2009 Independence Day – Denver

After a year and a half away from Denver, I was thrilled to head west for the Fourth of July. I knew this would be a weekend of old haunts, fun times with friends and family, and new experiences. If you ever have a chance to visit this up-and-coming city, be sure to check out a few of these places.

I landed at Denver International Airport around 7:30 pm, collected my bag, and headed to the curb to wait for AK. The air was cool and refreshing, and completely lacked the humidity I’d become used to during DC’s summer nights. AK soon showed up and took me back to her row house in Westminster, a northern suburb of Denver. AK’s house is small and gorgeous – gray with white trim, high ceilings, lots of windows, and simple decorations. It’s a happy house, very peaceful, and it was fantastic to catch up with her.

While AK was at work on Friday, I borrowed her car and headed down to Colorado Springs to see my sister and nephews. The drive was just as beautiful as I’d remembered it, and with traffic so light due to the holiday weekend, I made it within an hour. With two young children in tow, and conversation being our primary objective, we headed to Chapel Hills Mall (1710 Briargate Blvd) to let my nephews run around on the brightly colored, foam village set aside for children in stocking feet while we sat on plastic couches to talk. Though the supervision normally comes in the mother form, there were a few fathers there with the dazed look on their faces of having been handed the children on their only day off from the office and told to do something with the kids so the mothers could have a few hours of rest. The hours we passed there and then at McDonald’s, punctuated by screams and squabbles, were blissful.

Heading back up to Denver, I stopped by the 16th Street Mall – my old stomping ground when I lived and went to school in the city. This pedestrian-friendly strip, 16 blocks long, is lined with retail stores, restaurants, bars, and offices. The median has trees and planters, there are decent attempts at public art, and there is a free shuttle that runs the length of the mall. Starting at Barnes and Noble (500 16th Street), the two-story structure run by the best general manager I’ve ever worked for, I loitered around the shelves filled with new books for awhile. I purchased the last copy of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton and headed back to the street. After an ice tea at Tokyo Joe’s (1001 16th Street), a fast-food sushi chain, I stopped by the D&F Clocktower. In the basement of this historic building Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret (1601 Arapahoe Street) puts on the best burlesque shows around. Unfortunately I was there in the afternoon and unable to see a show. Walking back up the mall, I decided to get a haircut and style at Floyd’s (1608 Champa Street). It was a lovely city afternoon.

After AK got off work, we packed up the car and headed to Steamboat Springs for our girlfriend, ET’s bachelorette weekend extravaganza. The drive to Steamboat winds through mountains, endless grassy meadows, shallow marshes, and deep blue lakes reflecting the sky. The recent rain left everything a vibrant green that feels triumphant. The setting sun turned the clouds pink and orange, then finally tinged everything a rich gold. In certain places along the road, the steam from the hot springs rose in waves, rolling over the bends in the road slowly, enchantingly. The mountain town itself is charming, though we never made it off the main drag. AK and I stayed at the Hotel Bristol (917 Lincoln Ave), while ET and her group stayed at the Rabbit Ears Motel (201 Lincoln Ave). Lacking detailed plans on how to find ET and the girls, AK and I walked down one side of the main street and up the other, popping into bars and restaurants to see where the action was. Truth be told, there wasn’t much going on, and the number of men sporting flannel shirts and full beards was disconcerting to this East Coast girl. Once we found them, the group settled in at Mahogany Ridge (435 Lincoln Ave). The bar area wasn’t crowded at all, and the band that was playing was amazing! AK and I both agreed that this adorable city was one we’d have to spend more time in and explore.

Saturday was a lazy day with a late start. We made it back to Denver by 11 am, just in time for AK to go to work. I knew if I stayed in the house, I’d fall asleep, and I certainly didn’t fly 1,475 miles to sleep. So it was back to the 16th Street Mall. I ate lunch at Crepes ‘n Crepes (1512 Larimer Street), a charming little creperie that opened just before I moved east. It’s cool and quiet, the food is amazing, and the staff is friendly. With the afternoon stretching out in front of me, I decided to catch a movie at the United Artists Theater (500 16th Street). I spent two and a half hours drooling over Public Enemies – not only because of Johnnie Depp and Marion Cotillard, but also because the costumes, the scenery, the camera work, and the story were all executed brilliantly. I made it back to the car just as the torrential afternoon downpour began. Then I headed back to Westminster to have dinner with my friend BB. We went to BJ’s (10446 Town Center Dr), then hurried to find AK on a hill to watch fireworks. Afterward, we walked over to Lodo’s (3053 W 104th Ave) for an Independence Day drink, but the music was way too loud to talk to each other, so we called it a night and headed home.

Sunday morning we slept in and went to church, then had lunch at Great Scott’s Eatery (7510 US Highway 287) in Broomfield, a classic roadside diner with tin signs of Betty Boop and muscle cars, booths of red plastic and tabletops of Formica, and waitresses that call you ‘Hon.’ Definitely a Colorado experience. We ended the visit with a lounge by the pool, and then raced to the airport to make the flight on time.

I will always love Denver. It was my home during the most eventful years of my life, and so many of the streets hold memories for me. This time I was the ghost, haunting the past and reliving joys and sorrows. I’m glad I went back, not only to see friends and family, but also because it helped me realize how far I’ve come.

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