red rocks amphitheatre

Alexa Kelly, with Colorado’s Legislative Council Staff, recommends a trip to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, where the stage has been graced (and loved) by the Beatles, U2, Bonnie Raitt and many, many more. The park’s hiking trails are ideal just for strolling around for a couple of hours.

Places Political People Love

By Stewart Schley | Aug. 1, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

Colorado lawmakers, staffers and public policy leaders share their top tips for enjoying your time in the Mile High City.

You’re welcome.

Colorado Senate President Pro Tem Kerry Donovan doesn’t really want to divulge where Denver’s best bar is—but in the spirit of NCSL camaraderie, she will. Ditto for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who knows where you can find the greatest Mexican food in town (subject to some respectful disagreement). If you’re angling for a day hike, we’ve got just the ticket, courtesy of Colorado legislative research analyst Alexa Kelly. And House Minority Leader Hugh McKean is here to tell you where to rub shoulders with lawmakers and lobbyists over a beverage.

From sunny hiking trails to memorable meals to the trippy but irresistible attraction known as Meow Wolf (read on), there’s no shortage of fun and festive places to visit during your stay in the Mile High City.

But don’t take our word for it. We’ve asked a kaboodle of Colorado legislators, staffers and public policy leaders for tips, hints and ideas about how to get the most from your visit. If you’ve got a few hours to spare during your Summit experience, try out one of these can’t-miss ideas for exploring and enjoying, all within reach of downtown Denver. Fire up your smartphone, hitch a ride and enjoy!

Also, see our NCSL staff picks, an insider’s guide to the Mile High City’s diversions.

 

Eats/Drinks/Merriment

Anise

  • 865 N. Lincoln St.
  • anisedenver.com
  • Travel time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Recommended by: Drew Naismith, legislative aide

This modern Vietnamese eatery, nestled just a few blocks from the Colorado Capitol, is a popular hangout for legislators, lobbyists and foodies. Summer hours run until 10 p.m. for you late-nighters. Don’t leave Denver without trying the Anise Deluxe Bánh Mì, billed as “the best sandwich in the world.”

Bread Bar

  • 1010 Main St., Silver Plume
  • Travel time: 60 to 75 minutes
  • breadbarsp.com
  • Recommended by: Senate President Stephen Fenberg

This one’s a bit of a drive—but it’s a lovely one, straight west on Interstate 70 to a small mountain town that was once a mining epicenter and still drips with local, rustic character. It happens to be Fenberg’s favorite bar for a reason: He owns it. (“I’m kind of biased,” he admits.) Converted from an 1800s bakery, it’s guaranteed to make for interesting conversation, colorful local characters, and a memorable drive into Colorado’s Rocky Mountain splendor.

buckhorn exchange denver
The rustic Buckhorn Exchange is a taxidermist’s dream.

Buckhorn Exchange

  • 1000 Osage St.
  • buckhorn.com
  • Travel time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Recommended by: Amanda Clapham, information specialist, Legislative Council Staff

This rustic, only-in-Colorado haunt is just steps from Denver’s 10th and Osage light rail station and boasts two claims to fame. First, it was issued Colorado Liquor License No. 1, Denver’s first, after Prohibition. Second, you’ll find an impressive collection of wall-mounted deer and elk heads admiring your meal and drinks from above. Clapham lauds the Buck for its “super-kookie Old West decor with lots of game on the walls and a steak-heavy menu.” That plus a killer happy hour make it an easy recommend.

The Capital Grille

  • 1450 Larimer St.
  • Travel time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • thecapitalgrille.com
  • Recommended by: Colorado Senate Minority Leader Hugh McKean

Wanna become an instant Colorado legislative insider? Go no farther than this iconic watering hole and steakhouse for politicos, lobbyists, staffers and various hangers-on. As McKean points out, it’s “where to be if you want to see people that you ought to know.” The Grille rivals Charlie Brown’s (right) for bragging rights as the epicenter of Colorado politics (aside from, you know, the Capitol itself). Plus, you’ll get to hang out in Denver’s historic Larimer Square neighborhood, where  outdoor string lights bring a charming ambience to the streets at night. For Summit foodies, McKean also suggests a visit to Steuben’s (523 E. 17th St.) with a simple directive: “Order the fries.”

Charlie Brown’s Bar and Grill

For decades, it has been a go-to for Colorado lawmakers. Tucked into the first floor of the Colburn Hotel, Charlie Brown’s has probably spawned as many bills and compromises and seen as much political wheeling and dealing as any conference room over at the Capitol itself. Sidle up to the bar and order a red beer (half suds, half tomato juice) for the authentic Colorado political experience.

DiFranco’s

  • 955 Lincoln St.
  • Travel time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • difrancos.com
  • Recommended by: Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar

Esgar describes this Capitol Hill Italian eatery as “amazing, delicious, small and quiet,” and says it’s her favorite Denver place. That’s good enough for us. Alternatively, if you’re noodling around for noodles, Esgar recommends Uncle Ramen (www.uncleramen.com) at 95 S. Pennsylvania St. It’s an unassuming spot to which she applies a one-word description: “Amazing.”

El Taco de México

Colorado’s senior senator has a reputation for pursuing and achieving bipartisan consensus, so you’ll have to forgive him if this recommendation generates pushback from some other Colorado policy leaders (see Los Dos Potrillos below). Still, Bennet wasted no time in casting his vote for best Denver Mexican restaurant, and really, who are we to argue?

Los Dos Potrillos

  • 8251 S Holly St., Centennial
  • Travel time: 25 to 35 minutes
  • los2potrillos.com
  • Recommended by: Colorado Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert

This Los Dos eatery, one of three Denver-area locations, is tucked into a nondescript strip mall in the suburban community of Centennial. But don’t let the ordinary setting fool you. Holbert swears by what he calls “the best Mexican food I have ever found anywhere.” The high praise stems partly from the eclectic menu, which he says you won’t find elsewhere: Mexican seafood stew and the carne adobada pork are among the specialties. The senator also mentioned something about margaritas …

New Terrain Brewing Co.

  • 16401 Table Mountain Parkway, Golden
  • Travel time: 25 to 30 minutes
  • newterrainbrewing.com
  • Recommended by: David Hansen, senior economist, Legislative Council Staff

This brewpub boasts an expansive outdoor patio and beer garden with eye-pleasing views of the Colorado foothills. It’s adjacent to the Golden Bike Park, a popular cycling destination, and it offers an entryway to the North Table Mountain trail system. That’s not all: On the south side of North Table Mountain, there’s a popular rock-climbing area that overlooks the Coors Brewery. Hansen singles out New Terrain as a sort of only-in-Colorado mix: “a hike and drink, and taste of the Colorado lifestyle,” he says. Cheers!

Safta

  • 3330 Brighton Blvd.
  • Travel time: 10 to 15 minutes
  • eatwithsafta.com
  • Recommended by: Senate Majority Leader Dominic Moreno

Moreno’s district mostly spans Commerce City, north of Denver, where he swears by Mexican spots El Jardine and La Casa del Ray. But among downtown Denver restaurants, this one is his “absolute favorite,” spinning up creative interpretations of Israeli food. Find it tucked into The Source Hotel in the city’s trendy RiNo (River North Art District) neighborhood.

pete's satire lounge denver
The Satire Lounge exudes a laidback, retro charm.

Pete’s Satire Lounge

Donovan describes the one-and-only Satire Lounge as her neighborhood bar. “I don’t really want to share with people, but in the spirit of NCSL, I will,” she says. With its iconic neon sign, retro vibe and location along the famous (or perhaps infamous) Colfax Avenue, the Satire epitomizes old-school Denver. It’s now being run by the grandson of the original owner, much to Donovan’s delight. “In a time of us losing so many institutions because of COVID, it’s great to see a place like Pete’s Satire survive,” she says. Bonus: If you get hungry, the Satire serves up Mexican fare, and right next door is the companion Pete’s Kitchen diner.

Wynkoop Brewing Co.

  • 1634 18th St.
  • wynkoop.com
  • Travel time: 10 minutes
  • Recommended by: U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper

It’s the place that Hick built: Before he became the state’s governor, then its junior U.S. senator, Hickenlooper founded Colorado’s first brewpub in 1988. The lower-downtown brewery and eatery remains a centerpiece of Colorado’s thriving craft beer scene. (Hickenlooper sold his ownership stake in 2007.) Not sure you’ll see the senator there, but you never know. In any event, the beer is definitely worthy. (Fair warning: It’s strong.)

Diversions

Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark

  • 900 Baseline Road, Boulder
  • Travel time: 45 to 60 minutes
  • chautauqua.com
  • Recommended by: Colorado Republican Senate Caucus

The caucus agreed on this one with minimal deliberation. This historic landmark near Boulder is home to Chautauqua Park and the iconic Flatirons rock formations, along with some of the state’s best hiking. It’s well worth hitching a ride from downtown Denver. Most of the park’s 40 miles of trails are easy to moderate in difficulty, and you’ll come back as an honorary Coloradan, we promise. The Chautauqua Dining Hall serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Denver Adventures

  • 26267 Conifer Road, Conifer
  • Travel time: 40 to 50 minutes
  • denveradventures.com
  • Recommended by: Bethanie Pack, IT/business analyst, Legislative Council Staff

Get out, get moving and get Rocky Mountain high with a half-day climbing adventure. Climbing enthusiast Pack recommends a guided instructional session from Denver Adventures as a great, safe introduction to outdoor climbing. You’ll shimmy up and around manageable climbs near Conifer, a mountain town southwest of Denver. Or, for those with just a few hours available, the Movement indoor climbing gym in Denver’s Baker neighborhood (www.movementgyms.com) can satisfy the yearn to scale something vertical, with walk-ins welcome.

Meow Wolf Denver

  • 1338 First St.
  • Travel time: 7 to 10 minutes
  • meowwolf.com
  • Recommended by: Colorado Republican Senate Caucus

Bedazzled with fluorescent colors, psychedelic geometry, some inexplicable sounds and, basically, a mind-expanding labyrinth of rooms and crevices tailor-made for exploring, it might sound like a spot optimized for the kiddos. Not so: Even “senior” members of the caucus loved it when they visited not long ago, says Joshua Bly, the caucus communications director.

Molly Brown House Museum

  • 1340 Pennsylvania St.
  • Travel time: 5 to 8 minutes
  • mollybrown.org
  • Recommended by: Colorado Rep. Steven Woodrow

This walk-through house tour celebrates the larger-than-life persona of the Denver-born activist and philanthropist known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” who famously survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Speaking of activism, Woodrow also suggests a Denver twofer: Cap your visit with a stop at The Church Nightclub (www.coclubs.com/church), a reimagined 1865 church that invites you to stroll through multiple rooms, each featuring different live music. From the Molly Brown House, you can zing your way there in about five minutes by car.

Museum of Contemporary Art

  • 1485 Delgany St.
  • Travel time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • mcadenver.org
  • Recommended by: Colorado Rep. Leslie Herod

An easy walk from the convention center if you’ve got an hour or two, the museum dazzles this summer with a pair of exhibits showcasing breakthrough “geometric” artists whose paintings draw from Indigenous cultures: “Dyani White Hawk: Speaking to Relatives” and “Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning/Rivalizando con el Relámpago.” Herod puts it at the top of her gotta-see list.

Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Learning Center

This off-the-path Denver gem makes for an unforgettable experience, especially for the history buffs among us. It’s named after the late Ralph Carr, who served as Colorado’s governor from 1939-43 and distinguished himself from fellow Western governors by vehemently opposing the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Enjoy interactive exhibits, a trivia game testing your knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, and a chance to preside as an appellate judge over four cases.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

  • 18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison
  • Travel time: 30 to 40 minutes
  • redrocksonline.com
  • Recommended by: Alexa Kelly, research analyst, Legislative Council Staff

If you’ve got the afternoon free (and a ride at the ready), don’t miss one of Colorado’s most revered destinations. Stunning angular boulders surround a 9,500-seat outdoor theater whose stage has been graced (and loved) by bands and performers including the Beatles, U2, Bonnie Raitt and about a gazillion others. Listen closely and you might still hear echoes of a legendary 1978 Bruce Springsteen show. Don’t worry if there’s no performance scheduled; Kelly points out that Red Rocks and its companion hiking trails are ideal just for strolling around for a couple of hours.

Washington Park

  • South Downing at Louisiana Street
  • Travel time: 15 to 20 minutes
  • denver.org
  • Recommended by: Will Clark, fiscal analyst, Legislative Council Staff

Have an hour or two? Skip on down to one of Denver’s signature public parks, replete with two lakes, plenty of geese and (leashed) dogs, a running/walking/biking path, a bocce ball court and, on nice days, lots of sun-worshipping, volleyball-spiking, cornhole-playing recreationists. A day in the park can do wonders for the soul.

Denver Public Art

  • “I See What You Mean,” aka “The Big Blue Bear,” on 14th Street between Stout and California streets. 
  • “Dancers,” a 60-foot-tall sculpture of two Gumby-like characters in the Performing Arts Sculpture Park at 1245 Champa St., right around the corner from the convention center.
  • “Big Sweep,” a 35-foot-tall metal broom and dustpan, outside the Denver Art Museum on 13th Avenue.
  • “The Yearling,” a 21-foot-tall red chair topped by a 6-foot-tall horse, outside the main Denver Public Library at 10 W. 14th Ave. near the Denver Art Museum.
  • “Mustang,” aka “Blucifer,” the 32-foot-tall blue horse with red eyes on the road to (and from) Denver International Airport.

 

Denver Art Venues

American Museum of Western Art

  • What: Permanent home of The Anschutz Collection, a formerly private collection of paintings of the American West from the early 19th century to the present.
  • When: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Where: 1727 Tremont Place, anschutzcollection.org
  • How much: $5; guided tours available at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., $10.

Clyfford Still Museum

  • What: Minimalist showcase for the stunning large-scale paintings and archives of the most famous abstract expressionist you’ve never heard of.
  • When: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: 1250 Bannock St., clyffordstillmuseum.org
  • How much: $10; 17 and under free; discounts for 65+, teachers, military, students.

Denver Art Museum

  • What: With over 70,000 works from across the centuries and around the world, the DAM is one of the largest art museums between the West Coast and Chicago.
  • When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays, to 9 p.m.
  • Where: 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, denverartmuseum.org
  • How much: Nonresident adults $18; under 18 free; discounts for 65+, students, active military.

n Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

  • What: The name says it all.
  • When: Tuesday-Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: 1485 Delgany St., mcadenver.org
  • How much: $10; under 18 free; discounts for 65+, teachers, military and others.

The Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art

  • What: A collection of 30,000-plus works by more than 1,500 artists and designers, with about 4,400 works on view. 
  • When: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
  • Where: 1201 Bannock St., kirklandmuseum.org
  • How much: $10 (visitors must be at least 13); discounts for 65+, teachers, students, active military.

First Friday Art Walk

  • What: View the work of hundreds of artists in galleries, studios, co-ops, upstairs, downstairs, in alleys, on the street—everywhere!
  • When: First Friday of the month, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
  • Where: Santa Fe Avenue from 13th Avenue to Alameda Avenue and Kalamath Street to Inca Street. Most of the galleries are between Fifth and 11th avenues; denversartdistrict.org/first-friday.
  • How much: Free

History Colorado Center

  • What: Current exhibit “Building Denver: Visions of the Capital City” shares the many visions for and stories of the growth, urban development and architecture of Denver, from 1860 to today.
  • When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: 1200 N. Broadway, historycolorado.org
  • How Much: $14; seniors (65+) $12; students (16-22) $10; children (5-15) $8; children 4 and under free.

Stewart Schley is a Denver-based freelancer.

Additional Resources