36 Hours in the Big City — Denver

With a gloomy weather forecast in store for Aspen, on Friday morning I endeavored to put together a last minute weekend getaway to the big city — Denver.  I was in search of an artful, food-filled weekend, and boy did I find what I was looking for!

First things first, secure a fabulous hotel. As soon as I read about The Ramble Hotel, the first hotel in Denver’s industrial and arty River North Art (RiNo) district,  I knew I had found my place. Next, try and get tickets for the sold out Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism show at the Denver Art Museum.  Check —  only thing was that the entry time was for 9:40am on Saturday. I grabbed the ticket, and threw some clothes into a bag for a pre-dawn departure. I was out the door at 5:30am, cresting Independence Pass just as the sun was rising over the peaks.

An Aspen to Denver Road Trip

My first stop was at “City on a Hill” in Leadville, this Aspen road-tripper’s favorite coffee shop.  With my Chai Latte and scrumptious muffin in hand, I headed back out, and before I knew it, it was 8:45am, and I was in Denver. I fueled up with another Chai Latte at the Leven Deli, behind the Denver Art Museum, and at 9:40 on the dot, I was allowed into the museum, with a few other lucky ticket-holders anxious to see the Mexican Modernism exhibit. For those of you who haven’t been to the Denver Art Museum, the architecture is stunning – a shiny, silver, geometric building that leaps into the sky. Due to COVID, the number of visitors is highly restricted; It’s almost as if I had a private tour.  The exhibit that features an intimate look at Frida Kahlo and Diego Riveras’ lives together, as artists and activists – is remarkable for the Kahlo/Rivera paintings, as well as the history lesson on modern Mexico.

From the Denver Art Museum, it’s just a few blocks walk to the Clyfford Still Museum, where I meet my college roommate, Jenny, who lives south of Denver, to learn more about one of  the early leaders in Abstract Expressionists. The museum (temporarily closed as of November 20th in accordance to the red level COVID rating in Denver) was designed specifically to house Still’s art, and is remarkable for the natural light that floods through the ceiling. Admittedly, we were distracted from Still’s gorgeous, large-scale canvases due to the Biden-Harris win that had just been announced, and we raced out onto the streets of Denver to immerse ourselves in the celebrations. 

The Ramble Hotel, Denver’s RiNo District

By the time I checked into The Ramble Hotel, I had already had a full day of activities and it was only mid-day. The Ramble Hotel was everything, and more, that I had hoped for. Maria, the valet was waiting for me outside as I pulled up to the front of the hotel – a lovely brick building anchoring one end of RiNo. “Leave everything in the car Ms. Hawkes, and we’ll make sure it gets up to your room,” Maria cheerfully assured me.  I was already beginning to feel like I was a guest at the Four Seasons – but it gets even better. Walking in the front door, I was greeted by the “welcomer” in the grand, but cozy lobby, who was registering everyone who enters the hotel for COVID tracing. Next, the check-in with Carola at the magnificent, forest green leather-upholstered check-in desk was swift, and I excitedly went up to my third floor room. Everything about the hotel screams “classy”; The chandeliers in the lobby, the padded elevator, the carpeting in the hallways that is reminiscent of a Scotch kilt, and the room….. Walking in, there were 3 large windows straight ahead with a sweet sitting area with two chairs and a small table. The King bed was dressed to the nines in quality, white linens and large fluffy pillows. While there aren’t phones in the rooms (who needs them anyway?), the room comes with a large screen TV, an Ipad, and a sizable bathroom with a glassed in shower, and a separate makeup mirror ringed with Hollywood-style lightbulbs that turn any guest into a starlet!

Denver’s RiNo District

Hungry for lunch, Jenny and I explore RiNo and found the Denver Central Market– an indoor/outdoor market with gourmet food purveyors. We ordered up our own fabulous salads from GreenSeed and carried them out to the picnic tables set up in the courtyard surrounded by the colorful art murals that RiNo is known for. When I got back to the Ramble Hotel in the late afternoon, people were already gathering in the lobby, home to the cocktail institution, Death & Co. The lobby/bar area is like an intimate salon, with small tables and booths for guests to enjoy their craft cocktails and nibbles. The guests were a mix of mountain and city chic, and spanned the ages. With COVID restrictions in place, drinking and dining were by reservation. I was seated me in the back bar area, set up with sofas and tables. I ordered my cocktail, “Golden Beautiful” – Reposada Tequila, Campari, Passionfruit, Lime, Vanilla – and sank into the couch, as I checked out the menu; Korean fried chicken, Winter Salad, Colorado Lamb. Yum! My friend Susan, a Surrogacy, Reproductive, and Mediator lawyer with OSC Law & Mediation, joined me unexpectedly, and together we headed out to explore RiNo before the sun set. Almost everywhere we looked, the walls were covered with murals. It was one of the more eye-titillating neighborhoods I have ever explored. Susan had just flown in from NYC and was starving so we stop by Cart Driver, an oyster and pizza joint that fits into a 640 square foot shipping container and has a sweet open air space patio. We ordered way too much:  Aperol Spritzers, Mezcal Margaritas; marinated olives; garlic bread; a clam and pancetta pizza, and the Cart Driver (kale, sausage, mozzarella) pizza. Luckily our hotel was right across the street, so all we had to do was  roll ourselves back there to drop off our leftovers… and then back out for a nightcap at the oh-so cool bar in the courtyard of the Denver Public Market. 

Downtown Denver

The next morning we headed out in search of coffee and happened upon Lekker, a wonderfully cozy and community-minded coffee house opened in October by a mother-daughter team. In addition to serving up a fabulous Chai, they offer the most outrageous croissants topped with an Oreo cookie, and other indescribable treats. They also donate 10% of their annual profits to Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa. The next place that we happened upon was Rye Society, an upscale, old-fashioned Jewish deli, offering the best of traditional Jewish comfort food. The tiny space, made larger by the portrait of Larry David hanging on the wall, has room to eat-in, but mostly is take-out. Pickles are big in Denver, and they’re really big at Rye Society. Naturally, we had to buy some, along with their Matzoh Ball soup, to bring back to Aspen. My last dining adventure in Denver was brunch with another lawyer friend, Steve, who I first met in NYC in the 80’s. He brought me to brunch at The Kitchen American Bistro, a lovely modern space a few blocks from Union Station, and at the beginning of the 16th Street Mall. Deservedly so, the Kitchen is well-known for its brunch. I had a fab mimosa, a Smoked Salmon Rillette, and then managed to finish off the Eggs in Purgatory dish. All crazy good. With stormy weather heading towards Aspen, it was time to leave so I could make it over Independence Pass before it got dark. However … I got sidetracked by a walk through the Denver Milk Market, a wonderful marketplace for sit down and take-out food. My final diversion was a walk along the river where I fell into the Platte Street shopping district and found the most charming store ever – Common Era, a unique clothing store curated by owner Debra Mazur, a fashionista with gorgeous, flowing grey hair who arrived in Denver via Boulder and NYC. Finally, I headed home missing stopping at Melanzana in Leadville to buy one of their famous hoodies as was racing against the incoming weather. Driving over the pass through the beginning of a storm at 4:30pm was a bit sketchy, but I made it home safely –- fully satiated from my artful, foodie adventures in Denver.

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