On a recent Tuesday afternoon, diners crowded around marble-topped bistro tables at Chez Maggy at the new Thompson hotel, open since February in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. The giveaway: A chance to sample chef Ludo Lefebvre’s classic French fare — garlic snails, curry-fried mussels, orange-flavoured duck breast — on his first venture outside of Los Angeles.
The restaurant and hotel are among the new crop of businesses gaining popularity in this Rocky Mountain gateway city, which has regained its pre-pandemic vibrancy. And visitors are welcomed with open arms: By the end of the year, Denver International Airport, which trade group Airports Council International recently ranked as the world’s third-busiest facility, will have an additional 39 gates, increasing capacity by 30 percent. percent.
Tempting travelers are a host of new cultural offerings, hotels and restaurants, plus the return of favorite events. An anticipated two-year renovation and revitalization of downtown’s 16th Street Mall launched this spring, and once complete, wider sidewalks and new infrastructure should restore the appeal of this 40-year-old pedestrian thoroughfare, which it had lost its shine.
Thanks to Denver’s abundant sunshine, numerous festivals and events take place outdoors, and annual favorites are back in full force this year, including June’s PrideFest and July’s Underground Music Showcase. The year-round First Friday Art Walks in the Santa Fe Art District, which drew 20,000 gallery lovers before the pandemic, are making a comeback, with the heart of the action among the eclectic galleries and boutiques that border Santa Fe Drive between Calles 5 and 11.
After two years of mostly drive-in showings, Denver Film presents its annual Film on the Rocks series at Red Rocks Amphitheater (through August 15) and, after a two-year hiatus, will host its Summer adults-only Scream (Aug. 25) at Lakeside Amusement Park northwest of downtown; In addition to unlimited rides, the performers will highlight the park’s nearly 125-year history. Outdoor moviegoers can experience a branch of Rocky Mountain Goat Yoga called Goatflix and Chill at Denver’s second-oldest cemetery, Fairmount, which has parkland among its 280 acres. (A herd of goats caresses viewers during screenings.)
From September 5-11, Art RiNo, a new festival, debuts in the RiNo (River North) Arts District with six new outdoor murals (add to the district’s collection of more than 100), light installations and a one-day concert outside the Mission Ballroom, a popular music venue, headlined by the Flaming Lips.
And the Great American Beer Festival (October 6-8) returns to the Colorado Convention Center after a two-year hiatus, celebrating 40 years as the nation’s largest gathering of all things craft brewing, with a competition, public tastings and two sessions pairing breweries and chefs.
art and culture
One of the biggest events in the art scene was the reopening last fall of the Denver Art Museum’s Martin Building after a $150 million renovation. A visual counterpoint to the museum’s low, angular Daniel Libeskind wing, the glass-tiled tower, designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1971, rises seven stories. The renovated roof terrace, where geometric cutouts in the façade frame views of Denver, implements a look that is delayed from Ponti’s original plan. Inside, a current exhibition features Mexican fashion designer and social activist Carla Fernández, who works with indigenous artisans (through October 16). Elsewhere in the museum, the first major exhibition dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe’s photography runs through November 6.
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Immersive art experiences abound in Denver; The most popular of late has been the trippy and interactive Meow Wolf, which originated in Santa Fe in 2016 and opened last fall in the Sun Valley neighborhood. Called the Convergence Station, some 70 connected halls and exhibits lead viewers through a psychedelic dreamscape created by dozens of artists in imaginative overdrive (timed admission required).
After a two-year delay due to the pandemic, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ “Theater of the Mind” will take place from August 31 to December 18. Created over eight years by musician David Byrne with investment banker and writer Mala Gaonkar, the 75-minute production takes audience members (ages 16 and up) on a narrative and sensory journey that reveals a person’s life in reverse chronology as a means of exploring memory, perception, and self-identity. “You will see that your perception is quite unreliable, and our memories are made up of how we perceive various moments in our lives and so are also not reliable,” Mr. Byrne said in a presentation about the project at the Aspen Ideas Festival. in Aspen. in June.
The pandemic has not stopped the opening of hotels. Among last year’s new properties were the baseball-inspired Rally Hotel next to Coors Field, the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, the RiNo District Catbird, a modern extended-stay hotel with a rooftop bar, and the Clayton Mid-Century Cherry Creek. (At the latter, the Five Nines craft cocktail lounge has expanded the nightlife scene with a softly lit, velvety interior and burlesque dance performances.) .
Visitors have even more to discover this summer. Cherry Creek’s former JW Marriott was transformed into the 199-room Hotel Clio in March (rooms start at $399). In February, the 216-room Thompson Denver (rooms from $309) opened as the luxury brand’s first outpost in Colorado. The hotel has partnered with Victrola, the record player manufacturer, to outfit a listening room in the sixth-floor bar and lounge, while a pedicab service shuttles guests around the surrounding LoDo neighborhood.
The 251-room Slate Hotel (rooms from $249), open from late May across from the Colorado Convention Center, is based on the building’s former life as the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, with classroom-themed artwork and a restaurant called Teachers’ Lounge. The Hilton Tapestry Collection property retains the original brick-lined hallways, now restored, while former classrooms have been converted into guest rooms with high ceilings and marble floors. In July, Best Western’s boutique-style Vib Denver opened in RiNo (rooms start at $250).
Where to eat
As Denver restaurants have regained their footing, newcomers fill the seats. Notable openings include A5 Steakhouse from a local restaurant group; the farm-to-table Apple Blossom at the Hyatt Centric Downtown, from the same team as the once-lauded Beast and Bottle (which lost its lease last year); and Three Saints Revival, a tapas restaurant at the Hotel Indigo opened by restaurateur and Punch Bowl Social founder Robert Thompson.
Restaurateur Dolores Tronco returned to Denver to open the Greenwich in RiNo last fall after closing the Banty Rooster in New York during the pandemic; Amid New York-inspired decor, diners are served seasonal fare with a Mediterranean tinge, like crispy-skin rotisserie chicken ($36), bright salads ($15-$18) and sourdough pizza ($21 and up).
Despite the recent closure of Broadway Market, the food halls and markets remain popular and constantly evolving. At Bellota, in the Source Hotel’s market, chef Manny Berella earned a 2022 James Beard Award nomination for Mexican fare like pork belly with mole and Oaxacan-spiced cricket tacos (a three-course meal costs about $42 without alcohol ).
New to Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, housed in a former aviation factory, Madrid’s Churreria fries churros with chocolate ($8), and the 24-seat Sky Bar serves classic cocktails amid the trappings of a retro-style airport lounge. The Stanley is also home to Annette, loved for her modern, locally sourced comfort food; Caroline Glover, the chef, received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mountain Region in June.
Though Denver’s distillery and craft brewery openings have slowed, Deviation Distilling’s cocktail lounge, opened last summer in an 1800s firehouse along LoDo’s Dairy Block, will soon join a neighboring Colorado’s taproom. Westbound and Down Brewing Company, known for its IPAs. Aviation-themed FlyteCo Brewing will open a second location in the old Stapleton Airport control tower this month with pub-style food, miniature golf and exhibits on loan from the nearby Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
Local restaurateur and chef Dana Rodriguez, another 2022 James Beard Award nominee for longtime favorite Work and Class, opened Cantina Loca, in the LoHi neighborhood, last January. Shareable dishes like tempura-fried nopales ($8), spicy marinated chicken ($19), and silky vanilla flan ($7) are best paired with Ms. Rodriguez’s own line of mezcal and tequila.
Ms. Rodríguez also has another company in process. When she moved from Mexico in 1998, she was turned down for a job at Casa Bonita, known more for its kitsch decor and cliff divers than its food; When Casa Bonita reopens under its new owners, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Ms. Rodriguez will be there, now heading up a new culinary team.