Denver is changing—Union Station! A new outdoor music venue! More breweries!—and so is our annual list of the very best people, places, and experiences in and around the Mile High City. Our 18th compendium features dozens of new categories, including a whole lot more for adventure-seekers and families, plus the lowdown on where to spend special occasions and the best mountain towns for every season. There’s never been a more exciting time to live in Denver. Here’s why.
For our complete Top of the Town list for 2014, go to 5280.com/tott2014.
Answers to common questions about Top of the Town.
How does 5280 choose Top of the Town winners?
Our reporters pick winners for every category (taco, flower shop, ski/snowboard tune, and so on) based on months of exploring. We conduct our research anonymously and pay for all meals and services. Our readers also choose their favorites, casting their votes via our online ballot. You can find our editors’ choice winners in the pages ahead, while the readers’ choice winners—the business or person with the most votes—are published at 5280.com/tott2014 alongside the editors’ picks.
Don’t your advertisers automatically win?
Absolutely not. Top of the Town nods are based solely on our editorial staff’s research and your ballots; there is zero connection between advertisers and winners. The fact that some winners happen to be advertisers or later choose to advertise in the magazine does not influence our selections. Sure, we could make some folks happy by “selling” winners, but in the long run, we’d lose a lot more than we’d be gaining—like our integrity and credibility with you.
How do I get my business on the ballot?
Our readers’ choice ballot uses a write-in format, which means we don’t provide predetermined, multiple-choice options for our readers to choose from. Voters are free to suggest whatever business, service, shop, or person they deem worthy for each category.
I have a business that deserves an award. How can I win?
Let people know about Top of the Town voting. Contact an editor with your tip. Encourage your customers to vote for you in 2015. Note: The ballot goes online in February. To help you spread the word, we can make a Top of the Town “tool kit” available to you; it includes downloadable marketing materials and links to the ballot.
How can I vote?
Visit 5280.com (voting occurs online in February and March), sign in with your name and email address, and cast your ballot.
On The Town
Celebrate a special occasion with your special someone—on any budget.
Less than $50: There are few moments more om-inducing than striking Dancer pose amid the natural beauty of Red Rocks. This opportunity comes four times a summer (7 a.m. on July 26, August 2, August 9, and August 16) with Yoga on the Rocks ($12, yoga.redrocksonline.com). Afterward, stop off at the Golden Farmers’ Market (goldenfarmersmarket.org) and make a breakfast picnic of iced coffee, baked goods, and Western Slope peaches and cherries.
$50: One of Denver’s best-kept dining secrets (until now) is Cheap Date Night at Amerigo Delicatus Restaurant & Market (amerigodelicatus.com). Every Tuesday evening, this 40-seat Italian cafe serves couples two salads, two entrées, one dessert, and a bottle of wine for $50. The price is skimpy, but the experience is anything but.
$100: At Lower48 Kitchen (lower48kitchen.com) in Ballpark, an indulgent steak dinner means a dry-aged rib-eye big enough for two. The $74 cut arrives with condiments and a changing array of accoutrements (think grilled sun chokes or fork-smashed potatoes). Enjoy the 45-minute cook time wait by cozying up to the chef’s counter, ordering some wine, and perusing the “each” menu in which one-bite appetizers run $2 apiece.
Unlimited: When your fete takes you to Vail... Start the day with an overstuffed breakfast sandwich at Avon Bakery & Deli(avonbakeryanddeli.com). Grab a smoked turkey with Muenster to go; it’ll fit perfectly in your golf bag. Share it, and you’ll still have room for dinner at Mountain Standard(mtnstandard.com). Don’t miss the multilayered carrot cake with carrot-yuzu sorbet. For a nightcap, wander over to Restaurant Kelly Liken(kellyliken.com) and order a glass of Pedro Ximénez, a fine Spanish sherry designed for slow sipping.
The five people, places, and trends we’re keeping an eye on in 2014.
Peyton Manning: 5280-selected number one power broker John Elway may be this QB’s boss, but we’re focusing on St. Peyton (or, more accurately, his neck). With a bit of luck, he’ll be front-page news through early February.
Governor John Hickenlooper: Until November, tracking the Gov’s re-election chances will become a part-time job. Then the question becomes: What are his national ambitions?
The Gaylord rockies hotel and conference Center: Will this $800 million project be a shining example of regional cooperation or the launching pad for a corporate and governmental civil war between Denver and Aurora?
The rental market: If the flurry of residential construction doesn’t loosen up enough inventory, rent prices will continue to stay high, potentially presenting Denver with a cost-of-living crisis previously limited to the coasts.
Ramen: Around the nation, ramen houses are the restaurants with lines out the door. We’ve got Bones and Uncle (see page 194) and the soon-to-open Osaka Ramen—and we’re expecting several more shops to debut in the coming months.
Make The Trek
The best mountain towns by season.
Town: Crested Butte
What You’re Doing: Testing out your new fat tires next to a wildflower meadow before chowing down on pizza at Secret Stash (303 Elk Ave., 970-349-6245, stashpizza.com).
What Clinched The Title: The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival (July 7 to 13, crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com)
What You’re Doing: Maxing out your camera’s memory card while hiking 3.2 miles (one way) to American Lake.
What Clinched The Title: Golden Leaf Half Marathon (September 27, goldenleafrace.com)
Town: Steamboat Springs
What You’re Doing: Confirming that the snow deserves the name “champagne powder” (it does) and then soaking your tired muscles at Strawberry Park Hot Springs (strawberryhotsprings.com).
What Clinched The Title: Winter Carnival (February 4 to 8, 2015, steamboatchamber.com)
What You’re Doing: Watching daredevil early-season kayakers fight the current from the patio at Rivers Edge restaurant (300 W. Sackett Ave., 719-207-4267).
What Clinched The Title: Bluegrass on the Arkansas (Dates TBD, bluegrassonthearkansas.org)
Bargain hunters won’t leave empty-handed from these top resale stores.
Because: There’s no shortage of “pre-loved,” high-end stock (think Frye boots and artisan jewelry) here—and we’re willing to pay a bit more than at other thrift shops for the upscale selection.
3440 W. 32nd Ave., 720-398-8843, secondlovedenver.com
Visit: Wilderness Exchange Unlimited
Because: It may be almost-neighbors with outdoor giant REI, but Wilderness Exchange thrives thanks to its niche affordability. Check out the consignment area downstairs to nab half-off discounts on brand-name gear such as base layers from Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear sleeping bags.
2401 15th St., Suite 100, 303-964-0708, wildernessexchangeunlimited.com
Visit: Home Again Furniture, Inc.
Because: With a wide variety of home furnishings and decor, from La-Z-Boys to Japanese vases, this one-stop shop is like a walk-in Craigslist. Bonus: They deliver.
1900 W. Mississippi Ave., 303-935-4889, usedfurnitureindenver.com
Not all movie theaters are created equal.
If you want to… recline your seat
Buy a ticket at… AMC Flatiron Crossing 14
61 W. Flatiron Crossing Drive, Broomfield, 303-256-2184, amctheatres.com
Because… sitting in a La-Z-Boy–style recliner (with sizeable armrests and cup holders!) gives you an at-home experience, with the added benefit of a giant screen. Tip: Pay the small fee to reserve your seat in advance, especially for hot new releases.
If you want to… enjoy dinner and a movie
Buy a ticket at… Alamo Drafthouse Littleton
7301 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, 720-588-4107, drafthouse.com/denver
Because… every movie is better with a glass of Pinot Noir (or a boozy milk shake) and a prosciutto and goat cheese sandwich in hand. Even better: Bottomless popcorn comes in a large bowl—just like at home—for $6.
If you want to… sip a beer
Buy a ticket at… Mayan Theatre
110 Broadway, 303-744-6799, landmarktheatres.com
Because… this 84-year-old, Art Deco–inspired theater has one bar and a lineup of some of the best indie and foreign cinema in town—and you won’t get any nasty glances for leaving your seat to grab a refill.
If you want to… take the kids
Buy a ticket at… a participating Regal or United Artists theater
Because… the nine-week Summer Movie Express program (which runs through August) gives kiddos the chance to see Adventures of TinTin or Rio 2 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for just a buck.
Keep The Change
It’s the universal dilemma: How much should I tip? We asked Mimi McCroskey, founder of Denver Etiquette Workshop (thedenveretiquetteworkshop.com), for a gratuity cheat sheet to help avoid being that customer.
Restaurant server 15–20 percent (before tax and/or happy hour discounts)
Food delivery and takeout 15–20 percent
Barista 15–20 percent (if ordering for the whole office; otherwise, not required)
Maid $2 per night
Hair stylist or manicurist 15 percent
Parking valet $2–$3
Taxi driver 15 percent
Doorman 50 cents–$1
Customer Service All-Stars
Readers commented on the best customer service they received this year. Here, a sampling.
“Front Range Boot Camp owner Robyn Morrisette assisted me while I was out with a personal illness by sending emails, running errands, having fellow boot campers send numerous cards, [and giving me] a welcoming return. What a way to make someone feel special and valued.”
“Lululemon gave me VIP treatment after I had catastrophic damage in the Estes Park flood. They gave me a new outfit, yoga mat, etc., plus passes to ‘Hanuman Presents: A Weekend Gathering to Benefit Colorado Flood Relief.’ They made a difference!”
“Bob Sullivan, manager at Christy Sports’ Englewood/Park Meadows location, outfitted our niece and nephew for a ski trip with our family. He not only selected the perfect gear for everyone, but he did so in a fantastically inclusive way that made these teens feel confident and adult. His knowledge of the sport and Colorado mountains was amazing, but his manner and customer service was tops. Bob really helped get them excited about the ski trip and helped dispel their natural anxiety.”
“I ordered a personalized Broncos-themed bracelet from Megan Kaltenbach two days before the game, and she personally delivered it to make sure my girlfriend had it in time.”
“Amore Fiori is amazing. They can put together something gorgeous at any price point. When my sister-in-law had her third child, we went there with her two older daughters to pick up some ‘welcome home’ flowers. The kids wanted to buy flowers for Mom with their own money, and the staff wrapped the single stems as carefully and as beautifully as they would have a large bouquet.”
“Humboldt made a major mistake with cooking my burger, but my server turned it around 100 percent. It made me feel welcome, and he continued to take care of our table with warmth and true hospitality. It totally made up for any kitchen mistakes.”
“Edge Restaurant in the Four Seasons is phenomenal. Unusually heavy traffic made us late for a Colorado Symphony Orchestra performance. The Edge staff took our orders over the phone, were incredibly accommodating to several food allergies, and made dining a delightful experience prior to the performance. We will dine at Edge before every CSO performance in the future.”
“The folks at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom are doing a great job. Even when they’re slammed (which is often because their bands have been excellent), the bar moves fast and everyone is friendly.”
“Frasca Food and Wine: Before my spoon even hit the floor after I knocked it off, it was replaced by the maître d’. Impeccable.”
“Mile High Wine and Spirits is all about customer service. They special-order kegs for us, recommend new ales based on our tastes, get great deals on wines, and have twice-a-week ale and wine tastings in the store.”
“As newcomers to Denver, we found our apartment and neighborhood (RiNo) thanks to a server at Old Major.”
Share more two-thumbs-up customer service stories in the comment box below.