Denver delivers

Lively at­trac­tions and easy ac­cess to the Rocky Moun­tains make the Colorado cap­i­tal well worth your time, says Philip Wat­son

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - WEEKEND IN... -

Fri­day morn­ing at 7.30am, the Craw­ford hotel, down­town Denver. I am in the epi­cen­tre of the city; the el­e­gant hotel forms part of the re­cent redevelopment of the his­toric Union Sta­tion ter­mi­nal, at one time the main rail­way hub for the Colorado cap­i­tal. I’m wait­ing for the lift to take me down for break­fast in one of the 1914 Beaux-Arts build­ing’s many buzzing cafés and restau­rants.

Be­cause of the hotel’s un­ri­valled lo­ca­tion, and the hour, I ex­pect the doors to open to a fel­low busi­ness trav­eller, or maybe a jet-lagged tourist. I do not ex­pect to see a young cou­ple in full, colour-co­or­di­nated ski gear, com­plete with skis, poles, boots, gloves, gog­gles, hel­mets and Go Pro cam­eras.

They look like they’ve stepped off a ski lift in Switzer­land’s up­mar­ket Gs­taad – not into an ur­ban US el­e­va­tor. They tell me a wait­ing minibus will be whisk­ing them and some friends off to the Love­land Ski Area, 90km and about an hour and a half west of the “Mile-High City”, in the glo­ri­ous Rocky Moun­tains.

If it was a week­end dur­ing the ski sea­son, they wouldn’t even need the pri­vate shut­tle – they could

take the newly re­launched ski train di­rect from Union Sta­tion to an­other pop­u­lar Denver ski des­ti­na­tion, Win­ter Park, a cou­ple of hours away.

BOOM TOWN

In many ways, my “ski lift” ex­pe­ri­ence is em­blem­atic of a city that is thrillingly ac­tive and wholly sur­pris­ing. The US Bureau of Statis­tics ranked Denver as the fastest­grow­ing ma­jor city in the US in 2015, and, ev­ery­where you look, it has the feel of a boom town – the cityscape is dom­i­nated by cranes and new tower blocks.

The met­ro­pol­i­tan area is now home to more than three mil­lion peo­ple; it’s claimed by Rich Grant and Irene Rawl­ings in their book 100 Things To Do In Denver

Be­fore You Die that “the Mile-High City is grow­ing on aver­age by a thou­sand new res­i­dents a week”.

It’s cer­tainly true that ev­ery mil­len­nial you meet seems to be from some­where else, at­tracted to Denver by the three “Ms”: money (well, job op­por­tu­ni­ties – the un­em­ploy­ment rate hov­ers at around 3 per cent and is one of the low­est in the coun­try); moun­tains (as well as first-class ski­ing, the Rock­ies of­fer su­perb hik­ing, bik­ing, climb­ing, kayak­ing and raft­ing); and mar­i­juana (in 2005 it be­came the first ma­jor US city to le­galise cannabis, lead­ing to a mini-boom in weed cul­ti­va­tion, med­i­cal use and tourism).

Dubbed the “Wall Street of the West” at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury ow­ing to the rise of a small fi­nan­cial dis­trict along 17th Street, Denver has al­ways had a strong busi­ness cul­ture. Ma­jor com­pa­nies in the area in­clude Mol­son Coors, Lock­heed Martin and United. Its ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion has also made it a fo­cus for the tele­coms in­dus­try; com­mu­ni­ca­tion with both North Amer­i­can coasts, South Amer­ica, Europe and Asia is pos­si­ble in the same busi­ness day.

Denver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, with its land­mark mul­ti­ple-peaked roof canopy – said to echo both Na­tive Amer­i­can teepees and the Rock­ies – is now the sixth-busiest in the US, with more than 58 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2016. Since April last year, it also has a di­rect rail link to Union Sta­tion; the jour­ney takes 37 min­utes and costs US$9 each way.

ART OF THE CITY

That kind of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, and the fact that Denver is a rel­a­tively com­pact walk­ing city claim­ing a re­mark­able 300 days of sun­shine a year, makes it per­fect for ex­tend­ing your trip across a week­end. The weather can be change­able, and, at ex­actly one mile (1,600 me­tres) above sea level, you need to pro­tect your­self from the sun’s in­ten­sity. Yet Denver is an ex­tremely easy place to en­joy. There is even a free elec­tric shut­tle bus along the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedes­trian prom­e­nade de­signed by ar­chi­tect IM Pei, now fronted mostly by tacky gen­eral stores and tourist shops.

Near the south­ern end of the mall is the Golden Tri­an­gle Mu­seum Dis­trict. At­trac­tions here range from the Denver Art Mu­seum (10am-5pm Tue-Sun, 8pm Fri; US$13; den­ver­art­mu­seum.org), with its eye-catch­ing Daniel Libe­skind ex­ten­sion, to a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the ex­pan­sive paint­ings of Clyf­ford Still (10am-5pm Tue-Sun, 8pm Fri; US$10; clyf­ford­still­mu­seum.org), one of the Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ist move­ment’s most in­flu­en­tial – if rel­a­tively un­known – artists.

The dis­trict even has its own Art hotel (theartho­tel. com), opened in 2015, which dis­plays a pri­vate col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary works by the likes of Sol LeWitt and Tracey Emin in its dra­matic public spa­ces and 165 rooms.

If you pre­fer your cul­ture live, then Denver also delivers. It has one of the largest per­form­ing arts com­plexes in the US, with ten venues hous­ing ev­ery­thing from the­atre to Broad­way shows and a sym­phony or­ches­tra (den­ver­center.org). The 76,000seat Sports Author­ity Field at Mile High is home to 2016 Su­per Bowl champions the Bron­cos, al­though tick­ets are hard to come by – ev­ery Sun­day home game since 1970 has sold out (sea­son runs Sep-Feb).

The city also boasts two leg­endary mu­sic venues along East Col­fax Av­enue (part of the long­est com­mer­cial street in the US) – the Blue­bird and Og­den the­atres, both con­cert halls that are sym­bolic of Denver’s eclec­tic mu­sic scene.

LODO OR LOHI?

Head to LoDo (Lower Down­town Denver) to ex­plore re­gen­er­at­ing and newly hip his­toric neigh­bour­hoods with a range of worth­while di­ver­sions – the ex­cel­lent Tat­tered Cover book­shop (tat­tered­cover.com), the sump­tu­ous Art Deco Cruise Room bar at Denver’s old­est hotel, the Ox­ford (theox­ford­ho­tel.com), and the cool bars and restau­rants along Larimer Square. Don’t miss the “brew­pub” that sparked Denver’s justly fa­mous craft beer and mi­cro­brew­ing scene, Wynkoop (wynkoop.com).

There is also LoHi (Lower High­lands), just across the South Platte River, worth vis­it­ing for the Wil­liams and Gra­ham “speakeasy” alone (williamsand­gra­ham.com) – its wood-pan­elled back­room bar is hid­den be­hind a tiny “book­shop”. An­other way to check out Denver is to jog or cy­cle – there are a re­mark­able 137km of paved trails around the city.

And then there is al­ways shop­ping. As well as more than 160 up­mar­ket stores at Cherry Creek Shop­ping Cen­tre, 5km south­east of the city cen­tre, there is one down­town flag­ship store that should not be missed: Rock­mount Ranch Wear (rock­mount.com). The Western out­fit­ters that in­tro­duced the snap-but­ton cow­boy shirt to the world – and to Elvis, Bob Dy­lan, Robert Plant and Eric Clap­ton – was founded in 1946 by “Papa” Jack Weil, a busi­ness­man who worked un­til the age of 107.

Weil is said to have coined the phrase “The West is not a place, it’s a state of mind”. Denver to­day may be a hip, for­ward-think­ing city, but it’s still very much con­nected to that history and be­lief. It’s a state of mind that, even for a week­end, is well worth en­ter­ing.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Denver, in­clud­ing the Mile-High Cul­ture Pass to var­i­ous at­trac­tions (US$30 for three days), see vis­it­den­ver.org and colorado.com

Above: Head­ing into the Rocky Moun­tains

Clock­wise from

top: Denver Art Mu­seum; river­front cy­cle paths; Rock­mount Ranch Wear; and Denver In­ter­na­tional Air­port

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