style. Never overly trendy or too traditional, owner Lauren Metz strikes the right balance by offering realistic dressing solutions, regardless of whether it's career clothing or everyday lounge wear. You'll want to buy that Rebecca & Drew shirtdress for next week's meeting in the office, but don't be surprised if you can't help but nab a pair of jeans by J&Company for the weekend. 8000 E. Belleview Ave., Suite D10, Greenwood Village, 303-740-1100
If you're going to splurge on a single wardrobe item, then Lawrence Covell is the place to do it. A standout in town for its service and designer collections like Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, and Etro, this 42-year-old specialty store has made a name for itself by offering clothing that is always modern yet timeless enough that you don't mind shelling out for it. 225 Steele St., 303-320-1023
Although our female readers chose Nordstrom as their favorite affordable store, the men picked it as their number one place to splurge—and that may say a whole lot about gender-specific shopping habits. Maybe Denver's men dig Nordstrom because it offers one-stop shopping—from denim and blazers to suits, ties, shoes, and pajamas—that just can't be beat. Multiple locations
A tough economy hasn't derailed newbie Delish Demure from successfully giving women a unique shopping format to explore since last August. The store's "Work," "Play," "Night Out," "Relax," and "Indulge" mini-departments assist women in discovering their style and focusing their shopping experience. And if you're really in a wardrobe funk, ask owner Lauren Metz about her consulting and wardrobe design services. 8000 E. Belleview Ave., Suite D10, Greenwood Village, 303-740-1100
Located in Olde Town Arvada, Stella B's bright, colorful space features casual clothing and fun accessories that are easy on the wallet. Look for laid-back wardrobe pieces like maxi dresses by Gypsy 05, shrunken cardigans by Project E, and tanks and T-shirts by Testament. You may even have money left over to accent your finds with multihued stretch bracelets by Tarina Tarantino or a cute clutch by Lyla Black. 7504 Grandview Ave., Arvada, 303-425-3688
Carla Morrison Fine Jewelry
This Boulder-based goldsmith and designer has been creating fine jewelry for more than two decades, but 2009 is her year to sparkle. Morrison's jewelry is finally receiving national recognition for combining couture-level craftsmanship with her signature organic style. Walk-ins are welcome in the studio from Tuesday through Saturday to view limited-production pieces as well as one-of-a-kind baubles. Or you can discuss a custom-made item with the designer herself. 2017 10th St., Suite A, Boulder, 720-564-9285
Hyde Park Jewelers
From exotic gold bangles by Yossi Harari to platinum-and-diamond engagement rings by Chad Allison Couture, Hyde Park houses some of the world's finest and best-known jewelry brands. Denverites adore this 33-year-old jeweler for both its wide selection of shimmering treasures and its outstanding customer service. 3000 E. First Ave., 303-333-4446
Settled into its new, more spacious digs, Garbarini now has even more room to help you find the pair of jeans that makes your booty bootylicious. With brands like Hudson, Adriano Goldschmied, Union, and Denim of Virtue to choose from, the super-helpful staff members pull styles they think will get the job done. Timothy Rollins, in particular, makes you feel like he wouldn't steer you wrong—and somehow even makes you truly believe that the smaller size does indeed show off your fabulous assets. 3003 E. Third Ave., 303-333-8686
The Garment District
It's hard to argue with our readers on this one: The Garment District is the place where Denver goes to get its denim on—and Denver knows denim. Seven for all Mankind, Rock & Republic, Joe's, and a handful of other top-notch designers line the shelves of this South Colorado Boulevard institution. Check out "Classically Denver" for a little history on Denver's favorite denim destination. 2595 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-757-3371
We love popping into this shop to ogle we-never-knew-we needed-that home accessories like Alessi's quirky wine openers and Iittala Aarne cocktail glasses. So we were devastated when we spied the "For Lease" sign on the storefront a few months back. The good news? Urban Lifestyle isn't closing up shop, but just moving down a few blocks to combine operations with Crush salon. The perfect combination for a gift certificate? Perhaps. Gift-giving crisis averted? You bet. 1441 Wazee St., 303-572-7900
From the outside, this gift emporium looks like your typical Cherry Creek North store (read: expensive), but inside the jam-packed space brims over with cheap steals (Curly Girl and letterpress cards), high-quality ceramics (like designs from Longmont-based Thea Tenenbaum), quirky kids' clothing (ask the clerk for additional sizes), and enough scarves to make Stevie Nicks happy. After more than three decades of business spent supporting local artists and serving as Denver's go-to gift shop, we wouldn't expect anything less. 2757 E. Third Ave., 303-333-1201
The Denver Book Mall
We love spending a lazy afternoon tooling around the used bookstores on South Broadway, but we often wind up whiling away hours and hours at the Denver Book Mall. The Western history section is a gold mine for old maps (aka $5 wall art), and with more than 20 vendors under one roof the prices are competitive. To wit: On one trip we found the same newish paperback with three different vendors and slapped down just $4 for the one in the best condition. 32 Broadway, 303-733-3808
Capitol Hill Books
A quiet respite from the craziness of Colfax Avenue and the suits scrambling around at the Capitol, this intimate bookstore has been a cornerstone of the Capitol Hill neighborhood for nearly 30 years. The computerized inventory helped bring this shop into the modern era, but the precariously balanced, dusty shelves stacked with books make sure the place still feels—and smells—like a proper used bookstore. 300 E. Colfax Ave., 303-837-0700
Murder by the Book
We've gotta be honest: The Tattered Cover is the best bookstore in Denver. Period. But if you're talking about niche books—specifically mystery stories—this mini-shop on Old South Pearl is the best specialty bookstore in the Mile-High. Complete with a shop cat named Bruce and a chalk outline of a book lover on the cement outside, this place has a spooky, raise-the-hair-on-your-neck kind of charm. Ask about the store's book club and its upcoming author events. 1574 S. Pearl St., 303-871-9401
Tattered Cover Book Store
We know it's hard to pick your favorite Tattered Cover location—after all, each has its own unique character. The 22,000-square-foot Highlands Ranch operation sprawls on forever and boasts a massive children's book section. The LoDo store is packed with literary types on lunch breaks and has the best cafe of the bunch. And the Lowenstein Theatre is the perfect retrofitted home for the Colfax Avenue store. Read more about this Denver spot in "Classically Denver." Multiple locations
Shopping this hipster haven in the trendy Riverfront neighborhood will cure anyone's wardrobe blues. Every visit finds us revving up our same-old ensembles with no-one-else-has-them accent pieces, like peacock-feather brooches, sculptural leather dangle earrings, or sweet, retro satin hair bows. Sophisticated silk-patterned scarves? Check. Sparkly leg warmers? Check. Knit berets, glam shades, lace belts? One of each, please. Even if the labels aren't designer—which they usually aren't—the point is that this eclectic space is filled with sassy extras that give us a little added oomph at pleasingly affordable prices. 1543 Platte St., 303-433-4633; 1500 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-1799
We can't disagree—you, dear readers, have impeccable taste. We are pining away for every Lauren Merkin clutch stocked in this fabulous Cherry Creek gem, and have been eyeing the affordable Solas beaded belts for months. From adorable tweed fedoras to drapey metal chain necklaces, DS Additions is a fail-safe spot to find tastefully subtle flair for any outfit. 2432 E. Third Ave., 303-322-3531
Wine is confusing—intimidating even. There are appellations and terroirs, and, for crying out loud, the Europeans don't label their wines the same as we do on this side of the pond. Which is why Divino is so flat-out awesome. You could have a temperature-controlled cellar with hundreds of aging Bordeaux, or you could be the guy who drinks $8 bottles on a regular basis—either way, the down-to-earth staff at Divino simply doesn't care. These experts will steer you to whatever you want (a $50 Burgundy or a $10 Australian Shiraz), or turn you on to something new (ever try an Italian Ruché?)—all the while imparting their great knowledge of wine without the slightest hint of condescension. 1240 S. Broadway, 303-778-1800
A well-curated wine selection, a staff that knows grapes—and beer—inside and out, and a fantastic location at the corner of 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard in Highlands Square: It's no wonder Mondo Vino is our readers' pick for yet another year. 3601 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-3858
Argonaut Wine & Liquor
The problem with the old Argonaut wasn't the volume of its beer selection—which was huge. It was the contents that left us wanting: too much Coors Light and not enough esoteric beer-snob stuff. (Hey, this is Colorado, after all.) When we headed to the new and improved Argonaut after it opened last year, we were not only impressed with the 49 refrigerators, we also dug the new inventory. Sure, you can still find the Silver Bullet, but you can also find Oskar Blues' amazing Gordon and Rogue Morimoto Hazelnut Ale from Oregon. We'll drink to that. 760 E. Colfax Ave., 303-831-7788
Wilderness Exchange Unlimited
The good folks at Wilderness Exchange bring the best closeout and overstock deals to their small retail space on 15th Street, just one block north of REI. Fret not about the quality: Every piece of gear (backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, climbing harnesses, etc.) comes from top-notch manufacturers like Mountain Hardwear and Marmot. Quick tip: Be sure to visit the downstairs nook filled with gently used gear, where even better deals can be had. 2401 15th St., 303-964-0708
Quite simply, REI is the one-stop shop for all things gear-related: bikes, tents, backpacks, rock-climbing tools, kayaks, hiking boots, skis, sunglasses, wick-away socks, freeze-dried food, maps, gloves, and on and on and on. If you can't find it at REI, it may not actually exist. Multiple locations
Meininger Art Supply
We couldn't agree more with our readers. We searched high and low to find a diamond in the rough, but there's no denying Meininger's supremacy—after all, where else can you score a hard-to-find mop brush, a $180 Parker 100 ballpoint pen, and a kids' sand-sculpting kit under one roof? 499 Broadway, 303-698-3838
We'll admit that we have a bit of a shoe fetish, and the only prescription for this feevah is more kicks. With that in mind, we head to the 400. Last-pair Adidas, Nikes, and Pumas can be had for as little as $40, while the super-mac-daddy new releases will set you back $140 or more. Either way, you're getting killer footwear you'd never expect to find in Denver. Even if you're not a devout sneakerhead, sign up for the store's e-mail list—the shoe porn is worth a look every now and again. 1535 Platte St., 303-446-0400
A wedge-tacular experience in the Highland neighborhood, Strut's super-cool, minimalist space is a welcome stop for any gal looking to expand her footwear portfolio. If a pair of Coclicos is a little out of your price range this summer, take a walk to the back of the store and pick up a discounted pair of strappy Biviel sandals. 3611 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-3361
Zen Dog Pet Boutique
This small LoHi shop has all the perks your pooch could want (Sauvignon Bark, Fido?), but what makes Zen truly special is owner Alex E'Aton, who might understand your four-legged friend better than you do. Allergies, bad breath, the sniffles—whatever seems to be ailing your furry friend, she often knows what to do. And if you play nice, E'Aton might even throw some sample treats your pup's way. 2401 15th St., Suite 180, 303-744-7067
In the bowwow business for almost 10 years, Mouthfuls' menu of decadent treats—doggie pizza slices, canine caviar, and peanut butter cookies—could make a human salivate. What's more, the boutique is well-stocked in fashionable and weather-conscious threads by Ruffwear for every puppy's personality. Next time you stop by, bring Fifi along—the shop welcomes canine visitors with open arms and goodies to boot. 4224 Tennyson St., 720-855-7505
Feminine, flirty, and fun, this sparsely decorated room lined with racks of white frocks offers Denver's brides-to-be an unpretentious yet chic option for finding "The Dress." Bonus: Paired with the flagship location of Sara Gabriel Veiling and Headpieces, Anna Bé has the city's bridal market cornered. 3215 Zuni St., 720-855-1111
Watson & Co
Let's face it: Furniture shopping is hard—it's expensive, it's overwhelming, it's just not as easy as picking up a pair of gorgeous heels. That is, unless you're talking about an afternoon at Watson & Co. Offering a wide selection of styles—everything from traditional leather couches to animal-print chairs—this South Broadway shop can outfit your home no matter what your preferred look. 1524 S. Broadway, 303-777-8087
American Furniture Warehouse
It may not be for label-conscious buyers, but AFW serves its purpose well. Delivering low-cost, wear-and-tear-worthy furniture in an accessible and friendly environment, these megastores (there are 12 in the state) are hard to knock—especially in these turbulent economic times. Multiple locations
Decade's selection of baby-bump duds trends toward fashionable and fun. But let's be honest: The low price tag is really the key. After all, these clothes have an oh-so-short wearing season. Of course, there are other places in town to buy cute, high-quality maternity clothes, but unless you hit them during a sale, the receipt reads more like a mortgage statement than an afternoon shopping trip. 56 S. Broadway, 303-733-2288
A Pea in the Pod
You can find nearly anything you'll need for the next nine months at this national chain, but for summertime preggos we recommend A Pea in the Pod specifically for its selection of swimwear. Sure, it feels a little odd to be showing off the bod right now, but when the thermometer hits 97 degrees you're going to need something you can get wet in. 2751 E. First Ave., 303-355-9905
This Littleton-based business is about all things baby. You'll find bath and body products for mom and kiddo, cloth diapers, infant apparel, blankets, and more. But Sweet Beginnings goes beyond a great retail shopping experience: This independently owned company strives to provide all-around wellness for mothers-to-be and new mothers through classes on pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, postpartum issues, and parenting. 5767 S. Rapp St., Littleton, 303-317-5795
Just check out these brands, folks: Zutano, Appaman, Baby Lulu, Mimi & Maggie, Blabla, Radio Flyer, Thomas & Friends, B.O.B. strollers, Bugaboo, Nurseryworks, Cloud B, My Blankee, and Dwell. The list goes on and on. If you can't find what you're looking for at this Highlands Square baby bonanza, your kid probably doesn't need it. 3616 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-2229
Sweet William Market
On the last Saturday of the summer months (May through September), the Stapleton neighborhood hosts an outdoor market that brims with home and garden accessories, from refurbished furniture and funky wall art to gotta-have-'em trinkets. We found a corner cabinet and a beautiful oil painting in one quick walk-through. The open-air bazaar blossoms from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Founders' Green, a grassy area adjacent to the 29th Avenue Town Center. East 29th Avenue and Syracuse Street, 303-204-8215
BellaLu Home & Design
Accessories are what differentiate your home (slapdash arrangements of clutter bought on sale at Michaels; $49 rugs from Target) from those with a more refined, professionally designed look. BellaLu's experts can help you replace your haphazard trimmings with handmade Loloi Rugs, lamps from Arteriors Home, high-end artificial plants from Atrium Foliage, and vases and candles from Global Views. 9595 E. County Line Road, Englewood, 303-768-8700
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.
People often wonder how Top of the Town really works. Here, we answer some of your most common questions.
Generally, each of the categories (new spa, sushi, etc.) has two winners: the readers' and Editors' Choices. Readers' Choice winners are picked democratically—whichever takes the most votes from our online ballot wins. The editors pick winners based on months and months of research. During this process we pay for all meals and services, and we do our research anonymously.
Absolutely not. Top of the Town results are entirely based on your ballots and our research; there is no connection between advertisers and winners. Period. Although some winners may later choose to advertise, or happen to be advertisers, advertising is in no way a requirement. Sure, we could make a few folks happy by "selling" winners, but in the long run we'd lose a lot more than we'd gain—like our credibility.
Easy. Go to www.5280.com, create an account, and cast your ballot. We have the ballot online in February and March, so stay tuned next year.
Tell your customers to get online and vote for you next year. (Remember: The ballot goes online in February.) And to help you spread the word to your customers, we'll post a Top of the Town "tool kit" on our website during that time, with downloadable marketing materials and links to our site and ballot.