One Sunday in late March, we drove through the Ballpark neighborhood into RiNo with a former Denver resident who’d moved east thirty years before — long before the River North industrial area became known as RiNo, in fact, and a decade before Coors Field opened in April 1995. That year, the LoDo Historic District was only seven years old, and the old warehouses were just beginning to fill with restaurants and residences that would transform the neighborhood into the town’s premier entertainment area. But the transformations didn’t end there, of course. They kept moving up Market Street, up Larimer Street, into the Platte Valley, spilling off to the left and right until today the swath of downtown from Cherry Creek and the Platte well up Brighton Boulevard is exploding, with people crowding outdoor decks and outdoor patios and fighting for parking and seats at the town’s hottest new restaurants. “What the hell happened here?” our visitor wondered. “Was there even a ‘here’ before?”
This is the 32nd Best of Denver issue, and in many ways the city it celebrates is almost unrecognizable from the town featured in the Best of Denver 1984. Through more than thirty years, though, two things have never changed about the Best of Denver: Although we’ve always polled our readers for their choices in over a hundred categories, those represent just a fraction of the total number of categories in the Best of Denver — and we play our own choices much more prominently. (Short explanation why: For decades, McDonald’s was the readers’ choice for Best French Fries, and while we respect the popular vote, an issue packed with answers like that would have all the nutrition of a fast-food meal.) And from the start, we made the cow the symbol of the Best of Denver. Why? Because back in the about-to-bust days of 1984, city boosters were worried that Denver’s cowtown reputation was holding us back.
Tell that to the people we ran into that same Sunday in late March, who were leaving a Garth Brooks concert, part of a nine-show extravaganza that was testament not only to this town’s cowtown heritage, but also to Denver’s role as the center of the Rocky Mountain West. Events large and small draw people from hundreds of miles around to experience the same booming city that residents enjoy every day. Some of the concert-goers were headed to the renovated Union Station, today a true transportation hub where you can drop big money on a meal or a room — but which also provides the Best Free Entertainment in town. The Best of Denver has become a giant beast of an issue that celebrates so much about what we love in this city, including its cowtown heritage. While we can’t honor everything every year, taken as a whole, 32 years of the Best of Denver add up to one big love letter to our town. We’re higher than ever on the Mile High City.