DENVER — I’m in Millennial Heaven.
I’m in a vast open-air gallery, the RiNo (River North) Art District, where playful spray-painted murals adorn facades of brick former warehouses and industrial buildings.
An Asian woman in a kimono brandishes a paintbrush as if it’s a weapon in one mural. A dinosaur in sneakers confronts an octopus outside the Larimer Lounge bar in another. A recently-confirmed Supreme Court judge appears above the words “No Justice.” An African-American woman’s portrait is on the facade of Nocturne jazz club. Jellyfish murals cover the street in front of The Ramble, the district’s first hotel.
Young people abound in RiNo’s bars, cafes, shops and creative spaces, and Lonely Planet’s comment that it’s home to the bearded and buff is apt indeed. Besides many microbreweries (beer is Denver’s middle name, or, some argue, its first), I find a wine bar, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, where wine is served on tap, in cans and (for old fogies) in bottles. Manual typewriters fill the casual rec-room-like lounge, in case you’ve brought a monkey to test the theorem, an extremely dubious proposition, while statues of a hear-no-evil primate and his two cohorts greet you at the entrance.
“The average age in Denver is mid-30s. It’s a very active city – people wake up at 6 a.m. to go skiing, then do rock climbing, ATVing or biking, then head back for Happy Hour. You’re not doing bars at 2 a.m.,” says my guide on a RiNo walking tour through Urban Adventures, adding the foothills of the Rockies are a mere 20-minute drive. “People from San Francisco and New York are moving here and finding it much cheaper. People from here are shocked it’s getting so expensive.”
If you wonder how to pronounce RiNo, the painted rhinoceroses, or cute plastic cut-outs, are ubiquitous visual aids. The moniker, short for north of the river, joins others like LoDo (lower downtown) and LoHi (lower Highlands) in the Mile High City, which, which, though east of the Rocky Mountains, is flat.
The Source, a food hall with an industrial look in a brick ex-iron foundry, is so popular, The Source Hotel, which connects to it, opened this year. The hotel boasts an arty marketplace (elephant artworks made from cardboard from a street art gallery, for example) and the New Belgium Brewery (you get a beer at check-in).
But art is all over Denver, not just in RiNo. In my hotel, Aloft Downtown, vivid murals, from abstract mountain peaks to the huge blue bear sculpture peering into the Convention Center, in hallways and colorfully-striped carpets are welcome relief to the white-on-white or neutral palette I loathe, but find often in new hotels. In the Golden Triangle museum-crammed district, the ART Hotel boasts 40 artworks, from a horse sculpture that looks remarkably like driftwood (but is actually bronze) to an LED installation by Leo Villareal, the artist behind the Bay Bridge light installation
Who says newspapers are no longer relevant? In the Denver Art Museum, they’re put to good use in its current exhibit on animals in art in world cultures: an artwork, “Dog Barking at Two Women,” is made entirely of newspapers rolled up, tied and shellacked.
A cradle of animal hides and beadwork of animal designs, a bear claw necklace for a powerful healer, a four-faced bird mask whose beak opens and shuts for tribe initiation ceremonies, an eagle-feather headdress and paintings of animals in folklore are some items from the museum’s big Native American collection in the exhibit.
A wooden guardian lion statue that protected a temple in Thailand and sculptures of sacred cows from India also demonstrate the widespread use of animals in decorative and functional arts over the centuries.
The art museum itself is an artwork of striking angles, designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the architect for Berlin’s Jewish Museum.
The art of music also abounds in Denver. At my Aloft hotel, a free concert in its lobby bar stars a young singer from Liverpool called Banners: guests excitedly say his “Shine A Light” scored 50 million streams on Spotify and was in the movie Love, Simon. The concert, it turns out, is part of a competition of emerging musicians Aloft is holding in its hotels from New Orleans to Austin, thanks to a partnership between Marriott Hotels, its parent, and recording giant Universal Music Group.
Back in RiNo, I settle in to hear jazz in Nocturne, to find this Art Deco-style music club concocts tasting menus inspired by famous jazz albums, from Miles Davis to Django Reinhardt. I’m in luck: as an ex-New Orleans resident, I’m delighted to find the current five-course menu is inspired by a Dr. John album, each course named for a song. So there’s Crawfish Monica with mornay sauce (a staple at Jazz Fest) for “Li’l Liza Jane” and quail stuffed with gumbo with smoked shrimp and spicy andouille sausage for “Mama Roux,” with wine pairings Sadly (especially since the woman next to me says Nocturne has some of the best food in Denver), I’ve already eaten. Next time.
muralrino Mural in RiNo
muralrinowithrhino Mural in RiNo with rhino