Breeality Bites

When to Just Say No to RiNo, and Other Inaccurate Denver Neighborhood Names

Over breakfast the other morning, my friend Keith Garcia and I were discussing the recent announcement that the Wrangler, a popular Denver gay bar, would be moving to 3090 Downing Street. The conversation was less about the real-estate transaction and more about the language used to define Denver's neighborhoods; when Garcia wrote about the Wrangler's move, he said that the bar's future location was in Five Points. But then he heard a local TV station reporting that the Wrangler would soon be part of the "RiNo" neighborhood. 

We shared a mutual guffaw-turned-sigh-turned-eye roll over that: The corner of 31st and Downing streets is clearly Five Points, and many blocks from River North, the area that follows the South Platte north from downtown. If you want to get technical, it's on the dividing line between Whittier and Five Points/Curtis Park in north Denver.  The funniest part about our talk, though, was that both of us were unable to even utter the nickname "RiNo." It was like our mouths couldn't form the word without feeling like we were betraying each other, two born-and-raised Denverites having a semi-public conversation.

Though RiNo was technically established over a decade ago, when Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil established an arts district in the River North area, the name has only recently been taken up by realtors/developers...who often misapply it. I say this because up until about three years ago, if someone said "Rhino," I assumed they were talking about our esteemed DIY venue Rhinoceropolis. If I was talking about the once mostly industrial area, I usually referred to it as "down around Brighton Boulevard." But now, as Keith and I have discovered, we need to use these new terms for parts of our city whether we like it or not — because otherwise, no one seems to know what we're talking about. Though an area like Highland — or the now universally accepted but incorrect "the Highlands" — actually has historical context, I still find myself saying "the Northside" when directing someone to Chubby's or the Bug Theatre. Still, I'm slowly surrendering my penchant for accurate Denver neighborhood designations.

I was at a show at few weeks ago at the Deer Pile — in an area I think is still called Capitol Hill — when a woman overheard me talking to a friend about Denver real estate. She interrupted with something along the lines of, "Well, places like Golden, Lakewood and Aurora are Denver's boroughs." I almost choked on my warm tap water. Real-estate jargon in Denver has officially reached peak ridiculousness, and there's no turning back.   

As I type this, I am sitting in a Starbucks in the Denver "borough" of Westminster. To me, a borough signals a collection of sections of a whole city, areas connected by a grand transit system. Westminster is not a "borough." It's just Westminster — a completely separate muncipality.  If a real-estate agent or apartment-complex advertisement sold you a suburb as being a Denver "borough," you were lied to.  

I love the part of Lakewood right across the border from where I live; I have a fondness for my high-school days spent cruising Colfax Avenue from Aurora to Golden and back, but those towns aren't Denver. I live in Denver because it is important to me to vote in Denver. I get that the bonkers Denver housing market has pushed many Denverites unable to afford neo-Denver prices out of the city; this is why "borough living" is so offensive. It's like someone is saying, "Well, since you can't afford a poorly constructed $500,000 box home in neo-Denver's lovely SloHi hood, try our newly branded boroughs!" 

Branding may be everything in the modern world of real estate, but that doesn't mean you have to fall for it. If you've been sold on a SloHi or a LoHi or a SoBo as a neighborhood just waiting for you to "arrive" or "discover" or "reimagine" it, dig a little deeper and find out what part of the city you're really living in. Though I am born and raised in the Queen City, I lived in New York City for a brief moment in my life and worked in an area I thought was called SoHo. Turns out that SoHo was made up, too.

I wonder how many cab drivers rolled their eyes and sighed when I asked to be taken to "Lafayette and Houston in SoHo." By the way, Houston is pronounced House-ton, not Hew-ston, as I painfully learned. It's the Denver equivalent of Buchtel — which, if you were wondering, is pronounced "buck-tale." 

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