As we sip and eat, I ask Rich, “Where is Denver now?” He replies without hesitation: “We’re one of the winners. It seems like a small town, which people love. We’re a city that lives the outdoors We enjoy parks and recreation, and with 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s almost always pleasant. Denver is a liberal, young place that enjoys having fun. In a day you can see the mountains, hike, fish, and come back to the city to watch a ball game, go bar-hopping, and see a concert.”
Rich takes me into Rockmount Ranch Wear, and it’s like stepping into the Old West—about as classic Denver as it gets. This western gear store, run by the grandson of the original owner is, according to Rich, the only vintage building in LoDo still being used for its original purpose. Shirts are full of snaps and glitter, Stetson hats line a shelf, and stairs lead to a tiny museum of vintage western wear. “This is Denver,” Rich comments as we head back downstairs and thumb through racks full of shirts adorned with eagles, trailers, stars, and flowers. “Denver’s not a big cowboy hat town,” he notes, “but EVERYONE has a Rockmount shirt!”
Reluctantly pulling myself away (I could seriously stay all day here), and leaving Rich, I walk up to the fanciful mast at the head of 16th Street and onto a riverside park that’s a welcome oasis of green in the city. I forget sometimes that there is actually a river here, but as I cross a bridge and the river roars beneath, I’m reminded of how important this river was (and to some extent remains) to the city. On the other side of the bridge lies LoHi (yet another acronym to learn, this one meaning “Lower Highlands”), where we’ll have a nice dinner in a little while. Now, I’m just walking, which is possibly the best recommendation I have for you. The neighborhoods change on a dime and each has its own special character. People actually respect pedestrians.
Another side of Denver is revealed in the Golden Triangle, home to many of the city’s finest museums. Practicing what I preach, I actually walk all the way there from the bridge to LoHi, but you can also hop on the Mall Ride from Union Station and be there in twenty minutes or so. I love walking around the Civic Plaza, past a huge broom and dustpan sculpture on one end and a pair of sculpted cows on the other, and visiting several museums within a few blocks of each other.
Predominant among these is the Denver Art Museum, now undergoing a major renovation that’s revitalizing their original building, the Martin Building, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of this Gio Ponti creation. They’re adding a sleek new welcome hall, rooftop and outdoor spaces, and the building will house a large part of their permanent collection (at press time, the re-opening was scheduled for October 2021). Meanwhile, the modern Hamilton building across the street hosts a variety of temporary exhibits, from “The 1800s in Europe and America” to “Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France,” and “Revisión: Art in the Americas.” There’s also a long-term exhibit called “Memory Mirror,” a unique project curated by Lares Feliciano and displaying a series of shadow boxes filled with “memory items”: a plastic xylophone, horse trophy, Kewpie dolls, tiny unicorn, Kansas-shaped spoon rest. Meanwhile, photographs of community members appear in a wall frame as audio reveals their favorite memory. It’s unique and fascinating, and just another of the museum’s many wonders.