I think I’m going to make it a habit now that whenever I visit a large enough city, and I have some time to kill during my stay, to sign up for a specialty walking tour or two. They’re good ways to learn a little about the history and culture of an area while getting a feel for the place.
And maybe sample some local food and drink.
I booked a pair of tours in Denver. A “food tour” with Delicious Denver Food Tours, and a “haunted pub tour” with Nightly Spirits.
Lisa was our guide on the food tour. We met up at Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza, and got to chat with Marco and check out the kitchen. And see the filtration system that converts Denver water to as close an approximation as possible to New York City water (because we all know NYC water is the best, especially for making pizza dough and bagels). And it also seems that there is an organization that goes around the world certifying pizza places that do the proper Neapolitan style. Marco’s is the only one in Colorado to have their certification. We sampled the basic Pizza Margerita – tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better pizza…..
Next stop was Butchers’ Bistro, where we had a little “amuse bouche” of little spheres of pig head meat in a seasoned crust. They’re a “farm to table” place, where they believe in using the entire animal – “nose to tail”. The cut of meat you get when you order is whatever is the next piece to be carved off.
On to Biker Jim’s, started by a biker/repo man who opened a sidewalk food cart and got so popular he needed to get a real restaurant. I don’t remember which of his many sausages we sampled, but we had them with the classic caramelized onions and cream cheese toppings. It worked. Biker Jim’s is where you can try all the specialty meats that are available out in Colorado. In addition to the usual beef and chicken, there’s elk and “jack-a-lope” (Rabbit and antelope – really) and rattlesnake & pheasant….
Kachina, a little Mexican/Southwest place in the Dairy Block (a sort of upscale mall in LoDo), was next. We had Navajo style tacos. Instead of a tortilla, they are made with a fried pastry dough that is more like a….well, the group was coming up with things like ‘fried dough’ and ‘puff pastry’, but none of them really compared. I’m going to keep an eye out for them (though I doubt I’ll ever find them here on the East Coast).
On to Union Station for the next two stops. First, a little snack of goat cheese and preserves on a cracker at The Mercantile. That’s a gourmet market and restaurant – so the cheese was fresh, the preserves were local, and the crackers were some sort of multigrain thing. Needless to say, it was a perfect combination.
Finally, we stopped at Ultreia. I was just about overwhelmed at this point, so I forgot to take notes on the little delicacy that awaited our taste buds. Hey, I’m not a professional food reviewer….I was trying to make sure I spelled the name of the place right…..
Union Station, by the way, is an amazing place. It’s been refurbished to look exactly like you’d imagine a major train station would have in the glory days of train travel. And there are plenty of staff and security around to make sure you don’t even think of putting your feet up on the tables (or desks!), or leaving trash in a place other than the appropriate receptacle…
One place worth visiting while there is Milk Box Ice Cream. Not only can you get some really good locally made ice cream there, they also have what they call “Boozy Shakes”. You pick the ice cream and the booze, they blend them together….
Which lets me segue into the Nightly Spirits Haunted Pub Tour.
Every city old enough (and Denver, at 150 years, certainly qualifies) is going to have some tales of ghosts and hauntings and stories about the seamier side (you know, prostitutes and crime) of life in the past. We got to hear about some of them while we visited the places in question.
We started at Celtic on Market, an Irish pub that evidently brought over a ghost when they brought over furnishings from Ireland. The Double Daughters bar has a really Tim Burtonesque vibe with its décor. Try the punch from the tank behind the bar; it tastes like a cherry-flavored made-from-a-powder drink, but with alcohol. Lots of alcohol…..
I can’t help but think that all these ghost stories are bogus, and would never stand the light of proper scrutiny. But wouldn’t life be duller if we didn’t have these tales to share?
Anyway, time to wrap this up.
I wasn’t expecting much from Denver, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a cool and fun city. I couldn’t figure out the mass transit, but the system seems comprehensive enough. The free shuttle along 16th Street is a nice plus. There’s a good variety of restaurants, and Denver actually takes public art seriously (a city ordnance requires that funds be set aside for public art on all large capital improvement projects). There’s a thriving and diverse music scene, and Lisa (our guide on the food tour) informed us that Denver is #4 when it comes to the quality and diversity of its food offerings (after NYC, LA, and Austin).
The general vibe I got from the place was that it’s like a ‘hipster’ city – but without the annoying hipsters.
Let’s keep this to ourselves and not tell anyone, OK?