Have you been to the River North Art District lately? You know, The RiNo? Maybe you're thinking — what in the hell is River North? Where is it, even? You've definitely heard a lot about it recently — in the recent explosion of growth, it has been declared one of Denver's hottest up-and-coming neighborhoods. Even TEDxRino has already dared you to "Reimagine" it. Some people have tried to rename it "Upper Lodo," attempting to cash in on the perceived coolness of LoDo. Maybe you've seen a news story or two about the funky warehouse vibes where musicians and artists hang out in The RiNo, but you're still not sure how to navigate this cool, industrial part of Denver. I mean, even your Uber driver can't find it on a map. Don't worry, we're here to help you learn about the potential of this area full of hidden gems. Here's our quick and handy guide to the epicenter of art and culture, River North!
This is a short trip, so if you're someone who likes to load up your cruiser bike in the back of your truck, drive it to another area and ride it for fewer than five miles, this tour is for you. Enter The RiNo from the sportsball run-off that is LoDo and the Ballpark neighborhood (another trendy hot spot in Denver!) by taking Broadway north under the bridge just past Blake Street where it turns into Brighton Boulevard. From there go about a half a mile until you almost reach 31st Street, where you will see your first stop on this tour — the Subway inside the Shell Station at 3003 Brighton Boulevard.
No tour of an up-and-coming Denver hood would be complete without a little sampling of the vibrant and daring restaurant scene the Mile High City is quickly becoming known for cultivating. And seriously, if you plan on raging all night when you get to the funky warehouse part of this industrial-chic hot spot, you're going to need some serious sustenance. If you're a foodie, then you already know Subway has an excellent selection of fine traditional Italian loaves and trendy flatbreads for delicious microwaved delights (the Subway method of never having to actually cook anything is genius and time-saving. Watch out, raw foodists, you've got some competition!) The RiNo location is as unique as the other 25,000 or so Subways in the U.S. and that's why we recommend it. Plus, if you choose to drive this tour of the neighborhood, get your sandwich to-go and you can sit in your car and watch commercial-like programming on the televisions installed in each of the gas station pumps. It's like a drive-in, but with real character and charm! Don't forget to buy some cigarettes at the gas station, too — those things are like currency for starving artists you'll meet later on. Next we head down the road another half a mile just past 35th Street to our second (and probably most important destination on this trip next to the cool underground venue thing we're going to get to later) the Filling Station. If there is one thing Denver is known for, it's our beer. Other than being devoted fanatics of Voodoo Doughnuts — which opened up shop in Denver way back in the day in 2014 — we are craft brew freaks! If you're into vibes of any kind, this urban hang out boasts a real "working class" one, offering the finest Bud Light on tap. You don't need choice when you've got Bud Light and if besides, if you want a real "locals" experience, you'll totally get this place. It's like a cool dive bar with shiny booths and really dim lighting, but it's not too divey to where you might actually like you're in the wrong place.
After you've had your fill at the Filling Station, leave your car or cruiser bike parked because you can walk to your final destination on this expert tour of the River North. Just half a block up the street is the multiplex of music venues, the height of Denver hipness, the pulse of alt underground embodied in the trifecta of Rhinoceropolis, Glob and a little place sometimes called Club Scum. There are no signs or marquees on these hallowed halls of music; you just have to be cool enough to find them. Before we tell you any more about the hippest places on the up-and-coming Brighton Boulevard block, let's let the pros over in the reviews section of the Rhinoceropolis Yelp page chime in:
"Decrepit hipster slum lair." - Nate B., LoDo
"The sound is poor, the drinks lousy. but for a counter culture underground warehouse club, this score on all counts." - Tres B., Seattle
"Not really a music venue. It's a living room with a sound board. Then a bar room, some fun chillin rooms and porch for smokin and pissin." - Ryan G., Austin
"if you hate your parents, like PBR, and think that a saxophone laying on the floor is art....then this is your place. It tries so hard to be avant-garde that I was instanly put off from the moment I walked in...ginormous scoff...." - Grant M., Minneapolis
"why go here when you can go to a decent house party?" - Wallace A.M., Denver
The shining star of these three venues is of course Rhinoceropolis — which is called "Rhino" by the regulars, if you wanna fit in (and legend has it was the reason this industrial part of town was named RiNo in the first place.) Did we mention this place was funky? And cool? And a warehouse? If you thought the Filling Station was killin' it with the serious urban vibes, Rhinoceropolis will make you feel cool AND look cool on Instagram. Or if you wanna check in on Foursquare because we think people still do that, now is the time.
Beyond just being a room with some speakers in it where you can stand around with a bunch of teenagers and listen to a dude scream into a microphone or a shoe or a bullhorn, Rhinoceropolis and its sister venues are great places to take selfies. The bathroom is decorated all crazy, the people who hang out there look very unique, because they are probably artists and when the performances are over and the sparse, empty, dirty room becomes a dance floor it is also the best spot for a photo with your friends. Plus, there's a back "patio" area that overlooks a cool, like junk yard with serious vintage, deconstructed vibes happening that is perfect for outdoor selfies (and you can share some of those cigarettes we recommended you buy at the gas station at the beginning of this tour.) It doesn't matter what is happening at the Rhino in The RiNo, we promise this little trek into this freshly discovered part of town is worth every Instagrammable moment.
We hope these little tips and tricks help you to maneuver around one of Denver's most desirable and artistic hoods while making the most out of your free time living it up in the Mile High Cit-ay. When the night is over we can't guarantee your Uber driver will know where to pick you up, exactly, but chances are they will thank you for introducing them to one of the hottest parts of town to find good food, tasty brews, great music and most important, a place to take the perfect selfie.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.