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You’ve likely seen the books, even if you can’t quite summon the now widely recognized typographic covers. The 111 Places guidebooks, which have been published since 2008 by Emons Verlag in Cologne, Germany, aren’t your typical go-here-do-this, Lonely Planet–style manuals. Instead, each two-page “chapter”—one page of prose opposite a full-page photo—dives into 111 places within a city (or even an area within a city) that “you must not miss,” with in-depth reporting and nuanced writing rarely found in the travel-guide genre.
But until this month, there had been a noticeable hole in the series: Denver. Although there are roughly 500 existing titles to date—covering places like Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, New Orleans, and, eyebrow-raisingly, Columbus, Ohio—the Mile High City had yet to merit its own guidebook. Maybe that’s because the imprint was waiting for someone like Boulder County resident Philip D. Armour to draw up a proposal. A freelance journalist, editor, and author, with bylines in outlets like the New York Times and Outside, Armour says it was pretty easy to come up with the original 50 ideas he needed to get Emons interested in a Denver-focused guidebook. From there, he relied upon what he calls his “raw curiosity” to find locales that even editors at this magazine had never heard of. We sat down with Armour to talk about the new book, his favorite places at 5,280 feet, and what he couldn’t include (but wanted to!).
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Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
5280: So, what’s the significance of 111?
Philip Armour: Honestly, I’m not totally sure! I think 11 is a lucky number in the city of Cologne, but I don’t know why.
Well, that’s OK. You’re not supposed to be an expert on Cologne—but you’re pretty schooled on Denver, right?
I guess so. The research is still a bit of a blur. It took me about six months to come up with a working list and do some of the writing. But I was doing a lot of that right as the pandemic hit, so it became much more difficult to get time with people.
How did you decide what was worthy of inclusion?
There are so many great places, but I started with the familiar—the places I already knew—and started breaking them down into categories. When I realized I had, like, 25 museums, I knew I had to find a balance.
So, how many museums are in there?
Five…I think. Maybe six.
OK, what else did you want to find space for?
Denver is an outdoorsy place with a huge outdoor recreation industry. I’m a skier so I wanted to include Folsom Custom Skis. I’ve always liked the Millennium Bridge, so it was fun for me to include that. One day, I happened to walk by a place called Sacred Thistle. It was a fluke that I found this beautifully curated shop with flowers and plants and home goods. Other inclusions were more strategic—like, I had to go to a bunch of coffee shops before deciding Novo was the winner.
What didn’t make it into the pages that you were dying to include?
The Tattered Cover Book Store. But Emons doesn’t cover bookstores so as not to impact sales. Still, I was like, But it’s a cultural institution in Denver!
I wanted to put in more of the city’s dive bars. The Thin Man, the Brutal Poodle, others. That’s where people meet other people. If you drink alcohol, bar life is a phenomenon.
I had never heard about the Ghost Rider Boots—how did you happen upon small businesses like that for the guidebook?
Denver has an Old West mythology, and I was looking for a hat maker or a saddle maker or someone who works in tack. I just stumbled upon Mickey Mussett at Ghost Rider Boots; I’d never heard of him. But his boots are beautiful, and some of them go for thousands of dollars. John Hickenlooper has a pair. Talking to Denverites like him is what made making this book fun. He’s such a genuine person.
What did you learn about Denver that you didn’t already know before you wrote this guidebook?
I grew up in San Francisco, so I was used to going to the neighborhood tailor and cobbler and butcher. You know, the funky little places that fix your things or sell you your food every day. I didn’t think Denver had much of that left. It’s not everywhere, but it is there if you look. Gusterman Silversmiths was on Larimer Square for a long time; they fixed your heirlooms.
Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe is in your pages, too.
Yeah, I want those kinds of places to stick around. They’re the lifeblood of a city; they’re how a city regenerates itself.
After doing all this guidebook research, what would you say makes Denver special?
Because of where it’s located, Denver has always been at a crossroads. Everyone has always passed through. It became cool because of that, I think. Five Points became great when Black Americans migrated out of the South and ended up here. The Hispanic community has deep roots here. Now transplants are changing it again. It’s a mishmash of people who come to Denver as if it’s almost an unavoidable place—a train town, a road-trip stop—and then stay. The constant ebb and flow of people is what makes Denver special.
111 Places in Denver That You Must Not Miss is available for purchase ($23.95) at 111places.com