One of the larger community's in the West's dramatic Four Corners region, rugged and outdoorsy Durango is the quintessentially laid-back and friendly Colorado mountain town. The small city of about 15,000 lies beneath the magnificent San Juan Mountains, in the valley of the roaring Animas River. Far from any big cities, Durango is a good base for exploring nearby Mesa Verde national park, the red rocks of Moab and Monument Valley, and the ski towns of Telluride, Taos, and Pagosa Springs. Here's a photographic guide to scenic Durango, including many of its gay-friendly restaurants, cafes, bars, and hotels. Note that the city hosts a lively Durango Gay Pride celebration each June.
Main Avenue, facing south in this photo from about East 10th Street, is Durango's busiest commercial strip. The city was developed as a railroad hub for mining throughout the surrounding San Juan Mountains in the 1880s, and the architecture throughout the compact downtown reflects the period. Many of these Victorian and early-20th-century storefronts house restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and pubs, with the vibe ranging from vintage Western to surprisingly contemporary and urbane.
The imposing and ornate grand dame of Durango, the Strater Hotel dates to the late 1880s and comprises more than 376,000 red bricks, plus cornices, lintels, windowsills elaborately carved from sandstone. The four-story hotel has hosted plenty of notable personalities, with Western novelist Louis L'Amour a regular. The 93 rooms are decorated in period style, following a major refurbishment in the 1980s. The hotel's Diamond Belle Saloon is a famously kitschy and fun for drinks, dinner, and rollicking ragtime piano performances, and the hotel's fancier Mahogany Grille is one of the better spots in town for steaks, elk tenderloin, bison burgers, brook trout, wild-caught salmon, and similarly hearty fare.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train
It's fitting that the seminal attraction in this city founded as a railroad center is a historic train ride. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train provides scenic rides through the breathlessly beautiful San Juan Mountains, right up to the sleepy mining town of Silverton. The train has been in operation continuously since 1879 - back in the day, it hauled silver ore. Rides leave from Durango's pale-yellow rail depot, which now contains a museum about the train's history.
Durango's Historic Train Depot and Museum
The historic rail depot in downtown Durango, at the south end of Main Avenue and within a short walk of many restaurants and shops as well as a few hotels. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad excursions leave from behind the station, which inside contains a museum about the railroad and the region's history.
Seasons Rotisserie & Grill
Seasons Rotisserie & Grill earns a spot on any list of the best - and most sophisticated - restaurants in the Four Corners region. This lively bistro with a smart but casual look and a helpful, welcoming staff maintains a superb list of well-chosen wines and serves consistently excellent regionally inspired American fare. Pictured here is the Foxfire Farm-lamb burger with sweet onion relish, house-cured bacon, marinated olives, aioli, and perfect house-cut fries (ask for a little truffle oil).
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Yes, you've seen the familiar brown-on-tan logo of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on storefronts and awnings from Miami to Toronto to Hawaii. But the very first branch of this now ubiquitous sweet shop is right on Main Avenue in downtown Durango, where it was founded in 1981. There are now more than 300 locations, and fans of this brand known for caramel-dipped apples, fudge made in copper kettles, and boxed chocolates flock to this original location, just down from the Durango train depot.
Durango Coffee Company
There are two excellent coffeehouses along Main Avenue in Durango - I like them equally, but slightly favor the beans at Durango Coffee Company (while being more a fan of the personality and ambiance of my other local favorite, the Steaming Bean). This well-established cafe that's quite popular with the town's LGBT community carries an extensive list of coffees and blends from all over the world. They also carry kitchen utensils and goodies and a wide variety of gifts.
Steaming Bean Coffee Co.
A funky, cheerful little coffeehouse in the heart of downtown Durango, the Steaming Bean is both a great spot to sip espresso and lattes and a useful hub for checking the Web - the cafe has high-speed Internet as well as computers and printers. You can also buy very good chocolate here, as well as offbeat greeting cards, world-beat music, and quite tasty light food - bagels, soups, sandwiches, pastries, and so on. Smoothies are another option, if you're not in a caffeine mood. The Steaming Bean roasts its own coffee, which it sells wholesale, and has been an LGBT-welcoming fixture in the community for many years.
Main Avenue, Facing North From 10th Street
Main Avenue is Durango's main commercial strip - it's lined with diverting cafes, restaurants, saloons, and boutiques. Pictured here is the west side of the 1000 block, facing north - it reveals some of the late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings that define downtown Durango's charming aesthetic.
To be sure, Durango has no dedicated gay or lesbian bars - in fact, you won't find any in the Four Corners region. But the Lost Dog has as strong a gay following as any hangout in the region. On Friday nights, the Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity holds an LGBT happy hour at the Lost Dog. And any time of the week, you'll find the staff particularly friendly and helpful, and the crowd often consisting locals gays and lesbians - everyone from long-time residents to transient ski or rafting bums to students from Fort Lewis College, which sits high on a bluff overlooking downtown.
Ken & Sue's
Known for its eclectic, globally influenced cuisine (Thai shrimp with coconut-curry, pistachio-crusted grouper with vanilla-rum butter, maple-glazed New York strip), Ken & Sue's is one of the better "date" spots in Durango. It's elegant but without pretension, and attributes include an extremely friendly staff, a terrific wine list, and a long menu of dinner and lunch items (plus daily-changing specials, like teriyaki udon bowls on Wednesday at lunch, and grilled skirt steak on Sundays at dinner).
A highly successful bookstore with a very loyal following, Maria's Bookshop has a good-size LGBT selection and also carries a nice range of titles covering local interest and history (throughout the Four Corners), feminism, politics, literature, and the outdoors. The spacious shop occupies a sunny storefront on Main Avenue, in the heart of downtown Durango.
Moe's Starlight Lounge
Although Durango has no gay bars, there are a number of cool little hangouts in this city. Mo's Starlight Lounge is one of the better places in town to drop by for a cocktail (the martinis are a specialty), a glass of wine, or a beer. It's right in the heart of historic downtown.
Rochester Hotel and Leland House Inn
Handsomely renovated, the historic Rochester Hotel and its sister property, the Leland House, contain a total of 25 rooms (15 in the Rochester, and 10 in the Leland House). These funky properties are very gay-welcoming and are right in the center of Durango, a short walk from all the great dining and shopping along Main Avenue. The Rochester, which was built in 1892, is a tribute to the many old Western movies that have been filmed in the area - the hallways are lined with vintage movies posters from such favorites as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Around the World in Eighty Days.
The Leland is slightly newer, having been constructed in 1927. Its 10 rooms have either kitchens or kitchenettes, and most have gas fireplaces. Here the halls have vintage photos depicting the history of Durango.