Ten Reasons to Love the 16th Street Mall

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7) Sushi at Walgreens! The renovated Walgreens at 801 16th Street is the flagship in the chain, an incredibly clean, streamlined space that looks like it shared an architect with Euflora. And yes, that sushi is made fresh daily; at noon Monday, two sushi chefs are manning the counter.

6) Hospitality is not dead. While Downtown Denver studies the mall, the city itself is studying an amenity in very short supply along this stretch: public restrooms. In another experiment, a pair of bathrooms in the 1500 block of Skyline Park have been kept open for busy days this summer; still, relief can be tough to find to find at night. Although most restaurants are adamant that their facilities are for customers only, the Hard Rock Cafe will take pity on folks who are out on the town Friday and Saturday night — and out of luck when looking for a bathroom. “We’re never going to turn anybody away, especially on the weekends,” promises one manager.

5) The Denver Pavilions in general. After the big department stores disappeared, the mall’s main shopping attractions were souvenir stores with names like “Made in Colorado” — which sell almost nothing that’s made in Colorado. But like Larimer Square, which carefully cultivated a retail/restaurant comeback a decade ago, the Pavilions’ owners have been working hard to bring quality eating and shopping options to the mall, and that includes not just H&M but also two stores devoted to items actually made in Colorado. And there are more delights in store.
4) The sound of music...and money. Not only do buskers provide entertainment for the people on the mall — but playing the mall provides a living for more than a few performers. And much of the music they produce is astonishingly good. “There’s this amazing street scene that people don’t always pay attention to,” says Mark Patterson, who recorded many of these buskers to create the album From Downtown Denver: Street Music. In 2011, Dred Scott, a street performer, even made it to number 14 on iTunes’ singer/songwriter chart.

3) Lower Downtown. When the mall was first created, it stopped at the now-defunct Market Street station on the edge of LoDo. But in preparation for Union Station’s return to its role as a transit hub, the mall was extended several critical blocks, right past our favorite corner. At 1626 Wazee Street, there’s Rockmount Ranch Wear, the Western store that dates back to the ’40s and whose founder, Jack A. Weil, invented the snap-button shirt. And across the street, in the building where a giant painting of a cowboy by former occupant Willie Matthews is fading off the side, is a dispensary. In just a few minutes, you can experience the best of both the old and new West in what we’ve dubbed the Tumbleweed Tour. That will leave you plenty of time to experience the old/new delights of the resurrected Union Station just a block away.
2) People-watching. The 16th Street Mall is the best place in town to watch people. It’s also a place where you’re guaranteed to bump into a person you’re happy to see. On Monday, it’s former Denver Post reporter Lynn Bartels, out for lunch on her first day of her new job at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. And where the action is, of course: On the mall.

1) The mall buses. Nothing has been set in stone — and that includes the uneven pavers on the mall — but there are definitely groups interested in moving the free shuttles from 16th Street; Meet in the Street tested that concept. Still, every visitor we’ve ever encountered on the 16th Street Mall has marveled at those shuttles. Sometimes, the best things in life — or at least in the life of a vibrant downtown — really are free.

What's your favorite thing on the 16th Street Mall? Your least favorite thing? Would you like to see the buses moved? Share your thoughts in a comments section, or e-mail them to me at [email protected] — and read our thirtieth-anniversary love letter here.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun