1994: "America, Why I Love Her." By 1994, Denver International Airport had already missed one opening date, and it would blow through two more. But one DIA feature was right on time, and right on target: Gary Sweeney's "America, Why I Love Her," our Best New Public Art that year. DIA's budget included $7.5 million for art, and although a few pieces flopped and one — Luis Jiménez's "Mustang" — wouldn't be delivered for another fourteen years, Sweeney's "America: Why I Love Her," which celebrated more than 200 odd tourist attractions on a large wooden map, quickly became a beloved city landmark. Sadly, when Continental pulled its planned hub from the finally open airport, Sweeney, a baggage handler, wound up relocating to San Antonio.

1995: Denver Central Library. Soon after Denver was founded, a library sprang up in the frontier town. Over the years, it kept moving into bigger and better spaces — including a Carnegie-funded building in 1909, then across Civic Center Park to a Burnham Hoyt-designed structure in 1956. When Denver's rapacious readers spilled out of that spot, rather than move on, the DPL decided to add on — and how. Its Michael Graves extension, which was named our Best New Building in 1995, is a riot of shapes and colors that continue to remind us that reading is a real pleasure — and a library a true civic treasure.

1996: Phil Bender and Pirate. Much of the energy in Denver's art scene has always come up from underground. By 1996, what started as Pirate: An Art Oasis was well into its second decade — and a certain level of respectability, with a remodeling of the current Pirate gallery on Navajo Street. That's when we named founder Phil Bender the Best Famous Artist Whose Time Has Come — but more than a dozen years would pass before this self-professed Famous Artist was honored with a Mayor's Award for the Arts. Bender's own work specializes in multiples — but he's one of a kind.

1997: Tattered Cover. You could fill a book with all the Best of Denver awards that various Tattered Cover locations have won over the years. And in honor of that, in 1997 we created a special award: Best Tattered Cover. The LoDo store won. Today it's one of three Tattered Covers; the others are at the Lowenstein Complex on Colfax and in Highlands Ranch. The author of this long-running success story remains owner Joyce Meskis, but she wants to give credit where it's due. "The Tattered Cover would be nothing without the readers behind it — that's the untold story," she told us a few years ago. "Denver is a terrific book town, and we have been very fortunate."

1998: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Twenty years ago, two University of Colorado film students decided to make a musical about Alferd Packer, Colorado's legendary cannibal. Their careers took off so fast that they never managed to get college degrees. But they've collected plenty of awards for their subsequent creations, including South Park, the long-running Comedy Central cartoon series with its foul-mouthed Colorado kids that earned them the Best Local Boys Made Good in 1998, and The Book of Mormon, the Broadway musical now collecting raves as it travels the country.

1999: Antique Row. Broadway, heading south from downtown, was once known as the Miracle Mile. By the end of the twentieth century, though, it had seen a major decline that has only reversed itself in the last decade. But one stretch of Broadway has remained a winner for the past thirty years: The dozen blocks south of I-25 known as Antique Row, our winner of the Best Street for an Out-of-Town Packrat in 1999. And it still is today, as dozens of independent businesses along the strip continue to mine the past for a prosperous future.

2000: El Chapultepec. The music never ends at El Chapultepec, the jazz club that opened in the '30s at 20th and Market streets, long before that area got the hip nickname LoDo, longer still before Coors Field brought new life to the neighborhood. Over the years, El Chapultepec gained a legendary reputation as a jazz mecca not just in Denver, but around the world. Although owner Jerry Kranz passed away a decade after El Chapultepec won Best Jazz Club honors, again, in 2000, the bands play on.

2001: Oxford Hotel. More than a century ago, sophisticated travelers would head directly from Union Station to the lovely Oxford Hotel — a path they'll be following again when Union Station reopens as a multi-modal transportation hub next year. And when they check in, they can check out many of the Oxford's historic features, ranging from the Cruise Room, a bar modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary that opened the day after Prohibition ended, to the country's most impressive men's room, with magnificent marble urinals where Bat Masterson is rumored to have emptied his, er, weapon — and which earned the hotel Best Rest Stop in 2001.

2002: Rockmount Ranch Wear. Just down the street from the Oxford is Rockmount Ranch Wear, the business that Jack A. Weil founded when he invented the snap-button Western shirt. For decades — and we mean decades — the Weil family ran a wholesale business out of this old warehouse. But in 2002, the Weil family — Jack A., son Jack B. and grandson Steve — opened a retail store in their building, creating the Best-Looking Place to Dress Like a Cowboy. Both Jack A. and Jack B. have passed on, but Rockmount Ranch Wear keeps rocking.

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