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"LoDo" it's Denver's Lower Downtown district ... tumbleweeds, abstract art, and 20 blocks of history.

True grit still lingers in Denver's Lower Downtown district-a reminder of Western roots in the midst of renovated brick warehouse buildings. Contemporary galleries, funky cafes, and jazz clubs are newly opened (or planned) in former saloons and saddleries. Painted signs from early 1900s businesses are still legible on false-front buildings, now used for law offices and design studios.

As one resident gallery owner describes it, "You can be looking at abstract paintings, then turn around and see tumbleweeds roll down the street."

Rebirth of Denver's most colorful area

Lower Downtown (nicknamed "LoDo") is bounded roughly by the 20th Street and Larimer Square shopping areas and steel-and-glass towers to the southeast, Cherry Creek to the west, and the sprawling railyards of the Platte River Valley to the north.

In 1988, the city declared the 20-block area a historic district-though not before some classic structures had been razed to make way for income-producing parking lots, giving some streets an admittedly gap-toothed appearance. Even so, the area vibrates with a spirit that was missing in the lean years following the 1984 plummet in oil and property prices.

The best way to visit LoDo, crisscrossed as it is by one-way streets and looming viaducts, is to park and walk; unattended lots cost about $2 a day (most accept coins and bills). Or catch the free 16th Street bus shuttle; it drops you off at Market Street Station, 16th and Market. Here we highlight some worthwhile stops on a walk through the district; numbers correspond to the map above. Telephone area code is 303.

LoDo's matriarch: Union Station

A good place to start your tour is at Union Station (1). Activity surrounding the cavernous Beaux-Arts structure, first completed in 1880 and rebuilt between 1912 and 1914, is what made LoDo grow around the turn of the century. Back then, 80 trains a day stopped here, serving more than a million passengers a year.

Today, only two Amtrak trains arrive and depart daily (at 8 and 8), plus a ski train in winter. Tracks that covered the roughly 400 acres of the Platte Valley behind the station have been removed; new development on the site may include an amusement park and baseball stadium.

In the station's south wing, Grandpa's Depot is crammed with authentic railroad memorabilia-Pullman blankets, spittoons, and 101 types of dining-car china. Hours are 8 to 8 daily.

If you're in town the last Friday of the month, September through May, don't miss the free show in the station's basement galleries. From 7:30 to 9:30 P.M., you'll find model railroaders piloting up to 10 trains through a remarkable Rocky Mountain scene about the size of a rollerskating rink; tracks loop through tiny mining villages and over miniature mountain passes.

Fine fare and syncopated rhythm

From the station, head northeast on Wynkoop Street. Note the covered loading dock; a vestige of earlier days, it now functions as a sidewalk past the row of handsome brick warehouses.

Also look for decorative details on the buildings: brick banding, Romanesque arches, granite foundations. They hint at the dual purpose of these multistory warehouses: first floors often served as showrooms, grandly finished with pressed-tin ceilings, oak trim, and other details to impress customers; the upper floors stored goods or housed processing facilities. A good spot to see this workmanship is the Wynkoop Brewing Company (2), in the former J.E Brown Mercantile Company building at the corner of 18th and Wynkoop streets. The restaurant-brewery attracts a boisterous crowd at all hours; lunch and dinner are served daily. The menu leans toward pub fare with a Southwestern twist, with plenty of vegetarian offerings. Call 297-2700. Free brewery tours run between I and 5 Saturdays. In the evening, you may hear strains of fusion, big band, swing, and Dixieland jazz floating up from the building's refurbished basement, which once housed a spice mill. Here, Jazzworks jazz club (3) has performances nightly except Sundays and Mondays in a sleek, well-ventilated space. For acts and hours (ask about non-smoking nights and times when ages under 21 are allowed), call 297-0920.

Designers, architects, artists cluster around Wynkoop, Wazee, and Blake

Across the intersection from the brewery rises the imposing mustard yellow Design Center at the Ice House (4). The eight-story creamery warehouse, built at the turn of the century, was used for cold storage until 1979. In 1981, renovation began for the design center. One stumbling block: the brick building was so well insulated that ice still covered its interior walls; workers had to chisel holes through the brick to thaw it out. Look on the eastern walls for pale patches of replacement brick.

The center is open only to the design trade. Shivers Restaurant (297-3400), downstairs in the concourse, is open to all from 7:30 to 3 Mondays and Tuesdays, till 7 Wednesdays through Fridays.

It's not strictly deco at Wazee Deco (5), a block away at 1819 Wazee. Here, a wall full of Philco and Zenith radios stands next to a Mies van der Rohe dining set. Hours are I I to 6 daily except Sundays. If you're lucky, you may get to watch Hermon Futrell working on his whimsical twig furniture upstairs; call 292-6373. A string of contemporary galleries is next on your tour. Most are open Tuesdays through Saturdays; call for hours.

At 1523 18th Street, Bluecreek-West Gallery (6) displays works by local artists on its bare brick walls; call 295-2051.

Heading a block southwest on Wazee Street, try Hassel Haeseler (7) at 1743 (295-6442), Robischon Gallery (8) at 1740 (298-7788), Payton-Rule (9) at 1736 (293-9080), and Sandy Carson Gallery (10) at 1734 (297-8585). In all four, bare white spaces display works on paper, sculptures, art glass, fiber art, and ceramics-many by regional artists, some from New York. Payton-Rule also has performance-art videos.

Soho West (11) at 1730 Wazee, sells handsome art pieces, furniture, and jewelry, with a heavy dose of howling coyotes and other Southwest-influenced images. For hours, call 292-9475.

From European antiques to saddles

At the corner of 17th Street and Wazee, snapping flags mark the entrance to the red sandstone Oxford-Alexis Hotel (12). Inside the 1891 building, antiques and a grand piano grace the lobby. Peek into the Cruise Room, just off the lobby: its streamlined, windowless interior was modeled after the bar on the Queen Mary. Downstairs, photographs and blueprints chronicle the hotel's various guises, including an art deco fasade in the `30s, with neon sidewalk strips leading up to it. (Original designs were restored in 1983.) Pretty rooms, some with canopy beds, start at $70 double Fridays and Saturdays, higher on weekdays; call 628-5400. Sloane Gallery (13), in the hotel annex, has many artworks smuggled out of the U.S.S.R. by Soviet artists. Hours are 11 to 8 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Continue on Wazee to 1637 to see European country antiques, Persian rugs, and remarkable renovation at Stuart-Buchanan (14), shown on the facing page.

Peek into Denver's horsey past

At Colorado Saddlery (15), 1631 15th, craftsmen have been making saddles, bridles, and bits for nearly 50 years. It's now the city's last saddlery (there used to be 10). Hours are 8:30 to 4:30 weekdays. At 1600 15th Street, look for Wazee Supper Club (16), tucked beneath the rivets and beams of the 15th Street viaduct. It's a great spot for pizza with Sam Cooke on the jukebox. Hours are 11 A.M. to 1 A.M. daily except Sundays; call 623-9518. At 1444 Wazee (17), now renovated office space, the sunken plaza and fountain mark the spot of Denver's original horse and oxen stables. This area was the city's transportation hub before trains arrived. You get jolted back to the future when you step across the vibrantly tiled entrance fronting City Spirit Cafe (18), at 1434 Blake Street. Here, pinstripes mix with purple haircuts. Slip into a booth and watch the scene. Hours are 11 A.M. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, with live music till 1 A.M. Fridays and Saturdays; call 575-0022.

Head next to American Costume Company (19), at 1526 Blake. The rainbow-hued 1880s building has alternately housed a print shop, a brothel, and Denver's first saloon. Inside, browse through more than 10,000 costumes-all for rent.

LoDo's restaurant row

The final stretch takes you past several eateries. First, Blue Coyote (20), with indoor and rooftop dining at 1410 Market Street, offers Southwestern and game specialties at lunch and dinner weekdays, dinner only on Saturdays; call 623-5171.

Jointly owned and run, Cafe Giovanni (21, 1515 Market) and Al Fresco (22, 1523) serve Italian fare. The first offers traditional dishes to diners in velvet and mahogany booths; Al Fresco serves lighter pastas and grilled specialties in a more casual setting. Lunch and dinner are served weekdays, only dinner Saturdays; call 534-0404 for either restaurant. Manhattan Cafe (23), at 1620 Market, serves fresh fish and lamb dishes in a romantic setting with soft piano music. Lunch and dinner are served weekdays, only dinner Saturdays; call 893-0951.

If you're over 21 and live for jazz, visit El Chapultepec (24), 1962 Market. This drab-looking building attracts everyone from Ella to the Marsalis brothers. Doors open at 10 A.M. daily, but music doesn't kick in until about 9; call 295-9126.

For more information on LoDo, write or call Lower Downtown District, Inc., Box 17433, Denver 80217; 623-5066.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Date:Nov 1, 1990
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