The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
We’ll come up with almost any excuse to abandon our office and get out and about. The best one we’ve managed so far: pulling together our annual guide to Denver’s best stuff. After months of hard work—that is, dinners out, cocktail tasting, shopping, concert-going—we finalized a list of 106 of the Mile High City’s top people, places, and experiences. Read up and hit the town. You’ve got some exploring to do.
Table of Contents:
How does 5280 choose the Top of the Town winners?
Our reporters and editors pick winners for every category on the ballot (dessert, bartender, outdoor gear, and so on) based on months of research. During this process, we do our research anonymously and pay for all meals and services. Our readers choose their favorites as well, casting their votes in our online ballot. You can find our editors’ choice winners in this issue, while the readers’ choice winners—chosen democratically according to which business or person receives the most votes online—are published on our website alongside the editors’ picks.
Don’t your advertisers automatically win?
Absolutely not. Top of the Town results are entirely based on our 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 a few folks happy by “selling” winners, but in the long run, we’d lose more than we’d gain—like our integrity and credibility with you, the reader.
How do I get my business on the ballot?
Our ballot is a write-in format, which means we do not provide predetermined, multiple-choice options on which to vote. Voters are free to suggest whatever business, service, shop, or person he or she deems worthy for each category.
I have a business that deserves an award. How can I win?
Spread the word about Top of the Town voting. Contact an editor with your tip. Tell your customers to vote for you in 2014. Remember: 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 our site and the ballot.
How can I vote?
Visit 5280.com (voting occurs online in February and March), create an account, and cast your ballot.
Denver’s food scene continues to wow us with its creativity and innovation. Impress a date or your mom—or, heck, yourself—with a visit to one of these tasty hot spots.
Udi’s Bread Cafe
Many Denver restaurants have stepped up their gluten-free games recently. Sometimes, though, our friends with celiac disease are simply in the mood for a good, straightforward sandwich. That’s when we head to Udi’s, which has found a way to bake gluten-free bread that doesn’t have the consistency of a graham cracker—or taste like cardboard. The Light Tuna and Big Apple Turkey never disappoint. Multiple locations
Bonnie Brae Tavern
Fans of knock-your-socks-off-spicy chile might overlook this version because of its more mild manner, but we hardly miss the heat. Tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, and, of course, green chiles are simmered with pork and various spices for a multilayered flavor. The resulting product enhances every dish it tops—eggs, burgers, even pizza—rather than incapacitating our taste buds for the rest of the meal. 740 S. University Blvd., 303-777-2262
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar
Most of us coastal transplants get our saltwater fixes by saddling up to the recently remodeled bar at Jax Denver for a platter of freshly shucked oysters. The LoDo standby serves as many as 12 varieties—all flown in daily—including the slightly sweet Kumamoto from the Pacific Northwest and the briny East Coast Emersum (sales of which help fund the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay). Order a glass of bubbly with your shellfish to turn an average afternoon into something worth celebrating. Multiple locations
This Larimer Square favorite, a pillar of Frank Bonanno’s restaurant empire, offers a menu loaded with authentic pizzas and panini that are approachable enough for family dinners but, served in the dimly lit space filled with gleaming dark wood, can also fuel a romantic date night. Pair your cocktails with a selection of house-cured meats and hand-made cheeses (we suggest the creamy Burrata) and time your visit to coincide with the Sunday night suckling pig special. 1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855
Dining at Kaos feels like a grown-up house party with wood-fired pies and Colorado microbrews replacing the frozen pizza and Bud Lights of yore. (The at-home vibe and rock music remain.) In a renovated Victorian house, Kaos whips up pies with crispy, charred crusts. Many are layered with veggies from local gardens, but we can’t resist the Smokestack’s combo of smoky bacon, poblano peppers, and a trifecta of cheeses (goat, mozzarella, and provolone). The service isn’t always stellar, but we can overlook that for a greasy slice. 1439 S. Pearl St., 303-733-5267
Partially concealed behind the garden on the bottom level of downtown Denver’s Sakura Square, this nondescript restaurant has a menu packed with traditional items—udon, curries, rice bowls, and more—but the ramen is the real draw. Of the eight available, the miso ramen is the standout. Japanese-born chef Jun Watanabe combines miso with stock to create a rich, silky broth that’s ladled over al dente noodles, tender slices of pork, boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and green onion. We slurped to the last drop as we contemplated a return visit. The $20 bill (for two) made it a sure thing. 1255 19th St., Unit A, 303-292-2323
Order the mixed duo of sliders—one for the vegetarian, one for the carnivore—to appease everyone at the table. The veggie patty is a doughy combo of sunflower seeds, broccoli, carrots, barley, lentils, mushrooms, and bread crumbs that’s fried and topped with jalapeño jam and sprout salad. The lamb option equally satisfies with a stimulating blend of chile flakes, garlic, cumin, parsley, and harissa aïoli mellowed out by aged white cheddar and mint-garlic yogurt. 1600 W. 33rd Ave., 303-993-4200
When chef Frank Bonanno morphed a long beloved dive hangout, Lancer Lounge, into the Vesper Lounge this past winter, we weren’t sure what to expect of our food order. We should have known that a Bonanno kitchen wouldn’t just slap any old bar snack on the menu. The hot, salted fries arrive dusted with aromatic baharat—a beguiling Middle Eastern spice blend that includes black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. Bet you can’t eat just one. 233 E. Seventh Ave., 720-328-0314
True Food Kitchen
Your three-course dining itinerary (sorry, we couldn’t pick just one thing): Start with the colorful vegetable crudités with tzatziki and black olive dipping sauces, followed by the delicate, savory edamame dumplings with daikon radish sprouts and white truffle oil. Then, complete the meal with the hearty spaghetti squash casserole—you won’t miss the pasta-based original, guaranteed. 2800 E. Second Ave., 720-509-7661
Leaf & Crumb
Being across from the vacant University of Colorado Hospital isn’t an ideal location for a cupcake shop, but owner and former pharmacology student Jennifer Akina felt right at home when she opened her bakeshop there last fall. Most important, she understands the chemistry behind a perfect cupcake. Leaf & Crumb is about craft and nuanced flavors. The best examples of that effort: the Thai tea with Swiss buttercream and a caramel drizzle and the hazelnut rooibos topped with chocolate Swiss buttercream. 4416 E. Eighth Ave., 303-355-0022
The Inventing Room
We rarely pass up dessert. Thus, our frustration that the treat we most crave isn’t on a regular menu. In January, Ian Kleinman, the mad scientist chef behind the Inventing Room’s molecular gastronomy eats, brought back his doughnut pop-up shop, a four-day special event at Bittersweet (held once before at Table 6). We devoured made-to-order, sugar-flaked, velvety doughnuts topped with a smorgasbord of treats (think chocolate Pop Rocks and exploding whipped cream)—and couldn’t stop. Peanut butter and jelly. Bananas Foster. Lemon curd brûlée. Now we just have to wait until the shop pops up again: July 17 to 20 at Biker Jim’s from 6 to 10 a.m. 303-885-2802
Sweet Action Ice Cream
Broadway shoppers, hipster bar flies, and in-the-know families flock to this always-buzzing shop for the eclectic assortment of flavors (sour cream and chive, anyone?). We’re told that regulars are keen on the salted butterscotch, but our go-to is the Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle, a devilish ice cream infused with the local spirit and topped with honey-colored toffee. Don’t be shy. Sample away. 52 Broadway, 303-282-4645
Glaze: The Baum Cake Shoppe
It takes guts to open a bakery that specializes in Baumkuchen, a German-Japanese cake foreign to the general public. But that’s what makes Glaze so extraordinary: It’s the only bakery of its kind outside of Asia. Pop in to ogle the glass-encased Japanese oven (nicknamed the Red Dragon), which bakes the delicate cakes on a rotating spit. When cut into slices, the layers resemble tree rings. Oh, and they’re as sinfully delicious as they are gorgeous. 1160 Madison St., 720-387-7890
Beast + Bottle
Brunch is all about relaxing, and this cheerful, sunlit room on 17th Avenue (formerly home to Olivéa) makes that easy. The only hard part is deciding what to order: eggs Benedict topped with briney slices of Arctic char gravlax; sweet-and-savory chicken-cherry sausage and eggs; a sweet-potato waffle; or the crispy falafel flatbread accompanied by chef Paul C. Reilly’s famous thin-cut fries. Your best bet? Order it all to share, and wash it down with the Dean Machine (an uplifting juice blend of apple, pear, kiwi, kale, and wheatgrass). Be sure to make a reservation. This four-month-old spot will only get more popular. 719 E. 17th Ave., 303-623-3223
Sassafras American Eatery
We don’t know if it’s the homey brick exterior, the rustic, wooden picnic-style tables, or the hand-labeled jars of house-made jam, but Sassafras radiates comfort—just the vibe we seek in a breakfast joint. The menu reflects the theme with refined takes on dishes such as eggs Benedict, beignets, and biscuits served with locally sourced mushroom gravy. Night owls, take note: The staff knows how to brew a strong cup of coffee. 2637 W. 26th Ave., 303-433-0080
Amerigo Delicatus Restaurant & Market
5280 is experiencing a baby boom (four wee ones born in nine months!), which means we’re more devoted than ever to scouting out eateries that offer something more than just a boring kids’ menu (we can heat up chicken nuggets at home). Amerigo fits the bill with dishes like house-made linguine and crostini with goat cheese and pesto—updates on the pasta and sandwich standbys—that our kids dig as much as we do. Bonus: Nab a seat between 3 and 6 p.m. for BOGO glasses of wine—for the grown-ups. 2449 Larimer St., 303-862-9850
Frasca Food and Wine
If you’ve dined at Frasca, you know the pleasures of leafing through the tome that is the wine list. It’s big. It can be intimidating. But nothing compares—not only in our estimation, but also according to New York’s prestigious culinary authority, the James Beard Foundation, which awarded Frasca top honors for wine service this spring. Even the most dedicated oenophile won’t know everything on this list; that’s where Frasca’s staff comes in. Ask your server or the sommelier for a recommendation to bring out the subtlest flavors in your meal. 1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966
The Kitchen Denver
Liberated from the confines of dark, wood-paneled, and, let’s face it, slightly stuffy establishments, the power crowd has made its way to the industrial-chic digs of LoDo’s The Kitchen Denver. Be on the lookout for cultural bigwigs, business magnates, media types, and politicos dining on the restaurant’s seasonal and local lunch offerings. The current favorite for closing a deal: the Northern Lights Smoked Salmon Bruschetta with scrambled eggs, chives, and sprouts. 1530 16th St., 303-623-3127
Certain cuisines are meant to be consumed alfresco. Southern food is one of them. Thankfully, the owners of this 10-month-old Platt Park low-country eatery created nearly as much dining space outdoors as they did indoors when they altered this 126-year-old home. Not only can diners enjoy their chicken and waffles on the first-level patio, but they can also share a plate of shrimp and grits on the rooftop, which, with a slight bump in humidity, could very well be considered a genuine veranda. 1472 S. Pearl St., 303-325-1447
Boney’s Smokehouse Barbeque
Southerners are constantly looking for a place that dishes out a taste of home in Colorado—and Boney’s has been doing it right for years. The restaurant’s recent move to a larger space gives us more room to indulge in our messy eats (you can also buy meat by the pound to enjoy at home). Get the best Dixie bites in the pulled pork sandwich (order it Carolina-style for the added tang of coleslaw) or the hot links platter with collard greens. And don’t forget a glass of proper sweet tea. 1543 Champa St., 303-825-9900
Highland Tap and Burger
No matter how culinary-chic Denver’s food scene becomes, there’s always room for a good ol’ burger. Highland Tap’s seven varieties range from traditional (lettuce, tomato, onion, and American cheese) to creative. We typically opt for the latter, specifically the Shroom Luvas with foie gras. This hot-off-the-grill favorite (it was named people’s choice for best burger at the 2011 Denver Burger Battle) comes layered with house-made seasoning, sautéed mushrooms, Emmenthaler cheese, and truffle aïoli, all loaded on a bakery-soft bun. 2219 W. 32nd Ave., 720-287-4493
The Über Sausage
With the food world abuzz about artisanal, well, anything, we’ve learned to appreciate exceptional handcrafted eats more than ever. That’s why the Über Sausage is a repeat winner. Swing by the new LoHi location for simple but wildly creative dogs—a very partial sampling includes Colorado buffalo, Thai chile lemongrass, and Cajun pork and crawfish—served with uniquely tailored fixings to give lunch a much-needed punch. 1535 Central St., 303-433-4575; 2730 E. Colfax Ave., 303-862-7894
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
News that Del Frisco’s is introducing a Cherry Creek location—the slightly more casual Del Frisco’s Grille (expected to open next year)—had us immediately pining for the restaurant’s porterhouse. Why? Because Del Frisco’s rightfully believes the quality of the meat should speak for itself. So it purchases from the top two percent of Prime beef and then seasons the cuts with just salt and pepper. Share the steak and save room for a slice of lemon cake. Bonus: Step out of the restaurant’s dark interior and enjoy your meal on the recently opened stone patio. 8100 E. Orchard Road, Greenwood Village, 303-796-0100
Curtis Park Delicatessen
It was the nontraditional Italian sandwich at this small, two-year-old neighborhood deli and market that first caught our attention. Cured salami? Arugula? Asiago? The perfectly balanced sandwich is thoughtfully layered into a fresh City Bakery ciabatta by owner-operators (and Curtis Park residents) Michael Reif and Joseph Walker. Some may cry heresy. We call it delicious innovation. 2532 Champa St., 303-308-5973
Street Vendor/Food Truck
Ever find yourself staring into your fridge at 7 a.m.—with nothing to make for lunch but no desire for a sit-down meal that day? Enter Crock Spot, a black food truck—find it on Tuesdays and Thursdays (June through September) at Civic Center Park—that serves choose-your-own-adventure-style bowls with 40-plus options that change daily. Start with grains (try the fluffy couscous), add a protein (pulled pork is a must), and top it all with your choice of sauce (the flaming Esteban’s Yucatan Fire should wake you up). It beats leftovers any day. 720-675-7720
Socorro’s Street Tacos
Too often, shredded meats are disagreeably dry—but not at this brightly painted hole-in-the-wall off South Broadway, where the menu’s street tacos, not to mention the tortas (sandwiches) and burritos, have made us regulars. Our favorite: the extra-tender, spicy barbacoa served on two petite corn tortillas and topped with lettuce and pickled radishes. Pair your order—and tame the heat—with a glass of iced horchata (a creamy, cinnamon-spiced rice milk). 19 E. Bayaud Ave., 303-777-8226
This Sunnyside eatery became a south-of-the-border addiction almost as soon as it opened two years ago, thanks to sophisticated dishes steeped in Mexican heritage. Ingredients such as jalapeños and pear cactus are masterfully combined to infuse each bite—be it carne asada, molcajetes, or flautas—with a rich flavor lacking in so many other meat-beans-rice-cheese purveyors we’ve tried. 4001 Tejon St., 720-583-6860
The do’s and don’ts of Star Kitchen: Do take your time perusing the (admittedly overwhelming) menu, but always start your feast with dim sum—try the steamed barbecue pork bun. Do order at least one dish featuring the super-fresh shrimp. Don’t shy away from adventurous selections such as the salty egg with steamed pork or crispy fried intestine. Honestly, you’ll thank us later. 2917 W. Mississippi Ave., 303-936-0089
The swanky sushi spots around town typically catch our attention, but when we want to truly immerse ourselves in Japanese culture, we head to Domo. The rustic, country-style space is the consummate setting for flavorful spreads of traditionally prepared noodle bowls and donburi (a boiled rice dish) accompanied by soup, rice, and family-style sides such as namasu (daikon radish and carrot salad) and nikujaga (stewed carrots, potatoes, and pork)—all washed down with flasks of hot sake. Enjoy your meal on the garden patio, which will whisk you right to the Japanese countryside. 1365 Osage St., 303-595-3666
Thai Food Restaurant
We were more than disappointed when Thai-born Utumporn Killoran shuttered her food cart on the 16th Street Mall last summer—until someone tipped us off to the chef’s brick-and-mortar location in Aurora. The side-of-the-road restaurant doesn’t look like anything special, but it’s worth a trip outside the city. Start with the golden wonton dumplings before moving on to the pad kee-mao (stir-fried wide rice noodles) or the zingy green curry (order it medium hot). Oh, and everything is less than $10. Cash only. 11650 Montview Blvd., Aurora, 303-587-2293
There’s no getting around the fact that most spots serving Middle Eastern fare in this city lack a certain level of comfort. We thought plastic chairs and iffy restrooms were the standard—until a visit to Cafe Byblos provided a new normal. This nine-month-old Alamo Placita bistro is bright, airy, clean, and serves mean Middle Eastern favorites like falafel, a chicken shawarma sandwich, and the house-favorite Byblos Combo, an entrée that arrives with the restaurant’s stellar signature hummus. 400 Corona St., 303-777-7553
Vietnam Grill distinguishes itself from Federal Boulevard’s bustling foreign food landscape with creative and nuanced recipes we haven’t found elsewhere. Try the shrimp cupcakes (tender shrimp coated with flour) and pork-stuffed chicken wings. (Yes, for those of you salivating: The chefs debone the wings to stuff them with sizzling pork meat.) Round out your meal with a traditional entrée such as the house combo plate, in which a fried egg is served with pork, chicken, beef, and shrimp over rice. Barring a trip to Hanoi, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more enticing menu. 1015 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-5610
Queen of Sheba
Chef-owner Zewditu (Zodi) Aboye has been the queen of her native Ethiopia’s cuisine in Denver since she opened this strip-mall spot on East Colfax 20 years ago. Savory lentil sambusas, tender meats stewed in aromatic sauces, and fresh, pancakelike injera will distract you from the lackluster ambience. Tip: For carryout, call an hour ahead. 7225 E. Colfax Ave., 303-399-9442
When we tried to choose just one cookie as our favorite this year, we were overwhelmed with options. Instead, we mapped out the cookies, brownies, and bars we crave the most so you know where to go for a sugar fix. —Amanda M. Faison
Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs, 3525 E. Colfax Ave.
Skoops Eatery, 1209 E. Ninth Ave.
Chocolate Chip (close to home)
Buzz Cafe, 1229 E. Sixth Ave.
Chocolate Chip (road trip)
Flame Restaurant, 1 Vail Road, Vail
The Dirty Cookie, 1553 Platte St., #105 (and late-night delivery)
Ice Cream Sandwich
Wooden Spoon Cafe & Bakery, 2418 W. 32nd Ave.
Glaze, The Baum Cake Shoppe, 1160 Madison St.
Lime Sugar Cookie
Victory Love + Cookies, 3200 Irving St.
Maggie & Molly’s, 2908 E. Sixth Ave.
Modmarket, Multiple locations
Marczyk Fine Foods, 770 E. 17th Ave. and 5100 E. Colfax Ave.
M&M Tee & Cakes, 1932 14th St., Boulder
Gateaux Bakery, 1160 N. Speer Blvd.
Vegan Chocolate Chip
Beet Box, 1030 E. 22nd Ave.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut
So Perfect Eats, 278 Fillmore St.
The right outfit, the perfect gift, or a beloved book can brighten up your day. (Pssst: It’s called retail therapy.) Here’s where to find all of that—and more.
It’s easy to have a love-hate relationship with kid-centric boutiques. You adore them when you’re buying gifts for friends, but a $50 romper selection just isn’t practical for day-to-day shopping. Naturally Loved satisfies both needs with a mix of splurges (a $24 “Locally Grown” T-shirt) and practical items (a $30 traveling high chair). Plus, it hosts regular parent-and-kid classes such as yoga and Music For Aardvarks & Other Mammals. And, they’ve thought of everything: Moms will appreciate the changing table and lounger tucked discreetly in a back corner. 7349 E. 29th Ave., 303-955-6207
Blue Ruby Design Boutique
Shopping for jeans at this hip outpost is straight-up fun. Browse the tables for sassy Joe’s styles. Try on a pair of One Green Elephant “Second Skin” magenta jeans. Or, just go for it and take home those green-and-gold paisley print 7 For All Mankind stunners. You can rock ’em. Promise. 1428 Larimer St., 720-259-0031
From vintage-inspired armchairs to adorable cocktail napkins and funky chandeliers, the impeccable taste of owners Katie Agron and Molly Simons shines through in each chic display at MK Style. The duo has a gift for stylish-yet-subtle pops of boldness that inspire us to be more daring with our decor. Tip: Flip through the customization books for colors and patterns to suit your particular decorating scheme. 1882 S. Pearl St., 303-722-1178
Variety is king at this South Broadway emporium, where we’ve recently been eyeing turn-of-the-century bronze sculptures from Cameroon, a baroque Danish armchair with contemporary upholstery, and a Chinese sideboard (circa 1840) with original paint. The inventory, hand-selected from around the globe, almost always contains something that can give our living room that coveted old-is-new-again feel. 1760 S. Broadway, 303-722-2541
Little White Bridal Shop
Owner Cate Malone’s smart move to Highland a little more than two years ago transformed a lovely-but-sleepy Castle Rock shop into a bridal powerhouse. The dramatic cranberry-hued boutique has multiple spacious dressing rooms (a necessity for getting in and out of poufy tulle dresses) where brides-to-be can sift through samples from high-end labels such as Badgley Mischka and Jenny Packham. Bonus: Malone packs the store’s calendar with trunk shows and special appearances by dream designers like Claire Pettibone and Matthew Christopher. 3420 W. 32nd Ave., 303-814-8972
Max is known for carrying high-end designers like Celine and Lanvin, but the recent additions of lines such as Cedric Charlier’s sharply cut, minimalist dresses, jackets, and coats and goddess-inspired footwear by Ancient Greek Sandals really get our retail heart rate up. If you’re looking to spend a little less, head downstairs at the Denver shop for outlet-priced (but still chic) looks. 264 Detroit St., 303-321-4949; 1177 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-449-9200; 609 E. Cooper Ave., Aspen, 970-544-3445
“Cocktail dress” can mean so many things: maybe a black sequined tank dress by Tart Collections for a girls’ night out; or a summery, patterned frock by Charlie Jade for a garden party; or a sophisticated belted, geometric-print Trina Turk number for a company event. Whatever your definition, chances are you’ll find it at this carefully curated Highland boutique. We did. 3615 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-6331
This 10-month-old, style-savvy hot spot is outfitted with upcycled furnishings (like its clothes, the shop’s decor is getting a second run) and racks of “lightly loved” designer clothing, activewear, shoes, and accessories. Owner Crystal Stephen stocks merchandise from fashion elite like Tory Burch and Prada, plus inventory from go-to stores such as Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Anthropologie. Keep an eye on Plum’s Twitter feed for updates on just-in items, photos included. 2373 Central Park Blvd., #106, 303-322-7586
Park Hill Community Bookstore
In the age of the e-reader, it’s easy to find specific titles. Sometimes, though, you want to leisurely thumb through a few paperbacks to figure out what you want. That’s where this charming 42-year-old Park Hill co-op comes in. Its three stories are packed with new and previously loved tomes—classics, cookbooks, children’s standbys, you name it—categorized by genre. Members ($15 per year for individuals, $20 for families) get 10 free used volumes annually and can trade in their own books for credits; guests can score hard copies at bargain-bin prices. For extra inspiration, visit the basement, where opening lines from beloved literary works are scribbled graffiti-style on the walls. 4620 E. 23rd Ave., 303-355-8508
Sure, Sports Plus isn’t as glitzy as the wilderness- and sporting-goods titans in town, but that’s part of the 33-year-old Wash Park outlet’s appeal. The diverse selection—think new and consigned gear for every sport, from skiing to disc golf—includes an ample assortment of reasonably priced products for kids and teens, meaning Junior can indulge his fleeting hobbies without blowing Mom and Dad’s paycheck. 1055 S. Gaylord St., 303-777-6613
We first discovered this primarily Middle Eastern market when it was located in the Public Storage complex near Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue. We became infatuated when it moved several blocks east to a much larger space with a bigger parking lot. Browse the shelves for date or pomegranate molasses, containers of locally made hummus, and hard-to-find spices like za’atar and sumac (sold in bulk). Ezzedin Fitouri and Faraj Elmaragani, the friendly and knowledgeable shopkeepers, happily answer questions—and even recommend recipe tips. Don’t leave without a bag of fresh pita. 5470 E. Evans Ave., 303-691-2330
Place to Buy Suits
Our philosophy about men and shopping looks like this: Hip + easy = satisfaction. Try as we might, we can’t find anyone who’s mastered the formula better than J. Crew with its Ludlow collection of suits. Hip? The slim, tailored Ludlow cut looks as if it were ripped from the pages of GQ. Easy? Since you’re not considering the cut, you’re free to focus on fabrics and color choices. It all adds up to making the often tedious process of buying a suit about as simple as it gets. Multiple locations
Gracefully toeing the line between low-priced fast fashion and $2,500 leather coats, Weekends stocks brands and styles appropriate for Colorado’s laid-back yet charismatic men. From Rag & Bone jeans and Velvet by Graham & Spencer T-shirts to unlined jackets by Italy’s L.B.M. 1911, guys will appreciate this one-stop shop for all the wardrobe essentials they need to transition from workday to dinner date. 1200 Pearl St., Suite 105, Boulder, 303-444-4231
Pet-obsessed Highland’s list of must-visit shops grew by one with the opening of Simpawtico not quite a year ago. Husband-and-wife team Kevin and Claudia Hogan provide toys, leashes, beds, and food—much of which has the paw of approval from their own pooches, Tucker and Franky—for both pups and felines. Shop in bulk; you’ll earn $15 in store credit for every $250 you spend. 4500 W. 38th Ave., Suite 110, 720-381-6819
Hugo’s Colorado Beer & Spirits
Hugo’s isn’t your typical wine shop (after all, it’s loaded with craft beers and small-batch liquor), but who can resist a spot that so broadly represents Colorado’s booming booze industry? The wine selection is expanding as the statewide vino biz grows more impressive. Pick up bottles of household names such as the Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Blind Watchmaker Red. And remember to grab a six-pack of local brew on your way out the door. 1205 E. 13th Ave., 303-955-4643
Eat + Drink Denver
We were elated when this indie market—reminiscent of specialty goods outposts in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Buenos Aires, Argentina—opened its doors last summer. The tiny space stocks more than 100 artisan cheeses, an array of high-end chocolates, charcuterie, hard-crusted breads, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, dried fruits, and nuts. Bonus: A handful of tables provide a prime perch for whiling away an afternoon with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a cheese plate. 1541 Platte St., 303-477-3288
Treasured Creations Boutique
You won’t find Coach totes or Roberto Coin cocktail rings in this accessories nook sandwiched in a small corner of Independence Plaza on the 16th Street Mall. Instead, this low-on-pretense retailer carries brands you’ve never heard of and never knew you had to have. Yes, the purses are faux leather, but the designs and colors are trendy and upbeat. Pick up a reasonably priced hobo bag or satchel for your mom’s birthday or some funky jewelry (like the mixed-metal sets) for a day when your best friend needs a little pick-me-up. 1050 17th St., 214-435-0419
I Heart Denver Store
This 16th Street Mall shop is dedicated to the creative souls in our state who take our favorite parts of Colorado living—mountains, bikes, beer—and make them hangable, wearable, and show off–able. Check out the home furnishings (look for cityscape maps by January Jones Prints), clothing (bike-themed baby rompers from Vital Industries make great gifts), and kitchenware from more than 150 local artists and designers. Seventy percent of the profits go directly to the creators. 500 16th St., Suite 264, 720-317-2328
We knew the moment we stepped into this Bonnie Brae storefront that we’d found our new happy place. The shop overflows with pretty greeting cards—many of which are handmade by local artists—elegant stationery, and exquisite wrapping paper. Owner Shirley Smith gets it: Even in our digital world, receiving a thoughtful, handwritten note still matters. 728 S. University Blvd., 303-744-1642
Every woman knows that accessories make an outfit. And if you’re looking to invest (read: upscale prices) in your wardrobe, Cherry Creek North’s Vertu is the spot to find under-the-radar—and frequently exclusive—American and European extras. A Pauric Sweeney metallic python and leather overnight bag or a pair of Swarovski crystal mobile earrings from Estyn Hulbert will add a touch of glam to any ensemble. 300 Fillmore St., #2A, 303-333-8883
Astrology, the cosmos, and ancient art inspire the aptly named Cosmic Thread. Sisters Taryn and Megan Slawson handcraft out-of-this-world (we couldn’t resist) geometric jewelry from reclaimed wood and accent it with acrylic and metal. The line is less than two years old—find it at Goldyn and Brick & Mortar General Store in Denver—but the Slawsons are already finding their groove. They collaborated with another local favorite, the Woods Fine Jewelry, to accessorize designer Chris Benz’s spring 2013 collection with chic, prehistoriclike pieces made from stone and rope. The conceptual, deceptively simple baubles manage to be earthy and futuristic all at once.
Art + Soul Jewelry
Whether you’re just browsing or looking to buy, this contemporary art gallery and fine jewelry boutique is a pleasure to explore. The airy space, friendly staff, and uncluttered displays let clients focus on the well-edited range of must-have pieces. One of our recent favorites: up-and-coming designer Adel Chefridi’s delicate yellow gold and sterling silver pendant necklace dotted with precious gemstones. 1615 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5803
Bikes, furnaces, dogs, hair, bouquets—these things don’t take care of themselves. Fortunately, we know a few people and places that do.
Sturtz & Copeland
When a flower emergency hits, those in the know head to this quaint, family-owned flower shop and garden center. Since 1929, the store has been lovingly passed from owner to owner (current head honcho Carol Riggs started working at the shop in the ’60s)—with friendly service as the centerpiece. You can pick out a prearranged bouquet or have the expert staff craft a by-the-stem array (and deliver it just about anywhere), but we recommend handpicking your own selection for that extra-special touch. 2851 Valmont Rd., Boulder, 303-442-6663
Best Friends Pet Care
We leave our Dobermans at this Wheat Ridge doggie hotel every time we head out of town. Not only are the staffers welcoming and breed-knowledgeable, but they also provide training and grooming services during our pups’ stay, so we pick up cleaner and better-behaved pooches than we dropped off. Plus, we never worry: We can check in via the center’s live-streaming pet-cam. 11440 W. 44th Ave., Wheat Ridge, 303-422-2055
Normally, we aren’t much for the old-fashioned barber experience; it tends to feel a little, well, antiquated. But we changed our tune when we discovered this Tennyson Street throwback and its modern take on the barbershop tradition—the stylists and patrons are younger and hipper than we expected, and tattoos abound. Whether you’re getting the perfect trim, a buzz cut, or a soothing straight-razor shave, Proper offers a welcome respite for men to hang out, shoot the breeze, and leave refreshed and looking suave. 3923 Tennyson St., 303-862-7537
Applewood Plumbing Heating & Electric
This past winter, we returned from vacation to a broken heater, a house that felt like a walk-in freezer, and an immediate panic that our pipes would burst. On a friend’s recommendation, we called family-owned Applewood at 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday, expecting a return call on Monday. To our delight, Applewood picked up and promised a first-thing-in-the-morning visit—and called back just hours later to say they had found a way to get a technician to our house at 5:30 p.m. that day…if that would be OK with us. (Yes, please!) The tech arrived precisely at 5:30, patted our dog on the head, fixed what was a minor problem, and was done by 6 p.m. Thirty minutes later Applewood called to make sure our issue had been resolved. Now that’s service. 303-232-6611
Elixir Mind Body Massage
Yes, this place is located across the street from 5280’s offices, but convenience isn’t why we love it. Elixir goes beyond the quick tension-fix to total nirvana. It isn’t a full-service spa, but let’s be honest: Massage therapy is the focal point of any spa day anyway. Choose from 13 massages that can be combined with 11 enhancements, such as aromatherapy, a sugar scrub, lavender steam, and dry brushing, and mix and match from the menu for a different spa experience every time you go—which will be often. 1518A Wazee St., 303-571-4455
Yoga or Pilates Studio
Welcoming, revitalizing, and tranquil: the yoga studio trifecta. Vital achieves all three with classes that incorporate various teachings—Anusara, Sridaiva, restorative, and Vinyasa—in a skylight-lit, sanctuarylike space. The studio’s daily signature series, Vital Roots, is inspired by Bikram and Anusara; it will transport you into a meditative state and provide the physical workout everyone needs after spending hours at a desk. 3955 Tennyson St., 303-477-8545; 1224 Washington St., Golden, 303-279-3779
LoHi Athletic Club
When we go to the gym, we want a guarantee that we’ll have the time—and space—to get our sweat on. Enter LoHi Athletic Club. Tucked beneath Linger and next to Little Man Ice Cream (dangerous, we know), LoHi is open 24/7, has a limited membership system, and hosts classes that range from hot yoga to indoor cycling. When it’s warm outside, the open garage doors turn the cardio and weight room into an airy training locale. Bonus: Every new member receives a complimentary one-hour personal training session and a 30-minute Thai massage. 2010 W. 30th Ave., 303-761-5644
Symmetry Therapeutic Massage Spa
Symmetry massage therapist Denise Davenport Chew practices her craft with her clients positioned on a bodyCushion, a contoured body-length pillow that sits on top of the massage table. Five seconds into a basic Swedish rubdown, you’ll understand why. As your muscles melt into the cushion and essential oils relax your senses, a blissful delirium sets in. You’ll likely never go back to a plain old massage table. 2416 W. 32nd Ave.; 7120 E. Orchard Road, Suite 300, Centennial; 720-524-3431
Ted and Bob’s Service
Brothers Ted Jr. and Bob Gieck (now in their 60s) bring integrity back to the car repair biz. The pair started working in their father’s service station when they were around 10 years old and discovered a passion for making vehicles run well—and a knack for talking shop with customers. Located on the outskirts of Highlands Square for 49 years, the garage meets the needs of troubled motorists with straight answers, fast service, and a sense of the good ol’ days. 4000 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-9819
Ivy Street Design
There’s something to be said for versatility—especially when you’re talking about a landscape architect. It takes rare talent to craft memorable spaces in settings as markedly different as a postage-stamp patch of grass in Stapleton, an unkempt backyard in Congress Park, and a sprawling estate in Denver’s suburbs. Wendy Booth, founder of Ivy Street Design, has that gift. She focuses on usability (plenty of room for seating and nooks for relaxing) and functional amenities (built-in grills and cozy fire pits) while still considering her client’s likes and dislikes, such as planting easy-to-care-for bushes or specific flowers in the garden. 2249 Ivy St., 303-320-0362
Shuree Palizzi, The Look Salon
Shopping around for a stylist can feel like a series of blind leaps. Skip the guesswork (and resulting bangs triage) and book an appointment with Shuree Palizzi at Cherry Creek’s The Look Salon. Palizzi’s 20-plus years of experience include several as the artistic director for the upscale Antoine du Chez salons, and she’s perfected the art of making subtle, valuable suggestions without overstepping. With stylists, it’s a trust thing—and Palizzi has earned ours. 75 S. Madison St., 303-322-4902
The Eyebrow Lady
No matter how fancy the setting, getting your eyebrows plucked and waxed simply isn’t much fun. That’s why we dig Zenobia Rivera’s no-fuss, no-frills approach. Schedule a time online, ride your bike down the Cherry Creek Trail to her one-room office, and let the self-proclaimed Eyebrow Lady put her expertise—including four years under Brows on Upper 15th’s nationally acclaimed Michelle Dinsmore—to work on your (soon-to-be) delicate arches. 825 E. Speer Blvd. #212, 303-960-5752
We were in a fog of deadlines in preparation for taking a week off work for a tropical vacation. On a friend’s tip, we headed to B Nails for a compulsory pre-toes-in-the-sand pedicure and were greeted by a welcoming space and a sociable team of cosmetologists. We sat back in the massage chair, green tea in hand, and completely zoned out. It was exactly what we needed to get in vacation mode. Better yet: Although the pedicure was a bit pricey, it stayed chip-free for a month—sand and ocean be damned. 1121 E. Fourth Ave., 303-778-6688
Approaching a bicycle mechanic’s counter can be intimidating. For lady cyclists, there’s often the added dilemma of asking a man about a female-specific bike, which just seems a little off. That’s why our new go-to place for repairs is TriBella, Denver’s only women-focused cycling (and triathlon) shop. Husband-and-wife team James Sharpe and Elizabeth Whitfield Sharpe cater to amateurs and competitive riders alike and sell women’s bicycles—from cruisers to high-end road bikes—sans the “bro” speak and ’tude. But fellas, they won’t turn you away: TriBella’s full-service shop welcomes Y chromosomes in need of a tune-up, too. 1060 Bannock St., 303-495-2477
Armijo Design Group
Whether we’re scouting houses to grace the pages of our sister publication, 5280 Home, or just complimenting our friend’s comfortable-yet-sophisticated abode, one name comes up again and again: Beth Armijo. The 34-year-old Colorado native and principal of Armijo Design Group effortlessly blends Western casual with contemporary elegance for an aesthetic that feels quintessentially Denver. 303-877-3343
It takes effort to craft the perfect life of leisure. We’ve done the work for you with these picks for bike rides, happy hours, art shows, and more.
Between the hip cocktails, forward-thinking restaurants, and city views, LoHi is the sexy neighborhood pick—but we’re all about the underdog, River North (check out our guide to RiNo). This up-and-coming ’hood is still a bit rough around the edges, but RiNo’s amassed an impressive lineup of trendy businesses and restaurants—Infinite Monkey Theorem, SpireMedia, Mile High Spirits, the Populist—that might one day be enough to surpass LoDo as the spot for young professionals.
A Denver blog that aggregates and promotes the best blogs in Denver? That’s so meta. And so helpful. Discovering great blogs these days can feel like a full-time job. Happily, Denver Spark does the work for you by spotlighting—and soliciting input on—the local scribes you should be paying attention to (recently, it’s skewed a little female-centric). Because, you know, you already have a full-time job.
Old Major’s dream team of mixologists (see our pick for best bartender, page 100) delivers a seasonal and constantly evolving libation list that matches our mood whenever we drop in. On a recent visit, we couldn’t resist the subtly sweet 46 and 2 (rum, orange Curaçao, yellow Chartreuse, basil, and lime juice), and this winter we swooned over the restaurant’s unique scotch cocktails. The bar space is tiny, so try to nab a spot on the patio. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
With more than a dozen trails and connecting loops, this mountain biking haven in Evergreen is a must-ride for just about any ability. Beginners can flex their muscles on rolling hills, while the more advanced can test their mettle on technical, rocky fields. Us? We start with an arduous climb up Evergreen Mountain, zip down tree-lined singletrack on the opposite side of the hill, and pedal across the street to pick up the Ponderosa Trail’s up-and-down, root-covered route back to the parking lot.
This is one hike that should be on every Coloradan’s bucket list. Yes, it’s cliché. Yes, it can be crowded. Yes, you hiked it last year. So what? The 1.2-mile (one-way) trek just outside of Glenwood Springs is so surreally picturesque at the top that we could hike it every month and never get bored. Go early to watch the emerald waters shift to a bright turquoise hue before getting into prime photo position beside the waterfall at Spouting Rock, just a few steps away.
The Color Run
Does the thought of running a mile terrify you? Think you’ll never achieve a “runner’s high”? Think again, and bust out a white tee for The Color Run. This untimed (read: noncompetitive) 5K through City Park is quite possibly the most fun you’ll have on a race course—ever—thanks to the volunteers and staff who splatter you with paint powder (colored corn starch) at regular intervals, leaving you dyed like a snow cone. A portion of registration proceeds benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado, so you can feel good and do good all in the same stride.
Black Crown Lounge
This two-year-old piano lounge and watering hole doesn’t bill itself as only a gay bar, which is cool because it would be a shame for anyone to miss out. Occupying the old Café Cero space on South Broadway, the spot is unlike any other bar—gay or straight—in Denver. Its decidedly New Orleans flair emanates from the ornate chandeliers, mirrors enveloped in heavy, golden frames, elegant furniture, and an alcohol-soaked feeling that fun could break out at any time. And, with live music nearly every evening, it often does. 1446 S. Broadway, 720-353-4701
Becoming Van Gogh, Denver Art Museum
It takes a lot to lure Coloradans inside. This past year, however, we found ourselves under a roof time and again at the Denver Art Museum—especially when Van Gogh came to town. Room after room of this only-in-Denver exhibition gave us a rare look at the stunning work of a master and the artists who inspired him. It’s programming like this that’s propelling the DAM into the national spotlight. We can’t wait to see what next year brings. 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, 720-865-5000
Fossil Trace Golf Club
No matter how old you get, dinosaurs are still pretty neat. In the shadow of the foothills at Golden’s Fossil Trace course, your golf cart follows the footsteps of dinosaurs that roamed the area 64 million years ago. Adjacent to the 12th hole—a par five with a straight fairway between a rock wall and a deep ravine—Triceratops footprints and fossils add a touch of historical whimsy to the challenging course, which includes exposed rocks on narrow fairways, plenty of water and sand, and one punishing 659-yard par-five hole. Check out the twilight rates (starting at 3 p.m.) for a less pricey—but equally scenic—round. 3050 Illinois St., Golden, 303-277-8750
When we want to stick close to home for a great show—Red Rocks, we love you, but getting out of the parking lot is a nightmare—the Bluebird never fails. This cozy East Colfax institution has killer acoustics and hosts both newer bands on their way up (Atlas Genius, Alt-J) and seasoned rockers (the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) playing tunes that are always worth grooving to. 3317 E. Colfax Ave., 303-377-1666
The Book of Mormon
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have held a special place in Coloradans’ hearts since South Park hit the air, so when the lampooning duo returned home last August with their nine-time Tony Award–winning musical, even the theater-averse lined up for tickets. The gut-busting, satirical take on traditional musicals is filthy, shocking, and wholly modern. It was enough to cause one theater-loving (but anti-musical) editor to declare it the best show he’s seen. Ever. Thankfully, those of us (and there are a lot) who couldn’t get tickets to the first go-around can aim for round two, opening October 22 at the Buell Theatre.
Children’s Museum of Denver
Celebrating its 40-year milestone this year, the Children’s Museum echoes with laughter louder than ever as kids launch rockets, burst bubbles, and paint masterpieces—all while learning science, math, and the arts, unbeknownst to them. Each playscape (that’s museum-speak for “exhibit”) is thoughtfully designed to resonate with kids at various ages and stages. It’s that careful consideration and an inherent understanding of how kids learn that keeps families coming back generation after generation. 2121 Children’s Museum Drive, 303-433-7444
Rooster & Moon Coffee Pub
On any given morning, this comfy Civic Center hangout buzzes with business professionals in suits, hipsters engrossed in their laptops at community tables, and couples chatting over lattes at the window bar seats. Local microbrew insignias and an aspen-grove mural on the wall afford the space a Colorado vibe, and the barista’s intuitive recommendation for a spicier version of our chai was spot-on. Next time, we’ll stay past daylight for the live music…or maybe for a gourmet sandwich and some banana pudding from the surprisingly enticing menu. 955 Bannock St., #100, 303-993-2622
Happy hour isn’t always happy. Rushing to snag a table, fighting the post-work crowd for the bartender’s attention…suddenly, we’re more stressed than when we left the office. That’s why we unwind at LoHi’s Vita—on the weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 6:30 p.m., grab a comfy couch on the expansive rooftop and choose from $3 drafts, $5 well cocktails, two-for-one glasses of wine, and upscale apps (also twofers) like the Snake River pork belly. The deals are available in the whole restaurant, not just the bar, and they carry over to weekdays (3 to 6:30 p.m.)—which means you can also find your happy place Monday through Friday. 1575 Boulder St., 303-477-4600
We’ve got a rigorous list of dive-bar criteria, and the Matchbox checks off all the boxes and more: cheap, stiff drinks; a dark, gritty, no-pretenses vibe; and a cast of regulars who shout out phrases such as, “Hey, Drew, I need more Jame-o; it’s been one of those days.” Better yet, the joint doesn’t smell like stale beer and sweaty, late nights, and the bathrooms are, well, usable—which is more than we can say about many of the city’s other watering holes. 2625 Larimer St., 720-437-9100
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
It seems that the hip thing to do these days is ditch your day job to start a nanobrewery. That’s just fine with us. This brew-now philosophy has spawned killer spots across the city. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project deserves special props for specializing in wild yeast beers barrel-aged in whiskey, bourbon, cognac, and wine barrels. If on tap, order a glass of L’Brett d’Or, a golden sour ale we consider one of the best beers in the city, for a taste of Denver’s future. 1441 W. 46th Ave. #19, 720-508-3292
Talented folks flock to Denver for our easygoing lifestyle. Meet the people you need to know now.
Breckenridge’s Shannon Galpin founded the nonprofit Mountain2Mountain in 2006 to empower women and girls in conflict zones around the world. A rape survivor and mother herself, Galpin works selflessly in these regions, often putting herself at risk, to give women a voice strong enough to be heard through severe oppression. Her efforts to change perspectives on women’s rights in Afghanistan are particularly commendable; they range from organizing thought-provoking public art installations to helping Afghan women learn how to cycle, including the delivery of bicycles and gear from the United States. This summer, Galpin launches her first domestic initiative, Strength In Numbers, to develop confidence and camaraderie in at-risk women, violence survivors, and female veterans closer to home.
First Responders, Aurora Theater Shooting
Sadly, Colorado’s history now contains a chapter about last year’s mass shooting in Aurora. Thankfully, that story also includes tales of heroism by the men and women who first responded to the tragedy. Knowing that time can be the most important factor in saving a critically injured patient, Aurora police officers loaded gravely wounded victims into the backs of their squad cars and drove them to nearby hospitals themselves. To those early responders: Thank you.
We’re giving ourselves a pat on the back for long ago recognizing Courtney Wilson’s drink-making skills (the bartender graced our cover in February 2012 when she was mixing cocktails at Williams & Graham). She immediately struck us as having that rare combination of booze know-how and charm and continues to impress us behind the bar at her new home: Old Major. Ask her to whip up one of her signature scotch mixed drinks. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622
Blunt Force Training
Who said you have to choose between brains and brawn? Tiffany Coolidge was a campaign manager for former state Senator Shawn Mitchell, but when she realized she was out of shape and burnt out from her day job, she committed to learning about personal training and eventually opened Blunt Force. These days she applies her smarts to developing lung-burning “muscle confusion workouts.” Translation: She skips the machines, opting for ever-changing boot camp–style workouts that could include rope climbs or boxing in hopes of converting Coloradans to a different cause—their health. 2031 Bryant St., 303-324-9500
You might have spotted Megan Gage on Shark Tank, the ABC show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their products to big-time investors. That’s where we first learned about Hot Tot, the Castle Rock mom’s line of safe and natural hair-care products (free of the usual parabens, formaldehydes, and other potentially hazardous chemicals) for children. And they work—so well that billionaire Mark Cuban invested $75,000 for a 40 percent share. The salon-exclusive line can now be found in 27 states and three other countries (Canada, Singapore, and the U.K.). We’ve tested Hot Tot, which smells like powdery-fresh Cabbage Patch Kids, on our children’s hair and have been so impressed that one editor even started using the line on her grown-up locks.
University of Colorado Boulder
Two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances are enough to make CU Boulder fans wonder if their football-centric program is transforming into a basketball-worshipping paradise. While that’s still up for debate, there’s no doubt that head coach Tad Boyle has led the Buffs’ resurgence. The only question now is whether Colorado will figure out a way to keep Boyle—who’s quickly become hot property—from jumping to a bigger program.
In 2008, John-Paul Maxfield, founder and CEO of sustainable agriculture company Waste Farmers, started helping local restaurants turn their waste into organic, nutrient-rich compost to bolster urban farming and lessen the load in landfills. This spring, the company moved on to a new project, launching a flagship line of products: Maxfield’s Potting Soil, Soil Conditioner, and Planting Mix, all of which use locally sourced components such as biochar and worm castings in place of chemical- or fossil fuel–based fertilizers. The result: a biological process that cultivates “living soil” to support a natural growth cycle.
It was less than three years ago that the Lumineers were spending Thursday evenings belting out foot-stomping folk-rock tunes at the Meadowlark’s open mic nights. In February, the Denver trio—Neyla Pekarek, Wesley Schultz, and Jeremiah Fraites—performed their megahit “Ho Hey” on an altogether different stage: the 55th Grammy Awards. A quick ascent to stardom can turn some bands sour, but not the Lumineers. The group’s thoughtfully crafted songs continue to showcase the best of Colorado’s music scene to a national audience.
Sometimes art draws its power from simplicity. For years, Denver artist Phil Bender—who founded the artist co-op Pirate in east Highland decades ago—has created works that are strikingly spare yet also completely engaging. Bender takes seemingly mundane objects (rolling pins, wood pallets, tennis rackets) and arranges them repetitively, sometimes in vertical or horizontal lines, sometimes in grids. The result is a commanding, almost hypnotic recontextualization of everyday items. It’s a rare gift to find beauty in the ordinary. Bender has it.
The Squeaky Bean
Taste Max Mackissock’s stunning beet appetizer—he presents the usually humble root vegetable smoked, pickled, and raw—and you’ll agree that he’s cooking some of the most stimulating and challenging food in the city. Mackissock made the leap from Vita to the original Squeaky Bean in 2009—where he cooked in a miniscule, barely equipped kitchen—and began to fully realize the innovative, out-of-the-box dishes he’s known for today. Closing argument: Mackissock is the only local chef to catapult his restaurant (the Squeaky Bean) onto our Best New Restaurants list twice—once at the old space and now at the new. 1500 Wynkoop St., 303-623-2665
Swimmer Missy Franklin accomplished what most professional Colorado athletes couldn’t in 2012: She won championships. A lot of them. As an amateur. The 18-year-old Regis Jesuit High School senior was the most decorated female athlete at the London Olympics—and then she declined seven-figure endorsement deals to return home and lead her high school swim team to a 5A Colorado state championship. She may be leaving for the University of California, Berkeley this fall, but we’ll keep claiming Franklin as Colorado’s sweetheart as long as she’ll let us.
Tim Gill and Scott Major
Years before civil unions were on Colorado’s political radar, Denverites Tim Gill and Scott Miller traveled to Massachusetts to tie the knot. In May, Colorado joined the growing list of states that recognize same-sex unions, and the couple has been recognized as helping fuel the movement (an influx of $220 million by the Gill Foundation to LGBT equality–focused organizations and programs doesn’t hurt). But their reach goes beyond LGBT issues. As Colorado turns from red to purple—and maybe even to blue—this deep-pocketed dynamic duo is at the center of our state’s progressive swing.
Carol Ann Wachter
Putting her fine arts background to good use, Boulder designer Carol Ann Wachter fuses sensual shapes with rich colors and vintage details in her elegant, midpriced women’s clothing line (find it at LoHi’s Goldyn). With a sensible aesthetic, Wachter turns a basic tweed coat into a romantic statement piece with asymmetrical draping and a horn button closure.
Denverites barely manage to swap jeans for slacks during the workweek, and anchor Kyle Clark gets that. He’s approachable and relaxed on air; he’s sensitive (see his thoughtful coverage during the Aurora theater shooting and the High Park Fire last year); he keeps us in the know on Twitter; and he humbly responds to viewer comments when a newscast isn’t up to their (or his) standards. Props to Clark for giving the 24-hour news feed a comfortable, trustworthy, hometown feel.
Most AM drive-time DJs rely on clownish antics and manic “morning zoo” energy to reel in listeners. Not Bret Saunders. Along with sidekick Robbyn Hart, Saunders keeps things upbeat without going overboard. While spinning a solid mix of new, classic, local, and global rock (we’d argue that the station is Denver’s best rock outlet), he invigorates your pre-work commute with the right mix of fun, talk, and tunes.
Gone are the days when Twitter was a silly place useful mostly for finding out where your co-workers bought their morning lattes. Nowadays, it’s the go-to source during emergencies, whether Colorado is burning or the governor is giving his annual State of the State speech. Last summer after the Aurora theater shooting, when the cacophony of misinformation was at its peak, @AuroraPD was the source for accurate updates when we needed them most.
Colorado Speaker of the House
Selecting the “best” politician is sort of like choosing our favorite traffic jam, so we’re naming Colorado’s speaker of the House our “most compelling” elected official. With civil unions and gun control already signed into law, this veteran Democrat has become 2013’s highly scrutinized point person for Colorado’s ongoing progressive (r)evolution.
Much to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats, Pueblo’s newbie representative, Leroy Garcia, held out on some of the party’s gun control laws, including the controversial limit on magazines. Political suicide? Hardly. Garcia proved to his constituents that he could fight, a skill that helped him push through legislation for emergency medical service providers and small businesses. Most notably, he’s worked hard to convert former correctional facility Fort Lyon into a transitional housing facility for the homeless and veterans. We may not agree with him on everything, but we have to appreciate his work ethic.
If there were an honorific we could give Kent Haruf—the author whose body of work includes the novels Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction—it would be “Bard of Colorado.” The Centennial State may be known for the Rockies, but in his stories, the Salida-based Haruf evokes the plaintive soulfulness of living on the state’s quiet Eastern Plains. The language in Benediction, published in February, is so gorgeous and lyrical, we don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Haruf is not just one
of Colorado’s best—he’s one of America’s true literary treasures.
THEN & NOW
We spend the better part of every year researching Denver’s best restaurants, bars, shops, spas, and more to bring you our annual Top of the Town package. As our city continues to grow, you’ll often find us scoping out the newest spots. But, as we celebrate 5280’s 20th anniversary, it seems only fitting to take a look back at the iconic people, places, and things—how they were then and what they are today—that give our city its distinctive Mile High character.
MillerCoors Brewing Company (1873)
Then: Called Golden Brewery, it was the center of Colorado’s beer universe.
Now: Namesake of our Major League Baseball field and producer of technologically advanced aluminum cans.
Rockmount Ranch Wear (1946)
Then: First purveyor of Western shirts with snaps.
Now: A must-visit shop for both stylish local ranchers and tourists and celebrities in search of chic cowboy duds.
My Brother’s Bar (1873)
Then: The watering hole of choice for silver miners and cattle ranchers.
Now: Denver’s best-kept secret for mouth-watering burgers (and a stealthy vendor of Girl Scout cookies).
16th Street Mall (1982)
Then: A highly trafficked street plagued by pollution and vehicular congestion.
Now: A pedestrian mall with a street shuttle—the best way to hitch a quick (and free!) ride through downtown Denver.
Then: A Seattle-based camping equipment company started in 1938.
Now: Denver’s premier outdoor gear store, referred to as a “flagship” (because of its huge size), which often makes visitors think the company was founded here.
John Hickenlooper (1988)
Then: A nerdy geologist with a crazy idea to open a brewpub in a seedy part of town.
Now: Our still-nerdy governor who just might have national ambitions.
Red Rocks (1941)
Then: The only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world.
Now: The only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the country—and a hellacious place (69 rows of seats!) to hold fitness boot camps.
El Chapultepec (1933)
Then: A dingy hole-in-the-wall that showcased some of the country’s most iconic jazz musicians.
Denver Union Station (1881)
Then: A train depot that welcomed presidents and soldiers when they visited Colorado.
Now: A soon-to-be-opened 21st-century urban hub—with retail, dining, and office space—that will be the city’s center for light and commuter rail, the 16th Street Mall shuttle, taxis, Amtrak, and RTD buses.
Tattered Cover (1971)
Then: A 950-square-foot bookstore in the Cherry Creek area.
Now: One of the country’s top-ranked independent booksellers, with three locations and one of our favorite coffeeshops.
Bluebird Theatre (1913)
Then: An elegant venue that showed the latest silent movies.
Now: A 550-person concert hall where newbies like the Oh Hellos and locals such as Churchill perform to sold-out crowds.
Cheesman Park (1858)
Then: Denver’s first organized cemetery.
Now: A primo spot to play a game of bocce ball or toss a Frisbee on a summer day.
Elitch Gardens (1890)
Then: A farm turned zoological park on the outskirts of downtown.
Now: A go-to spot for summer fun, right off the light rail in downtown’s epicenter.
John Elway (1986)
Then: The heroic No. 7, a two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame QB.
Now: Still the king of Denver—who wouldn’t be after bringing multiple car dealerships, an arena football team, an award-winning steak house, and Peyton Manning to town?
Denver International Airport (1995)
Then: A world-class airport—built annoyingly far from anyone and anything.
Now: A world-class airport—still annoyingly far from civilization, but now also home to great new restaurants, direct flights to Iceland, and the promise of transport by light rail.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science (1990)
Then: A small log cabin containing the collections of an eccentric naturalist.
Now: A sleek institution housing a stellar dinosaur fossil collection, some of which was unearthed from the dirt here in Colorado.
Sports Authority Field at Mile High (2001)
Then: The endearingly creaky Mile High Stadium (OK, so that was across the parking lot, but still).
Now: Much more modern, slightly less beloved—and still the best home-field advantage in football.
I See What You Mean (Big Blue Bear) (2005)
Then: An adorably massive mammal peering into downtown’s Convention Center.
Now: Our finest example of how clever public art can—and should—brand a city for the better.
The Cruise Room (1900)
Then: Denver’s first legal bar to open after Prohibition was repealed.
Now: Home to LoDo’s swankiest after-work crowd.
Rocky Mountain News (1859–2009)
Then: A Pulitzer Prize–winning daily that ran images as powerful as its words.
Now: A fading memory.
Customer Service All Stars
We asked our readers to dish about the people, places, and businesses that impressed them this year with those extra special touches.
“I love how Tony P’s Pizzeria and Bar supports those with food allergies. My daughter has several and also has friends with celiac disease. Tony P’s has options for everyone’s tastes and needs. I often ask about the ingredients, and the staff is always helpful, responsive, and courteous in answering my questions.”
“While my husband was home on break from being deployed to Iraq, I took him to the Bundt Shoppe. One of the first things he wanted to have when he got home was a piece of their cake. They were so kind and didn’t charge us for our order! We’ve since moved to Maine, and I still order cakes and have them shipped.”
“Boxcar Coffee Roasters is the best coffee roaster and coffeeshop in Colorado. The roasting is done in Boulder, in the shop, with precision and care. The husband-and-wife owners came up with a high-altitude brewing method that goes beyond any single-cup method you’ll see anywhere else. Nothing is better.”
“Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs is sooooo fun! The staff is helpful, nice, and the store is always clean. They make balloon animals for your kids—and there really is a Steve! It has also given back to Project Angel Heart and the community in many ways and donated thousands of dollars to both.”
“Our server at the Capital Grille had perfect recommendations. When we searched for the perfect dessert pairing for our fantastic port wine, he suggested an item that wasn’t on the menu. Ten minutes later, that exact dessert arrived on our table from the restaurant across the street. Our server had ordered it and plated it for us.”
“When the Ocean Prime hostess found out we were newlyweds, she told our waiter and we got free Champagne on top of awesome food and service.”
“Paul Tamburello, owner of Little Man Ice Cream and founder of GrowHaus, is a serious humanitarian. Not only does Little Man have the ‘Scoop for Scoop’ program, but he makes trips around the world to help provide dental care to those in need.”
“My husband and I had a great experience trying different specialty olive oils and balsamic vinegars at EVOO Marketplace. The owner walks you through it all. Being from Europe myself, I was in awe when I tasted some of the blends the owner mixed for us. I will be taking all my friends and family to this store.”
“Suzanne Montano and Pat Landreth [owners of Bungled Jungle] gave me an extra [sculpture] creature (a fairy “odd mother”) to watch over me when I was going through chemo. All the creatures that I’ve gotten from them over the years make me very happy.”
“Erin Ferris at Tonto Salon has been rocking my hair for 10 years now, and she always keeps me up-to-date. She’s also the most generous and thoughtful woman, giving styles and cuts for Locks of Love and to some of our best friends who suffered a huge tragedy.”
“Duet Design Group helped us with almost every room in the house, and I couldn’t be happier. Ask about their installation day. It’s similar to an HGTV show: You leave in the morning and return that night to find the entire house put together (pictures hung, silverware put away). Worth every penny.”
“FastFrame of LoDo is amazing. I broke a beautiful picture at the store I work at. FastFrame put a rush on the job so I could have it fixed before the owner came back, and they charged me half price.”
“Owner Shanna Bernstein of the Shanna Cuts Hair Shop doesn’t just cut my hair; she helps me express my gender identity in a world that makes it extremely hard. Shanna gives me a space and hair that helps me be me.”
“Ben Parsons and his wife, Karen, at the Infinite Monkey Theorem, host the best wine tours and parties for everyone, from novices to experts. They make you feel like a special guest and take the time to explain how to pair the wines with food. Great wine in addition makes the experience fantastic.”
“The cozy Elev. 5900 is the only place I know that served champagne and limoncello while we were stuck during the big hailstorm last June.”
“Ruby Hill Park is one of Denver’s most forgotten parks. The only time I hear mention of it is during the few winter months in which they have the Rail Yard. But the recent renovations have made this a park for everyone, with breathtaking views, plenty of room, and things to do.”
“Ginger Douglas is an inspiration to many, whether you’re young, old, gay, straight, male, or female. She hosts an annual fund-raiser called the Apocalyptic Ball; 100 percent of proceeds go to the Colorado AIDS Project. She’s by far the most selfless human being I’ve ever encountered and a huge icon in the gay community.”
“Secretary of State Scott Gessler actually held listening tours after the election. I can’t remember a more visible and active politician who had his ear to the ground instead of his head in the clouds.”
“Jayson Luber is by far the premier ‘eye in the sky’ in Denver. But when he’s not directing traffic on 7News This Morning, he’s regularly sending out traffic tweets…thousands, to be exact. Don’t be surprised to see one of his traffic tweets even on the weekends, helping skiers and snowboarders get home from the high country. And it’s not just skiers who depend on his tweets; Jayson regularly tweets about roads in Fort Collins, Boulder, and the I-25 corridor. You’ll never be late
for work again.”
“Matthew Morris Salon and Skincare needed to reschedule an appointment that my daughter had with Matthew to get her hair done for senior prom. After talking with the great receptionist, Matthew agreed to have her come in despite the fact that the salon would be closed for other appointments.”