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 all daily 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.
At the northwest end of the mall is another top tourist attraction: the LoDo Historic District (#3), with its multitude of bars, restaurants and bars. I love this place -- and so does the rest of America, apparently. In the world of downtown revitalization, LoDo is God. Cities everywhere have copied this model, attempting to turn dark areas populated by down-and-out drunks into well-lit areas populated by upscale drunks.
The LoDo Historic District has some of the best drinking venues in town; a few of them are even historic. Those who enjoy beautiful summer nights and the clothes women wear on those nights should visit the rooftop bar at LoDo's Bar and Grill, 1946 Market Street. And if you can tolerate standing in a line longer than the Crush's losing streak, stumble across the street to Above the Dove, 1949 Market. Those of you not into the outdoor scene who still want to get close to women who won't give you the time of day should belly up to the bar at the Celtic Tavern, 1801 Blake Street, for a black and tan.
LoDo is adjacent to Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies (#9) continue the thirteen-month-long professional baseball season. I've only been to Coors Field twice, both times courtesy of someone who had a luxury box. I highly recommend this method of experiencing baseball, because there's usually free beer and you can always watch something else on one of the TVs in the box.
Then again, there's nothing that says "summer" like spending the day at the ballpark with your kids, trying to explain the foul language of the guys sitting two rows back.
After fun like that, no kid would object to a trip to the Coors Brewery (#10) in Golden. Personally, I think Coors and all other mass-produced American beers would be better put to use as window cleaners than beverages. That's why they have ultra-manly commercials with sweaty men doing heavy manual labor and genetically altered beautiful women with questionable morals: The breweries know that to compete with most microbrews and with any European beer, they have to promise manliness and virility.
But free beer is still free beer, and there's no denying Coors's contributions to Denver's tourism scene. At the Golden brewery, tours are offered Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- that's six hours of beer worship, six days a week. For information, log on to coorsbrewerytours.citysearch.com, and if the kids aren't old enough to drive, bring plenty of cash for the cab ride home.
After visiting Coors, you'll owe the little ones a trip to the Denver Zoo (#5). Located at 2300 Steele Street, our zoo is most famous for saving and rearing the two adorable polar-bear cubs, Dove Bar and Lefty. The zoo continues to be extremely fertile and is currently showing Ginseng, the Asian black bear cub; baby Boshay, the camel; and a litter of Cape hunting dogs. This is the perfect place to teach your children several life lessons, such as where babies come from and what a carnivore is.
But there are much better places for seeing monkeys in their natural habitat. The Colorado State Capitol (#6), at 200 East Colfax Avenue, for example. When it's not overrun by legislators passing laws naming July as Parking Meter Maid Appreciation Month, the Capitol Building belongs to classes on field trips, who are all hoping to sneak up to the dome so that they can make out. I would love to be able to give this building a higher recommendation, but so far, I have not located any beer in the Capitol. Governor Owens, I am certainly available for discussion, and I would be happy to put your place of business higher on next year's list if I were personally invited to the governor's mansion for dinner, drinks and a night of line-item vetoes. Until then, I will be at Govn'rs Park, at 672 Logan Street, which has a killer happy hour with two-for-one monster beers. Maybe the governor should think about instituting a happy hour at the Capitol, the better to bolster visitor numbers and maybe garner a few swing votes.
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Because there are few shops at the State Capitol, we're very fortunate to have several more malls rounding out the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau's top ten: Castle Rock Factory Outlets (#4), off I-25 (motto: "Cherry Creek Knockoffs for People Not Cool Enough to Be in Cherry Creek"); Park Meadows Retail Resort (#7), 8401 Park Meadows Center Drive (if only you could shop at this "resort" wearing a robe and slippers); and, finally, FlatIron Crossing Mall (#8), at US 36 and FlatIron Circle. (Okay, I've never been there, but I'm sure it's very nice and a great place to find rare stores like Victoria's Secret.) All of these shopping centers have fine drinking establishments nearby offering cheap American beer, "imports" (Killian's may say it's "Irish," but it is not an imported beer) and finger foods with enough cholesterol to give a cow chest pains. You can check out Applebee's, Chili's (whose "baby-back ribs" jingle bores into your brain like a hot iron), Outback Steakhouse, Appleback's, Chilibee's and Village Inn.
After you've experienced the Denver area's top ten attractions, get out and enjoy the real Colorado. Go to Red Rocks (which ranks a sorry #13). You may not be able to afford a concert, but just standing on the stage where so many musical greats have performed is a thrill. The new visitors center is worth some time, too.
Or head farther into the hills and go camping. Right now -- at least until some moron pitches a smoke into the woods or starts a bonfire to cook his pre-cooked hotdogs -- you can even enjoy a campfire. I can't count all the breathtaking areas where you can pitch a tent, but I highly recommend Gil Folsom's Colorado Campgrounds: The 100 Best and All the Rest to help you find that secluded spot that will already be occupied by the guy in his hundred-foot RV. Nothing makes a beer taste better than mountain air and campfire smoke in your eyes.
The bottom line: Denver offers summer fun for everyone. Guys, get out there and find a welcoming watering hole while your significant other shops. Ladies, drop me a line here at Westword; I'll meet you at the mall.