Often overlooked for its bigger, brasher cousin, East Colfax Avenue, the quaint little strip of 13th Avenue between Downing and Sherman streets is one of the few remaining arteries of pedestrian shopping, historic buildings and authentic culture in the Denver area. Its lack of recognition may actually be the secret behind its success, so perhaps publishing a list of this area's furtive treasures could seem counterintuitive. But we're going to take that chance with this love letter to some of our favorite, often overlooked boutiques, pizza joints and record stores along Cap Hill's greatest little three-lane avenue.
See also: - The ten best stores on Broadway
10. Buffalo Exchange
While the behemoth that was the original Buffalo Exchange packed its vintage bags and moved down to the bright lights of Broadway in 2011, the junior store that remained in its place is still the greatest -- and, admittedly, only -- second-hand clothing store in Capitol Hill. If you're a car-less bohemian riding your fixie around this historic area and aren't able to make it to more distant thrift stores, this delectable boutique will surely have something to spice up your weekend wardrobe.
"Don't treat me special/Don't kiss my ass." -- The Replacements "Waitress in the Sky" No specialty recipes, no seating and no phoney smiles from its surly chefs -- but Benny Blanco's is one of the town's best destinations for a quick slice of no-frills pie. While other single-serving pizza joints attempt to rope in customers with a lot of gluten-free, Mediterranean-flavored hullabaloo, BB serves a classic New York-style slice that is the perfect complement to an afternoon of shopping (it's sandwiched between some excellent record and bookstores, listed below) or when you're in need of a hefty dose of carbs after dancing and drinking your Friday night away at Beauty Bar.
8. Sub Culture
A relatively new addition to the neighborhood, Sub Culture has survived in a space where so many have failed before it. This is possibly due to its conscious integration into the neighborhood, hosting regular comedy nights and offering a patio space that has become a consistent social spot for residents and area workers alike. Oh, and Sub Culture has some pretty bad-ass sandwiches, too.
Being a night-owl, I didn't think much of a breakfast-lunch spot opening up across the street from my 13th Avenue apartment in January 2011 -- but Jelly turned out to be the ideal hangover cure for the nocturnal party-people of Cap Hill. With its housemade jellies, delectable morning cocktails and miniature museum of classic cereal boxes, there is nowhere in Denver I'd rather nurse my pounding head and fussy belly after a long night of stumbling down the strip.
5. Beauty Bar
While some may complain about Beauty Bar being part of a national chain of vintage-styled dance clubs, the addition of this posh nightspot in 2010 hasn't detracted from 13th Avenue's regional flavor -- and besides, no one really misses the Snake Pit. Beauty Bar's martini-and-manicure happy hour remains a celebrated attraction, without ever devolving into Cherry Creek-style "ladies' night out" hokeyness. And with one of Denver's greatest and longest-lasting dance nights, Lipgloss, moving into the Cap Hill location last summer, Beauty Bar has earned its stripes as a Denver institution.
While the neighborhood already has a decent used bookstore in Capitol Hill Books on Colfax, Kilgore appeals to the more bohemian geek scene in Denver, offering beloved paperbacks and collectables from subversive writers like Vonnegut, Bukowski and William Burroughs -- as well as a deep well of comic books, graphic novels and even zines from local authors. While the intimate space is so bursting with material there's no room for cozy reading furniture, popping in at Kilgore on a rainy afternoon for some extended browsing is a delightful way to lose yourself for an hour or two.
It may be a bit hippie, but there's nowhere else in Cap Hill that offers such a perfect refuge for reading, sipping tea and possibly even toking on a hookah (if you're so inclined). Now that Gabors is no longer with us (RIP), this corner of the neighborhood has become a tad quieter, which isn't a bad thing when you're looking to catch up with a friend or just get away from the bustle of more active sections of town. And if you're in the mood for solitude, Gypsy Tea will be your sanctuary.
Technically we could make two entries for Wax Trax, though considering the two stores are within cartwheeling distance of each other -- with the CD and DVD store on the left, and the vinyl shop on the right, and Kilgore Books sandwiched between -- we'll just kill two records with one needle and place them together.
A 34-year-old institution in Denver, Wax Trax remains our city's number-one music dispensary (in this writer's opinion, at least). There are plenty of other worthy competitors (no matter what Tennis says), though if you're into the sight, feel and smell of history surrounding you as you flip through records, and have no interest in blacklight posters, Boondock Saints T-shirts or Bob Marley incense, you can't do any better than a trip to Wax Trax. (For the record, Twist & Shout on East Colfax has a more-than-legit selection of vinyl as well.)
Few people love Capitol Hill as much as vegetarian restaurant pioneer Dan Landes. Anyone who's been in the neighborhood for more than six years recalls his flagship restaurant, Watercourse, in its orignal 13th Avenue location before it moved to Uptown and left an opening for Landes to open his second animal-friendly eatery, City, O' City.
Deliberately designed with a whiskey-and-pizza ying to Watercourse's tea-and-greens yang, City, O' City has established itself as the anchor of 13th Avenue, a celebrated hotspot where creative types gather, share ideas and flash a little fashion. And after Landes opened up the second floor of the building as a collection of artist and yoga studios with the comedy/music DIY venue Deer Pile, the restaurant has cemented its reputation as a place where you can stand in the corner and watch a flux of culture unfold throughout the course of a day...and night
Follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.
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