Denver From Dawn Til Dusk
It's a little bit cowboy country, a little bit Midwest, and more than a little bit surprising. Denver is a fascinating combination of big-city and small-town qualities, each colored with quirks and culture, heritage and nature. With a diverse community of more than 630,000 residents, Denver has proudly driven the cultural pulse of the mountain time zone, and finally I saddled up to see it for myself.
While one could never enjoy all that the Mile High City has to offer in a short visit -- taste-testing the trending restaurants alone would take months -- I have only a brief stay ahead. One full day, actually. It's time to find my inner Denver lover.
Best of Denver in a Day
I kick off my busy, gay-centric Denver day from one of the most elegant places in town, the gay-owned Capitol Hill Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Owner Carl Schmidt II took the reigns of this nationally registered historic property in 2001, and turned the 1891 Victorian mansion into a gorgeous, cozy, award-winning inn. I enjoy a fine and filling breakfast while chatting with Carl and his daughter Bailey, who run the B&B together, family-style.
They fill me in on Denver’s must-sees, mainly in neighborhoods with plenty of character, culture, and gay-friendly stops, like Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Highlands, and Downtown.
By the way, Carl also is a member of the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, which hosts year-round social and equestrian events, including the must-see Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo every summer -- celebrating its 32nd year July 11-13, 2014.
Diving Into Downtown
Off I go towards Downtown and the Civic Center, where the renowned Denver Art Museum anchors the Golden Triangle Museum District. It’s also a stone’s throw from the picturesque Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park, where Denver PrideFest takes place (this year on June 21 and 22 -- scroll down for more details).
Denver is a spacious city that runs a terrific mass-transit network, including light rail, free downtown shuttle routes, and B-cycle a bike-sharing system. Most routes connect with the 1881 Union Station, a major regional transportation hub that reopens July 12 after an exciting renovation that will introduce new shops, restaurants and a 112-room hotel.
Inside Union Station, I follow the local’s advice for a cowboy-caliber dining experience at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery. Yes, it’s a magnet for brawny sports lovers, which may or may not be a good thing. But it’s also the place to try locally raised beef and sip small-batch bourbons or local wines... all in the company of sturdy locals donning wide-brimmed Stetsons and leather boots.
Distilling and Dispensing in Denver
In Downtown’s LoDo district, I stop by the Oxford Hotel for a cocktail at the Cruise Room, which is not the newest gay bar but one of historical proportion. It’s one of Denver’s oldest and coolest martini lounges, decked out in Art Deco and chrome finishes to resemble a lounge on the Queen Mary cruise ship. As a fan of throwback style, I also imbibe in a vintage champagne cocktail at nearby Gatsby’s.
For those "green" tourists interested in sampling some of Colorado’s newly legalized recreational marijuana, you’ll find many a Denver retailer happy to oblige. A good one downtown is Euflora, where you’ll show your I.D. for entrance into a dispensary laid out like an Apple store -- complete with tablet devices to share in-depth details and user reviews of each grass strain (and plenty of helpful employees to explain how it all works).
I quickly learn that Denver is an easy place to relax. On an average day, Denver brews more than 200 different beers, earning it the nickname "the Napa Valley of Beer." In addition to the more than 30 breweries in Denver County alone, you’ll find a handful of craft distillers formulating every kind of spirit. Many of them host tours and tastings, including local favorite Mile High Distillers in the burgeoning River North Art District.
Heading for the Homo Hills
Since Capitol Hill holds the title for Denver’s gayest neighborhood, I head there to spend the evening among my people. After a farm-fresh dinner at hotspot Potager, I drift over to happening East Colfax Avenue to hobnob with fellow queers.
I admit that I arrived in Denver somewhat skeptical that this Rocky Mountain capital could feed thriving arts, dining and nightlife scenes, as well as a dynamic LGBT community. But from my brief visit I glimpsed all I’d been missing. The blue skies, hospitable people and scenic natural setting lend Denver its rich character -- all reasons why I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
Denver’s gay cowboy bar, Charlie’s, lives up to its warm reputation, with country music upstairs and pop downstairs. As dance parties go, it doesn’t outdo nearby X Bar, where a mix of men and women converge for nightly happy hours, plus lesbian night is every third Thursday.
North Capitol Hill is also called Uptown, and there I duck into Wrangler to meet some sociable bears before heading to Hamburger Mary’s just down 17th Street. Mary’s hosts fun bingo, drag shows and karaoke nights, has a big outdoor patio, and is open for a late bite or nightcap.
Denver Pride Essentials
The month of June rings in the 2014 LGBT Pride season, and Denver will usher in its 39th annual PrideFest June 21 and 22. The weekend festival is held in Civic Center Park; Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The PrideFest Parade kicks off Sunday at 9:30 a.m. from Cheesman Park, marching down Colfax Avenue to Civic Center Park. Headliners this year include Taylor Dane, Martha Wash, Cazwell, and Mike Munich.
In town for the celebration? Consider a few additions to your Pride-centric weekend:
Maybe relax into a spa escape at Woodhouse Day Spa, a Victorian mansion on East 17th Avenue in Uptown. Or feel the rainbow love beyond Capitol Hill with a bite at Gallop Caf, a gay-owned bistro in the Highlands neighborhood. (Be sure to leave room for homemade pastries!)
In Highlands, check out the Navajo Arts District, where Zip37 and other galleries exhibit art from Colorado and beyond.
Be sure to check out the PrideFest website for schedules, Dyke March info, and other FAQs. Also don’t miss the latest event listings and updates at Out Front Colorado.