No+place+says+Denver+like+Civic+Center+Park.
If you love farmers' markets and you
work downtown, you've gotta love
this one, a weekly foodie fiesta in one of Denver's most secretly lovely parks. Civic Center's often spectacular summer gardens provide a bucolic backdrop for strolling among vendors of fresh, home-grown organic produce and specialty items, including garlic butters, organic beef, homemade root beer and sweet wildflower honey. Or you might choose to munch on al fresco fare from such restaurants as Steve's Snappin' Dogs and Big Kahuna BBQ. Whatever you choose, you can't beat the people-watching.
Dana Cain is so hip it hurts. She has that knack for knowing which old stuff is especially new again, and has used it to build an empire of totally entertaining collectibles expos. First, she's the entrepreneurial brain behind the Collectors Supershow toy extravaganza, which recently joined forces with the Majesticon comics show to provide a double whammy of happy pop-culture hunting under one roof. Last summer she launched the enormously popular Denver Modernism Show, an unbelievable mid-century blowout that will quadruple in size when it returns this August at a larger venue. And her newest take on collectibles-hawking was the recent Vintage Voltage Expo, an electronics-centric show that included everything from vinyl records to guitar amps to old-school audio gear. There's a packrat in each and every one of us, so go, Dana, go!
Design-forward couple Paul and Pifuka Hardt took a leap when they opened P Design Gallery in the RiNo arts district last summer. With the flip of a light switch over the showroom floor, Denver entered a brave, new modernist world that stretches from Brooklyn's burgeoning design enclave to European shores. There's Jason Miller's tongue-in-chic antler chandeliers and chairs patched with leather "duct tape," Tobias Wong's rubber-dipped lighting and infamous coke-spoon replica, Denyse Schmidt's edgy quilts, Takashi Murakami pop-art pillows, Tord Boontje's detailed etched-metal and feathered polyester lamps, and DoubleButter's witty locally made furniture. This is the modern world.
Remember when wearing skulls was a sign of rebellion, back before you could find them at Wal-Mart? Jen McMillan does, and her new gallery, Idle Hands Boutique and Gallery, showcases a wide range of all things counterculture. McMillan's hope is to bring back the meaning behind the symbols that have been cut up, refinished, polished and recycled into the mainstream. It's hard-core. It's country-and-Western. It's riding a Harley. It's riding rails. It's creative. It's impulsive. It's a helluva lot of fun.
Stocked with vinyl art toys like custom MUNNY dolls, designer T-shirts, top-of-the-line spray paints and original artwork by such up-and-coming locals as Ray Young Chu, Jason Thielke and Scot Lefavor, Joy Engine feels like it should be on Colfax Avenue or Santa Fe Drive rather than off the Pearl Street Mall. But this retail boutique/art gallery also has an enlightened vibe that fits right into the People's Republic. Owner Todd Berger and his crew are branding and connecting local artists with companies like Trek and Timberland in their back-room design studio, Cypher13, and spreading the word about art happenings in Denver and Boulder on their obsessively updated blog. Who knew Boulder could be so hip?
Box-cutters were the beginning of Original Hip Hop Chocolates. Marcus, the artist and creative genius behind the concept, was pondering their significance after 9/11, contemplating how something so commonplace could be a weapon. So he made box-cutter chocolates in an attempt to face and conquer the new, frightening connotations of the item. He's since expanded his reflections to include a communion of hip-hop, with his company selling shell-toed shoes, boomboxes, turntables and brass knuckles all made from chocolate. Eat something sweet, consider the meaning behind the medium, and consume a way of life. It's esoteric, it's philosophical, and above all, it's tasty.
Novo Coffee
NOVO Coffee doesn't actually brew your cup of joe in giant iPods, but its stylized metallic coffee machines, called Clovers, resemble them. They have the same modish aura, as if they, too, promise to change the way we do things. You can find the Clovers in action at the residential complex next door to the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building. NOVO's methodology is to treat coffee like wine, serving it by varietals and preparing one cup at a time, never letting the elixirs spoil in a carafe. The operation is so cool you'll want a Clover for yourself, but considering that the machine costs more than a small car, you may want to stick with the $3 coffee.
Denver's wired caffeine addicts rejoice over the Mile High Buzz blog. The site features a growing rundown of local coffee shops, describing the decor, menu and perks like WiFi. Plus there's a handy interactive map for finding the closest latte, and a somber graveyard that lists beloved cafes like Monkey Bean that have gone the way of day-old grounds. The best stuff on the site, however, can often be found in the "comments" section, which sometimes devolves into battles royale among spastic coffee geeks over the best java drinks in the city (we've spotted a few coffee-shop owners in there, hawking their own concoctions). It's hot, steamy and energizing -- just like a great cup of joe.
Frenchman Stephan Poullier's charming store is buoyant with all things Provencal, including the Mediterranean region's distinctive sun-washed pottery, oilcloth and table linens, as well as fine French soaps and stunning glass pieces. But don't miss the candles, which are both fun and functional. Poullier not only stocks an entire spectrum of reasonably priced colored tapers and scented oil candles, but he's also got an amusing surplus of novelty candles, from sprightly floating poppies and delicious-looking petit fours to cute peas. Ambiance Provence really knows how to light your fire.
This swell little Tennyson Street boutique is piled high with lots of cozy T-shirts, jeans and designer-wear for grownups, plus adorable gifts for babes (the little kind), from teensy tees printed with jeweled-navel Buddhas and pirate ships to ultra-snuggly animal-hooded towels and Kthe Kruse puppet theaters. But the standout find is catstudio's Geography Collection: nostalgic retro tea towels, tumblers and throw pillows emblazoned or embroidered with tourist attractions from pretty much every state in the union. Picking your favorite is the hardest part of making a purchase, so be prepared to relive your travel memories while fingering the merchandise. Route 66 is back.

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