Best New Use for an Old | Steakhouse 2012 | Northwoods Inn | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

For fifty years, the Northwoods Inn served meat to the masses. It was a Colorado institution where it was okay to throw peanut shells on the floor and a ragtime piano player entertained diners while they gnawed steaks and savored the special seasoned cottage cheese. But the restaurant closed abruptly last year, replaced by a business that's another kind of meat market altogether. This address is now the new home of the Scarlet Ranch swingers' club, which left its old home on Broadway for the 'burbs . Here's to another fifty years of T-bones!

The Denver Department of Parks and Recreation had seven acres of underutilized, wilderness-like land at the edge of northwest Denver: the former Camp Rollandet, which the city had purchased from the Campfire Girls in 2005. The local branch of Outward Bound, a national organization that got its start in Marble fifty years ago, had long been headquartered in stuffy urban office spaces and was looking for a new home. The deal was a natural, and late last year, Outward Bound leased the Camp Rollandet site with the blessing of the Denver City Council. Kudos all around: A beautiful slice of nature is a terrible thing to waste.

Unlike many of those other city-ranking, hit-seeking Internet lists (which have cumulatively described Denver as "the manliest, drunkest city"), last November's accolade from the Brookings Institution had some real science behind it. Demographer William Frey, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program, parsed the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and determined that from 2008 through 2010, even as the hopes for a quick comeback from the recession faded, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were high on Denver...and proved it by coming here in record numbers. Although Denver ranked a mediocre twelfth in Frey's last survey, which covered 2005 through 2007, since then it had pulled ahead of such previous hotspots as Phoenix and Atlanta, adding a chart-topping 10,429 new, young residents, to rank as the country's top cool city. "What we see from the migration data," Frey said, is that "Colorado and Denver are probably a part of the country that will survive and possibly prosper when the economy comes back." Cool!

Best Place to Symbolize Denver for the Rest of the World

Wynkoop Brewing Company

Wynkoop Brewing

Since the first wave of gold-hunters washed up on the banks of Cherry Creek, Denver has always attracted pioneers. In fact, Governor John Hickenlooper made this state's entrepreneurial spirit the focus of his State of the State speech this January. And no one better exemplifies that spirit than Hickenlooper, an East Coast-educated geologist who moved out to Colorado in the early '80s, was laid off in the middle of that decade's oil-and-gas bust, and joined with other adventurers to start Denver's first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, which opened in 1988. Since then, of course, craft beer has become a major growth industry in Colorado...and Hickenlooper himself wound up using the bar as a launching pad for a political career that took him first to City Hall, then to the State Capitol. Although Hickenlooper is no longer involved with the Wynkoop, it remains a great place to get a taste of Denver's history, whether you're drinking its brews inside the renovated, Victorian-era warehouse or sitting on the Wynkoop-side patio, watching the sun set over the mountains...and the Union Station project, which will transform that piece of history into a futuristic, multi-modal transportation hub by 2014.

Readers' Choice: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

The boom in medical marijuana dispensaries has not only made Denver one of the most medicated places in the United States, but it's also made the Mile High one of the dankest-smelling cities in the nation. On some streets, you'll catch just a faint whiff over the other scents of a bustling urban area; at other corners, you'll wonder whether a skunk was hit by a car nearby. The most chronic corner in town, though, is at West Sixth Avenue and Kalamath Street, where the smell of ganja is pleasantly overwhelming.

Bret Saunders has earned several Best of Denver nods before, and for good reason. Of the seemingly endless options on the local airwaves in the mornings, he's still the best. Tuning in to Saunders is like checking in with a well-read friend who always proves to be good company. With a smart sense of humor, broad sensibilities and informed opinions, Saunders offers dependably intelligent quips and monologues with an amiable, low-key delivery, making him and Robbyn Hart, his trusted counterpart in the mornings, the ideal companions to help loosen the white-knuckle death grip of the daily commute.

Readers' choice: Nerf, Channel 93.3

Ryan Warner's even tone and talking-over-coffee volume — the loudest he gets is a hearty chuckle — is a daytime treat for cubicle dwellers and anyone within earshot of a radio. On his long-form interview program, Colorado Matters, which airs on Colorado Public Radio stations, Warner offers intelligent discussions of such important issues as juvenile crime, the environment, political corruption and — perhaps that most critical of journalistic topics — heartwarming animal tales.

Ross Kaminsky may be a conservative, but he takes a liberal approach to talk radio, discussing a wide range of subjects with common sense, smarts and humor. A professional derivatives trader for more than twenty years and a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute, he writes about current events on his own, excellently named But he really gets to sound off on his Sunday show on KOA, as well as the many fill-in gigs he does for the station. Talk may be cheap, but Kaminsky's opinions matter...and he values the views of his listeners, too.

Readers' Choice: Peter Boyles

Best Reality-Show Contestant From Colorado

Mondo Guerra

Colorado has sent contestants to Survivor, The Bachelor, America's Got Talent; Denver's hosted The Real World. But Mondo Guerra's recent victory on Project Runway All Stars has this city looking very, very good. As a kid growing up here, Mondo would take thrift-store clothing and repurpose it for his own designs with scissors and a glue gun; he got more formal training at Denver School of the Arts and then the Community College of Denver, and started designing seriously in 1999. And thanks to designers like Mondo, the business of fashion has become serious indeed in Denver, with a lot of homegrown talent working hard to make the industry work here. This was Mondo's second stint on Project Runway; during his first run in 2010, he won fans not just with his designs, but also with his revelation that he's HIV-positive. Mondo not only makes us look good, but he does good, too; he's a shining All Star.

Readers' Choice: Mondo Guerra

When was the last time you heard a tenth-grader talking about nuclear proliferation or deep-space exploration? If your answer is "never," then you haven't been to a Denver Urban Debate League tournament. Launched in 2008, the program aims to bring an intensely intellectual activity usually reserved for affluent suburban high schools to inner-city schools such as Manual, West and Thomas Jefferson. And the results are nothing short of incredible. Think today's youth have never heard of Henry Kissinger and couldn't find North Korea on a map? Think they're not paying attention to the world? Think again.

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