The River North Arts District, or RiNo, turned out to be my Denver Happy Place.
I found it by mistake, getting from Point A to Point B using my most-trusted navigation app, Waze. Miss Wazee takes me some crazy roundabout routes, but I trust her. And I almost never stray from her direction – it makes her mad in a weird passive-aggressive robot way: *bleepbleep…audible sigh…* “Rerouting…” Yeah I get it, Waze, you’re annoyed! Just come out and say it! Jeez. Waze was probably designed in the Midwest.
As I drove along minding my own business, I spotted a mural on a side street and, against my better judgement because I don’t like confrontation, I pulled away from Waze’s route so I could park and go take a picture. Aaaaand then I ended up using my two hour parking maximum to its fullest.
Every time I looked up from one mural, another would catch my eye, and so I walked this way and that, pulled along by a glimpse of paint in a far-off parking lot, or a swirl of color through a door leading into an alley.
I stopped into a store here and there, but mostly just chased the artwork as the light started to wane. When I’d mostly lost it, I came upon a very dark little experimental cocktail lounge, where the makeshift sign out front was enough to draw me in out of curiosity. It was too dark to read – even the menu, really – so I didn’t pull out my book and instead eavesdropped on conversations ~ of course ~ and waited for the bartender to get to me. He gave each table a spiel about wanting to find out what flavor profile they liked so that he could custom-design a cocktail just for their specific palate. I was fascinated!
I, however, was not given this spiel. And, since the place was very quiet and intimate, I felt weird asking for it, since I clearly already knew it by heart at this point, so I just ordered the beta vodka drink. It was tasty.
I did learn (more eavesdropping) that all of the furnishings were for sale, as the space was used as an interior design test center (I may have misheard this ???), and this round of furniture had already had its moment in the spotlight.
Going against my previous claim that one would likely just leave a neighborhood after that strict two hour parking was expired, I moved my car to the other side of RiNo so I could eat. It was dark, and Halloween, so I wanted to settle in for a while to avoid the masses.
My list of recommendations was a bit vague, as I’d only written down the names of places but not what they actually were. So while I thought I might be getting food when I walked into The Infinite Monkey Theorem, I instead got wine. Not complaining.
This is a vast yet cozy tasting room with plenty of space to lounge. I’d assumed it would be packed because of the holiday, but in fact when I walked in there was a lone woman sitting on one of the many sofas, breastfeeding her baby while sipping on her wine. I remember being her – young baby, wanting nothing more than to get out of the house and just chill with a glass of wine…it almost made me nostalgic for those baby days. I’M KIDDING, OF COURSE. I smiled at her in solidarity, then sat as far away as possible.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem buys grapes from elsewhere and makes the wine right there in Denver. They’re super chill, had the lighting just right to make it comfortable yet still book-readable (thank you!), and eventually they did start to fill up with costumed customers…which is when I made my exit.
I walked down Larimer Street, pausing only to watch people walking in to and out of a small art exhibit. I could see some film images and clips of video being projected onto the walls in neon pinks and blues from where I stood across the street and, if I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have stopped by to see more.
Instead, I moved on and finally paused in front of Barcelona, where the music was pumpin’ and I couldn’t see inside because of the dark curtains, making me think it was a gay bar. Then I saw the menu, and thought ‘gay bar with a great menu?! SOLD!’
As it turns out, it was not a gay bar, but I’m glad I stayed anyway. I was seated European style – aka they put me at someone else’s table. I ordered a beautiful El Guía Tempranillo and two small plates which melted in my mouth while simultaneously making me want to joy-cry a little from the flavor: the hangar steak with truffle vinaigrette, and the wild mushrooms with garlic, parsley and shallots.
While I ate, I read, and people-watched – unlike the wine bar, this place was packed – and enjoyed the music, which ranged from Radiohead to George Michael to Bruce Springsteen. The Springsteen song that played – “I’m on Fire” – was the impetus for the first joke I’d ever written, which I never ended up using during my afore-mentioned 37 seconds of a comedy career.
There’s a line, “hey little girl is your daddy home, did he go away and leave you all alone?” which used to freak me out as a kid. The ‘daddy’ in my home was my step-dad, and when he was gone it was a relief, so the thought of yet another man coming along taking advantage of his absence for who-only-knows-what was seriously stressful. So, like most uncomfortable things in my youth, I made a joke about it. Which I never used. It did make me chuckle a little bit as I sat there at someone else’s table, though. And then I decided it might be time to call it a night.
Maybe it’s time to get back into comedy? If I do, I’m sure the Comedy Works club will give me some stage time…some more stage time, that is. Thanks in advance, you guys!
If I do ever get back to Denver, RiNo will be my first stop. I was sooooo glad I found it, and with plenty of time to really explore, but still not enough to see it all.
I always love an excuse to come back.
Artists, in order of appearance: Thomas ‘Detour’ Evans, Lindee Zimmer, (no artist name found: man punching face), Pipsqueak Was Here, Boxyard Park, (no artist name found: behind chainlink fence), Jeremy Burns, Scot LeFavor, Michael Ortiz, Scot LeFavor again. If you know the names of the artists I missed, holla! And, for a more organized tour of the graffiti art around RiNo, check out Denver Graffiti Tour.