The strange delights of East Colfax Avenue

I'm back from Colourado (British spelling) now, and I must say I had a splendid time.  Denver was the first sensible American city I've stayed in (the two insensible ones being the entrance to Hell - Las Vegas - and its carpark, Los Angeles*) and it was really rather groovy.

The Tivoli-Union Company building with the Rockies in the distance (from my Flickr album)

In many ways Denver reminded me of British cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, in having a Victorian redbrick core that had been stripped away by 20th century progress (i.e. tower blocks) but then reclaimed by a new generation of urbanites.  In central downtown, fine stone churches and elegant old hotels are dwarfed by sleek, shiny skyscrapers, but in the Lower Downtown (or LoDo, as it is inevitably known) the older buildings take primacy.  And then there's East Colfax Avenue, which is even stranger and more intriguing.


If I'd followed the conference accommodation instructions, I'd never have seen East Colfax.  All the recommended hotels were right next to the Denver Convention Center in the middle of town, but the prices were exorbitant.  Baulking at paying $180 a night for a bedroom, I searched online to discover that VisitDenver.com was offering rooms in the Ramada Downtown Denver for about a third of that price.  It looked like a bit of a walk from the hotel to town, and rumour had it that the area was sketchy, but I'm nothing if not parsimonious, so I booked myself in.

The hotel itself was fine - large, decent, clean room - but it was East Colfax that intrigued me.  The sun shining, and having Saturday to myself, I set off in exploration.

I left the hotel and began walking, past the Irish Snug and the Assistance League Thrift Mart and to the Streets of London English pub, which was an accurate replica only in the way that there are many bars in London that serve Stella and San Miguel and show American sports.

Then I began having my suspicions that this was not becoming more downtown, but less, and I looked at the position of the sun and realized I was moving further east, and therefore away from Denver rather than towards it.  Though I was keen to see East Colfax, I was not intending to walk miles in the wrong direction, so I turned tail.

It was a Saturday, still fairly early in the morning, and the streets were quiet, but then a girl in a very short, royal blue, flouncy minidress and high heels tottered across the road.  My narrow-mindedness allowed me to contemplate only two explanations: she was a girl walking home from a very late-running party, or a prostitute.  Whatever the truth, she was sufficiently exotic.

The Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue.

Re-starting my walk back at the Ramada, I now passed Smiley's, the self-proclaimed "World's Largest Discount Laundromat", and Downing Street, which didn't have a number 10, and the Ogden Theatre, where I saw I'd missed recent gigs by both Interpol and Mumford and Sons.  A little further on, and another auditorium (the Fillmore), but more distracting was the place opposite, which called itself Good Times and offered up 'Burgers and Frozen Custard', which didn't sound like a good time to me.

Not Good Times

The high-rise of downtown and the grandeur of Capitol Hill were coming into view as I found myself outside Kitty's 24-hour Adult Book and Video shop and Pete's Monkey Bar, neither of which appeared to possess windows.  Pete's made up for this by having an impressively simian mural though.

717 East Colfax Avenue

Across Washington Street and there was another erotic emporium, and adjoined to it a bar that proclaimed itself to be home of 'The Hottest Lesbians in Denver'.  Perhaps the building's air conditioning system is especially poor.

Over the road, a short way beyond the pornucopia, and you could sample the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe or the Nob Hill Inn (voted Denver's Best Dive Bar 2009, according to a banner), but it was too early in the morning, so I didn't.  Neither did I visit the Denver Drug and Liquor Co, as it seemed far too blatant a title for such an outlet, and the police were bound to be raiding it on a regular basis.

Directly across the road, in fabulous juxtaposition, is Denver's Catholic Cathedral.  This is as imposing a structure as it is possible to erect opposite a row of little shops, which I'm sure is the effect the architect was hoping to achieve.  He probably stipulated in the design that a Chinese buffet, a pharmacy and a hub cap outlet had to be built shortly after the basilica, to emphasize the might of God watching over the ornery folk of Denver.


City Grille declared itself to be universally acclaimed as the best server of burgers in town, for those after-mass munchies, and Capitol Hill Books had everything a Colfax bibliophile could need.  And then you're there, standing beneath the golden dome of the Capitol, and the mile high marker of the mile-high city, and the grounds are full of waifs and strays and pigeons and squirrels and you're in town.  About which, more later...


*concept (C) Professor Andrew Hurst, University of Aberdeen.
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