Denver Delivers Rocky Mountain High.
Denver has long been known as The Mile High City, although these days the term has multiple meanings. Regardless of your recreational preferences, Colorado's capital has a lot to offer visitors.
For attendees of CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference and World Council of Credit Union's World Credit Union Conference, the joint event that descends on the city July 12-15, Denver provides a plethora of after-hours possibilities.
Downtown Denver has undergone a renaissance in the past 10 years, and if there is a restaurant mini-district it is certainly Larimer Square. Fine dining options sit cheek to jowl amid fashionable shopping alternatives, and if your favorite eatery is too crowded, you'll find a new favorite right next door.
Chef Richard Sandoval describes his restaurant Tamayo (1400 Larimer St., 720-946-1433) as "a modern Mexican kitchen and tequileria," but it's really just his earthy Mexican roots on a collision course with worldly ingredients and sophisticated culinary techniques.
Sandoval's Mahi Mahi "A La Tala" ($28), served with an adobo marinade, Napa cabbage tomato salad and chipotle aioli plumbs the depth of flavors fringed with a slow-burning fire courtesy of the roasted peppers. The Chili and Coffee-Rubbed Carne Asada ($28) with refried beans, citrus-scented Swiss chard and achiote chimichurri is even more robust.
On an expense account with extra money to spend? Try The Capital Grille (1450 Larimer Square, 303-539-2500), a place for steaks if there ever was one. The bone-in Kona-rubbed dry aged New York Strip with Cabernet reduction sauce served with shallot butter is sublime. But then so is the same cut served butter-crusted with Gorgonzola cheese. And any restaurant with a 5,000-bottle wine list can't be wrong, or cheap.
At Bistro VendE3me (1420 Larimer St., 303-825-3232), owners Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch have captured the tone and timbre of its Paris namesake the Place VendE3me without its pretense or prices. The result is upscale bistro fare with a distinctly high-end flare.
Try the Truite avec Raisins ($21), succulent pan-seared Idaho trout with butter-poached fingerling potatoes and Bordeaux spinach in a grape sauce vierge for a French spin on a local fish. For the more adventurous there's Lapin a la Moutarde ($26), a braised rabbit leg, Parisian mustard gnocchi, English peas and pea shoot salad.
As home to the Great American Beer Festival, held each October, Denver is a place that knows, loves and drinks beer. In fact, more than six dozen breweries operate within the "Beer-muda Triangle" formed by Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Here are some downtown options.
Breckinridge BreweryBallpark Pub (2220 Blake St., 303-297-3644), located near Coors Field, may be the best known because it sends its beers far and wide across the U.S. But like most craft brewers, Breckinridge always has small batch and seasonal favorites on tap and unavailable anywhere else.
There's no telling what you might be ready to serve when you're there, but keep an eye out for Regal Pilsner (7.7% alcohol by volume), a Bohemian-style gold made with Sterling and Magnum hops that lend a crisp edge to its medium malt body. Get even hoppier with the 471 Small Batch IPA (9.2% ABV), which blends Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe and Fuggles hops for a big, sweet mouthfeel tempered by an aggressive hoppy palate.
The Denver Beer Co. Taproom and Beergarden (1695 Platte St., 303-433-4739) is one of DBC's three Denver locations, and the former homebrewers who run the place have made their mark with small batch brews that take decidedly creative spins on tradition.
The brewery's Graham Cracker Porter (5.6% ABV), a GABF bronze medal winner, is described as "campfire in a glass," a dark pour with notes of vanilla, smoked cedar and mulling spices strengthen by a roasted malt backbone. Seasonal favorite Princess Yum Yum Raspberry Kolsch (4.8% ABV), brewed with fresh raspberries, presents with a ruby clarity and finishes dry and tart on the palate.
TheGreat Divide Brewing Co. (2201 Arapahoe St., 303-296-9460) looms large in its legend, having won 17 GABF medals and five World Beer Cup awards, and in 2010 ranked seventh in Beer Advocate's All-Time Top Breweries on the Planet Earth. Founder Bill Dunn's brews live up to that legend.
Just in time for summer, Great Divide's seasonals include Oatmeal Yeti Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV), which is dark and roasty with rolled oats to soften the malt backbone and raisins to add a dark fruit flavor; 21st Anniversary (6.2% ABV), a barrel-aged American sour with bright, tart citrus and kiwi notes; and Whitewater (6.1% ABV), a crisply balanced hoppy wheat ale with citrus overtones.
Strange Craft Brewing Co. (1330 Zuni St., Unit M, 720-985-2337) lives up to its award-winning, albeit unusual legacy. Experimentation is the driving ethos in this brewhouse.
Conference-goers will arrive just in time for Watermelon Hefeweizen (5% ABV), a German wheat beer brewed with 660 pounds of organic watermelon in every batch that will immediately please fans of the fruit. Swing hard the other way with Dr. Strangelove Barleywine-style Ale (11.5% ABV) a malt powerhouse that uses three pounds of hops per batch to balance the big beer's palate.
Colorado is the nation's litmus test for legal recreational marijuana usage, and you might be tempted when visiting to snag a bag of buds for your own use. If that's your thing, then Denver is the place to do it, but there are a few rules you should know first.
The Denver metro area currently has nearly 100 legal pot shops open for business every day until 7 p.m. From obvious names such as Sweet Leaf, Cannabis Station and Ganja Gourmet, to less obvious ones such as Altitude Wellness, At Home Remedies and Caregivers for Life, the shops are everywhere. More info can be found at coloradopotguide.com.
Colorado residents can buy up to one ounce of weed at a time, but visitors can buy just one-quarter ounce at a time. Prices range from $100 to $150 per ounce.
Marijuana possession and consumption rules are a lot like open container laws in other states. As with all things, discretion is the better part of valor.
If you're 21 or older and have a government-issued ID to prove it, you can buy and smoke a joint, but not in public. There are no marijuana "coffee shops" in Denver like you might find in Amsterdam.
You're not allowed to drive under the influence, have an unsealed package of weed in your car or show any evidence of being high. Marijuana is not legal on federal lands, such as national parks.
As for taking home some souvenir ganja, the prevailing sentiment is: Don't do it. Several neighboring states are suing Colorado to try and keep marijuana from crossing the border, and U.S. Postal inspectors are getting very good at detecting just who is trying to mail marijuana home.
Attendees will have a variety of Denver day trip options as part of the conference. For those not going, here are a few more things to do.
Early arriving baseball fans can catch the tail end of a four-game series between the Colorado Rockies and the Atlanta Braves at Coors Field (2001 Blake St., 303-292-0200). Games are being played July 11 and 12 at 2:10 p.m. each day.
Music fans already know about Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre (18300 Alameda Parkway, Morrison, Colo., 720-865-2494), a Denver County Park with a very busy summer music schedule. July is one of the venue's most active months and a host of contemporary acts will perform during conference week.
The list includes The Avett Brothers/John Prine (7/12 at 5:30 p.m.), The Smashing Pumpkins/Marilyn Manson (7/13 at 7 p.m.), Wilco (7/14 at 7:30 p.m.), Death Cab for Cutie (7/15 at 7:30 p.m.) and Morrissey (7/16 at 7 p.m.)
Animal fans may want to stop at the Denver Zoo (2300 Steele St., 720-337-1400). Modeled after a Kenyan nature preserve, the zoo is home to 4,000 animals and covers 75 acres of City Park. Visitors in a hurry can ride the zoo's natural gas-powered train.
The Denver Museum of Science & Nature (2001 Colorado Blvd., 303-370-6000) also located in City Park just south of the zoo, offers a compact collection of dinosaurs, mummies and all the other things you expect to see in a museum. The current exhibition, "Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids," is free with museum admission.
Speaking of mermaids, visitors can see several of them in action at the Downtown Aquarium (700 Water St., 303-561-4450). The underwater maids join some 500 species of animals that occupy an estimated million gallons of water at the entertainment and dining complex, performing at least three shows daily and every 30 minutes on Saturday.