On a recent afternoon, Blair Stapp was driving for Lyft and picked up a young couple at Larimer Square. They were visiting from Los Angeles, and Stapp couldn’t help but listen in on their back-seat conversation.
The Californians were criticizing Larimer Square, saying that it felt sterile and corporate.
Stapp butted in, “Yeah, I don't really go to Larimer Square: A, the restaurants are really expensive, and b, it seems so touristy."
The couple from L.A. agreed: “Yeah, it kinda sucked.”
For Stapp, it was validation of a project that the entrepreneur has been working on called Blank House, which includes an effort to put together a travel guide for Denver that eschews some of the typical destinations like the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square in favor of pointing out-of-towners to longstanding businesses, local art and music scenes, and parts of the city that Stapp believes are more authentic.
Blank House presents itself as an “anti-tourist” company.
Stapp explains: “More and more, I'm of the mindset that I never want to be a tourist, but I want to travel. I see those two as different things.
"Travel, to me, is getting to know a culture and getting to know the nuances of a place, and I don't think you get that with tourist traps,” Stapp continues. "When I learn the culture and history of a place, I have more empathy about it and a larger perspective on things."
Stapp, 29, got the idea to start Blank House after hosting lots of visitors through Airbnb; they were constantly asking for suggestions of things to check out, and noticed that a lot of the listings that guests were looking at through websites like Denver.org suggested areas of Denver that Stapp considers blasé or touristy.
"When you look at those lists, the 16th Street Mall is always on there. But a lot of people in Denver think it's a joke,” Stapp says. "I never go there. None of my friends go there. So why is it on a top-ten list of things to do in Denver?"
Blank House will point more adventurous visitors to independent institutions in Denver like the Whittier Cafe and Denver’s DIY music scene.
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Acknowledging being a transplant who only landed in Denver three years ago, Stapp isn’t only offering personal opinions about what makes for an authentic visit to the Mile High City; the business owner is also soliciting guidebook suggestions from a range of people, including Northside activist Bobby LeFebre and former youth poet laureate Toluwanimi Obiwole.
Stapp adds that the guide is intended for Denverites and out-of-towners alike, and will be available for purchase on Blank House’s website in printed and digital forms some time before the holiday season. The guide will also include different sections for music, art, food, retail spaces, and itineraries for adventures in the Rockies, like touring Colorado’s ghost towns.
Eventually, Stapp says, the aim is to open a hostel and venue space in Denver, which would also be called Blank House and would be a living art project – its walls would be “blank” at first but would be filled by local artists with murals and original pieces over time.