Part Western commerce center, part culture capital, Denver exemplifies the art of relaxed urbanity. It’s sophisticated but not pretentious: small-town friendly but not provincial.
Beyond hightailing it to the mountains via Denver International Airport, it had been years since I’d visited the Mile High City. But a recent pre-ski city break revealed a hip, oft-overlooked and glitzy inner-city scene that’s channeling that Western charm into new restaurants, upscale boutiques and art galleries.
The latest star in Denver’s upscale vibe is the city’s most exclusive address - the Ritz-Carlton Denver. Just two blocks from the city’s fashionable heart and mile-long café-filled pedestrian promenade, the 16th Street Mall, the luxury hotel is an ideal base for travelers seeking to add a little Town to an up-Country visit.
Listed below are a few of my favorite discoveries and reason enough to add a Denver City Break to your next Colorado vacation.
THE LOCAL TAKE: Denver’s downtown residential areas are home to more than 60,000 residents, infusing it with an authentic and vibrant beat. A handful of new neighborhoods like River North (RiNo), Ballpark and South Broadway personify the city’s homegrown urbanization, while LoDo continues to heat up after hours with more than 90 brewpubs, music clubs and rooftop cafes, all housed in turn-of-the-century buildings.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Construction is now underway at Union Station, where Denver is adding a new Light Rail connection to Golden in the west that will open in 2013 and airport rail line that will connect downtown to DIA by 2015, part of the largest light rail initiative in American history. The area around the rail hub in Union Station will feature a new park, shopping, retail and restaurants. It is connected by pedestrian walkways to Riverfront, Confluence and Commons parks, which line the South Platte River, and to the up-and-coming LoHi neighborhood, which offers some of Denver’s newest and most acclaimed dining options, including Root Down, Duo and Lola’s.
SNAPPY WESTERN STYLE: Rockmount Ranch Wear, a Denver stalwart famous for inventing western snap-front shirts, exemplifies the Western aesthetic unlike any other. Long before Anne Hathaway and Heath Ledger sported Rockmount shirts in Brokeback Mountain, or Paul McCartney rocked Saturday Night Live in vintage Rockmount, the legendary brand is how the west was worn since starting business in 1946.
FOR FOODIES: Partake of humble cuisine, convivial atmosphere, and affordable Italian wines galore (listing nearly one hundred labels priced under $50 per bottle) at Larimer Square’s cozy Osteria Marco: a casual compliment to it’s older brother, the highly successful high-end Italian eatery, Luca de I’talia, by Denver hotshot chef/proprietor, Frank Bonnano. Or grab a muffin and a paper at its next door neighbor, The Market, and take in a parade of local characters.
ROAD READS: Snag a seat and curl up with a cuppa and the newest best seller at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, a 3-story Indie hangout and beloved Denver bookseller. Like your favorite eccentric Aunt’s house with creaky hardwood floors, antique reading lamps, and cozy furnishings, this welcoming retreat is a place where locals and visitors are encouraged to linger. And if your visit coincides with one of their many author events, all the better.
GEAR UP: An adventure in itself, a visit to the REI Denver flagship store is a travel essential. Located riverside in the cavernous 1901 Denver Tramway building at Confluence Park, REI is the place for random acts of recreation. From a 45-foot climbing wall and top-brand gear and clothing to an in-house bike, ski & snowboard shop with equipment rentals, gearing up for your Colorado vacation at REI is way too much fun. Plan to spend some serious time, and cash, at this outdoorsy candy store.
PUTTING ON THE RITZ: What happens when a company known for extraordinary service and style with all the creature comforts a traveler could desire moves into the neighborhood? You get Ritz-Carlton Denver – the city’s first and only AAA 5-Diamond property.
The suite life: Book a club level room, where complimentary concierge service, high-speed Internet access, meals (breakfast, lunch, hors d’ oeuvres and dinner), beverages, and snacks-to-go, come standard.
Spalicious: The signature massage with therapist Jade Slay at the Ritz Spa left me glowing for days afterwards.
Opera lovers: Ask about the hotel’s Performing Arts package which combines choice performance seating and dinner for two at Elway’s restaurant.
Favorite amenity: For cold weather exploration, the luxury convenience of the hotel’s courtesy car, just a phone call away, is a perk to love.
For complete Denver vacation information, go to www.VisitDenver.org.
DID YOU KNOW? Free energy-efficient buses leave either end of the Mall as often as every 90 seconds, stopping on every corner and making all of downtown Denver easily accessible. After 6 p.m., more than two dozen horse-drawn carriages clatter up and down the pedestrian zone.