“I mean, if you paid me $5 million, I might move to San Francisco,” my friend mused as we ate our farm-to-table cured bacon, seasonal ravioli and Colorado steak. “Yeah. I grew up here and I am never going to leave,” another friend said.
I’m in Denver: land of hippies, gluten-free food, ear gauges, Burning Man devotees, one of the largest REIs in the nation, a short drive to an amazing hike, tech, oil, more public art and museums than you can take in, peace, love and happiness.
Yes, there are way too many unemployed Trustafarians hanging out in the main square. There’s also a nearby dystopian hellscape on the way to Boulder called Commerce City that has one of the biggest, baddest oil refineries in the nation. But in Denver proper, the architecture is absolutely amazing, from the museums to the public library to individual residences of both the Victorian and modern style. There’s more distillieries and breweries here than anywhere else in the nation (good for foodies, bad for alcoholics). And there’s a huge emphasis on health and authenticity. It’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve locally produced produce and meat. We know at least one person who moved here from NYC, dropped a ton of weight and is now in yoga teacher training.
No wonder people move here and never want to leave. Ever. It’s got the culture of NYC without the unrelenting pace, better nature than New England, a chill attitude, perfect summer weather and tolerable winter weather, and food, food, food.
My six days I spent here–of course–is not enough to give a full assessment. But if you do make the trip here, I’ve collected some of the best sustainable places to eat, play and get some work in. This is by no means comprehensive, so make sure to add your favorite sustainable picks in the comments!
City o’ City
Open pretty much all day from morning to late at night in downtown Denver, you can count on City o’ City for free wifi, a wide selection of teas, coffees and delicious baked goods, seasonal vegetarian fare, plenty of open seats at one of the many tables, bar seats couches or outdoor tables, and a generally chill atmosphere of happiness and love. It’s a Denver fave.
206 E. 13th Avenue | Denver
Open seven days a week| 7 a.m. – 2 a.m.
With a less-than reliable schedule, political paraphernalia and murals everywhere, and poetry readings, this is hippie culture at its best. Of course, they serve locally-sourced vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, fish, dairy and bar selections, augmented with fair trade imports for brunch and dinner, and you can choose to get your dishes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. (Though most places in Denver do offer gluten-free choices.) They also claim to be wind and solar-powered. Stop in any night of the week for swing dance, benefits to raise money for the likes of Pussy Riot and Planned Parenthood, Open Stage events, Zumba, blues and much more. Just check the schedule before you go, and don’t make the mistake that we did of walking in for lunch.
2199 California Street | Denver
For pleasant and low-key meal, try Gaia Bistro for a selection of sweet and savory crepes, soups, sandwiches and other tasty entrees made from local ingredients. We stopped by for breakfast, and had a lovely meal seated out on the patio underneath a worn canvas shade. We nibbled on pumpkin bread to start, then had a bacon, tomato and cheddar quiche and smoked salmon, caper and creme fraiche crepe. While not necessarily a destination, if you’re in the Southwest area of Denver, it’s worth a stop in for a light meal.
1551 South Pearl Street | Denver
According to Denver residents, it’s the best place to get breakfast, hands down, and there are two locations just in Denver (and others in San Diego, Boulder and elsewhere). Their produce, eggs, and meat natural, farm raised, free ranging, and (whenever possible) local. Every recipe is made from scratch in the kitchen and the organic coffee is picked, roasted and flown in directly from Guatemala every week. They compost, recycle, use recyclable materials, are carbon neutral, and dedicate a percentage of each sale to the community.
It’s only open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but if you can squeeze it in, make a trip to this nonprofit café. If nothing else, you can see the “pay what you want” philosophy in action. Really, just pay what you want. A lot, if you have money to spare and the meal is good, a little if you’re strapped for cash. If you have nothing, just volunteer for an hour to get a local, organic meal. It’s been around since 2006, so it must be working.
2023 E. Colfax Ave. | Denver
Mon. – Sat. | 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
For more organic, natural and local vegetarian fare, try this casual-ish, scene-y restaurant located in an old garage and finished with wood flooring salvaged from a basketball court. Make sure to put your drink order in early, because it will take a while to craft those inventive cocktails, then sit back and savor the star treatment given to the vegetables while you listen to the contemporary music. Yes it’s loud. Go with your friends instead of a date.
1600 W. 33rd Ave. | Denver
Black Pearl Restaurant
For a fancier take on farm-to-table food, head next door to Gaia Café to the Black Pearl Restaurant, which serves contemporary American cuisine, tapas style. Nibbled on oysters or truffle fries to start, then move on to locally-sourced meat (yak??). Or put yourself in the chef’s hands with a tasting menu. You can eat indoors, or outside at the fire pit if you’re feeling romantic. And make sure to inquire about wine–they’re a Wine Spectator winner seven years running for their selection.
1529 South Pearl Street | Denver
Consistently ranking at the top of Denver visitors’ experiences, this “garden-to-table” restaurant features organic and local food in a fun, friendly atmosphere. On the night we went there, the waitress was infinitely patient as we stressed over whether to get a bottle of biodynamic wine, or stick with one of the expertly mixed cocktails. (You could also choose from a long list of beers made right in Denver.) I made short work of my seasonal goat cheese and squash ravioli, while my companions did the Colorado beef. We even liked the bathroom, which was well appointed, with washcloths instead of disposable towels and vintage cookbooks lining the windowsill. “That was a great experience!” one of my friends said after we left. “I was surprised at how amazing that was.” She’s a convert. I hear the brunch is fantastic, too. Hello Bloody Mary! Come back often, as the seasonal menu changes.
2413 W. 32nd Ave. | Denver
All too often, farm-to-table is nothing but new American, but regardez! This restaurant is French, and along with local food offers absinthe to pique your interest. It doesn’t accept reservations, so come early to snag a place at one of the twenty tables inside, then choose from one of just a dozen seasonal dishes. I hear the wait is worth it.
2239 W. 30th Ave. | Denver
Beatport Lounge at Beta
When you get to Beta, the new, over-the-top, enormous club in the nightlife district of Denver, scoot past the dubstep on the main floor and head up to the more intimate and chill Beatport Lounge. That’s where the good music and good crowd is. Grab a fat tire beer–from the famously sustainable New Belgium brewery–and nod your head to the music pumping from the first-rate sound system. The bonus is that you can dance knowing the Beatport Lounge was built almost entirely from sustainable materials. When you’re done, drop your beer in one of the recycling bins located throughout the club.
Williams & Graham
You like PDT, the NYC speakeasy inside a phone booth? You’ll like this place, in the up-and-coming Highlands neighborhood, better. That wait list for a reservation is long, but you might get lucky and snag a walk-in on a weekday, like we did. Arrive, and you will be escorted behind a bookshelf into a dimly-lit room with intimate booths. The cocktail list is long, sorted by type of liquor, but if you’re overwhelmed, the waiter will walk you through to a cocktail that suits your taste. There’s also desserts made from seasonal, local ingredients and a short list of snacks. “Has anyone noticed that they’ve only been playing f—ing fantastic music the entire time?” My friend said, as Rolling Stones rolled out of the hidden speakers.
Open daily, 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.
3160 Tejon Street | Denver | (303) 997-8886
I’m writing this sitting in a café, where I’ve been working for about six hours. This is just a few days after reading that many cafés in New York and across the country are shutting off wifi and taping over outlets to prevent people from camping out with their laptops. But The Desk is taking the opposite approach. You can walk in, grab a coffee, tea, beer, or healthy snack, then sit yourself at one of the two- or four-seater tables, plug your laptop into the outlets lining the walls, and tap into the free wi-fi. If you want something more permanent and quiet, with access to a printer and scanner, or an isolation booth, you can pay from $5 to $15 an hour to camp out in the back. $40 gets you an hour in a conference room. I’ve been watching people conduct interview, hatch business plans and study for exams here, and I wouldn’t mind working here every day.
Open Mon.- Fri. | 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sat. – Sun. | 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
230 E 13th Ave. | Denver
Green Spaces Colorado
The sister to Green Spaces NYC, Green Spaces Colorado is where you pay not only for a desk and professional-looking digs for meetings, but also to meet like-minded people. They also host events like dinner parties and marketplaces in the 2,500 square foot space.
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday.
1368 26th St. Between Walnut and Larimer Street | Denver