With the one of the nation's largest and most dynamic gay scenes, the sunny and scenic city of Denver lies just east of the glorious Rocky Mountains and offers visitors a dazzling array of attractions and diversions, from leafy parks to esteemed cultural institutions to hip yet friendly restaurants and gay bars. Here's a gay photo tour of the Mile High City.
Cheesman Park, in early September on a sunny day
A look at Denver's splendidly verdant Cheesman Park, during a warm sunny day in early September. The park is the site of Denver's annual Gay Pride celebration, with the parade starting from the park.
Here's a look at Cheesman Park in winter, covered with snow, along with some additional information about the park and its location.
Cheesman Park, in winter with snow
Anchoring an attractive, historic residential neighorhood east of the Colorado State Capitol building, Cheesman Park (E. 11th and Race Sts.) is one of Denver's prettiest green spaces and also the most popular outdoorsy area in the city among gays and lesbians, who typically lay out on the lawns, play frisbee, picnic, jog, and relax here throughout the year, and especially in summer. The photo here, of course, is taken in winter with the park covered in snow (it's popular at this time for cross-country skiing). Here's a look at Cheesman Park on a sunny summer day.
It's from this leafy park with wonderful views of the Rocky Mountains that the Gay Pride Parade starts each June. The park from East 8th Avenue at Williams Street, from East 11th Avenue just west of Race Street, and from East 13th Avenue from Franklin Street.
Tracks Dance Club, on Walnut Street
The definitive Denver gay dance club, Tracks (3500 Walnut St., 303-863-7326) is a huge, eclectic, and enormously fun spot in an industrial area northeast of downtown (it's safe, but a bit of a haul - best to take a cab or drive there). The club is open every Thursday (18-and-over), the first Friday of each month for the city's hottest lesbian party, and every Saturday, when revelers of all types pile in for pulsing music in two different dance areas (one current stuff, the other more retro).
Denver Night Skyline, viewed from upper floor of Westin Tabor Center
A view west, toward the mountains, from a room balcony at downtown's Westin Tabor Center. I shot this in November, during a light snowfall.
Tattered Cover Books (and cafe), in historic LoDo
Book-lovers spend hours browsing the hundreds of shelves of Tattered Cover Bookstore (1628 16th St., 303-436-1070), which is one of the nation's most impressive indie booksellers. Inside a landmark building (it once housed Morey Mercantile) in LoDo and with a massive inventory that includes a superb section of gay, lesbian, and queer studies titles as well as an extensive newsstand and a cool little cafe, the Tattered Cover is easy to reach from the 16th Street pedestrian mall and downtown hotels - it's very close to Union Station. The store is filled with comfy armchairs, making it a fine place to browse your potential purchases while sipping lattes or snacking on chocolate-chip cookies. Would that every city in America had such a fantastic bookshop.
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
Established in 1972 and now one of the nation's preeminent cultural institutions, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (1101 13th St., 303-893-4100) has evolved over the years into an impressive complex of theaters and concert halls. Components include the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre, Newton Auditorium (built in 1908 but fully renovated in 2004), the intimate Garner Galleria Theatre, the Helen Bonfils Theatre complex, and the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The facility is home to the prestigious Denver Center Theatre Company, and you can dine before a show at the trendy Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, Morrison (20 miles west of Denver)
Just a 20-mile drive west of downtown Denver, rugged and picturesque Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre (4600 Humboldt St., 303-295-4444) is one of the most alluring - and popular - attractions in the region. The stunning landscape was once a gathering spot of Ute Indians, and by the late 19th century had been named Garden of the Angels, and then later Garden of the Titans. Today the park and its dramatic red sandstone boulders are a favorite hiking venue, and home to an dramatic open-air amphitheater that stages top-name concerts.
Concerts have, in fact, been a part of the Red Rocks legacy for more than a century - an early owner of the property produced concerts here as early as 1906. In the 1920s, the Denver Parks Department purchased the property, and soon enlisted the considerable manpower of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) - part of the WPA New Deal program - to building the elegantly simple yet visually mesmerizing concert venue that Red Rocks is today. In recent years, Red Rocks has hosted some of the most important rock acts in the world, plus plenty of shows with a strong gay following (i.e., the True Colors Tour with Cyndi Lauper, the B-52s, Rosie O'Donnell, Carson Kressley, etc.), REM, Abba, the Bee Gees, Tori Amos, the Dresden Dolls, Margaret Cho, Debbie Harry, Erasure, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls - the list goes on and on.
All year, you can hike at the park - there's a simple 1.4-mile Trading Post Loop that's especially scenic.
Highland's Garden Cafe, in the Highland neighborhood
Set inside a pair of lovingly restored Victorian houses in Denver's gentrified Highland district, a short drive northwest of downtown, the Highland's Garden Cafe (3927 W. 32nd Ave., 303-458-5920) serves exceptionally fine contemporary American and French food - the setting couldn't be more romantic, and the management is extremely gay-friendly and friendly. There's an extensive wine list, and from the oft-changing menu, keep an eye out for the petite omelet with sour cream and smoked salmon; grilled quail with cherries, goat cheese, and lavender honey; champagne-peach soup with fresh berries; whole-roasted rainbow trout with lemon, sage, and butter; and traditional chocolate pot de creme. On weekends, the Highland's serves a first-rate brunch. It's one of several excellent dining options in the neighborhood, including Bang, just down the street.
Hotel Monaco Denver, downtown
Denver's lone member of the highly gay-friendly Kimpton brand hotel group, the Hotel Monaco (1717 Champa St., 303-296-1717) comprises a pair of adjoining early-20th-century downtown buildings in the center of downtown, close to the 16th Street Mall and near a slew of great restaurants and shops - it's an easy walk from here to LoDo, Larimer Square, and the city's Civic Center Mall. The hotel's warmly furnished 189 rooms have playfully elegant striped wallpaper, L'Occitane bath products, and flat-screen TVs, plus the usual Kimpton touches, such as free Wi-Fi, goldfish in bowls on request, pet amenities (it's a pet-friendly property, feather comforters and pillows, an in-room spa-wellness program featuring complimentary yoga accessories, and plenty of other personal perks. Rooms come in a variety of shapes and sizes - it's worth paying a little extra for a King Spa room with a jetted Fuji soak tub. Or go all out with the John Lennon Imagine Suite, which has a Yellow Submarine desk lamp and art that includes handwritten lyrics to various Beatles songs.
In keeping with Kimpton's emphasis not only on comfortable sleeping but also notable dining, the hotel has a terrific restaurant, Panzano. There's also a complimentary evening wine hour, and the hotel has an Aveda Spa and Salon on-site, plus a 24-hour fitness room.
BoyzTown, gay strip bar on South Broadway
It's dive-y, cruise-y, slightly raunchy, and plenty of fun: BoyzTown (117 Broadway, 303-722-7373) is a highly popular part of the gruff but lovable South Broadway gay scene, a neighbor of such standbys as the Compound/Basix and late BJ's Carousel (a venerable Denver gay bar that closed in July 2011) - it's also close to the very fun Hornet Restaurant and Bar, as well as Il Vicino pizzeria. Part of the excitement (or, at the very least, amusement) is that BoyzTown employs a sizable stable of gregarious strippers and go-go boys, who perform each evening to the delight of sauced and saucy patrons. As gay strip bars go, the crowd is remarkably age-diverse and friendly.
Brown Palace Hotel
Although a number of stylish, contemporary hotels have opened in Denver over the past few years, the city's gold standard for luxury and opulence remains the elegant and historic Brown Palace Hotel (321 17th St., 303-297-3111), which is in the heart of downtown. ornately decorated hotel opened in 1892 and has been visited by every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt (except for Calvin Coolidge - although perhaps he visited and nobody noticed). The hotel's signature feature is its dramatic eight-story atrium lobby, which was revolutionary for its time. Today the hotel is known for having one of the best spas in the city, and it's also the place in Denver for afternoon tea (be sure to make reservations - it can be highly popular) and the Dom Perignon Sunday brunch (the food at this lavish buffet is decent, not amazing, but it's still great fun and wonderful for people-watching).
Bug Theatre, in the Highland neighborhood
An avant-garde performance and arts space in Denver's Highland neighborhood, the Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo St., 303-477-5977) occupies a building that was constructed in 1912 as nickelodeon movie cinema. The highly regarded space, which puts on a number of programs with gay and lesbian interest, keeps busy year-round with cutting-edge theater and film.
Snooze breakfast and lunch restaurant, in the Historic Ballpark District
In the shadows of Coors Field and fast-becoming a de rigueur breakfast spot among serious fans of huevos rancheros, sweet-potato pancakes, and biscuits and gravy, Snooze (2262 Larimer St., 303-297-0700) is a fun, breezy little restaurant that opens early (6:30 am on weekdays, 7 on weekends) and serves just breakfast and lunch (it closes promptly at 2:30). With a Mid-Century Modern design that creates a distinctly fabulous retro-cool vibe (Jetsons-meets-Happy Days, as the owners describe it), Snooze is a cheerful place to start.
Hearty, delicious breakfast fare is served, including a knockout breakfast burrito topped with green chiles. But pancakes are the signature dish and are available in several unusual varieties, including pineapple-upside-down (topped with chunks of caramelized pineapples, homemade vanilla creme anglaise, and cinnamon butter), sweet potato (with a bourbon-caramel glaze, ginger butter, and roasted pecans), and cherry cobbler (with sherry-soaked cherries). The almost-crusted French toasted infused with vanilla is tasty, too. Lest we forget it, Snooze serves some mighty fine lunch treats, too, including bison-meatball subs, salmon BLTs, and spinach salad.
Capitol Hill Mansion
Gay-owned, luxurious, and historic, the Capitol Hill Mansion (1207 Pennsylvania St., 303-839-5221) has a terrific central location in the heart of Denver, on an attractive residential street close to downtown arts and culture, handsome Cheesman Park, and gay bars and restaurants. The towering Queen Anne inn has eight rooms, all of them quite spacious and with different configurations - some have balconies and fireplaces, and three of them are full suites with separate sitting rooms. There are also whirlpool tubs in three rooms, and all have refrigerators, high-speed Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and writing desks (in other words, the inn is as romantic for a leisure getaway as it is practical for business trips).
A few notable reasons to consider staying at the Capitol Hill Mansion: all of the rooms have fresh flowers and (real) houseplants. And from a number of rooms, you get a glimpse of the city skyline or the mountains, in the distance. The innkeepers friendly and host evening cocktail socials. And breakfast is a hearty, gourmet affair, and it's presented over a two-hour window, which is nice in terms of giving guests flexibility to eat when they'd like to. Rooms start around $120 per night, which is right in the mid-range in Denver, making this a quite good value.
Charlie's Denver western bar
Part of a franchise of gay country-western bars with additional branches in Chicago, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, Charlie's Denver (900 E. Colfax Ave., 303-839-8890) opened in 1981 on the site of what is now Ms. C's lesbian bar, and has been at its current location since 1989. Home bar of the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association and a great place for country-line dancing and two-stepping, Charlie's also has a standard disco (Club Charlie's) playing current techno, hip-hop, and dance tunes. The crowd is mostly male, most of the time, although Charlie's is definitely quite welcoming of everybody.
Denver Skyline, viewed from JW Marriott hotel in Cherry Creek
A view of Denver's downtown skyline, from an upper floor of the JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek.
Larimer Square dining and retail district, downtown
On the immediate west edge of downtown, just below LoDo, the historic Larimer Square district abounds with trendy boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and lounges. The neighborhood has a somewhat upscale but artsy vibe, and although there are no specifically gay-oriented nightspots or hangouts here, Larimer Square definitely has a bit of a gay vibe. The neighborhood runs along (Market, Larimer, and Lawrence streets, between 14th and 15th streets). Noted businesses around Larimer Square include Cry Baby Ranch, Loft 22, Violet, the Bent Lens, Rioja, Samba Room, Tamayo, and The Market.
Bump and Grind breakfast and Petticoat Bruncheon
Head to Bump and Grind (439 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-4841) for tasty breakfast fare, and to watch the slightly (but affectionally) freakish drag waitrons work the room (these are not glam female impersonators but rather gruff but very dishy and fun guy clad in just the barest pretense of drag wear). Weekend brunch (and especially the Sunday Petticoat Bruncheon) is the main event here, and the kitchen serves up quite tasty (and ginormous) portions of Mexican eggs Benedict, banana waffles, carrot cake muffins, delicious chocolate chip cookies, and the like. Arrive with a sense of humor and a hearty appetite, and you won't be disappointed. Breakfast and lunch are served on weekdays (except Monday, when it's closed), and the brunch is served on weekends till around 2ish.
Wynkoop Brewing Company, in LoDo
Established in part by Denver's current mayor, the progressive and very gay-supportiver John Hickenlooper, the Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th St., 303-297-2700) was one of the first businesses to help jump-start the rejuvenation of the city's historic Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood. That was 1988, and Wynkoop remains ever popular today, a great spot for sampling fine-crafted microbrews (there's a particularly good "weiss" beer). From the food menu, consider the queso dip loaded with buffalo chili, or the Thai-style Cobb salad.
Cherry Creek Shopping Center
Southeast of downtown Denver and nearby Cheesman Park, you'll find the Mile High City's favorite destination for high-end shopping, Cherry Creek Shopping Center (3000 E. 1st Ave., 303-388-3900), with its anchors of Macy's, Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, and Sake Fifth Avenue. On weekends, the lanes here are as packed with stylish gay men and lesbians as any bar in town. Popular stores here include Abercrombie & Fitch, L'Occitane, Skechers, Sur La Table, Tumi, Aveda, Hugo Boss, Diesel, and plenty of others.
The Market at Larimer Square deli and coffeehouse
Since 1983, The Market (1445 Larimer St., 303-534-5140) has been treating Denverites to fantastic breakfast, lunch, and light dinner fare, plus excellent baked goods, strong and flavorful coffee, and some of the better people-watching in town. In lively Larimer Square, The Market is open from 6 am daily until late (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). The breakfast burrito here is a signature dish, but also consider the raspberry blintzes, Cajun chicken salad, muffuletta sandwiches, and daily soups.
Racine's Restaurant, on Sherman Street
Known for its affordable, well-prepared American fare (with plenty of Italian and Southwestern favorites, too), Racine's (650 Sherman St., 303-595-0418) has been a favorite of Denver's gay community since it opened in 1983 (back then in a different location). The new incarnation, with its handsome high-ceilinged dining room and spacious patio, is even more appealing. After a night of reveling at Tracks or JR's, it's also a terrific spot to recover with a hearty brunch - try the eggs Mazatlan, comprising a tortilla filled with scrambled eggs and guacamole and topped with cheddar and green chile. The same owners run an additional gay-friendly restaurant, Dixons Downtown Grill in LoDo, and until they closed it in May 2008, they also operated Goodfriends out on East Colfax Avenue.
Commons Park, part of Denver's Central Platte Valley neighborhood.
Part of an up-and-coming neighborhood on Denver's northern edge, Commons Park and the surrounding Central Platte Valley comprises 120 largely undeveloped acres that have just recently seen the addition of sleek (and gay-popular) condo and apartment projects and a handful of cool new shops and restaurants, including Richard Sandoval's outstanding Zengo. The area is connected to LoDo and Union Station by the dramatic Millennium Bridge (it's for pedestrians only). The area's main drag, Platte Street, has several restaurants and boutiques in historic buildings, among them the REI Denver flagship store.
The Compound and Basix bars
A favorite gay hangout since 1997, Compound/Basix (145 Broadway, 773-327-2060) is a fixture along South Broadway, with its several GBLT nightspots and businesses. The bar draws a mostly male, fairly cruisy bunch of all ages and styles, from collegiate twinks to gruff leather-and-Levi's types. It's especially popular on Sunday afternoons, when the $5 beer busts draw big crowds.
Union Station, in LoDo
The architectural landmark that best defines Denver's historic Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood, the Beaux-Arts Denver Union Station (1701 Wynkoop St., 303-534-6333) was built in 1894 (replacing an earlier structure that burned in a fire. The station is a Denver icon, with a rich history Denver is currently redeveloping Union Station and the surrounding 19.5 acres to become an mixed-use transportation and retail hub serving the Regional Transportation District and its FasTracks program. It currently serves Amtrak, the Denver Ski Train, and the city's Light Rail system.
Panzano restaurant, at the Hotel Monaco downtown
The acclaimed contemporary Italian restaurant at Denver's gay-popular Hotel Monaco, the handsome Panzano (909 17th St., 303-296-3525) serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner - it's an excellent dining option throughout the day, starting at 7 am and continuing till 11 at night. There's also a popular happy hour in The Taverna at Panzano, from 4 to 6 pm nightly (with half-price drinks). Panzano has a great wine list, including plenty of selections by the glass. For breakfast, try the house eggs Benedict with prosciutto, spinach, tomatoes, pesto, and a champagne hollandaise sauce. Noteworthy dinner picks include crispy duck-confit and wild-mushroom "cigars" with local dried-cherry chutney, and grilled Coleman Ranch strip steak over gnocchi with artichoke hearts, wild mushrooms, and gorgonzola.
The Curtis - a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, in downtown Denver
Slightly weird and undeniably fun, the Curtis Hotel (1405 Curtis St., 800-525-6651)is part of the Hilton Doubletree brand, but this boutique high-rise with a handy central downtown location feels more like an independent property than a member of an international chain. The Curtis occupies what had long ago been a nondescript downtown business hotel, but it was whimsically transformed and rebranded as the Curtis several years ago. Each floor has a pop-culture-inspired theme, from Sci-Fi to TV Mania to Mad About Music.
Rooms have flat-screen TVs and iPod docks, and funky furnishings and designs, and there's dining in the Corner Office Restaurant and Martini Bar. Although not everybody appreciates the wacky decorating themes, on the balance, this is a fun, gay-friendly option offering some good deals and an excellent location near the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the 16th Street Mall. The staff is warm and cheerful, and the mood throughout the hotel reflects the playful decor.
Ms C's lesbian bar, on Colfax Avenue (eastern Denver)
Although it's woefully far from downtown (about 5 miles east via ticky-tacky, slow-as-molasses Colfax Avenue), Ms C's lesbian bar (7900 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-4436) deserves kudos as a low-frills, no-nonsense lesbian bar (and a bit of a dive) that has managed to remain popular for decades. It draws a mostly lesbian crowd (in fact, men - gay or otherwise - tend to be very much the exception). There's a nice big patio, super-cheap drinks, a rocking juke box, and the usual bar games (pool, darts, and such). It ain't fancy, but the crowd here sure knows how to party.
16th Street Mall, a pedestrian mall through downtown
Running north-south through the heart of downtown Denver, the 16-block-long 16th Street Mall (16th Street, from Broadway north to Wynkoop Street and Union Station, 303-534-6161) is a pedestrian stretch of shops and restaurants designed in 1982 by renowned International-style architect I.M. Pei. It's served by a free bus line, making it a great way to get from one part of downtown to the other. Aesthetically, the 16th Street Mall looks a bit like a produce of the '80s - it's neither as historically uplifting as LoDo or as slick as the new Denver Commons area. Still, it's absolutely an asset to downtown, and you'll find a number of noteworthy businesses along the mall - Peet's Coffee & Tea, Dixons Downtown Grill (at the LoDo end), the very gay-friendly Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret, Tattered Cover Bookstore (also at the LoDo end), and the like. The emphasis is mid-range chain restaurants and shops, but sometimes those can be very handy.
Rioja Mediterranean restaurant, in Larimer Square
Helmed by talented chef Jennifer Jasinski and situated in downtown Denver's bustling Larimer Square district, Rioja (1433 Larimer St., 303-820-2282) is one of the city's top tables - a modern, trendy space serving beautifully crafted, innovative Mediterranean-inspired food. The bar also turns out some of the most sophisticated cocktails in the city, and is very much a place to see and be seen (in that nonetheless unfussy Denver sort of way). For its mix of exceptional food and its sexy vibe, this is a must for foodies.
Rioja's menu changes often, but typically enticing fare includes calamari-baby artichoke frito with feta crema and piquillo peppers, pizza topped with housemade lamb chorizo and roasted-green-chile goat cheese, candied-lemon gnocchi with butter-poached Dungeness crab and fava beans (available, like all the pastas, as an appetizer or main dish), and seared big-eye tuna with coconut-scented lentil puree. There's also a popular brunch served on weekends, and the same owners operate another excellent eatery in Denver, Bistro Vendome, which is across the street.
Heaven Sent Me GLBT adult shop
Zengo Latin-Asian restaurant, near Commons Park
A culinary highlight of the fast-growing Central Platte Valley neighborhood and adjacent Commons Park, Zengo (1610 Little Raven St, 720-904-0965) is run by one of the nation's most famous chefs of creative Mexican cuisine, Richard Sandoval, who has other great restaurants in Denver (La Sandia, Tamayo) as well as eateries in Las Vegas, Acapulco, New York City, San Francisco, Dubai, Mexico City, and Washington, DC - which has another branch of Zengo). This upscale, stylish spot serves fusion-y Latin-Asian fare and is great for cocktails (consider the trademark cucumber mojito), apps (the Angry Zengo sushi roll is superb, with spicy yellowfin tuna and sesame-chipotle rouille), or a full dinner - favorite main plates include charbroiled black cod with chile-chipotle miso and lemong-togarashi aioli, and braised beef short ribs with shiitake mushrooms, huitlacoche, and Oaxacan-cheese-mashed potatoes. Zengo's brightly colored dining room, mod light fixtures, and snazzy crowd make this a hit with local scenesters and a spot for a date or dining with friends before hitting the gay clubs. The huge flagship branch of the popular and gay-friendly outdoor-gear store, REI, is right around the corner.
Gill Foundation Gay & Lesbian Fund Headquarters
With its headquarters near Coors Field in Denver's Warehouse District, the Gill Foundation (2215 Market St., 303-292-4455) is one of the world's most successful organizations working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights. It was founded by software entrepreneur Tim Gill, and it finances the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado and the Democracy Project. The Gill Foundation is but one aspect of Denver's vibrant, energetic, and quite powerful gay and lesbian community, and it's been integral to battling against the state's anti-gay forces (such as Focus on the Family), many of them based an hour south in Colorado Springs. If you want to give thanks, in part, for Colorado steadily becoming more progressive, gay-welcoming, and "blue", you might want to start with Tim Gill and his spirited efforts.
Hornet Restaurant and Bar, on Broadway
A slightly artsy, offbeat casual restaurant and bar close to Denver's gay nightlife strip along South Broadway, the Hornet (76 Broadway, 303-777-7676) draws a youthful, laid-back bunch. It's by no means a gay hangout, but you will often seen family here, perhaps noshing before heading to BoyzTown or the Compound, or maybe an indie art flick at the nearby Mayan Theatre. The low-slung, retro-chic decor has sort of an old-school appeal, and the kitchen serves affordable American and Southwestern chow (green chile cheese fries, black bean-veggie burgers, honey-stung fried chicken, blackened catfish) and cheap drinks.
JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek
A luxury hotel with gorgeous rooms, solicitous employees, and a fantastic location for shopaholics beside Cherry Creek Shopping Center and Cherry Creek North, the gay-friendly JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek (150 Clayton Ln., 303-316-2700) has 196 handsomely appointed (and quite large) rooms, all with DVD/CD players, marble and granite bathrooms with separate showers, and large flat-screen TVs.
REI Denver flagship store
It only makes sense that one of the most active, outdoorsy cities in the country would have a huge, impressive flagship branch of the popular REI chain, which is known for its sporting gear, camping equipment, outdoor apparel, and expert guiding and outdoors instruction. REI Denver (1416 Platte St, 303-756-3100) is just north of downtown in the historic 1901 Tramway building, along Platte Street near the up-and-coming Commons neighborhood. Features include an in-house Starbucks, 45-foot climbing wall, and huge equipment inventory, including gear for biking, skiing, climbing, paddling, and more. There aren't too many shops in Denver that offer better opportunities for meeting and mingling with gay and lesbian outdoorsy types.
Magnolia Hotel, downtown near 16th Street Mall
An excellent choice if you're seeking a huge, reasonably priced downtown Denver hotel that's gay-friendly and centrally located, the Magnolia Hotel (818 17th St., 303-607-9000) is steps from 16th Street Mall and has a Denver Light Rail stop right in front of it. Rooms are upscale and attractive, but what I like best about this property are the huge suites - there are 119 of them (out of 246 rooms total), more than any other hotel downtown. Following a huge renovation in summer 2008, the entire property was brought up to date. All rooms in the 13th-story building have free WiFi, large bathrooms with tubs, and well-designed work desks. But the suites are particularly roomy, and have separate living rooms, large and well-stocked modern kitchens, and plenty of light - for a longer stay in Denver, they're ideal. Some suites have gas fireplaces, too.
The hotel is part of a small chain - there are four Magnolias total, with the others in Houston, Dallas, and Omaha. All of have a boutique-y vibe and are set in historic buildings, but with updated, upscale, yet unfussy decorating styles.
Oxford Hotel, in LoDo (Lower Downtown)
Opened in 1891, Denver's fabled Oxford Hotel (1600 17th St., 303-628-5400) experienced its share of highs and lows over the decades before undergoing a major restoration and becoming a landmark in the redevelopment of the city's historic LoDo (Lower Downtown) district. In addition to be close to such LoDo landmarks as the Tattered Cover bookstore and Wynkoop Brewery, the 80-room hotels stands out for its reasonable rates (by upscale-hotel standards), ornate architectural details, and comfortable accommodations.
Room decor is unobtrusive and classic, and each room does have its own style (some contain lovely antiques, while others seem a bit more on the ordinary side), and many have claw-foot tubs. The most interesting rooms are the Art Deco units, done with stylish furnishings from the period. Although historic in style, the rooms also have such updated conveniences as flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. The on-site branch of the popular seafood chain, McCormick's, is always buzzing with activity, and the hotel's Oxford Club Spa, Salon, and Fitness Center offers a wide range of treatments. Overall, it's an excellent, gay-friendly lodging choice, and a good value.
Denver Light Rail
With six different lines serving downtown Denver and outlying suburbs and neighborhoods (Littleton, Englewood, University of Denver, IVESCO Field, Six Flags at Elitch Gardens, etc.), Denver's sleek Light Rail (303-299-6000) is clean, fast, and convenient - an excellent way to get around the region, and avoid the traffic that's sometimes problematic here (especially around rush hour). There are 36 Light Rail stations with locations all around the metro area.
LoDo (Lower Downtown), with gay-friendly Dixons Grill
The once bustling LoDo (Lower Downtown) (bound by 14th Street, Wynkoop Street, Park Avenue, and Larimer Street, 303-628-5428 for LoDo District offices) section of Denver had become forlorn and shady by the 1980s, which is when local preservationists, developers, and entrepreneurs - include quite a few artists and creative spirits - began investing in this neighborhood just north of Downtown Denver proper. The district anchored by historic Union Station has become tremendously successful and popular, so much so that artists have been somewhat priced out in favor of more commercial businesses. That being said, LoDo still supports a number of gay-popular shops and hangouts - Dixons Grill, the famed Tattered Cover Bookstore, the Oxford Hotel, and Wynkoop Brewing Company among them. The neighborhood's grand, richly detailed redbrick and cast-iron buildings are a marvel for architecture buffs, and in addition to the iconic Union Station, visitors can stroll by the beautifully designed Coors Field (home to baseball's Colorado Rockies). Just north of the neighorhood, a sleek, modern pedestrian bridge leads into the city's trendy Commons neighborhood.
Tamayo modern Mexican restaurant, Larimer Square
Celeb chef Richard Sandoval (who also operates Zengo and La Sandia, plus a number of eateries in other cities) runs Tamayo (1400 Larimer St., 720-946-1433), a slick contemporary Mexican eatery in bustling Larimer Square. A reliable pre-clubbing option, Tamayo serves dinner nightly and lunch on weekdays. There's a great, gay-popular happy hour on weekdays from 5 until 7 - don't miss the fresh mango mojito. Chile-crusted calamari with a chipotle-blood-orange reduction stars among the appetizers, while the huitlacoche crepes with chayote salad and chile-poblano earns kudos among the mains. This is definitely one of Denver's snazzier hangouts.
Highland neighborhood, northwest Denver
An area of northwest Denver just across I-25 from downtown and with a growing following among gays and lesbians, Highland (which many people also refer to as Highlands or West Highlands) is known for its wealth of restored Victorian and early-20th-century bungalows and houses, plus a groovy commercial district around the intersection of Lowell Boulevard and West 32nd Avenue, where you'll find several good restaurants (Highland's Garden Cafe, Bang) and some fun shops. On the eastern side of the district, you'll find an edgier arts district that's home to some avant-garde galleries and performance venues, such as Zip 37 and the Bug Theatre.
The Ritz-Carlton Denver (1881 Curtis St., 303-312-3800) opened in 2008, adding a new standard for luxury in the Mile City. The sleek, contemporary hotel is a bit more airy and less formal than is sometimes the case with Ritz-Carlton properties, and the hotel has a convenient, central location in the center of downtown, a short walk from LoDo, and a short drive or taxi ride to gay nightlife in Capitol Hill and on East 17th Avenue.
Wazee Supper Club, in LoDo
For more than 30 years, LoDo's convivial and gay-popular Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th St., 303-623-9518) has been pleasing hungry diners. It's located inside a dramatic 1910 warehouse, just around the corner from the famed Tattered Cover Bookstore. The menu is casual and affordable - exceptionally good pizzas, plus hefty burgers, grilled smoked-turkey melts, blackened-salmon salad, and the like.
Santa Fe Drive Arts District, between 5th and 11th Aves.
A formerly down-at-the-heels neighborhood southwest of downtown Denver, Santa Fe Drive re-emerged in the early 2000s as one of the city's leading destinations for independent, cutting-edge art galleries. Increasingly, the neighborhood, which is known officially as Denver's ArtDistrict on Santa Fe, has also seen an influx of dining and other independent retail options. Located along Santa Fe Drive primarily between 5th and 11th avenues, the district is perfect for an afternoon of artsy exploring. It's also an architecturally notable area, with several Pueblo Revival and Art Deco buildings from the early 20th century.
If you happen to be in town at the time, check out the First Friday Art Walk, held the first Friday of each month from 6 until 9 pm. Numerous galleries stay open late on these evenings, and many feature exhibition openings.
Today the district comprises more than 50 businesses, most of them galleries - including venues dedicated to Hispanic and Latin arts and culture, such as the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC) and the prestigious Museo de las Americas. Galleries cover everything from painting to photography to mixed media. If you're looking for a bite to eat while you explore the arts scene, stop by Breckenridge Brewery for a light snack.
It's easy to reach the district, as street parking is fairly easy to find in this part of Denver, and a free shuttle from downtown Denver is offered during First Friday Art Walks.
Fans of the Denver arts scene should also check out the Highland neighborhood, in northwest Denver.
Dazbog coffeehouse, in Capitol Hill
Of Denver coffeehouses, few have a stronger following with the gay and lesbian community than the Dazbog coffeehouse (1201 E. 9th Ave., 303-837-1275) location in Capitol Hill (it was formerly Diedrich Coffee), which is close to Cheesman Park, Capitol Hill Mansion B&B, and the many gay-friendly business in the neighborhood. This popular spot is a great spot to grab an espresso and a gay newspaper and people-watch. Dazbog has numerous locations throughout metro Denver, including branches at the airport, a very gay-popular branch on East 17th Avenue, another on Clayton Street in Capitol Hill, one along 16th Street Mall, and several others.
Il Vicino pizzeria, on Broadway
Il Vicino (550 Broadway, 303-861-0801) serves tasty, creatively prepared pizzas in Denver's Broadway area, close to gay nightlife along South Broadway. The popular, sleekly decorated restaurant (it's part of a regional chain with branches in New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, and elsewhere in Colorado) occupies a vintage automobile showroom with high ceilings and a large patio. Il Vicino also serves pastas and salads, as well as a nice range of wines and microbrews. Among pizzas, try the one topped with mozzarella, artichoke hearts, calamata olives, roasted garlic, capers, and fresh oregano.
Zip 37 art gallery, in the Highland district
One of a few avant-garde galleries along Navajo Street in the hip Highland neighborhood northwest of downtown, Zip 37 (3644 Navajo St., 303-477-4525) reps a variety of both established and up-and-coming artists. A nice feature about Zip 37 is that it carries not only high-ticket major works but also extremely affordable pieces in its cool little "back room" showroom.
Bang restaurant, in Highland
Affordable and festive Bang (3472 W. 32nd Ave., 303-455-1117), in northwest Denver's trendy Highland neighborhood, serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The contemporary, attractive space is hung with modern art, and the food is similarly innovative (with an emphasis on Southern-style cuisine): try flash-fried calamari with sweet red-chile sauce, shrimp po-boys with Tabasco-mayo, country-fried chicken breast with buttermilk-mashed potatoes, and pulled pork with crisp potatoes, salsa verde, and pickled red onions.
Platte Street, near Commons Park and in Central Platte Valley corridor
Platte Street is the main drag of a small but up-and-coming Denver neighborhood generally referred to as Commons Park or Central Platte Valley. It's just a short walk from LoDo (Lower Downtown) via the sleek Millennium Bridge, and it's the locale of a huge and very cool REI Store (a flagship, in fact) as well as a few nifty shops and cafes, such as Mona's (actually on 15th St., but just a block away).
Colorado Capitol Building
With a massive gilt dome and a prominent position overlooking Denver's Civic Center park (the site of Denver PrideFest each June) and downtown, the 18-story-tall Colorado Capitol Building (200 E. Colfax Ave., 303-866-2604 for tours) is one of the city's great landmarks. The building was constructed in the 1890s of white granite, and the famous dome was added in 1908. It's a short walk to the Denver Art Museum in one direction, and to Cheesman Park and the city's most gay-popular residential neighborhood, in the other. Tours of the building are given on weekdays and take about 45 minutes, and visitors can ascend to the Capitol Dome Observation Deck for a panoramic view of downtown.
Mona's Restaurant, at 15th and Platte Streets
A friendly, slightly offbeat neighborhood spot in historic North Platte Street area by Commons Park and REI's flagship store, Mona's Restaurant (2364 15th St., 303-455-4503) is open for daily breakfast and lunch and is especially popular on weekends. The omelets and scrambles are quite good - you can order them with a slew of ingredients, from peppered bacon to caramelized onions. Among sandwiches, consider the Maverick Ranch burger with pepper-Jack cheese. A second branch of Mona's opened along South Broadway in 2008, near BoyzTown and the Compound gay bars.
JR's Bar, on 17th Avenue (closed)
Note: JR's in Denver has closed.
Samba Room Brazilian restaurant, Larimer Square
One of several cool and festive dining options around Larimer Square, the boisterous Samba Room (1460 Larimer St., 720-956-1701) offers up plenty of tasty Latin fare along with live Brazilian tunes in the lounge. The restaurant, which also has gay-friendly locations in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, is known for creative pan-Latin cuisine, such as Colombian-style sweet-corn arepas with shredded beef, and seared sea scallops served with boniato-mashed potatoes, ropa vieja, and a yuzu-citrus emulsion.
Westin Tabor Center, on the 16th Street Mall
An upscale high-rise hotel along downtown Denver's 16th Street pedestrian mall, the Westin Tabor Center (1672 Lawrence St., 303-572-9100) has spacious, handsomely appointed rooms and a full slate of amenities - heated indoor and outdoor pools, a nice-size gym (plus running maps of the city), a sun deck, business center, and a few restaurants including a Starbucks and a branch of the Palm steak house. Although it's not one of the city's more exciting properties, the Westin is well-run, gay-friendly, and very conveniently located.
Hotel Teatro, downtown Denver
Super-cushy and occupying a handsome, historic building a short walk from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Denver's gay-friendly Hotel Teatro (1100 14th St., 303-228-1100) has plenty going for it: the 110 rooms, though fairly pricey, have high ceilings and tall windows, free Wi-Fi, elegant bathrooms done in marble and Indonesian sandstone finishes, and stylish mod furnishings (including gorgeous bedding with luxuriant fabrics). There are also two stellar restaurants on-site, Kevin Taylor and Prima - both operated by local chef-celeb, Kevin Taylor.
I've stayed here twice over the years and have been very pleased with the rooms, less so with the service (on one occasion, the staff made a very serious security gaffe, which was compounded by an inadequate response from the management). That being said, I've heard only good things from every other person I've known to have stayed at Teatro, and I feel confident recommending the hotel to others.
Museo de las Americas, in the Santa Fe Arts District
Part of the emerging ArtDistrict on Santa Fe Drive, the Museo de las Americas (861 Santa Fe Dr., 303-571-4401) uses innovative art exhibits and other programming to help enlighten Denver about the city's rich Latin American community, and Latin American arts and culture more generally. The museum stages rotating exhibits throughout the year.
The Crypt Adult Entertainment Center, sex and leather shop
A popular sex, leather, and erotica shop on Broadway, the Crypt Adult Entertainment Center (139 Broadway, 303-778-6584) caters to straights and gays with a huge selection of fetish wear, bondage toys, cards and gifts, condoms and lube, x-rated DVDs and magazines, and the like. It's close to the Compound/Basix and BoyzTown gay bars.
Sparrow Restaurant (closed 2008), now Lala's Wine Bar
Hamburger Mary's, the Denver branch of the gay-popular burger chain
The Mile High City branch of the campy and gay-popular restaurant chain Hamburger Mary's (700 E. 17th St., 303-832-1333) is set along East 17th Avenue, nearly across the street from one of Denver's most popular gay bars, JR's. This popular spot whose floor-to-ceiling windows open fully in warm weather is noted for its cheery happy hours, great cocktail specials, festive Sunday brunch, dishy servers (and patrons, for that matter), and extensive menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and finger foods - many with amusingly suggestive or drag-queen-inspired names (Skew-Hers, Cala-Mary, Threesome Caesar Salads, the LGBT - with bacon, tomato, lettuce, and guacamole, and the Spicy Mary Buffalo Burger).