Arts and Culture

Neighborhoods: Old South Pearl Street

I go back a long way with Old South Pearl Street, and while it's no longer as sleepy as it once was (that, by the way, is a good thing), it still exudes a heady mixture of old and new Denver: Brick facades and Victorian houses, shady trees and kids on bikes are all familiar sights along the stretch of Pearl from Louisiana to Jewell, yet it's also home to celebrated restaurants that recolor the street with an urban sheen. I dragged my daughter there last Saturday using Japanese noodles as bait, though ostensibly to visit Sam Robinson's annual Halloween Trunk Show, tucked into Leo's Garage.

Sam, who used to run the late Manorisms boutique on Pearl, is famous for producing some of the city's sweetest handmade gift markets -- Gifts for Yule and Spring Fling -- and the Halloween trunk is sort of a condensed version of those, featuring a few select vendors who, as she puts it, "love the Halloween stuff." The first one was five years ago, at Devil's Food on South Gaylord; as small as it is, though, the show quickly outgrew that venue.

But first came the promised noodles: We walked south from the Louisiana light-rail station, and the street was alive with people, dining al fresco in the gardens of Kaos or sharing coffee and conversation on the funky patio at Stella's. We walked on to Den Deli, the newest, and probably my favorite, member of the Sushi Den family at Pearl and Florida.

The deli is informal and modern and the food affordable, homey and high-quality, and we were in our element. She ordered the duck udon, and I had my noodles with tempura; we savored and shared back and forth: she had my seaweed and I her bok choy, and I'm certain we spent way too much time eating a couple of bowls of noodle soup. And then we headed on to Leo's. We lingered for a moment over the outdoor sale racks at PJ's Boutique, where I considered plaid tunics and my daughter wrinkled her nose at them, and then hit Sam's show, which was small and potent, with Erica McNeish's autumnal goodies available at the entrance and a wall-to-wall selection of spooky artisanry and fallish togs, from Johanna Parker's vintage-styled papier-mâché black cats and ghoulies to Robinson's own hand-filled packets of retro novelties and candies. Kate Feinsod of Pome filled her charming booth with treasures big and small: Halloween onesies, masks covered with artificial flowers and feathers, and the cutest mummy doll ever. And Kirsten Coplans of Pearl Clothing, who repurposes clothing like nobody's fool, had retooled fall sweaters on her racks. By then, my husband had joined us, so he highjacked the kid, and the two partners in musical crime headed farther down the street to the Denver Folklore Center, a local institution that's led a decades-long variety of lives. And while they strummed autoharps and Martin guitars and picked through music books, I had a chance to visit 5 Green Boxes, the dual-purpose double boutique that sells homewares, one-of-a-kind recycled furniture and accessories in one shop, and clothes, bags and jewelry in the other. It's easy to dilly-dally for hours in these two color-splashed stores, but I was now on a schedule: In the "big" furniture store, I fell in instant love with everything felted: There was a mama-and-baby raccoon set by Koko, embroidered cat pillows and baby boots resembling various creatures. I also loved the bug- and frog-centric jewelry and accessories, lampshades festooned with butterflies or bird species, window panels in sheer prints, giant stuffed bees and, oh, everything else in the store.

And in the "little" store on the corner, it was pretty much the same story. I was first taken by a fitted and flared denim car coat embroidered with roses and hand-crocheted capes in fall colors, and the little boutique boasts the best selection of playful socks anywhere, including Japanese-style tabi socks. But it was the jewelry -- oh, the jewelry -- that left me feeling like I'd just dived headlong into a chest of sparkling pirate's booty, to swim among delicate cloisonne necklaces, bead-woven bracelets, encapsulated butterfly pendants and Frida-worthy strings of Mexi-colored madness. I checked my wallet. It's an affordable store, mind you, but I had to leave. Immediately.

Left to my own devices, I would have tarried, grabbing some liquid nitrogen ice cream across the street at the Crushery or dawdling over tea leaves at Seven Cups (the only place in town I know of that hosts weekly Mah Jong games), while my family, back from the musical side trip and otherwise known as two bumps on the same log, was ready to run. But, as I'm prone to say, I'll be back. There's much more to explore on Old South Pearl.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd