The Culture Carnivore’s Guide To Denver, Colorado
A big thanks to the Le Meridien Denver Downtown for sponsoring my trip!
When I was younger, my goal was to make every trip a new destination. As I get older, though, I realize the value in revisiting the places that truly warm my heart.
There is no city, outside of my native New York, that does this more than Denver, Colorado.
It’s the only place I visit multiple times per year. And despite the fact that I’ve just returned from visiting Denver, I already have a ticket booked to return in the spring.
Yea, I’m kind of obsessed.
Whenever I tell people about my fascination with Denver, they usually assume I’m an avid skier or a devout pot head. Neither, actually. What draws me back to visiting Denver again and again is a feeling. As soon as I step out of my hotel, the laid-back vibe washes over me. I can hop on a bike and cycle through awesome neighborhoods like Lower Downtown (LoDo), River North (RiNo), Uptown, Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park and City Park to be immersed in innovation — especially when it comes to art, food and drinks — in a relaxed setting.
Heck, at times there may even be a mountain in view while you sip a sustainably-made beer made possible through bike pedal power (like at Denver Beer Co) or snack on Mason jar-served scallops in a former bordello (hello Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox).
On a recent trip, I was shown this innovation resides inside the hotel, as well.
While Le Meridien has properties around the world, they do a fantastic job of keeping a boutique feel. At their Denver property, nods to the Mile High City are woven into the mid-century modern design and offer moments of inspiration to travelers.
Wine + design in my room at the Le Meridien Denver Downtown[/caption]
While a dripping chandelier above a winding staircase represents cotton falling off the indigenous cottonwood trees, the library carpet features mountains and hikers in its design. Behind the check-in desk is an inverted mountain crafted from 1100 tiny oil portrait tiles featuring Marie Antoinette at different stages of her life — one of over 1600 pieces created by local artists.
Le Meridien Denver Downtown public spaces[/caption]
Coffee & Cocktails
Two additional passions of Le Meridien — coffee and cocktails — combine at the Lobbyist, their first-floor hub.
By day, quality coffee drinks are crafted by latte-art loving baristas, while by night craft cocktails featuring house-made tinctures and local ingredients are served.
How about some latte art with your illy coffee?[/caption]
Pro tip: From 5–6pm — their peak check in time — those hanging out in the hub can snag free bubbly. Additionally, from 4–6pm enjoy half off Sparkling Selections. The hotel’s Sparkling Program pays homage to European aperitif culture, with an array of bubbly-infused drinks.
Sparkling cocktails at Le Meridien Denver Downtown[/caption]
Oh, and save room for dessert. The Le Meridien Denver Downtown does a signature eclair featuring local ingredients. The dessert pays homage to their Parisian roots while showcasing delicious Denver with a Laws Whiskey bourbon glaze topped with Denver Bacon CO bacon and a filling of green chili vanilla cream. Yum!
Le Meridien’s Denver-inspired eclair[/caption]
While you’ll find tons of inspiring nooks on-site, Le Meridien Denver Downtown encourages guests to explore offsite through their Destination Unlocked program. They’ve partnered with 12+ locally owned and operated businesses to give you free and discounted experiences when you show your room key, from whiskey tastings to fly fishing tours to local honey tastings.
Most of these partners can be reached via their free bike rentals, too!
Now that you’ve got your base, here are 10 art and eats experiences that show you just how innovative Denver really is.
Starting Rate: $160/night.
1. Have A Quirky Brew At Renegade Brewing Co.
Renegade Brewing Co in the Santa Fe Arts District is one of Le Meridien Denver Downtown’s Unlock Art partners, meaning guests get a complimentary beer tasting. Now, there are over 60 breweries in Denver to choose from, though each offer something unique.
Photo via Renegade Brewing Company[/caption]
At Renegade, they get pretty creative with their beer flavors. Think “She’s My Cherry Pie,” a tart cherry ale laced with mulling spices, “Swashbuckler,” a decadent salted caramel porter and “Say What?!”, an ale featuring watermelon and tarragon. These are just a few of their unique beers, served alongside staples like an imperial stout and an IPA.
The beers themselves aren’t the only reason to visit Renegade. They’ve also got delicious food trucks outside, a translucent wall through which to see the brew production, and a charitable angle: with every gallon of beer drank a person in need receives a day of clean drinking water. Toast to that!
Price: $7 for a tour, tasting and souvenir pint glass (on 2nd and 4th Saturdays), or receive a free tasting with your Le Meridien keycard any day of the week.
2. Sip Sustainable Craft Cider
Husband and wife duo Brad and Kathe Page started the Colorado Cider Company in 2010. Brad had been a brewer since the 80s, and started to get sick of it — especially when craft beer exploded in Denver.
Wanting to do something different where they could really watch their idea go from ground to glass, they ventured into cider.
Doing a tasting at Colorado Cider Company[/caption]
After a tour, I sample a few of their 16 tap offerings. While the “Grasshop-ah” features lemongrass and local hops, the “Little Cascara” uses local Huckleberry Coffee coffee cherries. My favorite is the “CaCowie Wowie,” which recycles local Cultura Coffee’s cacao husks for a deliciously chocolatey aroma and taste!
Play board games while savoring their sour, sampling the pear or opting for the cherry; though one thing you won’t find is Pumpkin Spice. Smirks Kathe, “I tell guests instead to bring in a nice slice of pumpkin pie and pair it with our original ‘Glider Cider.’ It’s delicious!”
Price: $13 for a flight of eight ciders, or receive a complimentary tour and tasting with your Le Meridien keycard.
3. Sample Local Wine…From A Can
Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery gets its name from the idea “that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”
No need to swirl and sniff or try to pretend you understand what tannins are. While the winery does serve wine from a bottle, you can also get it in a can — and it’s delicious!
Doing a tasting at Inifinite Monkey Theorem[/caption]
The winery is all about being approachable. In fact, owner Ben Parsons is one of the most down-to-earth winemakers I’ve ever met. There’s a romance that’s often associated with wine, though, according to Parsons, the reality is many Napa wineries were started by millionaires as tax write-offs in settings with gorgeous rolling hills. Infinite Monkey Theorem, on the other hand, was started with less than $300,000, residing in Denver’s industrial River North Art District (RiNo) neighborhood.
I love doing a tour and tasting in the production space — even seeing the canning machine at work. Out back, Ben shows the group his garden (he also sells produce to local restaurants) and mobile wine bus for sales on the go.
Price: $25 for a tour and tasting, but with your Le Meridien keycard you’ll get three free tastings.
4. Hang Out With Eleven In The Alley
Speaking of RiNo, this is Denver’s street art hub. Not surprisingly, I always make a trip to the neighborhood when I’m in the city.
And while I always see inspiring street art, on this visit I’m fortunate enough (okay, I almost cry with excitement) to see an entire alley full of STRANGER THINGS MURALS.
One of many Stranger Things murals in the RiNo neighborhood[/caption]
Eleven, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will — even Dart and the Demogorgon — are all there just hanging out at 2500–2600 block between Larimer and Walnut streets.
The murals were put up during the Colorado CRUSH street art festival by the Arty Deeds crew, and I’m told by the hotel there are even more murals to come.
If you’re a fan of the Netflix show, you definitely want to add this to your list.
5. Explore Abstract Expressionism (& Virtual Reality)
While the Denver Art Museum is great, on this visit I spend time at the Clyfford Still Museum, a museum in possession of about 830 paintings as well as 2,300 paper and sculpture works by Still. Even wilder, they have approximately 95% of Still’s total output — making it one of the world’s most comprehensive single artist collections.
Now, while you may not have heard of Still, that’s not because he wasn’t as talented as his more well-known Abstract Expressionist peers like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
The thing with Still was he was extremely particular about who he would sell his art too — going so far as to step back from the art world when he started to get too famous because he didn’t want his paintings to get into the hands of corrupt institutions.
Later in life he began stockpiling his art, and in his will said he would donate it to an American city — read: city, not museum — that would house all of it. Denver got it, and today the museum is its own standalone 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Wandering the Clyfford Still Museum[/caption]
There are rotating thematic exhibitions. While I’m there the rooms showcase Still’s work alongside predecessors like Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Georges Braque, with the curator interpreting how Still was influenced by these artists.
There’s also an interesting virtual reality component, where a selection of works are only visible when using a VR device. It makes the gallery experience more interactive, and also allows you to get closer to the works (because they aren’t really there).
Price: $10, or free with Le Meridien keycard.
6. Travel The World Through Food In Larimer Square
For truly creative menus sourcing ideas from around the world, Larimer Square is my favorite. Head to Tamayo for Mexican, Osteria Marco for Italian and Bistro Vendome for French.
On this trip, I dine at Rioja. Here, Executive Chef Tim Kuklinski and his team serve up ingenious Mediterranean meals you won’t find anywhere else.
My table starts with the “Rioja Picnic” — a deconstructed charcuterie board showcasing artisan meats, pine nut-crusted goat cheese, funnel salad, almonds and variety of olives served with orange confit.
Isn’t Larimer Square charming?[/caption]
Their homemade pasta menu is hard to choose from, though the “Artichoke Tortelloni” stuffed with goat cheese and served in a white truffle broth is deemed the winner. There is also the “Hawaiian Game Fish” flavored with sumac, oregano, garlic puree, Fresno chile, fresh veggies and uber healthy charcoal oil.
Price: Appetizers ($8+), Starter-Sized Pastas ($11+), Meal-Sized Pastas ($11+), Entrees ($13.50+).
[bctt tweet=”Want to #travel the world without leaving #Denver? Visit #6 on this list!” username=”jessonajourney”]
7. Eat Farm-To-Fork At Corinne
Located inside the Le Meridien Denver Downtown, Corinne Restaurant is the name of a woman who moved to Colorado looking to explore, but wanting to stay genuine to her roots.
The menu features seasonal ingredients and pays homage to Denver by taking Colorado staples and giving them a modern flare.
Appetizers at Corinne[/caption]
While I love my meal — a caramelized pork shank done in a ginger soy glaze that’s the size of a Medieval Times’ turkey leg — I’m obsessed with the appetizers.
If you’re with a group, consider sharing the BLT Deviled Eggs with peppercorn aioli, Buffalo Cauliflower (it tastes like wings!), sweet chili-doused Big Bang Calamari, and Roasted Brussel Sprouts gowned in soy chili glaze and topped with hazelnuts.
Pairing recommendation: Along with tons of wines and beers — many local — they have delicious craft cocktails. My favorite is the basil- and Ango-laced “Kickin’ Mule” made with homemade ginger beer and mezcal instead of vodka.
Price: Starters ($6.95+), Sandwiches ($14.95+), Meals ($15.95+).
8. Savor The Local Whiskey
For a true Americana experience with a local Denver twist, Laws Whiskey House is your place. Their focus is on education, so when visiting you’ll get much more than just a tasting.
The entire whiskey process takes place in their rustic space, with grain sourced from the family-owned Colorado Malting Co, corn from the local Whiskey Sisters Supply and their charred American White Oak Barrels from Missouri’s Independent Stave Company.
Photo via Laws Whiskey House[/caption]
I love their Four Grain Straight Bourbon, which adheres to the Bottled in Bond Act requiring “the whiskey be a product of a single season, using the grain of a single season, made by one distiller at a single distillery, and aged at least four years in a federal government-bonded warehouse. This whiskey is then cut and bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).”
Price: $10 for a tour, or receive a complimentary tour with your Le Meridien keycard.
9. Get Creative (While Getting Buzzed)
Denver has really taken the whole drink and draw trend to a new level, with a number of options for allowing alcohol to inspire your work.
When visiting Denver, don’t miss Canvas and Cocktails in Cherry Creek. Along with open studio time without instruction, swap weekend brunch for Mimosa Mornings or Sangria Saturdays. Both of these include one drink.
Their evening paint classes have a variety of drinks for purchase for just $5!
Photo courtesy of Canvas and Cocktails[/caption]
Pinot’s Palette in the Highlands neighborhood is another option. Grab a $5 drink and sip while an instructor shows you step-by-step how to paint Colorado-themed landscapes, dreamy beaches — even your own dog on special puppy painting days. Bonus: you’ll get a free beer koozie or paintbrush pen with a Yelp or Facebook checkin!
And don’t miss Build & Brew, where you’ll paint upcycled wood from around Colorado. Choose from 60+ stencils, sip a local craft beer and create your foolproof masterpiece!
10. Travel The World In One Creative Market
In Denver’s LoHi neighborhood, you’ll find Avanti Food & Beverage, a collective of rotating concept restaurants. On the main level and on the rooftop — yes, there’s even a rooftop — bars serve up beer, wine and craft cocktails.
Without ever leaving the restored century-old building, you can travel the world through food. Savor Italian pizza and antipasti boards at Brava!, snack on Venezuelan arepas at Quiero Arepas, and eat Asian street food (often with a modern twist) like bacon cheeseburger dumplings and BBQ roast pork bahn mi at Kaya Kitchen.
Photo courtesy of Avanti Food & Beverage[/caption]
There’s also an ethical edge to the concept, as the setup helps restaurants operate at a lower cost than if they had their own brick and mortar. This helps them focus on what’s really important: serving quality creative eats in a laid-back industrial space filled with communal tables and private nooks.
By the way, if you enjoy the European market-style concept, The Source is another option located in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. Housed in an 1880s brick foundry, you can sample some of the city’s most innovative eats in one place. Grab a drink at the center bar before choosing from 15 different vendors, most of which are restaurants.
Photo courtesy of Acorn Restaurant[/caption]
A few must-trys: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, a sour beer-only brewery. The head brewer actually has a Master of Science degree, and wrote a thesis titled, “Pure culture fermentation characteristics of Brettanomyces yeast species and their use in the brewing industry.”
For food, Acorn serves up tasty contemporary American dishes — most cooked in the restaurant’s oak-fired oven and grill. Try the oak-grilled Italian sausage laced with chili oil or the oak-roasted free range chicken in a gruyère bread pudding. Pair with an “Across The Atlantic” showcasing Bulleit rye, Bénédictine, Lillet Rouge, honey and Cocktailpunk aromatic bitters.
11. Dine In A Shipping Container
Denver is home to a few shipping container restaurants, though my personal favorite is Work + Class.
First of all, this eatery is proof that Denver has some of the best happy hours; $6 cocktails, $4 beers and wines, and bites like green chile cheese fries and chipotle chicken pot pie from $5-$8. This is from 4–6pm Tuesday through Friday, and 4–5pm Saturday and Sunday — with an additional 20% off the happy hour menu offered 4–5pm Tuesday through Friday!
Photos courtesy of Work & Class[/caption]
Located in Denver’s artsy RiNo hood, this eatery prides itself on pouring stiff drinks (always with a 2-ounce pour), a hip and fun atmosphere (full of wood accents and exposed bulbs) and seasonal American-Latin fusion fare.
Note: As this is a popular spot, reservations are highly recommended! If you do have to wait, though, the restaurant offers you $4 drinks to help pass the time.
12. Eat In A Former Brothel
Another example of upcycled spaces, we now move from recycled shipping containers to a former bordello, peep show spot and literotica book store. Offering a Moulin Rouge feel, this two-level “gastro brothel” showcases boudoir pictures, black velvet paintings and a host stand that’s also a marque for upcoming shows.
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox. Photos courtesy of Rachel Adams & June Cochran.[/caption]
Speaking of shows, the first floor features a stage for live music and burlesque shows, DJ booth and film projector.
While the space is a treat for the senses, so is the globally-inspired menu utilizing local, sustainable ingredients (75% are organic!). Try the elk burger with miso candied bacon and ponzu onions, or the Scandinavian duck meatballs laced with hemp seeds, lingonberry jam and parsnip grits. Finish the meal with a deconstructed fried ice cream sundae. Sticky bun ice cream, anyone?
13. Have A Drink On Denver’s Highest Rooftop
The Le Meridien Denver Downtown didn’t just open a new hotel, but also the city’s highest rooftop.
Called 54Thirty, the lounge offers a beautiful view of Mt. Evans — one of Colorado’s 58 Fourteeners at 14,265’ above sea level — to the west. To the east, you can see Denver’s Central Business District, including vistas of Denver Pavilions Mall and the Republic Plaza Building, Denver’s tallest building at 56-stories.
Bonus: Because the rooftop lounge only allows 125 people up at a time, it’s never too crowded.
Sunset from 54Thirty[/caption]
Note though this also means there’s typically a wait. To avoid the line, get there when they open.
Pair global bar bites like avocado hummus infused with yuzu, pistachio and cotija, or BBQ pork stickers featuring pickled red jalapeno.
14. Do Yoga — At The Airport
Yoga on the Fly is a cool new concept in Denver Airport’s Terminal A. Within their yoga studio you’ll find small rooms with curtain doors. On the floor are “yoga by numbers” mats — allowing your yoga video to tell you exactly where to place your hands and feet for a pose.
Photo via Yoga on the Fly[/caption]
There are a variety of class options focusing on breathing, meditation and/or movement. Think Basic Vinyasa, Abdominal Breathing, Energy Balancing and Simple Standing Poses, to name a few.
Inside the room you’ll also have a beauty bar full of products so you can freshen up.
I’m really hoping this expands to NYC, too!
Price: 15 minutes ($15); 30 minutes ($30); 45 minutes ($45); 60 minutes ($60). Hours are Sunday — Friday from 7am to 9pm and Saturday 7am to 7pm.