Literary City Guide | Denver, CO
Tour Guide: Kelsey Brown
Kelsey traded in her California driver’s license for her Mile High City residency a year ago and has never felt more herself or at home. She and her partner Shaun are freelance creatives, outdoor enthusiasts, and frequenters of live music. (All photos by Kelsey Brown.)
Relationship to Denver: Resident for 15 months
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Barbara Kingsolver
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Sara Forte
Writing soundtrack: Bon Iver, Volcano Choir, Alt-J, Kaki King
Pen or Pencil: Pen, fine tip, preferably
Coffee or Tea: Coffee
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback
Tattered Cover. The historic LoDo location is my favorite, but the Colfax branch has an equally homey vibe. The ground floor features bestsellers and outstanding personal staff recommendations and is a great place to meet friends for coffee. The second level features cozy, over-sized chairs in private nooks for reading and thinking.
Book Bar. Book Bar is a bookshop for wine lovers and a wine bar for book shoppers. This small indie store is located in the Tennyson Street arts district.
Central Denver Public Library. Great for research and some peace from bustling downtown. The library is housed within a building designed by Michael Graves, leader of the post-modern architecture movement.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. Lighthouse is a “community-based center for the art and craft of writing, Lighthouse promotes literary engagement, growth, and connection among writers and readers.” They feature a myriad of classes, workshops, and special events with instructors and authors year-round.
University of Denver. DU was ranked as the number one program in 2012 for Creative Writing and Doctoral Programs. You have to dig around the department website for a calendar of events, it’s worth a look-see if you’ll be in town.
My Brother’s Bar. Notoriously Jack Keroac and Neal Cassady’s favorite watering hole on Platte and 15th St. There’s even a copy of an unpaid tab from the two on a wall near the counter. This and a framed letter in the restroom is the only memorabilia you’ll find, though, the bar maintains a non-descript, no-fuss storefront just blocks from the Platte Confluence and REI.
Charlie Brown’s. A funky (well-worn) live piano bar on 980 Grant St., Allen Ginsberg lived in the Colburn Hotel upstairs (now Section 8 housing) where he is thought to have “shacked up” off and on with Neal Cassady and his wife, at the time, Luanne. Come here for the “Beat” vibe and quick drink, not the grub.
Kenosha Pass. Walt Whitman described this pass on his travels, located in the Rocky Mountains southwest of Denver and northeast of Fairplay, as one of the most magnificent and expansive views on earth. The pass summits a granite batholith at 10,000 feet about sea level (a large emplacement of igneous intrusive rock that forms from cooled magma deep in the Earth's crust) that forms the spine of the Front Range. It is traversed by US 285 between Jefferson and Grant.
We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Colorado men are we,― Walt Whitman
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Hooked on Colfax. This cafe serves locally roasted Conscious Coffee and Bhakti Chai in thrifted mugs in a low-key, non-pretentious setting. I love the cast of characters that pass in and out of this spot off the main street, Colfax, notorious for it’s eclectic travelers.
Black Eye Coffee. Tucked in the middle of the Highlands neighborhood, Black Eye has great light and good energy. This is my designated spot for the 1-2 hour “coffee date” with friends and clients alike. Everyone here feels like they’re catching up with friends and neighbors.
Denver Bicycle Cafe. Another spot with great natural light. Large community tables create a sense of solidarity in social or work gatherings here. Also, they run a full-service bike shop in the same space. How cool is that? Try the cold-brew.
Happy Coffee. If you’re looking for the ultimate Denver-hipster experience, this is your spot. Get a cup of local Pablo’s pour-over from a suspender wearing barista and enjoy some fantastic people watching of Broadway street patrons.
A PROPER MEAL
Root Down. Likely my favorite spot in Denver. With a generous 5-7pm happy hour at the bar, you can find a lot of menu highlights in smaller portions. Regular menu is packed with locally sourced ingredients and seasonal entrees and salads. Try the Beet Down made with London Dry Gin, Aperol, Canton Ginger Liqueur, Lemon, Beets, and Mint.
Linger. Root Down’s sister restaurant, Linger, serves an ethnic inspired tapas-style menu with with several gluten free and vegan options. Like Root Down, the cocktail menu is creative and impeccable. Awesome city views and quick walk to Little Man Ice Cream after dinner. Don’t be creeped out -- the restaurant lives in the renovated history Olinger mortuary.
Potager. Tucked in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, you’ll find creative, seasonal dishes that are literally JUST the right portion. The menu changes seasonally, but the house-made soups are a great bet in the winter.
The Kitchen (Pearl St., Boulder). My first meal in Colorado, several years ago, and I hope it will be my last meal in Colorado, if that day ever comes. I love the vibe, the unfussy yet sophisticated decor, and the always changing farm-to-table menu.
Great Divide Brewery. Great Divide only serves beer on tap. Belly up with the cool bartenders to have the best imperial stout you’ll ever taste, but even better, all the city’s best food trucks pile up outside the brewery to make this place “proper meal” status.
Hops & Pie … then onto… Local 46. Hops & Pie serves killer pizza and only the best Colorado brews. If you’re looking for tried and true Denver people and positive vibes, this is your jam. No pretense, just friendship and good eats. Hops & Pie also delivers exclusively to Local 46, a chill indoor/outdoor bar, just down the street. Find a table outside at the picnic benches and hail down your pizza man in 30 minutes.
Little Man Ice Cream. Little Man ice cream, gelato, and sorbets are made in small batches and frequently use locally sourced ingredients. Rarely is there not a line wrapped around few blocks to this neighborhood icon (the shop is housed below a 14,000 lb. cream can). Worth the wait.
Kim and Jake’s Cakes. Locals would laugh at me for listing this. Kim and Jake’s have a storefront in Boulder, but you can find their fantastic cakes in Whole Foods around the city. Try the Vegan Coconut cake and the Dark’n’Stormy.
Crepes and Crepes. Best breakfast in town, although I know most locals would crucify me for that statement. Crepes and Crepes is even better for drinks and dessert (hello banana, ice cream, nutella) and make cold winters a breeze.
Kelsey's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite bookstore: Tattered Cover. Great energy and cozy enough to lose a few hours of the afternoon with a new book.
2. Favorite place to write: The brown chair in our living room. There’s great evening light and a wide enough ledge on the windowsill nearby for a glass of water.
3. Favorite museum: The Rocky Mountains themselves. They are living museums, to me as Colorado is a state rich with prehistoric fossils. I hike and imagine a Stegosaurus, prevalent inhabitant to the Front Range, walking around the red rocks.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Bicycle Cafe. Nobody is here to impress anyone else with their cool mustache or Warby Parker frames, plus it’s quiet enough to discourage freelancers from taking phone calls inside.
5. Favorite thing about your town: Proximity to nature. Kindness without expectation. Everyone here values friendship, collaboration, and happiness above all. I found that Californians guarded their resources much more cautiously. I’ve been stunned by the emphasis Denverites place on sharing talent and knowledge.