People watching is more than just a way to pass time while sipping drinks; it's a form of entertainment, a game even -- if done right. One of the benefits of public patio lounging is people watching -- but you have to choose the right location to get a quality voyeuristic experience. My favorite is the Paramount Café on the 16th Street Mall.
I visited the Paramount often when I moved to Denver in 2010, enough that I became part of the Mug Club, an exclusive club of, well, people who drink there a lot. I received a special mug that gave me three more ounces than other suckers sitting at the bar with their 22-ounce beers. It was the first place I labeled as my own in this then-unfamiliar city.
One reason I frequented the Paramount was its fabulous double happy hour. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close, the bar offers a mix of discounted drinks and two-for-one specials. But what captured my heart was the day I realized how choice the patio is for people watching.
That day, American Idol star Adam Lambert was in town playing at the Paramount Theatre, around the corner from its namesake café. As a teeny-bopper artist, Lambert draws the expected crowds of kiddos waiting in a line that wrapped around the block and past our patio table to Appaloosa Grill. But what I didn't expect were the gaggles of middle-aged women, sans teenage daughters, in tight mom jeans and sparkly sequined tank tops clearly bought for the occasion. And around them in line, men in leather and chains waited just as eagerly.
Because the act of people watching can be creepy for those being watched, you can justify your voyeurism by turning it into a game, like spotting the celebrity look-alike or my personal favorite: homemade people-watching Bingo. It's easy: 1) Grab paper, pen and pennies. 2) Draw a Bingo card. 3) Fill in the grid with people you might see on the mall. 4) Find a table on the patio with a good view. 5) Play!
Last week's trip to the Paramount Cafe was my first in over a year. So I ordered a beer, sat back and enjoyed the view. A must-see for people watching on the Mall are the colorful pianos (yes, outside), often haunted by one of downtown's usual spirits: a transient, businessman or tourist. For guests on the Paramount's patio, there's a piano perfectly placed nearby; you can see the action but just barely hear the key-banging and singing (in case it's horrid). The guy playing last week was terrible -- I could occasionally hear a shouted lyric or two -- but he had a crowd of drunk tourists twirling to his tunes.
As I ordered from the café's menu of standard bar fare, I spotted one of downtown's most common gangs -- a teenage tournament team with exhausted chaperons dragging behind them. Another guaranteed gang sighting is the crew of out-of-towners-on-business. Usually convention goers with lanyards and business attire, the out-of-towners traverse the mall wearing goofy grins that scream "holy crap, I'm not at home, my spouse isn't here, and I'm about to get some crazy on with my co-workers!"
Of course, there's also the MallRide, with its stream of characters jumping on or off. But the constant honking and beeping of the free bus is as common as it is annoying, so I always make it a free square on the Bingo card. Cyclists, on the other hand, are never annoying to observe. Everyone, except tourists, knows you're not allowed to ride your bike on 16th Street Mall. So inevitably a tourist will steer a B-Cycle onto the mall, which results in them getting: a) tackled by police (I'd like to think that's a joke); b) cursed by pedestrians; or c) blasted by the MallRide horn.
I've taken to glaring at the horse and carriage riders as they pass; a sighting means losing the free square on your Bingo card. A horse and carriage ride in Philadelphia, my hometown, has purpose; you are transported to historic places as you bump over cobblestones and pass the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed. In Denver, you ride on paved streets between warehouses turned offices or bars. What for? Just grab a pedicab!
I can't cover all that I've seen on the Paramount's patio over the years, but this is a decent sampling to get you started. I'll end with a last non-people sighting: puppies. Of course there are plenty of adult dogs, but meeting an adorable puppy barely big enough to fit in its collar gets a Bingo square filled. Last week, everyone and their soccer moms seemed to have brand-spanking-new puppies -- as if every Internet animated GIF had come to life on the Mall.
The Best Deal: Double happy hour! 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and 10 p.m. to close, when you can get two-for-one 22-ounce beers.
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The Best Feature: People -- and puppy -- watching!