The Life & Styles of Denver: The Best in Food, Art, Retail, & Community

We talked to four local experts who love the city just as much as we do. Find out where they work, play, dine, and shop. Plus, get the inside scoop on Denver’s best places to visit.

Authored by Kerrie Lee Brown

FOODSCENE: Making an impact

Photo by Paul Miller

Alex Seidel on location at Annette

When you’re the recipient of a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, you know you’ve made it. But, when I met with Alex Seidel at one of his favorite eateries to talk shop, he said he still had so much more to do.

He’s incredibly humble. “Cooking for over 30 years has pushed me to perfect my craft as a chef, but I am inspired to do bigger things. I want to give back.”

Despite his nonchalant attitude about his own amazing accomplishments (he owns three top restaurants including Mercantile Dining & Provision, a restaurant and European style market located in Denver Union Station) he visually beams when asked about comradery among his peers. “I’m not the only one trying to make an impact. Paul Riley, Caroline Glover, and Kelly Whitaker, to name a few, we are all in this together.”

More than ever, Alex is immersed in the idea of farm to table, and says Colorado is finally on the map. “Just like California is known for its wine, and the East Coast is known for its lobster—Colorado garners a favorable reputation for its ability to source fresh foods from local farmers to the restaurants. It’s all about the processes we have here.”

His priority is to solidify sustainable relationships between restaurant, farm, and market. “Denver has a strong voice in the food world,” he says, “I think it’s vital that we push our efforts to bring awareness to the food systems here in Colorado. There is a lot of opportunity and we are seeing a lot of food inventors, restaurateurs, and culinary experts coming here to learn about we do. It’s just the start of elevating the food scene even more.”

Alex is referring to one of the biggest international food events, Slow Food Nations, that is held here in Denver in the fall. He’s on the advisory board and says this spectacular food festival showcases all that our region has to offer. “It’s a great way for families to celebrate food with us and learn about what our industry is doing to bring awareness to our environment, culture, and so on. It’s so impactful because everyone can contribute to bettering our systems.”

As a top chef and proprietor in the Mile High City and across the state, Alex wants to ensure his next move is to make an even bigger impact. “Besides sourcing locally, I believe the role of the restaurant is to provide our consumers with the best eating experience possible. Today people are a lot more conscious about what fuels their body; and dining healthy is the ultimate goal.”

At the end of our interview, he added: “I really want to make sure Caroline Glover, the owner of Annette, gets the credit she deserves for being a trailblazer in the culinary scene here in Denver. She’s amazing at what she does and I can’t say enough about her aspiration to create positive change and awareness in the food and farming industry in Colorado.”

On Alex’s list

Annette

Carmine Lonardo’s Italian Deli
“I love Carmine Lonardo’s Italian Deli. They have everything from sausage, meatballs, and sandwiches, plus pizza, pasta, and even catering platters. I always feel at home there.” 303.985.3555

Café Jordano
“I also love Café Jordano. The owner is always around and I love that. Having that personal touch when you walk in a local establishment means so much—it’s the experiential piece I was talking about.”

Brass Tacks
“When I have a minute to enjoy some down time with friends. I like to visit Brass Tacks on Blake Street.”

Eat, drink, and enjoy

Check out these choice hot spots.

Photo by Sarah Rodriguez

Uncle
A simple, neighborhood restaurant with a fresh take on a Japanese staple, ramen. You’ll want to try its long simmered broths and variety of Asian-inspired dishes that are some of the best in the city.

Run For The Roses
This ultra-trendy spot hides beneath the Dairy Block. It takes a fresh spin on the classic cocktail club and is home to many rare spirits.

Courtesy Hudson Hill

Hudson Hill
This dynamic space is both a coffee shop and cocktail bar. It serves some of the best coffee and specialty cocktails in Cap Hill, along with some tasty bites.

Death & Co
This ultra-trendy spot hides beneath the Dairy Block. It takes a fresh spin on the classic cocktail club and is home to many rare spirits.

Huckleberry Roasters
A local favorite serving up some of the best cold brew in town. A bonus: It’s a socially conscious business, working with small farmers and coffee co-ops.

RETAIL: Surviving & thriving

Photo by Paul Miller

Terri Garbarini on location at HW Home

Terri Garbarini owns the high-end women’s fashion store Garbarini in Cherry Creek North—although she opened her first store in Larimer Square in 1985. “The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that you have to evolve as the industry evolves.” It’s no secret that Terri is a survivor in the fashion space while many smaller shops have closed; she emphasizes that it’s because she’s had to accept change and go with the flow.

“You always have to prepare for the next generation of customers. The women who shop in my store have grown up and now their daughters are coming in—but they have different wants and needs.” She stresses that nowadays they have technology at their fingertips, which makes their shopping experience different.

“[Millennials] tend to Google the latest style trends or search ‘fashion’ on Pinterest, instead of window shop like the old days, so I have to be creative. For instance, I ask my customers how I can make their experience better.”

Terri looks outside her shop to keep things fresh. “Since I have to reinvent everything twice a year, I like to visit my favorite furniture stores, local spas, and even the Botanic Gardens for inspiration.”

While Terri is a pioneer in retail, she does have some advice for new shop owners who are trying feverishly to keep up with leasing prices in the area. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and try something out of the box like a new designer. Relationship building is also crucial. The early years for me were really overwhelming because ,when you’re small, you have to be your own HR, PR, and marketing person. You learn as you go.”

Terri has taken a lot of risks over the years. When she purchased her building in 2013, it was a huge turning point. “I used to only carry shoes and accessories and kept it pretty small. Then, I opened a store in Cherry Creek Mall, but after a 3-year lease, I decided to expand with a larger store and more clothes. You have to take advantage of what’s in front of you.” Terri also points out that women are natural born gatherers and love to enjoy things. “I reminisce about window shopping with my mom. It was a visual experience and I think that’s missing today.”

On that note, Terri fears for new retailers because there’s so much competition. “They’re struggling to keep their doors open, but at the same time, I know I’ll eventually have to move to a rigorous online platform to keep up. It’s all about survival. The reality is that leases are expensive, especially in Cherry Creek. With that being said, I have to give ma and pa shops credit for following their passion. I, like them, will continue to push our businesses forward.”

On Terri’s list

HW Home

Aviano Coffee
“I’m also a huge fan of Aviano coffee—which is conveniently located across the street from my store.”

El Taco De Mexico
“I love Mexican food. One of my favorite spots is El Taco de Mexico on Santa Fe. There’s no alcohol and you have to order at the bar. I always see someone I know there.”

Object Vintage Design
“I love the store Object Vintage Design on 38th and Clay. It was opened by my long-time friend Gérard Encinas who is also an owner of Gerard’s pool hall.” 720 542 9315.

Edit
“I love the European Spa called EDIT on Adams. The owner’s name is Edit and she’s from Hungary. She’s fabulous—no wonder I’ve been going to her for facials since I was 18 years old!”

Shop till you drop

Check out these choice hot spots.

Cry Baby Ranch
A perfect place to find quirky western clothing, boots, and gifts for everyone.

Shea
Be sure to check out this classic yet trendy women’s boutique next time you’re in RiNo.

Courtesy Moda Man

Moda Man
This upscale men’s clothing store has the perfect outfit for any occasion.

Judith and Joe
This boutique provides a unique approach to ethical fashion for both men and women. They make it easy to look good while being sustainable.

Common Threads
Want that designer bag but don’t want to spend the money? This women’s designer consignment shop is perfect for you.

FM Boutique
This trendy shop prides itself on connecting with customers and local businesses so you’re sure to leave the store with some new knowledge.

Courtesy TOPO Designs

TOPO Designs 
This Colorado native company has spread their products across the state. Check out their cool packs and bags online or in person. Stores in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins.

Billie
Find your new favorite statement piece here. Focusing on small-brands, Billie keeps shopping fun with its funky and modern pieces.

ARTSCENE: State of the art

Photo by Paul Miller

Michael Chavez on location at Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

You might not recognize Michael Chavez if you saw him on the street, but you definitely recognize the fruits of his work at Denver Public Art. Some of them, after all, are over 40 feet tall.

Michael Chavez is responsible for overseeing the city’s public art program—a division of Denver Arts & Venues—which was established in 1988 through an executive order by Mayor Federico Peña and signed into law in 1991. With its mission of “building a permanent collection of public art that will enhance Denver’s identity,” the program is responsible for growing the city’s collection to over 400 pieces in 32 years, with more work being added every year. Since its inception, more than $40 million has flowed through the program.

“There’s never been a time when we’ve had more projects,” says Chavez. “It’s an exciting time to be in charge, to lead us into the next phase.”

The program gets funding from the city itself, setting aside 1 percent of most public construction budgets over $1 million and using the funds for the development of public art. It’s a lot of money and a lot of logistical legwork, meaning the department requires someone like Chavez—a trained artist himself, as well as an experienced curator—to run it.

“I have degrees in sculpture and printmaking, and I worked in galleries and museums for more than 20 years,” says Chavez. “I did everything from exhibition design to curating exhibits to educational programming for small nonprofit arts centers. I know how to deal with artists and how to manage projects, which is important because every day at DPA is different. Right now, we have more than 50 active projects, all in different stages of development. I manage five people, and on any given day, we might be anywhere in the city. Today, for instance, I was in a meeting about a new design in Skyline Park downtown. Last week, we were in an artist’s studio looking at the fabrication for a work that’s going up in Town Center Park at Green Valley Ranch. We divvy up the projects and it’s a huge variety—the budgets fall anywhere between $10,000 to over $1 million.”

Several cities around Colorado also have 1 percent programs like the DPA’s, but their specifics vary widely by region. What makes Denver’s program unique is that the money comes exclusively from public funds. All of the construction projects contributing 1 percent of their budgets are city projects, run by the government. To qualify, the projects must involve a “building, structure, road, streetscape, pedestrian mall, plaza, or park that includes finished space for human occupancy and will be available for public view.” There are, needless to say, a huge number of these in Denver, meaning the DPA is never short on funds. Rather than focus their efforts on raising money, therefore, Chavez and his team are free to address more community based initiatives like outreach and education.

“About a year ago, we launched a new website that catalogues the city’s entire collection, searchable by neighborhood,” says Chavez. “It’s meant to help you find those hidden gems—things you might not have known were on your commute, or things that you’ve seen before but wanted to know more about. We’re always working toward helping the public interpret what we’re doing.”

The website is meant to get people talking about the city’s public art, to share it and spread awareness via word of mouth, says Chavez. “You can create galleries of your favorites. Let’s say you have a friend coming in from out of town and there are five things you want them to see. You can put those in a gallery and text it to them. They can open it on their phone and they’ll have a map with directions to the specific pieces.”

One new piece Chavez is particularly excited about is a sculpture called “La Veleta” (Spanish for “The Weathervane”), by local artist Jaime Molina.

“It’s at the Southwest corner of the intersection of Sixth and Federal,” he says. “It’s a nearly 40-foot-tall sculpture, a stack of seven animal heads, all tiled mosaics. They’re seven animals that you’d find in Colorado: a ram, a rattlesnake, an owl, a bobcat, a bear, a bison, and a fox. It’s gorgeous, just a stunning sculpture.”

Chavez has his master’s degree in printmaking, so he’s also particularly excited about Denver’s Month of Printmaking, happening now. The biennial event (which trades off every year with the Month of Photography), sees galleries and museums all over the city presenting exhibitions and workshops on printmaking. It’s a way to get people involved and creating art themselves, which only leads to more support for the work of DPA.

“This job is a lot different than working in a gallery, where every three months you have a new exhibit,” Chavez says. “Here, it might be three years between picking an artist and installing something. The payoff, therefore, is much greater. People travel across the city just to see these works of art. It’s so rewarding.”

On Michael’s list

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Clyfford Still Museum
“One of my favorite places is the Clyfford Still Museum. It’s a very unique experience to explore the entire career of one artist in a building that was built to accommodate his archive.”

La Veleta 
“La Veleta is my favorite. It is so new, the only pictures I have are of the installation in progress. It’s a must-see in Denver.”

Sites to see

Check out these choice hot spots.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman, 1950

Denver Art Museum
The museum houses a collection of over 70,000 pieces of art. Only 10 percent of its collection is on view at any given time. That’s a lot of art!

Landmark’s Mayan Theater
One of three theaters remaining in the United States built in the Art Deco Mayan Revival style. This movie theater screens the best independent films and foreign language cinema.

Art District on Sante Fe
With the highest density of galleries in the country, the Art District on Sante Fe hosts a thriving art community. Visit during the first Friday of every month to enjoy the district’s First Friday Art Walks.

American Museum of Western Art
See Colorado’s rich western history at this gallery, which holds art from the 1800s to the present depicting life in the American West.

Red Rocks Amphitheater
See a show at the only acoustically perfect natural amphitheater in the world.

Courtesy Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater

Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater
Grab a blanket and head over to Fiddler’s Green, where you can enjoy a top-notch concert while lounging on the grass.

The Buell Theater
Denver’s home of Broadway, the Buell is where the Big Apple’s best shows come to amaze Denver audiences.

Colorado Music Hall of Fame
Learn about Colorado’s homegrown music at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Opened in 2011, it has inducted more than 50 artists.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Community hero

Photo by Paul Miller

Amanda Sandoval on location at Cherry Bean Coffee

Amanda Sandoval can’t say enough about Denver. “It’s the people who make this the best place to live. I love the people. There’s also a lot of history here, such as the confluence [junction of two rivers] that has so much traditional meaning. I don’t think many people know the significance behind it.” Amanda explains that it’s where the Native-American Indians came to collaborate and make peace hundreds of years ago. “REI and the Cherry Creek path is where the two rivers meet. It used to be prairie land, a sacred place for gatherings and still is. In history, it was an official place for the meeting of the minds.”

Her Northwest Denver roots run deep. Not only is Amanda a Denver native, but in 1975 her parents opened a well-known area restaurant, La Casa de Tamales in the Berkeley neighborhood. It’s now called Tamales by La Casita and located in the Highlands neighborhood. Her love and dedication for Northwest Denver is rooted in the relationships she forged from serving others in the family restaurant, which remains a community meeting place where discussions turn into actions, and those actions improve the lives of Denver residents and businesses.

As councilwoman for District 1, her specialty is spreading awareness about land use, which a lot of residents don’t understand or think concerns them. “I’ve always felt serving others was my true calling. Even the small successes for me come from connecting people; I love educating others about why it’s important to preserve our land and our neighborhoods.” Amanda believes that connection makes a community special. “From sitting across the table with someone and offering a solution to a problem, or getting to know their families, it just makes me happy when I see a lightbulb go off or a smile on someone’s face.”

As we sit there chitchatting in Cherry Bean Coffee on Tejon Street, Amanda explained her theory about how conversation can connect two people. “Having gone through a near-death experience, I’ve realized what’s important in life. My family. My health. My community.” Amanda didn’t get into all of the details, but she said that she got very ill from the flu a few years earlier. Ever since then, she’s been serving the people around her with the hope of making a difference. As a mom of two, she says she’s the voice of District 1 for her kids and for their future. “I do it for the next generation of Denverites.”

Growing up, her mother was always giving back to the community in some way, and her father was a senator. “My parents’ lives intertwined the nonprofit world and advocacy. They taught me so much about the impact of quality of life here – such as the importance of access to affordable housing, preserving the amazing parks, the trails, lakes etc. I truly think it’s important to continue these discussions for the betterment of our communities.”

When she’s not helping pass laws, Amanda loves strolling through the amazing parks, especially Sloan’s Lake. “I love the Platte River and the scenery where it meets with Cherry Creek. We do a lot of biking. There’s also Rocky Mountain Park and the lake near I-70 and Federal is beautiful. Basically, I love anywhere there are close-knit communities, public parks, and places to take the family pet. I can walk from my house to Berkeley dog park.”

Amanda says being a part of a physical community is critical these days, and somewhat of a lost art. “It’s important to have a safe place to talk to people and receive constructive criticism. Honest feedback from those around you who know you and know the area is always beneficial. It’s nice to have a sounding board who really knows what you’re talking about, not online where people have no idea.”

Lastly, she feels strongly about supporting local businesses. “You’re not only supporting them financially, but you’re supporting an idea of what they want for their family. It’s a business model that brings people into a community they know and trust.”

On Amanda’s list

Cherry Bean Coffee

Tennyson Street
“I spend a lot of time on Tennyson Street. There’s a place called Javier’s Diner that is family owned. I love to support small local businesses or hidden gems.”

Parks
“I love strolling through the parks and Sloan’s Lake— anywhere I can take in the fresh air and go for a walk with my dog.”

La Casa de TamaleNew Saigon, Alamo DraftHouse, Patzcuaro’s
“Besides my parents’ restaurant, La Casa de Tamales, one of my favorite places to eat is New Saigon on South Federal. Their noodle bowls are to die for. The Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton is also fun. And, Patzcuaro’s on 32nd and Clay is an amazing Mexican restaurant.”

Cool community vibes

Check out these choice hot spots.

Pixabay

Five Points
One of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, Five Points has a rich and diverse history of arts, food, and cultures. The proof is in the many festivals, breweries, and soul food restaurants in the area that turn a trip into an exciting adventure.

Capitol Hill
With museums and historic buildings dotting the streets, this is Denver’s mecca of history. If a day of exhibits isn’t for you, Cap Hill also offers the Broadway Market, Fillmore Auditorium, and plenty of parks and breweries.

Cherry Creek
If you want great food and endless shopping, this is the place to go. From Elway’s to the Cherry Cricket, and with 40 retail stores exclusive to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center alone, this neighborhood meets all your day or night-out needs.

Washington Park
With plenty of parks and two of Denver’s most popular lakes, this neighborhood is the perfect place for a day spent outdoors. If all those activities in the sun and grass leave you hungry or yearning for a more urban stroll, South Pearl St. and Old South Gaylord are perfect little reintroductions to the city.

Speer
Often overlooked in favor of its more boisterous neighbors, don’t be fooled by Speer’s tranquil atmosphere. There is still plenty by way of restaurants and nightlife at reasonable prices making this neighborhood a terrific location for a daytime stroll or relaxing and pressure-free evening out.

Congress Park
It’s close to both downtown Denver and the Denver Botanic Gardens, but retains its own personality and relaxing environment. With parks and plenty of restaurants, Congress Park is a great escape from the rest of the city, or a starting point for a day of adventuring.

Country Club
Besides having some of the most expensive houses in Denver, what makes this neighborhood special is the Denver Country Club that it’s built around. Centrally located to other major attractions, the whole neighborhood is a designated historic district.

Berkely
A hub of shopping and dining, with two lakes all its own, this neighborhood has a little bit of everything. Housing is also reasonably priced, so Berkeley has become a great place for those starting a family or a life of their own.