A surprisingly good time awaits in the Colorado capital.
Denver is on the rise. Bloomberg has rated it America’s seventh-best city (ahead of New York) and it remains one of the USA’s fastest-growing metropolises. People pile in for fresh air, low crime and rare coupling of liberal politics and cowboy hats. Plus, Denver knows how to have a good time. It was the first state capital to legalise weed and it produces more beer than any other US city. There is art to puzzle over, fancy food to be consumed and tours to be toured. Lace up your walking boots, charge up that vape pen—let’s do Denver.
Denver may have a hip and arty facade but inside its barrel chest beats a heart of frontier individualism. A reminder of this duality greets the visitor on arrival in the form of Blue Mustang, a 32-foot rearing blue stallion, plonked right outside the plane station. Sculpted by Luis Jimenz, it’s most striking feature is a set of neon red eyes. Intended as a homage to the city’s wild west history they have a demonic intensity enhanced by the fact that Blue Mustang killed its creator (its head snapped off during construction fatally severing Jimenz’s artery). The city recently threw down for a Museum of Contemporary Art (15.5 mill) and a boldly sculptural Denver Art Museum (110 mill). Elsewhere, the Mile High City is sprinkled with over 30 galleries and museums, including the magnificent Art Hotel where I laid my weary head surrounded by reassuringly abstract art.
Kerouac was here
Alternative lifestylers are flocking to Denver but its liberal leanings are hardly a new thing. Back in the 1950s, it was a popular hang for dope-smoking, jazz honking proto-hippies, the Beats, who stopped by for extended periods on hitches between New York and San Fran. Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road, loved Denver as did his irrepressible sidekick Neal Cassady and the poet Allen Ginsberg. In fact, the famously nomadic Kerouac became a first home buyer in Denver after he got off the Lonesome Highway that defined his career. Today you can tour the bars and jazz clubs favoured by the Beats, although most have been gentrified or knocked down. The highlight, in a strictly limited field, is a letter from Cassady relating to an unpaid bar bill.
People will try and tell you that Portland is the beer capital of America. Or else they’ll make a case for Santa Diego or even Austin. They are mistaken. Denver is the beer capital of America. There are over 70 breweries in the Mile-High City including Coors, the biggest beer brewer in the land. Empirically, they simply make more beer. If you believe the stories Denver’s first building was a saloon and it began slinging suds in 1859 (the same year the city was founded). Micro-breweries have abounded in recent times. In one establishment in the Five Points I’m greeted with a selection of over 40 ales—all of them mystifyingly and intentionally sour. Beer connoisseurs will be impressed that Denver won 15 medals at the recent Great American Beer Festival. Portland won just seven.
The Great Outdoors
City holidays aren’t great for your health. All that rich food, sour beer, THC-infused everything. You sleep in. Stay up late. Wander about the place. And you notice, eventually, that Denverites, are in rude good health. They’ve got a spring in their step like the last piss they took was on top of a 14,000-foot mountain. And given that Colorado has 58 such summits (known as 14ers) it could well be true. The majestic Rocky Mountains backdrop Denver and beckon you off the pavement. In winter you can jump the train to Winterpark Resort and be snowboarding before your morning coffee. In the warmer months you’re hiking, mountain biking, fly-fishing, climbing 14ers or running from newly awakened bears.
Still More Things to do in Denver
Denver has most of the things you expect in a mid-sized American city: amazing food, great bars, cool districts, several hundred shops. But it also has things you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Like the International Church of Cannabis where Elevationism is practiced. Or the popular restaurant, Linger Eatery, which was converted from an old mortuary (Buffalo Bill Cody’s cold dead body was housed right here). Then there’s Fifty-two 80s a museum/shop overflowing with 80s nostalgia. And the Denver Zine Library which loans out mags from its impressive print collection. Denver may not punch in the same entertainment category as America’s grand cities, but it does have America’s best outdoor live music venue, Red Rocks, (according to Rolling Stone magazine) and its second largest Performing Arts Complex.