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In Denver, Festivals and Food Are on the Rise


On a recent Tuesday evening, diners surrounded marble-topped bistro tables at Chez Maggy in the brand new Thompson hotel, open since February in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. The draw: the chance to taste the chef Ludo Lefebvre’s classic French fare — garlicky escargot, curry-tinged mussels frites, duck breast à l’orange — at his first enterprise outside of Los Angeles.

The restaurant and the hotel are among the many fresh crop of ventures gaining buzz on this gateway city to the Rocky Mountains, which has reclaimed its prepandemic vibrancy. And visitors are welcomed with open arms: By 12 months’s end, Denver International Airport — which the trade group Airports Council International recently ranked because the world’s third busiest facility — may have 39 additional gates, increasing capability by 30 percent.

Tempting travelers are a slew of latest cultural offerings, hotels and restaurants, plus the return of favorite events. An anticipated two-year renovation and revitalization of downtown’s sixteenth Street Mall was launched this spring, and once it’s accomplished, wider sidewalks and recent infrastructure should restore the appeal of this 40-year-old pedestrian thoroughfare, which had lost its luster.

Because of Denver’s ample sunshine, quite a few festivals and events happen outside, and annual favorites returned in full force this 12 months, including June’s PrideFest and July’s Underground Music Showcase. The year-round First Friday Art Walks within the Art District on Santa Fe, which drew as much as 20,000 gallery hoppers before the pandemic, are regaining their popularity, with the guts of the motion among the many eclectic galleries and boutiques that line Santa Fe Drive between fifth and eleventh streets.

After two years of mostly drive-in showings, Denver Film presents its annual Film on the Rocks series on the Red Rocks amphitheater (through Aug. 15) and, after a two-year hiatus, will hold its adults-only Summer Scream event (Aug. 25) on the vintage Lakeside Amusement Park northwest of downtown; besides unlimited rides, actors will highlight the park’s almost 125 years of history. Outdoor film buffs can experience an offshoot of Rocky Mountain Goat Yoga called Goatflix and Chill at Denver’s second-oldest cemetery, Fairmount, which has parkland amongst its 280 acres. (A herd of goats nuzzles viewers through the screenings.)

From Sept. 5 to 11, Art RiNo, a recent festival, debuts within the RiNo (River North) Arts District with six recent outdoor murals (adding to the district’s collection of greater than 100), light installations and a daylong concert outside the Mission Ballroom, a preferred music venue, headlined by the Flaming Lips.

And the Great American Beer Festival (Oct. 6 to eight) returns to the Colorado Convention Center after a two-year pause, celebrating 40 years because the country’s largest assemblage of all things related to craft brewing, with a contest, public tastings and two sessions that pair breweries and chefs.

One among the largest events on the humanities scene was the reopening last fall of the Denver Art Museum’s Martin Constructing after a $150 million renovation. A visible counterpoint to the museum’s low-slung, angular Daniel Libeskind wing, the glass-tiled tower, designed by the Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1971, rises seven stories. The revamped rooftop terrace, where geometric cutouts within the facade frame views of Denver, implements a delayed aspect of Ponti’s original plan. Inside, one current exhibition showcases the Mexican clothier and social activist Carla Fernández, who works with Indigenous artisans (through Oct. 16). Elsewhere within the museum, the primary major exhibition dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe’s photography will run through Nov. 6.

The glories of the U.S. national park system draw a whole lot of tens of millions of tourists annually.

Immersive art experiences abound in Denver; currently, the preferred has been the trippy, interactive Meow Wolf, which originated in Santa Fe in 2016 and opened last fall within the Sun Valley neighborhood. Called Convergence Station, some 70 connected rooms and exhibits lead viewers through a psychedelic dreamscape created by scores of artists in imaginative overdrive (timed entry required).

After a two-year pandemic delay, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ “Theater of the Mind” will run Aug. 31 through Dec. 18. Created over eight years by the musician David Byrne with the investment banker and author Mala Gaonkar, the 75-minute production takes audience members (16 and older) on a narrative and sensory journey that unfolds one person’s life in reverse chronology as a method of exploring memory, perception and self-identity. “You’ll see that your perception is fairly unreliable, and our memories are fabricated from how we perceived various moments in our lives and are subsequently also unreliable,” said Mr. Byrne in a presentation in regards to the project on the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen in June.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed hotel openings. Amongst last 12 months’s recent properties were the baseball-inspired Rally Hotel next to Coors Field, the Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, the RiNo district’s Catbird — a contemporary extended-stay hotel with a rooftop bar — and the midcentury-themed Clayton in Cherry Creek. (On the latter, the Five Nines craft cocktail lounge has amped up nightlife with a dimly lit, velvety interior and burlesque dance performances.) Meanwhile, an $80 million renovation refreshed the Sheraton Denver Downtown, in an I.M. Pei constructing along the sixteenth Street Mall.

Visitors have much more to find this summer. Cherry Creek’s former JW Marriott was transformed into the 199-room Hotel Clio in March (rooms from $399). In February, the 216-room Thompson Denver (rooms from $309) opened because the upscale brand’s first Colorado outpost. The hotel partnered with Victrola, the turntable manufacturer, to outfit a listening room within the sixth-floor bar and lounge, while a pedicab service ferries guests around the encompassing LoDo neighborhood.

The 251-room Slate Hotel (rooms from $249), open since late May across from the Colorado Convention Center, riffs on the constructing’s former life because the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, with classroom-themed artwork and a restaurant called the Teachers’ Lounge. The Hilton Tapestry Collection property retains the unique brick-lined hallways — now restored — while former classrooms have turn into guest rooms with high ceilings and marble floors. In July, Best Western’s boutique-style Vib Denver opened in RiNo (rooms from $250).

As Denver restaurants have regained their footing, newcomers are filling seats. Notable openings include A5 Steakhouse from a neighborhood restaurant group; the farm-to-table Apple Blossom within the Hyatt Centric Downtown, from the identical team because the once-lauded Beast and Bottle (which lost its lease last 12 months); and Three Saints Revival, a tapas restaurant within the Hotel Indigo opened by the restaurateur and Punch Bowl Social founder, Robert Thompson.

The restaurateur Delores Tronco returned to Denver to open the Greenwich in RiNo last fall after shuttering the Banty Rooster in Recent York through the pandemic; amid Recent York-inspired décor, diners are served seasonal, Mediterranean-tinged fare, like crispy-skinned roasted chicken ($36), brilliant salads ($15 to $18) and sourdough-crusted pizza (from $21).

Despite the recent closure of Broadway Market, food halls and marketplaces remain popular, and ever evolving. At Bellota within the Source Hotel’s market hall, the chef Manny Berella earned a 2022 James Beard Award nomination for Mexican fare like pork belly con mole and Oaxacan spiced cricket tacos (a three-course meal runs about $42 without alcohol).

Recent on the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, housed in a former aviation factory, Churreria de Madrid fries up churros with dipping chocolate ($8), and the 24-seat Sky Bar serves classic cocktails amid the trimmings of a retro-style airport lounge. The Stanley can also be home to Annette, beloved for its locally sourced modern comfort food; Caroline Glover, the chef, received the James Beard Award for best chef, mountain region, in June.

Though Denver’s craft brewery and distillery openings have slowed down, Deviation Distilling’s cocktail lounge, opened last summer in an 1800s firehouse along LoDo’s Dairy Block, will soon be joined by a neighboring taproom from Colorado’s Westbound and Down Brewing Company, known for its I.P.A.s. And the aviation-themed FlyteCo Brewing will open a second location within the old Stapleton Airport control tower this month with pub-style food, mini golf and exhibits on loan from the nearby Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.

The local restaurateur and chef Dana Rodriguez, one other 2022 James Beard Award nominee for the longtime favorite Work and Class, opened Cantina Loca, within the LoHi neighborhood last January. Shareable plates like tempura-fried cactus ($8), spicy pollo adobado ($19) and silky vanilla flan ($7) are best accompanied by Ms. Rodriguez’s own line of mezcal and tequila.

Ms. Rodriguez has one other enterprise within the works, too. When she moved from Mexico in 1998, she was turned down for a job at Casa Bonita — known more for its kitschy décor and cliff divers than the food; when Casa Bonita reopens under its recent owners, the “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Ms. Rodriguez will probably be there, now heading up a recent culinary team.

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