Our first Best of Denver hit the streets in 1984, almost seven years after this paper published its first edition in 1977. It was the biggest issue of Westword up to that point – and about the size of an average weekly edition today. We were still a decade away from archiving our print stories on westword.com, two decades away from pushing our Readers' Poll vote there, three decades away from today, when we publish dozens of new stories on the web every day, including Best of Denver lists that highlight not just past winners, but top contenders this year.
From the start, we made the cow the symbol of the Best of Denver. Back in the about-to-bust oil boom of 1984, city boosters were worried that Denver's cowtown reputation was holding us back. From what? Scraping away more of our past, maybe. Building high-rises that could be in Anytown, USA. But the subsequent economic downturn actually helped preserve much of what makes this city so great today. While blocks of central downtown had already been turned into parking lots, the old warehouse district at the northwest edge soon became the Lower Downtown Historic District, and today those Victorian buildings are filled with restaurants and residences, bars and other businesses. And with suburban sprawl temporarily stymied, counties around Denver could acquire more open space, creating parks where residents now bike and hike – and enjoy unobstructed vistas that might otherwise have been interrupted by subdivisions. Uninterrupted vistas where buffalo -- and cattle -- once roamed.
Over the years, residents –- native and newcomers alike -- have come to recognize that this city's Western history is one of the things that makes Denver special, and even get a boot out of it. And the Best of Denver has turned into a giant beast that celebrates everything we love about this city, including its cowtown heritage.
Still, you can teach an old cow new tricks, as we proved this year when, for the first time, we divided our Best of Denver Readers' Poll into two rounds of voting – listing the leading vote-getters in the second round, and encouraging even more participation. Thousands of readers brought out their best for this year's edition; their picks are listed at the end of our own editorial choices. And we've made another switch: Where you'd traditionally find our People and Places section, you'll now find Colorado Classics -- thirty of the individuals, institutions and enterprises that were celebrated in one of our thirty Best of Denver issues and still deserve to be honored today.