Be a tourist in your own town this Labor Day Weekend with breakfast, lunch and dinner at some of the city's hippest new spots and a few longtime gems that you've been meaning to visit but just haven't had the right excuse. For day one, head to the Ballpark neighborhood for some risque nightlife, then make a weekend of riding the light rail, taking in the best of Union Station and its surrounds, and capping off Labor Day with a little LoHi leisure. Here's our ten-stop tour for a great staycation.
Friday Night, September 2
Whether you're flying in from out of town or stuck in a cubicle waiting for the five o'clock whistle, your Labor Day vacation begins on Friday night. Head to the Ballpark neighborhood for your first destination.
1. Ophelia's Electric Soapbox
1215 20th Street
Ophelia's has a little of everything you need to kick off a three-day weekend with a bang: cocktails with names that conjure the building's long history; a menu creative enough to please hard-core foodies while still staying grounded for the burger-and-fry crowd; and entertainment ranging from DJs spinning modern sounds to burlesque shows that fit in with the restaurant's brothel theme. (The space has done time as a flophouse, peep-show parlor and adult bookstore, so a little risque business fits right in.) Some shows require advance tickets, so check Ophelia's website or call ahead to see if there's a door cover. But even if you miss the show, the soft-core decor and ambience are entertainment enough.
Saturday, September 3
Today is a day to hang out in and around Union Station, where the smell of fresh baked bread, the lure of a midday drink and a plethora of dinner options are all that's needed to settle into vacation mode.
2. Mercantile Dining & Provision
1701 Wynkoop Street
First up is breakfast. Arrive early for coffee and flaky pastries from the market counter up front or grab a table for a hot breakfast of potted oatmeal with all the trimmings, housemade pastrami hash or one of the best croque madame sandwiches you'll come across, in Colorado or abroad. Ditch the electronic devices in favor of a book or magazine to unwind with in Mercantile's bright and airy dining room.
3. Union Station Farmers' Market
1701 Wynkoop Street
Lunch today is a picnic, so head to the plaza in front of the station to peruse fresh produce, meats and breads. Build your own lunch from a variety of vendors: Sheep-milk cheese from Fruition Farms, cured meats from Il Porcellino or something pickled from Five Points Fermentation would be just right to augment Colorado peaches, tomatoes, radishes or whatever else strikes your fancy. But if that seems like too much effort for a Saturday, there are also sandwiches and other prepared foods. If you make it by 10 a.m., you can catch a cooking demo with chef Brandon Biederman of Steuben's, but no rush: A vacation is a leisurely affair.
4. The Pig & the Sprout
1900 Chestnut Place
You might be tempted to just head back to Mercantile for dinner (and we wouldn't blame you), but if you want to feel like you're hip to Denver's back streets and hidden gems, take a stroll up 16th Street toward the Millennium Bridge (you can't miss its towering white spike) and then veer right toward The Pig & the Sprout, which just opened in the Union Station North neighborhood, which until this summer didn't even have its own name. Once inside the restaurant, head straight upstairs to the mezzanine bar and partake in a few cocktails before dinner. A list of low-alcohol mixed drinks helps you sample a variety of flavors without getting too loopy, so that you can then go loopy over the kitchen's creative comfort-food menu. Crispy Buffalo pig tails? Why not? You're on staycation!
Sunday, September 4
Your second full day is a light-rail adventure, starting downtown and heading south along the D Line.
5. Sam's No. 3
1500 Curtis Street
Starting the day with something smothered in green chile — whether a burrito, omelet or platter of huevos rancheros — is never a bad idea, especially when a big, spicy breakfast will help you recover from Saturday while fueling you up for a full Sunday. Sam's is a great stop for tourists and locals alike — and it's only a couple of blocks from either the Theater District or 16th & California light-rail stops, where you'll hop aboard destined for the Evans Station. An unlikely destination? Keep in mind that beer awaits.
6. Declaration Brewing
2030 South Cherokee Street
Declaration throws open its doors at noon on Sundays, so you can grab a prime table on the patio or belly up to the bar. The brewery has a dedicated food-truck pad inside its beer-garden gates, which could mean pizza, tacos, barbecue or Japanese eats, depending on the truck of the day. Declaration generally has a minimum of nine or ten brews on tap, in styles ranging from quaffable lagers and wheat beers to bolder saisons, stouts and sour beers. And it's only a couple of blocks off Broadway, so you can wander over if you desire to check out the antique dealers and pot shops.
1365 Osage Street
Heading back into downtown on the D Line, get off at the Osage Station and make the short walk to Domo, but don't be fooled by the warehouse-like exterior; instead, look for the front entrance surrounded by well-manicured evergreens. Inside is one of Denver's most beautiful dining rooms, with sandstone slabs for tabletops, tree stumps for chairs and chandeliers made from driftwood and Japanese newspaper. Take a walk around the zen garden out back (and if the weather's nice, ask for a table there) and take a peek into the re-creation of a rustic Japanese farmhouse. The food is suited to the surroundings, with country-style Japanese cuisine that's hearty, filling and delicious. Since you can't do a trip to Japan on a three-day weekend, this is the next best thing.
Monday, September 5
For Labor Day itself, head to the hot, hot neighborhood known as Lower Highland — or LoHi, if you're parsimonious with your syllables. A healthy breakfast, a lunchtime party and a rooftop dinner await.
8. American Cultures
3233 Tejon Street
If you feel like you overindulged — even for a holiday — over the weekend, American Cultures is the place to regain your balance with a healthy breakfast. The tap room specializes in kombucha and serves several varieties of the funky, fermented tea from top Colorado producers like Rowdy Mermaid, Health-Ade and TruBucha. Once topped off with probiotics, order a cup of Method Roasters coffee and a bowl of Rebel Oats. But wait, this is a vacation — so there's definitely room for a kombucha float made with Sweet Action ice cream.
9. Lola Coastal Mexican
1575 Boulder Street
While you're on vacation, Lola definitely isn't. Instead, the grand lady of the neighborhood is opening earlier than usual to throw a party with tacos, barbecue, live music and cheap margaritas. The regular menu won't be served, but there will be plenty of good grub and fun in the sun. Festivities begin at noon.
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10. Avanti Food & Beverage
3200 Pecos Street
The last stop before it's time to return to the drudgery of everyday life is Avanti, where you can choose from seven different kitchens serving everything from Venezuelan arepas to Nashville hot chicken sandwiches to sushi and sashimi. Two bars pouring craft beers and clever cocktails, plus a rooftop patio with breathtaking views of the city make this food hall the perfect place to wind down a vacation.