By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
2003: Confluence Park. Denver got its start close to Confluence Park, when gold was discovered nearby. Today this park at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek — named our Best Spot on the Cherry Creek Bike Path in 2003 — continues to be solid gold for recreation-loving Denverites. And on hot summer days, when city-dwellers flock to this always-improving park, it rates another award: Best Beach.
2004: Chipotle. Back in 1993, Steve Ells decided to import a concept he'd encountered in the Mission District of San Francisco to Denver: big burritos. He opened his first Chipotle near the University of Denver, his alma mater, that year — and the business was quickly on a roll. It's collected numerous awards over the years, including Best Burrito in 2004, but Denver isn't the only spot that appreciates Chipotle. Today the company has more than 1,000 restaurants around the world — including the original, still going strong on East Evans Avenue.
2005: La Fiesta. Colorado has more culinary claims to fame than Chipotle. It's also known for its green chile, which became thicker and meatier than the green chile of New Mexico as it headed north. Since the late 1950s, when the Herrera family turned an old Safeway into a Mexican restaurant, it's been cooking up big batches of Colorado-style green chile — which won a Best of Denver award in 2005, one of many honors for this spot. Today La Fiesta is only open for lunch on weekdays — when you're likely to find tables filled with everyone from Colorado Supreme Court justices to music promoters slurping up bowls of green.
2006: PeaceJam. We couldn't make up a story this outlandish. In the mid-' 90s, former society scribe (for 87 days), artist and car-parker Ivan Suvanjieff decided he needed to do something to convince kids to stop the violence, and so he started PeaceJam. Today he and partner Dawn Engle run a global operation out of Arvada that features a board of Nobel Peace Prize winners and dozens of events around the world every year for kids. In the process, they collected a few Nobel Peace Prize nominations themselves, as well as an award for Best Denver Ambassadors in 2006.
2007: Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. A century ago, Denver started collecting open space in the mountains. As a result, the city today has two dozen mountain parks that hold two buffalo herds, a ski resort and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, a spot on Lookout Mountain where the view is so spectacular that you can easily believe the story that world traveler William Cody pronounced it precisely the spot where he'd like to be laid to rest for all eternity. It also has a great gift shop, which earned the Buffalo Bill memorial Best Souvenirs by a Gravesite in 2007.
2008: Racines. For close to three decades, in two locations, Racines has been Denver's place to see and be seen. In 2008, it won yet another award for Best Power Breakfast — an honor it proved it deserved during the Democratic National Convention, when both national and local power brokers grabbed tables alongside Denver's important cultural leaders, media mavens and the regular customers who pack the place every day. Remember, your mother always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
2009: Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The Great Depression of the '30s wasn't all bad news. Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Denver area reaped the benefits of several federal projects, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Hundreds of New Deal laborers worked to create a stage and seating in this stunning setting; the amphitheatre, finished in 1941 and improved periodically since, is legendary with artists around the world, earning the venue global praise — and our Best Souvenir of the Depression in 2009.
2010: 16th Street Mall. The 16th Street Mall celebrated its thirtieth birthday in 2012 — but long before that, it was Denver's Best Place to People-Watch, an honor we awarded, again, in 2010. Thanks to hard work by the Downtown Denver Partnership, 16th Street isn't just a great place to watch people these days: It's also an increasingly good place to shop, with specialty stores — both national and local — replacing the old department stores that lined 16th Street when the mall was still an urban-development dream.
2011: George Karl. The Denver Nuggets coach had beaten cancer for the second time when he won our Best Professional Coach award in 2011, right after he'd let Carmelo Anthony go and signed a new contract. And today? Last time we looked, the Nuggets were on a fifteen-game winning streak.
2012: "Mustang." Blucifer, as the 32-foot-tall blue stallion outside of Denver International Airport came to be known, was many times over budget and a dozen years past due when it killed its creator, Luis Jiménez, who bled to death after the still-under-construction sculpture fell on him. But it wasn't until the completed "Mustang" appeared outside of DIA in 2008 that the manure really hit the fan, with outraged Denverites demanding that the piece be removed. The city refused, pointing to a policy that requires public art to be in place for five years before Denver will consider removing it. And a funny thing happened on the way to 2013: People grew fond of "Mustang," which won our Best Public Art award in 2012. And this past February, when the sculpture passed the five-year mark, no one suggested that the city send the horse out to pasture.