Mile high in Denver
Roger St Pierre extols America’s capital of a healthy lifestyle
For such a large country, the United States is an amazingly homogenous place. That said, there are often strong regional differences in culture, lifestyle and attitudes.
Take the prosperous and fast growing mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, for instance.
Set on the high plains, in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains, this is, in many ways, a frontier town.
People here work hard and play hard. They know how to relax too but while they may not live life in the fast lane, they certainly don’t live it on the hard shoulder either.
This is no place for the stereotypical lazy, fat, middle-American of popular image who’d be lost without the constant companionship of his gas-guzzling pick-up.
It’s normality in Denver to walk or cycle at least part of the way to work and come weekends, the lure of the great outdoors is hard to resist, whatever the season.
People here tend to be slim, fit, healthy, youthful go-getters.
There’s plenty on offer for the mind and spirit as well as the body. There’s arts, and sophisticated culture too, with numerous museums and galleries, a world-class symphony orchestra and a year-round programme of events of every type.
Given its topography, central location and superb transport links to the rest of the US and the world beyond, Denver’s also a great place to do business.
There’s a ‘can-do’ attitude and a strong work ethic here. New businesses thrive in what is a prime gateway for European companies seeking to enter the now fast recovering American market.
Some 600,158 currently live in the city itself but the metropolitan area population is three million and growing. It’s the biggest conurbation within a 500-mile radius.
Denver is a major distribution centre and is renowned for technology, renewables and as a convention destination, with a US$310.7-million expansion programme having doubled the size of the impressive Colorado Convention Center just four years ago.
A conveniently central location makes the Hotel Monaco (001 303 296 1717, monaco-denver.com) a perfect base or visiting business people and tourists alike.
This grande dame of the hospitality industry is housed in both the 1917 Railway Exchange Building and the 1937 Art Moderne Title Building, two magnificent edifices that helped put Denver at the cutting edge of modern architecture during the inter-war years.
Called ‘LoDo’ by the locals, Lower Downtown sits on the northern fringe of the city centre and has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Victorian and turn-of-the-century office blocks and warehouses, many of which have been turned into bars, brew-pubs, cafés, restaurants and trendy shops.
One of the world’s largest independent bookshops, Tattered Cover 91628 16th Street) has an enormous selection and is housed in a sympathetically restored mercantile building.
This was once the Wild West so it’s no surprise to find a massive store that’s jam full of cowboy gear – from boots to Stetsons. Papa Jack Weil, founder of the Rockmount Ranch Wear store (1626 Wazee Street, was America’s oldest working CEO until he passed away in 2008 at the ripe old age of 106. He was the inventor of the famed snap button western shirt, worn by everyone from Elvis to Ronald Reagan to Eric Clapton, who is a frequent visitor.
You’ll find the shop just down the street from Denver’s magnificent period railway station, from which you can still take a train to Chicago or Los Angeles – though there are now less than a dozen departures from this now sleepy station a day.
At the very heart of the city is 16th Street Mall, which opened in 1982. Designed by world-renowned architect IM Pei, it’s a mile-long pedestrian promenade that is lined with shops, outdoor cafés and other distractions. The design features granite pavements of charcoal grey, light grey and Colorado red, set in a rattlesnake pattern. Distinctive globe lights are also a trademark feature while dotted along the mall’s length are pianos that are free for any passer by to rattle out a tune or two.
It’s pleasant to stroll from end to end but if you start to feel a little weary you can simply jump on one of the free shuttle buses that plie the route, with no more than 90 seconds to wait for the next one.
The city has plenty of distractions besides shopping. Denver Art Museum (100 W 14th Avenue Parkway, 001 720 865 5000, denverartmuseum.org) is at the top of the mall. It is the largest and most comprehensive collection of world art to be found anywhere between Kansas City and the West Coast and includes a wonderful Western American originals section among its more than 40,000 art works.
A favourite for more than half a century, Denver Botanic Gardens (1007 York St, 001 720 865 3500, botanicgardens.org) is one of the nation’s top-five such attractions and unites art and science within its spectacular urban oasis, featuring 45 different gardens and 33,000 plants within its 23 glorious acres.
The fourth largest museum in the USA, Denver’s Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Boulevard, 001 303 370 6407, dmns.org) is a treasure trove, featuring dinosaurs, space exhibits, dioramas, science experiments, a digital planetarium, an IMAX theatre and touring shows.
Carved from a towering peak just outside town at Morrison, Red Rocks (001 720 865 2494 redrocksonline.com) is a renowned 9,000-seat amphitheatre that has hosted everyone from the Beatles to Springsteen.
Also worth an afternoon out is the Coors brewery (001 303 277 2337) , established at nearby Golden by Albert Coors in 1873 and now the world’s largest single brewing site, while a short drive away are the renowned Colorado winter sports resorts of Vail and Boulder and the magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park.
Why should I got to Denver?
Great for business, good for fun – a spectacular city and it has America’s healthiest lifestyle.
Great places to eat
Ellyngton’s, 321 17th St (001303 297 3111, brownpalace.com). Set within the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa – an address much frequented by presidents, rock stars and discerning travellers. Sunday brunch features extravagant buffets, live jazz and a selection of Champagnes.
TAG, 1441 Larimer St (001 303 996 9985, tag-restaurant.com). Troy guard offers urban progressive dining in an intimate 125-seat setting right at the heart of Larimer Square, a section of Denver’s oldest street that has been restored to hours a collection of art galleries, clothing stores, cafés and nightclubs at the heart of downtown.
Appaloosagrill, 535 16rg St (001 720 932 1700, appaloosagrill.com). An employee owned neighbourhood favourite, offering quality cuisine, a great ambiance and nightly live entertainment.
Duo, 2413 W 32nd Avenue (001 303 477 4141, duodenver.com). Tucked away in Highlands, one of Denver’s hippest neighbourhoods. A seasonally changing menu and a relaxed and unassuming style.