Labor Day: the unofficial end of summer (even though the season staggers along for another nineteen days); the last gasp before Halloween decorations hit the shelves; and the only thing standing between your tanned, relaxed summer self and frazzled, chronically tipsy holiday self. So take a deep breath and savor the long weekend with these food and drink events; we've even included a few destinations around the state if you want to enjoy some clean mountain air.
Colorado State Fair
Daily through September 3, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Colorado State Fairgrounds
1001 Beulah Avenue, Pueblo
We know nobody wants to go to Pueblo; the two-hour drive is tedious, and the result is usually underwhelming. But Labor Day weekend marks the end of the Colorado State Fair, and it's a hard heart indeed that isn't charmed by fair food. Funnel cakes, tempura chiles, corn on the cob, cotton candy, alligator on a stick, fry bread, deep-fried Snickers and Twinkies, Rocky Mountain oysters, Coors in a plastic cup, turkey legs: It's the food of dreams (sweaty, indigestion-filled dreams, but still). For something to do in between food purchases, there are pig races, dog surfing, horse shows, monster trucking and music galore. Admission is just $10 (less for kids under thirteen), so there's no excuse not to bring the whole family.
Palizzi Farm's Corn and Chile Festival
August 31-September 3, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
15380 Bromley Lane, Brighton
If you want to get a jump on harvest hauls this fall, Palizzi Farm is the place to hit up. Everything from basil to zucchini is fresh from the fields right now, but this weekend the market is brought to you by the letter "C." Get deals on bushels of chiles (you can have them roasted on site) and bags of sweet corn all weekend long; show up on Saturday and get a free ear of roasted corn to munch while you fill your baskets with produce to prepare or preserve for the months ahead. Sunday brings live music, a corn-eating contest and fireworks show. Even if you don't care about the harvest fest vibe, you'll still be heading home with enough peppers to keep your belly full of green chile all winter.
Tour de Fat
Saturday, September 1, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
New Belgium Brewing
500 Linden Street, Fort Collins
You might be asking yourself why we're recommending that you drive all the way to Fort Collins for Tour de Fat, when only one week earlier, the beer festival made its way to the Mile High City. Two words, gentle reader: bike parade. While the fine folks at New Belgium didn't include the fabled parade in its Denver stop, the Fort Collins iteration is as eccentric as ever. What's the point of dressing as a tutu-wearing Stormtrooper if you can't ride a bike at the same time? The day starts with the free parade at 9 a.m.; the fun resumes at 2 p.m. at the brewery, where $15 will get you bands, a talent show and the opportunity to drink the entire lineup of New Belgium's beers. (Just kidding, that would be overly ambitious. Aim low.)
Saturday, September 1, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
River Run Village
140 Ida Belle Drive, Keystone
Beaver Creek Oktoberfest
Beaver Creek Village
Those who need an excuse to head to the mountains and party have been waiting months (at least since July 4) for Labor Day weekend and the de facto beginning of Oktoberfest. If you need a reason to put your hair in braids and drink some malty beer, you've got two options this weekend — and enough time to hit them both. Start off Saturday with Keystone's Das Bier Burner 5K race, then get your arm workout in during the obligatory stein-hoisting contest; admission to the party is free, while race registration is $40 and the commemorative stein (perhaps not necessary, as you know you won't remember anything) is $35. Abandon Keystone the next day and head up the road an hour to hang with people who know how to party in Beaver Creek for the second day of their two-day fest; the rival resort's shenanigans include a best-dressed contest, a brat-eating contest and live music. Bier über alles!
A Taste of Colorado
Civic Center Park
Broadway and Colfax Avenue
No compendium of Labor Day events would be complete without the largest, sweatiest, most venerable celebration of food in the state: A Taste of Colorado. As time has passed, the 35-year-old event has begun to bill itself more as a music festival than a food fest (as evidenced by the impressive band lineup, especially for fans of ’90s alt-rock). Still, Denverites who have lived here for more than a couple of years know exactly what to expect: plenty of food trucks and fried fair food, a smattering of independently owned local restaurants serving their own dishes, and some of the best people-watching of the year. While VIP tickets to the free event are being offered for a whopping $119, pros know you can't get the full experience without standing in line to purchase those food tickets. The fun runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday.
Boulder Creek Hometown Festival
Beginning 10 a.m. September 1-3
Boulder Central Park
Broadway and Canyon
The counterpart to Memorial Day weekend's Boulder Creek Festival, the Hometown Festival has two big advantages over its spring cohort. First is the Rocky Mountain Beer Festival, which will make an appearance on festival grounds on Monday, September 3, with more than thirty Colorado outfits (including New Planet, Asher, Renegade, 14er, Redstone Meadery and the Old Mine Cider Company) pouring a selection of the state's finest beverages. The other? The Great Boulder Duck Race, in which thousands of rubber ducks are sent downstream to benefit the PLAY Boulder Foundation. Even in the People's Republic of Boulder, we haven't reached benevolent beer communism quite yet; while admission to the fest is free, tickets to drink are $16.50 or $35 at eventbrite.com.
Saturday, September 1, 1 to 5 p.m.
F Street and Sackett, Salida
If the last wine festival you went to was in a soulless event center — or worse, a hotel ballroom — where you lined up cheek to cheek with your compatriots while being shuffled from line to line, you need to re-establish what a festival should be: beautiful, spacious, outdoors, uncrowded. That's what you'll get at Salida's annual winefest, which takes place next to the Arkansas River under the generous shade of park trees. Provided you don't get drunk and fall in the river, you'll fall in love with the artsy little town, which boasts nearby hiking, biking and hot springs, as well as further opportunities to imbibe at Elevation Beer Co. and Woods High Mountain Distillery. Tickets are a bargain at $22 and are on sale at eventbrite.com.
Truck Stop Rally
Saturday, September 1, 1 to 8 p.m.
Larimer Street between 31st and 35th streets
The last Truck Stop Rally of the summer is the biggest yet, with forty trucks, trailers and carts converging on Larimer Street for a final, food-filled farewell to the summer months. If you can't find something that makes you swoon at this event, you might as well resign yourself to a life of eating nothing but white bread and cucumbers, because you obviously have no affinity for flavor. There will be Peruvian salchipapas (French fries topped with fried hot dogs, aji verde and aji amarillo); tacos stuffed with every filling your heart desires; Nashville hot chicken sandwiches to melt the roof of your mouth; towering burgers; doughnut holes filled with ricotta and dredged in powdered sugar; and funnel cakes piled high with fruit, chocolate and ice cream. And that's just for starters. Go early, go hungry, and say goodbye to summer with a bang (and a really full belly).
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Septemberfest Labor Day Party
Monday, September 3, 3 to 6 p.m.
Briar Common Brewery + Eatery
2298 Clay Street
Much like the early onset of Christmas decorations, Oktoberfest seems to start earlier each year — at least in America. From its origins as a wedding reception in mid-October, it became a late-September celebration, then finally reached its apex (nadir?) as a party that kicks in the minute the month ends in "-er." So we appreciate Briar Common's common-sense approach to the party, because it's still September, damn it! (It's barely September, damn it!) Start the months-long shindig with the release of the brewery's Earth to Marzen beer, and simultaneously celebrate Labor Day with a good old-fashioned cookout of burgers and (of course) brats.
Labor Day Goat Roast
Monday, September 3, 3 to 7 p.m.
Be on Key Psychedelic Ripple
1700 Logan Street
Even if a Grateful Dead bar isn't your natural habitat, you've still got to hunt where the prey is. This Labor Day, all kinds of wildlife (wooks and non-wooks alike) will be lured to Be on Key's back patio with the promise of whole roasted, harissa-spiced goat and an assortment of Mediterranean tapas: hummus, tabbouleh, feta, roasted peppers, olives and saffron rice. It's a cookout for those bored with the usual suspects of overcharred burgers and flavorless wieners. Tickets are on sale at eventbrite.com for $30.