Many travelers go through Denver with perhaps missing the most iconic and interesting neighborhood that it has to offer. Whereas you do have the scenically beautiful 16th Street Mall, lined with skyscrapers and patrolled by a free shuttle up and down its length, anyone is quickly rewarded with extending their trip into the Capitol Hill neighborhood, aptly named for being up the hill and behind the Capitol building.
the ever eclectic architecture of Capital Hill
When I first came to Denver to search for apartments, I stayed at the infamous Ramada on Colfax. Colfax runs on the northern edge of the neighborhood, a street which in my book How It Ends, I describe as “a dirty street, a magical street. Here the degenerates of Denver gather, huddled in circles, having cigarettes and joints and crack pipes and passing the whiskey and rum. Youths hang around concert halls… Gas stations mixed with hotels and bars and night clubs, poster shops and record stores.”
Colfax at night
It’s definitely the main avenue of Denver, though perhaps best avoided at most times. It’s generally a much better idea to walk down 16th or 14th on either side, then move up to the bar you’re going to. That said, the Ramada is a plenty safe place to stay. The entrance looks like a curiously out-of-place hunting lodge and the pool is a popular spot for locals to jump the fence and take the plunge.
even castles(?!) adorn the streets of Cap Hill
Capitol Hill is an eclectic mix of everything in every way. Mostly, there are plots after plots of small apartment complexes and large houses, ranging in styles from Victorian, to Second Empire, to fairy tale castle revival that would make Ludwig II wet his grave. Occasionally the neighborhood is broken up by an inexplicable almost Khrushobki tower or a brutalist office building. The people are equally diverse, from young ladies in yoga pants with yoga mats, to bearded lumbersexual hipsters, to funky hip-hop bandits, to tie-dye flowing hippies, to a large mix of bums and beggars attracted to the soup kitchens and homeless shelters that dot the area.
There are no shortages of bars in the neighborhood, especially along the main avenues of Colfax and 13th. We trolled some lesbian bar called Blush and Blu (Colfax and Humboldt) the other night, listening to a fairly awesome band reminiscent of the soul and groove of the older days of the Roots. As there was a mix of people there, I wasn’t so sure my hosts were correct, though it did seem to be run by a fairly friendly lady that certainly met the stereotype. Anyways, it's apparently a nice venue for both sides of the door.
a straight-friendly bar
There’s the hippie standout, Sancho’s Broken Arrow (Colfax and Clarkson), where a long time ago, I’ve spent a few regrettable nights playing pool and staring at the Grateful Dead art lining the walls. The best place for a Guinness will always be the Irish Snug (Colfax and Marion), a two-roomed joint of polished wood with an expansive underground and frequent live music, next to the Polish bar Kinga’s (Colfax and Marion) stocked with good sausage and great karaoke. A lot of the old staples though have been swapped out for the ever-present modernist factory chic brewbar, or like the once amazing and always packed Benders, fallen to the likes of the followers of Garcia. Long live the Johnny Cash mural painted over by the vandal deadhead who changed him out for his evil master.
During my travels through Croatia in Stari Grad, I learned to love lavender. I found that it’s not just a wonderful smell, but it’s also a delightfully tasteful herb, making everything it touches tasting as plush and sweet as velvet. When I wandered into Jelly (13th and Penn), I found lavender blueberry pancakes on the menu and couldn’t resist. The sweet delight and extensive menu of weird and experimental variations on regular foods, like a Thai peanut donut, did much to explain why there were people waiting around the door even on a Thursday morning. Or, on second thought, perhaps it didn’t explain anything but that really bizarre flavors are in fashion in Denver at the moment. But either way, I can’t imagine the masses that gather around on the weekend, especially for the ever-popular American tradition of the Sunday brunch.
get your lavender pancakes on at Jelly
For sandwiches, there’s also Subculture (13th and Penn), but an even better thing would be to furnish your taste buds with some down south cooking at Sassafras (Colfax and Logan). The place that was there used to be as dirty and hopeless as the location would lead you to consider it to be, but someone managed to spruce it up and successfully decorate it in the theme of Louisiana. The meat dumplings are served with an amazing spicy sauce, the coffee and service all fresh, and the cheesy muffin and sausage is without an end of savory-ness. though I did find the chicken and sausage in the gumbo were a bit dry and lacking. Well, not at all like my momma's, but isn't that always the case and danger with down home cooking?
Some Cajun cookin' on the plateau
Of course, every late night in the neighborhood must be finished by either gigantic pancakes and milkshakes at Tom’s Diner (Colfax and Pearl), or a huge slab of fresh New York style pizza that’s better than anything in New York from Benny Blanco's (13th and Pearl).
It’s impossible to walk far in Denver without running into a coffeeshop, and that’s especially true in Capitol Hill. When I left years ago, the place that was quickly becoming a destination coffee joint was Pablo’s (13th and Penn), a satellite of their main café down on 6th street. It serves as an amazing place for a quick brew or a longer linger, and its roasted beans cover many other restaurants throughout town, including the aforementioned Jelly.
for the best coffee in Denver