The question was simple: Was it possible to escape…in my own city?
Denver has always seemed like an evasive city, even to a girl who grew up there. My family lived just south of Denver, and I remember driving downtown on the I-25, glancing fearfully at “the city”. The skyscrapers loomed overhead, vast and towering over the maze of one-way streets below. The city was intimidating to me, and is still now. Whenever I drive into town, I clutch the wheel until my knuckles turn white. The streets are confusing, and the tons of foot traffic makes me paranoid that I am one turn away from hitting a pedestrian. So when my friend proposed spending a night in Denver as a tourist, my first instinct was to roll my eyes. “I live here” I thought, “Why would I pay to spend a night in my own city?” But then, I rethought that negative stance. Times are tight. I can’t afford to travel as much as I would like, and this would be a night out with my girlfriends. Perhaps it was time to learn to embrace this exotic and mysterious city – the one down the road. Could it possibly feel like a real escape?
We booked our stay at the Hotel Teatro, a Chicago-style architectural masterpiece located right across from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. If you’re in Denver to attend one of the many incredible shows at the Buell, THIS hotel is the place to stay.
As the doorman gestures you inside, you’re instantly smitten. The lobby is marble and you feel as if you are stepping back in time – to a more glamorous era perhaps, when women wore feathers in their hair, and classically handsome men let cigarettes dangle sexily from their lips. The three of us (my sister , myself, and one of my best friends) headed up to our room on the 7th floor. It was one of the loveliest hotel rooms I have ever seen. Since it was a corner room, we had floor to ceiling windows on both sides.
One side faced the Rocky Mountains (ensuring we were treated to a famous Colorado sunset), and the other side faced the Temple Buell Performing Arts Center. The modern room was decorated in warm gold tones, with huge beds that beckoned us into their soft down comforters. The bathroom could only be called drool-worthy, with a deep spa tub and glass shower. After relaxing in our room – which was seeming more and more like the closest thing to heaven in the West, we dressed in our Denver finery (jeans) and headed out for a night on the town. Our town.
It was perfect timing – the Hotel Teatro is about two blocks down from the 16th Street Mall, which is practically Downtown Denver’s center of activity and this early evening couldn’t have been more alive. The Mall was decked out for a Christmas in Colorado with Horse Drawn Carriages, Christmas Lights and Carolers. We giggled as we walked to our restaurant, exhaling our breath in the cold night air.
Our first stop was Mellow Mushroom on 16th Street. Famous for their low prices, fabulous muchie- satisfying pizzas, and acid-trip inspired décor, Mellow Mushroom was a perfect place for anyone who is watching their pennies. We opted to split a Red Skin Potato Pie Pizza, which could only be described as gourmet meets delivery. Red Potato, Caramelized Onion, Cheddar, Chives and Ranch…mm mm… it was a little slice of heaven.
After Mellow Mushroom, we skipped across the street to the famous Writer’s Square, and to Denver’s favorite Vodka bar – Red Square. Red Square specializes in over 100 types of Infused Vodka and everything from Beet to Honey flavors are available in a carafe or in tiny, dangerous shots. For being a chilled vodka bar, Red Square is the epitome of warmth. Deep red walls reflect the amber glow of yellow lamps and it’s chic European bistro décor. The air buzzes with energy from young twenty-somethings wearing tiny mini-dresses, to sophisticated socialites savoring European cheese platters in the dining room. We hardly fit in with either group, but it didn’t matter. The vodka made us FEEL twenty. The atmosphere made us FEEL wealthy. My friend Emily, a fearless Amazon woman, took a Horseradish shot. It did not go down gently and we tried not to laugh as she coughed and wheezed. We felt young (ish) and alive and very, very cool as our chilled vodka was poured out.
Some two hours and a delicious pineapple vodka carafe later, we grabbed an English Toffee Caramel Apple from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (a mind-boggling twelve dollars an apple… how about them apples?), found on our way out of Writers Square, and headed up the street.
Like moths to a flame, we were drawn to the red and green lights reflecting on the Daniels and Fisher ClockTower, one of Denver’s first skyscrapers and most recognizable landmarks, and (surprisingly) the home of a naughty Underground Cabaret. The sound of music beckoned to us, and as we turned the corner, we were sucked into pure Christmas bliss. Sparkling colored lights by the hundreds stretched from building to building, framing a maze of wonder below. An ice-skating rink – a real ice-skating rink! – lay in the center of the open plaza, filled with hundreds of clumsy skaters and a couple of talented ones showing off for all the rest. A talented local band played on a small stage as dozens of onlookers drank their beers and ciders, warming their cold hands under blazing heat lamps. Everywhere you looked there was picturesque Christmas moments: A couple kissing under a lighted tree, a child wrapped up in a snowsuit dashing about, an old man tapping his toes to the band, and finally, friends taking it all in, sharing the world’s most expensive caramel apple.
It occurred to me then: I love this city. My city.
It was sad that it had taken some convincing to get me to see it from the eyes of a tourist. It’s not enough to drive by it every single day, or even to visit once every six months for a museum or special restaurant outing. Those moments are mostly filled with stress – finding parking, confusion of where things are, paranoia about locking doors – but this moment, frigid in the night air but warmed by the festivity around us, this moment was brought to us for the cost of a hotel stay.
I learned something in that moment. For me, I think the only way to truly be a tourist in my own city is to stay in a hotel, even if my home is a 30 minute drive away. When you just drive in and out, it’s not an escape. It’s a night out. But when you stay somewhere else, in a place of luxury and indulgence, it becomes a true escape. For me, a true escape means no parking, a lush hotel bed and not worrying about a designated driver if we have a couple of extra pineapple vodka shots. For me, a true escape is feasting at a hipster pizza place without worrying where my car is parked. For me, a true escape is standing in front of a floor to ceiling window and having my breath take away by the sea of city lights below.
For me, a true escape is falling in love with your city – and your friends – all over again.