It is a late spring afternoon on a Tuesday and I’m sauntering down Larimer Street in Denver’s River North neighborhood. I enjoy the warm sunshine on my skin as I seek out the street art that has become synonymous with RiNo (as it is affectionately referred to by locals), and I just found my favorite.
It is a mural known as “Larimer Boy and Girl” by artist Jeremy Burns, and it is one of those optical illusions you can’t stop looking at. Burns created the image on a building that has protruding fins along the way, so you see different images depending on which direction you’re walking from. On one side, you see a surprised young fellow with bewildered eyes; on the other, a sad girl with eyes as deep as an infinity pool. You can’t catch the entire image unless you step back from the building, but I love the fragmented perspective. In some ways, “Larimer Boy and Girl” reminds me of the entire RiNo neighborhood: artistic, beautiful, and not what it appears on the surface.
As a kid growing up north of Denver, RiNo didn’t exist, or at least, not as we know it today. Back then, the area was best known for its industrial appearance, warehouses, and factories. In fact, its dramatic evolution first surprised this old-timer who could only remember shipping docks and concrete abutments. But, that rawness and urban grittiness appealed to the creative community and various artists began relocating to the area. The River North Art District was born in 2005 and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, RiNo is where art is made.
CRUSH WALLS Festival
Today, RiNo is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Denver, largely because I’m hoping some of the artistry will rub off on me. One of my favorite annual experiences is the CRUSH WALLS Festival that happens every September in celebration of graffiti. Of course, visitors can explore RiNo’s street art whenever they want, but CRUSH WALLS is a fun way to see the magic happen.
CRUSH transforms RiNo into an open-air gallery, with artists curating immersive experiences on walls, buildings, and alleyways. In a word, it’s insane. The amount of talented creatives—ranging from newcomers to well-known international artists—that descend upon Denver for this festival is off the charts. As someone with minimal artistic ability, it is so fun to step back and watch these muralists turn nothing into something amazing. I can barely draw a stick figure, and these artists manage to cobble together imaginary worlds full of vibrant color, geometric shapes, and fantastic characters. Some of the masterpieces look like pages jumped straight out of Candy Land, one of my favorite games as a child. Truly, it’s incredible.
For art lovers who want to look beyond the street art, First Fridays are an absolute must. Locals and visitors alike bop into RiNo on the first Friday of every month between 6 and 9 p.m., just to peruse the local art scene. Plinth Gallery is a popular choice for those who dig contemporary ceramics, and fooLPROOF Contemporary Art is another great bet for modern works. The main gallery of fooLPROOF features sculptures, installations, and two-dimensional works, so there is a lot to see and appreciate. But, I’ll admit that one of my favorite spots to swing by on First Friday is Ironton Distillery and Crafthouse. In addition to making small batch, farm-to-flask spirits, the distillery houses artists in its Ironton Studios and Gallery. If you pay them a visit on First Friday, you can grab a cocktail before wandering the grounds and soaking up the artistic vibes.
Eat & Drink
Beyond the art, RiNo has evolved into a trendy, eclectic community that offers a little bit of everything. As a mom who now lives in the ‘burbs, I love to head into RiNo just to catch a glimpse of life in this Denver hotspot.
Bars and restaurants are popping up throughout the neighborhood faster than it takes for me to drive there, and my husband and I enjoy snagging reservations at both the new and old culinary options. Occasionally, I’ll swing into Denver Central Market to grab a juice—but on this Tuesday, I opt to drag my laptop with me and set up shop in a common area at The Source Hotel and Market Hall (simply known as The Source to locals). In addition to the hotel, this large building has two market halls packed full of food artisans and creative makers. Offerings include everything from tacos and pastries to barbecue and traditional Israeli food. Today, I am feeling the sweets so I indulge in both a pasteis de nata (a Portuguese puff pastry) and a churro croissant from Reunion Bakery, a multinational bakery inside The Source. Do I need both? Probably not. But they taste really good and I have zero regrets.
Come mid-afternoon, it’s time for a cocktail—and fortunately, I know a place (or two, or three).
Bigsby’s Folly Craft Winery is housed in a beautifully renovated 133-year-old warehouse, and it’s just a short walk from The Source. I post up on the front patio with the Classic Trio wine flight, savoring each sip of my three selections. The sun is still shining and I can’t help but notice how utterly RiNo the view is: snowcapped peaks in the distance with train tracks running out front. The juxtaposition is jarring but also fitting; only RiNo can blend old and new in such a seamless fashion.
Bigsby’s isn’t the only craft winery in the area. In fact, RiNo has quickly become the hub for both craft beer and wine. Urban winery Infinite Monkey Theorem was an early adopter, arriving in RiNo in 2008, and others like Stem Ciders and Bierstadt Lagerhaus also occupy space in the area. And why not? RiNo is the perfect location, especially since live music spots like Nocturne—a jazz supper club—conveniently coexist. In fact, this summer will bring the addition of The Mission Ballroom, a 60,000-square-foot concert space opening in August 2019. As it stands now, The Lumineers are the opening act on August 7 with Gregory Alan Isakov, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and the Steve Miller Band rounding out the first week. The local buzz around The Mission Ballroom is huge. Personally, I can’t wait to schedule a date night with my husband, grab a cozy dinner at The Populist, and catch a show at the new venue.
Alas, today is not date night. It is Tuesday, and I have to get home. As I head back to the suburbs, I can’t help but reflect on today’s fun in RiNo. Dare I say I’m feeling inspired? Maybe—just maybe—a bit of artistry rubbed off on me.