Summer in the City

Shopping around for metro Denver's top ten attractions for tourists -- and locals.

There's no question about it. Temperatures are in the 80s. The days are longer. School is out. Inappropriate spandex is everywhere at Washington Park. The moths are back -- in every nook, cranny and orifice. Your significant other is wearing the enchanting scent Off! to repel West Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes. Aurora residents are restricted to using toilet water for alldaily needs.

Summer has returned.

And you know what that means, boys and girls. Get out there and shop!

Growing up, we looked forward to summer with the same anticipation as we did our first sexual experience -- which, with any luck, would occur in a disappointing fashion at some summer keg party. Before we discovered the wonders of underage (say, fifteen) drinking, we spent every passing moment of the season outdoors. If we could have moved in with a local pack of wolves for three months, we would have. And our mothers would have packed our bags, because we couldn't be trusted at all for much of June, July and August. I think the intense solar energy short-circuited any part of our brains that might have kept us safe.

We were on our bikes and, later, in the family truckster looking for trouble, or girls (hopefully, they would be one and the same). We spent our allowances on sound investments like candy and fireworks. My circle of friends consumed enough candy to cause the entire adult population of the United States to need a root canal. With fireworks, bigger was always better: Unless an item would induce a blister on your hand when detonated (one...two...BAM!), it wasn't worth buying.

Luckily, we grew up. We started drinking, so it didn't hurt as much when you blew your finger off.

In those good old days, we enjoyed summer and everything that went with it.

But, according to the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, in the summer visitors to Denver -- whether from Littleton or Luxembourg -- like nothing more than strolling through air-conditioned shopping malls filled with surly "customer service" representatives who would much rather be outside enjoying the weather. When the bureau announced last month that 2002 Denver tourism spending had set a record, it also sneaked in this statistic: Over half of the top-ten area attractions are shopping malls. Shopping malls! Or, as the bureau puts it, "Shopping remains a key activity for visitors, with six of the top ten activities in the city being visits to shopping areas."

I am no connoisseur of shopping (although I do know the location of every Victoria's Secret in the greater Denver area), but I thought all shopping malls were identical, except in Minnesota (which is where I am from). There, shopping malls mean massive structures where you can find a bride, her wedding dress, lingerie for the big night and someone to perform the ceremony all under the same roof. That's the Mall of America, folks, and while it was fun to visit once, I'll never go back, because I got lost for several hours in Legoland.

But really, there's no need to drive 1,200 miles to visit the Mall of America this summer. Because not only are there plenty of shopping opportunities at Denver's top attractions, but there are also plenty of nearby spots to have a beer after you've wasted a perfectly good summer day in a shopping mall.

The number-one attraction in Denver last year was the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, located at 3000 East First Avenue in Denver (www. shopcherrycreek.com). I can highly recommend this attraction: It has one of the largest Victoria's Secret stores around, and there are many places to get beer on the premises. The biggest draw here, though, is the large recreation area where kids can play on oversized fruit and breakfast foods while their parents sit watching and wishing the mall had cocktail service.

Cherry Creek Shopping Center is across the street from Cherry Creek North, home to the Wizard's Chest, Tattered Cover Book Store, another lingerie store (Sol-Store of Lingerie, which I highly recommend) and several excellent watering holes. In Cherry Creek North, you have to actually experience the outdoor environment as you move from store to store, and some of the drinking establishments have excellent patio areas on which to enjoy both a beautiful summer day and your preferred adult beverage.

My favorites: The Squealin' Pig, at 2700 East Third Avenue, the Cherry Cricket -- don't skip the Cricket Burger -- at 2641 East Second Avenue (www.cherrycricket.com), and the Irish Hound, at 575 St. Paul Street. After numerous beers and the resulting liver damage, I can say without a doubt that the Hound has the best black and tan in town. (For you weenies who still think "lite" beer is any different from Zima, a black and tan is a tasty mix of Harp lager or Bass ale and Guinness.)

Still, Cherry Creek can tend to seem a little snooty -- especially for someone who's managed to get thrown out of the Cricket. For a looser attitude, number two tries harder.

The 16th Street Mall (#2) is the town's second-highest-rated tourist attraction. Yes, there are shopping opportunities here: Barnes & Noble and Virgin both have monstrous stores (those who feel more comfortable in Cherry Creek should head straight for the Wolfgang Puck near Barnes & Noble), there's a Victoria's Secret, and it's easy to find all those T-shirts and other tacky souvenirs the folks back home are clamoring for. But the real entertainment on the 16th Street Mall is people-watching. You can do that for free, although I'd recommend putting down some cash at the Rock Bottom Brewery, 1001 16th Street. Rock Bottom answers all basic summer guy needs: cool, refreshing adult beverages, good food, an expansive patio overlooking a major walkway frequented by numerous women -- and no "lite" beer is made on the premises.

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