When was the last time you really saw a neighborhood in flux? LoDo is over; with the addition of a few new restaurants, the Golden Triangle will be here to stay; and even Capitol Hill, bless its over-inflated heart, can just hitch its future to a star, because upscale inner-city living is absolutely on the healthy rise there. Those places are all about money now. But then there's Old Santa Fe Drive, a downtown fallout lane for folks who can't quite afford the other trendy neighborhoods and a perfect example of change in motion. You may need to drop some Dramamine before you go take a look, because that's how high the waves are breaking along the narrow, zippy business corridor that's part barrio, part designer row, part arts district and 100 percent great for dining.
Stroll down Santa Fe between Tenth and Sixth avenues -- the district's annual Luminarias walk, when the sidewalks flicker with paper-bag lanterns beckoning wanderers to shops, galleries and restaurants, begins December 10 -- and you'll find a strip that deals equally with past, present and future in an appealing way that could vanish at any moment. At Tenth and Santa Fe, you may see a line of black-clad goth kids wrapped around the block for a show at the Aztlan Theatre; across the street, fancy lowrider bikes gleam in the windows at Dragon Lowriders, under the supply and model shop's slightly menacing graffitoed insignia. Move south, where the 800 block is home to the Museo de las Américas, with its tiny shop that sells cards and inexpensive trinkets alongside signed and numbered Carlos Frésquez prints -- a vaquero and a vaquera, a rooster and a burning heart -- as well as hand-painted santos, hammered milagro crosses, hand-loomed textiles and a small selection of Indian pots. For Mexican curios and butter-soft imported boots, there's Bota de Oro, at 840 Santa Fe, and on the same block, the mysterious Botanica Oschun sells Beauty Girl Toy Sets, model cars and Trendy Miss Kitchens -- in front. If it's a cure you're seeking, the Cuban proprietor usually keeps something burning back in the corner.
Across busy Sixth Avenue, you'll end up at Ruins/SMS Studio, an immense interior-design emporium in a handsome, well-renovated 1911 retail block that once housed the La Mode furniture store -- for forty or fifty years. It's stuffed -- over-stuffed -- with antique-look furnishings, geegaws and ornamentation that overrun two floors. But is it real or is it fake? "I don't go there," says Ruins owner Mark Cameron, who shares the space with building-mate Scott Soffa. "We just love beautiful things." Though Cameron laments that the store's rich look is often daunting to shoppers off the street, their merchandise -- from ornate, gilded bureaus and Chinese vases to gargoyles faux-finished to order -- is made up mostly of reproductions (although there are some real antiques mixed in on the floor). But the overall effect is one suitable for the most discerning fin de siècle sensibility. "I'm afraid it looks expensive," Cameron notes. "I mean, we can sell you something for $40,000, but we also have a huge selection of things for under $100. You can still get some good deals on Santa Fe Drive." This season, that might include something from a trunkload of hand-picked Christmas ornaments, some Fitz and Floyd giftware, a carved tagua-nut netsuke or a porcelain cat poised to nestle on your best velvet pillow.
Cameron and Soffa, who've been on the street for about five years, see Ruins/SMS as its anchor store. "This was the last corner in the city," Cameron says, gesturing out the window. "Two major streets, and then this building. We broke the ground for retail here."
Next week: Santa Fe Style, Part Two
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The Denver area is full of great nooks and crannies for consumers. In "Talking Shop," a semi-regular feature, dedicated shopper Susan Froyd will package up some of the town's best places to drop by...and buy.