Denver's growth spurts often make it seem unrecognizable as my home town, but I think 2014 has a lot of good in store. In the past couple of years, I saw Smiley's Laundromat and the mid-century-modern diner structure that housed the first Hooter's this side of the Mississippi go the way of development -- but both contemporary incarnations managed to honor the original architecture in a visually appealing way. Broadway is not the secret hideaway for kooky vintage apparel it once was, and Colfax has lost some of its more bizarre tenants, but I have faith that not everything can and will be turned into a bourgeois cheese shop or chain retail store. Ringing in the new year with thoughts of keeping Colorado off-kilter, I've made a list of things I will (or hope to) do in 2014 to remind myself that we may be square, but we're still the best state in the weird and wild West.
1. Go on a romantic date to Lakeside I'm a sucker for the romance of old-fashioned, after-dark ambience, and Lakeside Amusement Park is packed with it. Neon lights, mature trees, and turn-of-the-century and art-deco architecture personify the park, creating the perfect date spot. Snuggling with my honey on the Ferris wheel or on a train ride around Lake Rhoda is a yearly must - and there's nothing more romantic than catching a glimpse of the thousands of lights twinkling from across the water while sharing a bench seat with my baby.
2. Enjoy a meal at André's in Cherry Creek André's is a restaurant I've lovingly dubbed the "silver head club," because the average age of the clientele is well over 65. The Swiss confiserie and luncheonette serves two delicious entrees a day, usually consisting of a quiche or pot pie complemented by a green salad and a starch (the spätzel is to die for). The single price includes a drink - I always take an iced coffee with fresh whipped cream -- and a choice of the daily-baked rum balls, tortes and cakes. But my favorite dessert of all time, the Napoleon, is an André's specialty -- a flakey, cream-filled and multi-layered sugary dream topped with a glaze of sugary pink stuff.
3. Go to a Rockies game, princess-style One sports-oriented activity a year is enough for me, and nothing beats a Rockies game on a warm summer night. I like to go "princess-style": My best friend always scores us great seats behind home plate, so we wander in around the fourth inning, enjoy a good chunk of the game and leave by the eighth. It's long enough to get into the all-American spirit and snag some Cracker Jack while completely avoiding the pre- and post-game traffic nightmare that is LoDo.
4. Book a DIY show in Casa Bonita's Theater Room I don't care what the haters say -- Casa Bonita is one of Colorado's defining entertainment spots and eateries. I dream of one day utilizing the Mexican-village-in-a-strip-mall's Theater Room to put on an awesome show of both local and national bands. Or better yet, get a band to play on the small rock stage next to the waterfall as cliff divers jump into the turquoise lagoon below. This just might be the year!
5. Rent a hotel room in a ski town and don't go skiing I'm a native who doesn't ski, but I love a trip to one of our many bourgie ski towns. Throwing down for a nice room at the Little Nell in Aspen is my ideal one-night stand. A fancy dinner with friends, a few joints, a long soak in a hot tub and a Pay-Per-View movie in the comfort of a warm hotel room is my favorite (and only) way to take advantage of our gorgeous Rocky Mountains during the winter months.
6. Spend a day, open to close, riding every ride and slide at Water World Dude, Colorado is home to one of the largest water parks in the U.S., and on a hot-ass day, Water World is the only place to be. Spending open-to-close riding every ride and slide in the park -- Voyage to the Center of the Earth, the Mile High Flyer, Thunder Bay, the list goes on -- is my dream. Plus, the funnel cakes at Water World are delicious and provide the fuel necessary to make it through an eight-hour experience in the sun. Summer forever!
7. Relive my late-night high-school hangouts at the Denver Diner Way back when Colorado allowed cigarettes indoors, the Denver Diner was a teenage mecca for late-night people-watching. Luckily, the smoking ban is the only thing that's changed at this downtown Denver icon: The waitresses are still speedy and friendly, the clientele is mixed and entertaining, and the food is consistent greasy-spoon perfection. A chocolate milkshake and a triple grilled-cheese sandwich with a side of ranch is my gut-buster of choice, but the biscuits and gravy, French dip and a signature breakfast mélange known as the "Mass Confusion aka Monica's Idea" are always good options.
8. A cup of joe at City, O' City and a show at Rhinoceropolis Though clean and condo-looking progress is slowly creeping along Brighton Boulevard, DIY performance space and Boulevard stalwart Rhinoceropolis maintains its under-the-radar charm, hosting several shows a week of both local and national art-driven and musical acts. On a warm summer night, I like to get a latte at City, O' City and then take a bike ride through Denver before seeing a band play at Rhino. My favorite route is Downing Street - a not-so-secret byway that takes you through the Capitol Hill, Uptown and Five Points neighborhoods before dropping you in the still-industrial part of Denver.
9. People-watch at Cherry Creek Shopping Center Any mall is open season for people-watching, but Cherry Creek brings out the eccentrics. Rich ladies with dogs in strollers, entire families of international shoppers dressed in garish, head-to-toe designer garb and the Silver Sneakers mall walkers are just some of the center's most interesting people. As a former employee of more than a dozen of this consumer heaven's past and present stores, I get the most joy out of watching my own kind impatiently navigate their lunch breaks through the hordes of mindless wanderers.
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10. Cruise Colfax Cruising Colfax is a perfect meditation on what makes and keeps Denver weird. Strange people engaging in strange interactions can be seen at any hour of the day on the strip, and seedy motels with glorious vintage neon signs are ubiquitous from end to end on the avenue. I'll never get tired of seeing Denver's shady side -- and no matter how much Colfax changes, this street still has it made in the shade.
From our archives: Hot springs, haunted parks and other drops in the 2014 bucket list