On a recent Tuesday night, diners lined with marble bistro tables at Chez Maggy in the new Thompson hotel, open since February in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. The draw: The chance to sample Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s classic French dishes—garlic-like escargots, curry-colored mussels frites, duck breast à l’orange—at his first venture outside of Los Angeles.
The restaurant and hotel are among the new crop of ventures gaining popularity in this gateway to the Rocky Mountains, which has regained its prepandemic vibrancy. And visitors are welcomed with open arms: By the end of the year, Denver International Airport, recently named the third busiest facility in the world by trade group Airports Council International, will have 39 additional gates, increasing capacity by 30 percent. increases.
Enticing travelers are a host of new cultural offerings, hotels and restaurants, plus the return of favorite events. A projected two-year renovation and revitalization of downtown’s 16th Street Mall was launched this spring, and once complete, wider sidewalks and new infrastructure should restore the appeal of this 40-year-old pedestrian street, which had lost its luster.
Thanks to Denver’s abundant sunshine, countless festivals and events take place outdoors, and the annual favorites have returned in abundance this year, including the PrideFest in June and the Underground Music Showcase in July. Year-round First Friday Art Walks in the Art District on Santa Fe, which drew up to 20,000 gallery hoppers before the pandemic, are regaining their popularity, with the heart of the action among the eclectic galleries and boutiques that line Santa Fe Drive between 5th and 11th Streets .
After two years of mostly drive-in shows, Denver Films will present its annual Film on the Rocks series at the Red Rocks amphitheater (through August 15) and, after a two-year hiatus, will host the Summer Scream event for adults (adults only) will be held (August 25) at the vintage Lakeside Amusement Park northwest of downtown; in addition to unlimited rides, actors will spotlight the park’s nearly 125 years of history. Outdoor movie buffs can experience an offshoot of Rocky Mountain Goat Yoga called Goatflix and Chill, in Denver’s second oldest cemetery, Fairmount, with a 280-acre park. (A herd of goats sniffs viewers during the screenings.)
From September 5 to 11, Art RiNo, a new festival, debuts in the RiNo (River North) Arts District with six new exterior murals (adding its collection of more than 100), light installations and a day-long concert outside the Mission Ballroom, a popular music venue, headlined by the Flaming Lips.
And the Great American Beer Festival (October 6-8) returns to the Colorado Convention Center after a two-year hiatus, celebrating 40 years as the nation’s largest collection of all things craft brewing, featuring a competition, public tastings and two sessions pairing breweries and chefs.
art and culture
One of the biggest events on the art scene was the reopening last fall of the Denver Art Museum’s Martin Building after a $150 million renovation. A visual counterpoint to the low-slung, angular Daniel Libeskind wing of the museum, the glass-tiled tower designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1971 rises seven floors. The redesigned roof terrace, where geometric cutouts in the facade represent views of Denver, implements a delayed aspect of Ponti’s original plan. Inside, a current exhibit features Mexican fashion designer and social activist Carla Fernández, who works with indigenous artisans (until October 16). Elsewhere in the museum, the first major exhibition dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe’s photography will run through November 6.
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Immersive art experiences abound in Denver; lately, the most popular is the trippy, interactive Meow Wolf, which originated in Santa Fe in 2016 and opened last fall in the Sun Valley neighborhood. Named Convergence Station, approximately 70 interconnecting rooms and exhibits lead viewers through a psychedelic dreamscape created by numerous artists in imaginative overdrive (timed access required).
After a two-year pandemic delay, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Theater of the Mind will run from August 31 to December 18. Created over eight years by the musician David Byrne with the investment banker and writer Mala Gaonkar, the 75-minute production takes spectators (16 and older) on a narrative and sensory journey that unfolds a person’s life in reverse chronology as a means to explore memory, perception and self-identity. “You will see that your perception is quite unreliable, and our memories are made of how we perceived different moments in our lives and are therefore also unreliable,” said Mr Byrne in a presentation about the project at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen in June.
The pandemic has not slowed down hotel openings. Last year’s new properties included the baseball-inspired Rally Hotel next to Coors Field, the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, Catbird in the RiNo district – a modern extended-stay hotel with a rooftop bar – and the Clayton with a midcentury theme in Cherry Creek. (With the latter, the Five Nines craft cocktail lounge has boosted nightlife with dimly lit, velvety interiors and burlesque dance performances.) Meanwhile, an $80 million renovation has refreshed the Sheraton Denver Downtown, in an IM Pei building along the 16th Street Mall. .
Visitors have even more to discover this summer. Cherry Creek’s former JW Marriott was transformed into the 199-room Hotel Clio (rooms from $399) in March. In February, the 216-room Thompson Denver (rooms starting at $309) opened as the luxury brand’s first outpost in Colorado. The hotel partnered with turntable manufacturer Victrola to set up a listening area in the sixth-floor bar and lounge, while a pedicab transports guests through the surrounding LoDo neighborhood.
Open in late May across from the Colorado Convention Center, the 251-room Slate Hotel (rooms from $249) capitalizes on the building’s past life as the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, with artwork in the classroom and a restaurant called the Teachers ‘Lounge. The Hilton Tapestry Collection property retains its original stone-lined hallways—now restored—while former classrooms have become rooms with high ceilings and marble floors. In July, Best Western Vib Denver opened boutique-style RiNo (rooms starting at $250).
Where to eat
As restaurants in Denver have regained their footing, newcomers are filling the seats. Notable openings include A5 Steakhouse from a local restaurant group; the farm-to-table Apple Blossom at the Hyatt Centric Downtown, from the same team as the once-acclaimed Beast and Bottle (which lost its lease last year); and Three Saints Revival, a tapas restaurant in Hotel Indigo opened by Punch Bowl Social restaurateur and founder Robert Thompson.
The restaurateur Delores Tronco returned to Denver last fall to open the Greenwich in RiNo after closing the Banty Rooster in New York during the pandemic; amid New York-inspired decor, diners are served with seasonal, Mediterranean-tinged dishes, such as roasted chicken with crispy skin ($36), bright salads ($15 to $18) and sourdough crust pizza ($21) .
Despite the recent closure of Broadway Market, food halls and marketplaces remain popular and are constantly evolving. In Bellota in the Market Hall of the Source Hotel, Chef Manny Berella earned a James Beard Award nomination in 2022 for Mexican dishes like pork belly con mole and Oaxacan spiced cricket tacos (a three-course meal costs about $42 without alcohol).
New to the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, housed in a former aviation factory, Churreria de Madrid deep-fries chocolate-dipped churros ($8), and the 24-seat Sky Bar serves classic cocktails amid the trappings of a retro-style airport lounge. The Stanley is also home to Annette, loved for its locally sourced modern comfort food; Caroline Glover, the executive chef, received the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mountain Area in June.
While Denver craft brewery and distillery openings have been delayed, Deviation Distilling’s cocktail lounge, which opened last summer in a 19th-century firehouse along LoDo’s Dairy Block, will soon be joined by a neighboring taproom of Colorado’s Westbound and Down Brewing. Known for its IPAs and its aviation-themed FlyteCo Brewing, Company is opening a second location this month in the old Stapleton Airport control tower with pub-style food, miniature golf and exhibits on loan from the nearby Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
Local restaurateur and chef Dana Rodriguez, another 2022 James Beard Award nominee for longtime favorite Work and Class, opened Cantina Loca, in the LoHi neighborhood, last January. Shareable plates like tempura-fried cactus ($8), spicy pollo adobado ($19), and silky vanilla flan ($7) are best accompanied by Ms. Rodriguez’ own line of mezcal and tequila.
Ms. Rodriguez also has another venture in the works. When she moved from Mexico in 1998, she was turned down for a job at Casa Bonita—known more for its kitschy decor and cliff divers than its food; when Casa Bonita reopens under its new owners, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Mrs. Rodriguez, will be in attendance and now lead a new culinary team.