The pop rocks crackle on my tongue as I wonder what Chef Troy Guard’s thought process must’ve been to consider coating Hamachi with the curious candy. The dish was almost too pretty to eat, but that didn’t stop me from shoveling the delicate bites greedily into my mouth. Food is as much an art form as anything else, and the innovative farm-to-table dining scene in Denver is quickly becoming competitive with any other big city in the country. Troy’s made a name for himself here, a big fish in a not-so-little-anymore pond.
It’s no secret that Denver is having a moment. Consistently voted one of the best places to live, one of the best year-round destinations, one of the greenest cities, and one of the most bike-friendly cities, the list goes on and on. No, the Mile High is definitely not flying under the radar anymore.
But as many accolades as the city have racked up, not a lot has been written about the city’s art scene. An often-overlooked destination in terms of culture, it’s assumed that people mainly come here for the outdoors – or a certain legal substance. No, it’s not New York or Chicago, but that doesn’t mean Denver’s lacking substance.
The indie music scene is one of the best in the country and one could argue that craft beer making is an art unto itself. We do have more traditional art, too. Whether you explore the museums, take in the outdoor works, or simply chow down on a plate that looks too pretty to eat, art is everywhere in the Mile High. You just need to look around to see it.
The ART Hotel, a Hotel
Quite literally a gallery you can sleep in, the ART Hotel is an experience more than a place to rest your head. Stumbling distance from the Denver Art Museum and hand-selected by their former curator, Dianne Vanderlip, works of art spill into the hallways and adorn every guest room, taking the form of vivid sculptures and impressive canvases. The lobby greets you with a 22,000-light installation, which gives you a brief introduction to their modern vision and serves as the first stop on your treasure hunt to see every impressive creation.See the ART Hotel
One of Denver’s newest hotels, The Maven, highlights a collection of hospitality tastemakers. Located in the Dairy Block, a micro-district of downtown, each business has been individually selected to offer the highest quality goods and services in their industry. You can expect products that are uniquely handcrafted from cocktails to pour over coffee.
Denver’s NINE dot ARTS curated the $1 million public art program for the area that leverages the power of artists as “the maker.” Both the neighborhood and hotel embody the ‘shop and stay local’ philosophy. The Maven guest rooms are appointed with more than 400 pieces by Mario Zoots, Travis Hetman, Molly Bounds, Karen Fisher, and other Colorado craftsmen.See The Maven
Located inside Union Station, The Crawford is just one part of the city’s major revitalization project. Symbolic of Denver’s rebirth as a modern, hip and flourishing urban destination, the area has quickly become an ultra-trendy hangout spot. The art on the walls is an ode to local Colorado talent that has been thoughtfully acquired over the years.
Union Station is home to more than 600 pieces of eclectic art that include everything from vintage travel postcards to aluminum prints by Mai Wyn Schantz, paintings by Virginia Maitland, suitcase installations by Phil Bender, and the “Station within the Station” photo collage. Self-guided walking tours are available.See The Crawford
trivago Tip: Snow lovers can get a bargain deal if you travel in November and December. Average hotel prices at the end of the year are about $130/night. But if you prefer taking advantage of that legendary, big sky sun, you’ll have to spend around $165/night starting in May through August.
A cult chain born out of Portland, Voodoo is equally known for its tasty treats, punny donut names, and R-rated shapes. The must-try is their signature Voodoo Doll, lovingly adorned with a pretzel stake. Each one of their cereal, candy, marshmallow, frosting explosions looks like a masterful work your child could’ve created in art class.
Big fans of pop culture, the shop is always flexing its creative muscle with their decor. When the Broncos were in the Super Bowl, they made a giant voodoo donut for their opponent so everyone could feel like they had a stake in the game.
For a more refined dining experience, Root Down is one of Denver’s signature restaurants. They whimsically describe their team as a jazz ensemble with each member contributing to the rhythmic masterpiece. Two on-site gardens provide the local, seasonal produce for the dishes and the attention to detail shines through in both the intricate plating and the sumptuous flavors.
With a tagline of “create, drink and be merry,” Upstairs Circus is an art studio as much as a place to toss one back. There is a menu of projects to craft and cocktails to imbibe. You can make anything from leather goods to jewelry along with specialty drinks to get the creative juices flowing. It’s like a paint and wine party, elevated.
Williams & Graham
When you think of craft cocktails, speakeasies often jump to mind, and simply put, no one does drinks better than Williams & Graham. One of the 50 best bars in the world and the number one bar in the United States, you can expect drinks to be masterful concoctions. Concealed behind a bookshelf, mixology is front and center with a hefty novel of drink choices organized by the spirit.
See a Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world, experiencing an outdoor concert at Red Rocks is quite simply, transcendental. The dramatic sandstone cliffs set the backdrop, while notes bounce and vibrate off the jagged monoliths. All the musical greats from Sting and the Beatles to U2 have graced the stage, and every season offers performances that are even better than the last.
If the performance schedule doesn’t match up with your travel plans, you can also look into experiencing Red Rock’s cult movie nights, yoga on the rocks, or one of their epic fitness challenges.
Take a Self-Guided Art Tour
As soon as the bright blue bronco greets you with glowing red eyes outside of Denver International Airport, you’ll realize Denver is one giant outdoor art walk. From murals to larger than life sculptures, there are over 300 works in Denver’s public art collection. In fact, the city requires that one percent of every capital development project over $1 million dollars be set aside to contribute to the effort.
For some of the highlights, head to RiNo (River North Arts District) to experience the best street art in town. Snap a selfie with the “Love This City” banner and marvel at the creatively constructed “Larimer Boy and Girl,” which cleverly uses the building’s protruding façade as a canvas for two completely different faces on each side.
Plan a pilgrimage to see the 40-foot blue bear at the Colorado Convention Center, the 60-foot fiberglass dancers outside the Denver Performing Arts Complex (also a great place to catch a show), the humongous broom and dustpan in front of the Denver Art Museum, and the horse planted atop the enormous red chair by the Denver Public Library.
Art is everywhere in the Mile High, it’s simply a scavenger hunt to find your favorite piece.
*Feature image courtesy of Evan Simon, Visit Denver