Patio of the Day

Patio of the Week: A Wilderness Retreat in the City at REI

Summer's end and a ripping hangover led me to a surprising, non-boozy patio this weekend. Back in May, my friends and I raved about our plans to go camping at least once a month this summer. Well, it's nearly September and we've got one camping trip under our belt, so Labor Day weekend we're heading to the mountains for some tent time. We needed supplies, so dragged ourselves to REI and found a lovely patio at the flagship store's Starbucks, of all places.

See also: Child's Play: An authentic -- and free! -- nature experience awaits at Denver's flagship REI

Normally I would choose a locally owned business (and a place to drink) for my patio of the week, but whether I was feeling nostalgia for a slipping-away summer or I was just really excited to go camping, that patio captured my attention. The coffee was just an excuse to hang out for a while.

Like everything else about the flagship REI, the patio is huge. It wraps around the store's southern corner and has small tables and long couch benches shaded by trees and patio umbrellas. The furniture is comfortable, and the coffee -- well, it's Starbucks. Other than its hangover-healing properties there isn't much to talk about. But on a Sunday toward the end of summer, the bustle around the patio was the perfect reminder I needed that there are still warm days to look forward to.

We parked at the far end of Platte Street, where there's free parking for park-goers (and open spots!). We planned on just making a quick dash in and out of REI, but the walkers, runners and bikers looked so pleased with themselves out on the South Platte Trail, we joined them for a stroll before settling in for a leisurely coffee.

The grounds around REI are part city (15th Street is close and you can see downtown) and part Colorado wilderness (or at least a quaint patch of it). There's the South Platte River Trail that runs alongside the often-stinking South Platte River, which you can hear from the patio. There were no river aromas that day -- or at least they weren't strong enough to reach the patio -- so we watched people swim and tube without worrying too about the water quality or the swimmers' questionable decisions to take the plunge.

The grounds around REI are shaded with little glades of firs, pines, and aspens around the perimeter. You'd never confuse the landscaping with real wilderness -- chained-off sections are a nice little reminder that you're still in the city -- but walking around got me even more excited for my upcoming trip, knowing I'd be in real backcountry soon.

The river trails were a bustle of activity on a Sunday, which meant great people watching -- and a few bicycle near-collisions. I felt like a bum sitting with coffee in hand and hangover on the brain while so many people were putting the day to good use biking and running; I wanted to grab some sneakers at REI and work out right there. Of course, I didn't, but I have noted for the future that it's a great place to enjoy a post-workout treat from Starbucks or a reward from REI.

So that's the Starbucks patio at REI: a few tables, coffee you can get nearly anywhere in town, some shade and breeze and room to relax and enjoy the flow of outdoorsy Denverites. I felt like I was missing out on something as an observer not participating in the scene, but was grateful to have found a place to remind me that summer's still here -- inspiring me to get out and enjoy the days left.

Best Deal: I grabbed a shot of espresso with a dab of steamed milk -- called a macchiato at most places, except at Starbucks, where a macchiato is an overly sweet caramel latte.

Best Feature: The activity!

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Kristin Pazulski has been a renaissance faire wench, a reporter, an espresso-shot slinger, an editor of a newspaper for the homeless and a grant writer. She's now a freelance writer covering Denver's restaurant scene.
Contact: Kristin Pazulski