Denver, CO: 01 Feb - 31 May 2020

Updated: Jun 26

Interviewing for possible residence.


Lodging

A basement apartment (01 - 14 Feb). Normally basement apartments are a no go with the Missus, but this one was well appointed and reviewed. I booked it at $117/night (inclusive of fees and taxes) without negotiating. It was located in the Cheeseman Park neighborhood, right off Colfax and an easy walk to downtown.

- Colfax St. runs directly east from the Colorado State Capitol Building. It is lined with all sorts of businesses: bookstores, dive bars, restaurants, motels, and contains a fair amount of grit (i.e. street people [i.e. vagrants, panhandlers and lingerers]).

• StayAlfred (14 Feb - 29 Feb): While reviewing Airbnb, I came across two very nice 1 BD/1 BA accommodations, both run by an outfit called StayAlfred. It "appeared" to be a very professional set-up, so I decided to book with them directly (and cut out the Airbnb middleman) at a 20% savings ($114/night).

- StayAlfred rents apartments long term from apartment house owners and then rents them out short term via their own website and Airbnb (this set-up is becoming more common).

Grandpa's (29 Feb - 31 Mar): $69/night (inclusive of cleaning and service fees) after a skillfully negotiated 10% discount. My experience at this place has increased my desire to someday have my own Airbnb rental. This place was a recently and tastefully renovated two bedroom/one bath cottage in a great location (Curtis Park, a five minute walk to downtown) with a fully equipped kitchen. While everything inside the house was superb, the rest of the experience was less than overwhelming¹.

Note: Since we rented for >30 days we eliminated the requirement to pay taxes.

• StayAlfred on California Street, Part Deux (31 Mar - Apr 13): After COVID-19 hit the fan in mid-March, I decided to extend in Denver from Apr 1 - May 1. After reviewing Airbnb and VRBO, I decided to work with StayAlfred directly, again (see above) and called them on the phone to negotiate. Actually the Missus did the negotiating and cut us a pretty good deal at $57/night (to include no taxes, all fees, 2 BD/2BA and covered parking). Soon after moving in we heard rumors that we might be asked to leave early, as due to Covid-19, StayAlfred was shutting down their operations in Denver. We called and emailed asking for an update without response. On Friday, April 10 at about 3:00 pm, we received via email an eviction notice ordering us to depart on Monday April 13, with no mention of how to get a refund for the balance of our reservation (April 13 - May 01). So we booked new lodgings, packed our stuff and disputed the entire credit card charge (I'll let you know how it turns out). Note: This location is now permanently closed.

Sonder - The Essex (Apr 13 - May 31): Sonder is an outfit similar to StayAlfred, though exceedingly more professional. They have rented out an entire recently renovated 20 unit apartment building called The Essex. It too is a very corporate set-up, but as the building is quite old, it's like renting a corporate two 2 BD/1BA furnished apartment in a NY tenement: minimal sound insulation, creaky floors, drafty windows, no elevator and tenuous parking. Also the clientele at this place was far from corporate, think tattoos and a contact high.

- As this was the height of Covid-19, paid a very reasonable $62/night (inclusive of fees) via sonder.com. I tried, but like Deputy Marshall Sam Girard, Sonder doesn't bargain.


Food

• Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen: According to its website, the owner Joshua was: "Drawing on his love of New York City’s classic food establishments such as Russ and Daughters, Katz’s Deli, and a few others, Joshua decided to focus on what he loves most – New York bagels and lox!" Now that's a bold statement. As you may know from earlier screeds, I take bagels very seriously: There are bagels from NY and bagels not from NY. So I was a little leery, but yet excited when my wife took me to this place in the "evolving" Five Points neighborhood. As we enter, we're off to a good start, as the name of this place is "Rosenberg's", you cannot get more authentic than that (with apologies to Barney Greengrass). The place actually looks like a Jewish deli, with stainless steel display cases, displaying gravlax, hot-smoked sturgeon, whitefish salad, yada yada yada - it's like deli-porn. While the service was actually friendlier than the average Jewish deli (what, me complain?), the truth is in the bagel. And the bagel was pretty damn good:

1. It was large: Most bagels (hello, Einstein Bros?) are just too small, but not this Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese @$3.75.

2. It was not toasted. Toasting is what you do to a stale bagel.

3. Crust: Thin but crisp . . . but not too crisp.

4. Insides: Soft and chewy . . . but not too chewy.

- Grade: A-, as the bagel could have been a little bigger and the service a little more acerbic. The finest bagel not from NY I have ever tasted. An AAR Must Eat.

- A few years ago there was a murder committed on the floor above the deli and the subsequent arson to cover up the killing shut the place down for six months. Is it wrong for me to think that this makes the bagels even tastier?

• Bastien's Restaurant: The Missus was hankerin' for a piece of beef. So I told her to scour the internet and find the best steakhouse in Denver and she came up with this place, the O.G. of Denver steakhouses. Family owned and operated since 1937. Since 1957 it has been located in a circular building that exhibits a certain amount of charm and hipness due to its retro-style, one could easily imagine Frank Sinatra dining here in in the '60s (ring-a-ding ding, baby!). We sat at the groovy sunken bar and chatted with our bartender Telly from Paramus (Who loves ya baby!). For some reason, I was immediately attracted to a drink called the Stranhattan, which was a Manhattan made with Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey (I, of course had mine on the rocks). We both had the 10 oz. New York Strip ($28), but the Missus paid $3 more for the Sugar Steak option a "signature rub of sugar & spices is designed specifically for a marbled cut of beef". Now putting sugar on my steak is a no can do for me, but some guy sitting at a barstool over there recommended it, so my wife said "Yes!". Later on, I took a bite from hers and said "No!". Let your palate be the guide as "De gustibus non est disputandum".

- My medium rare 10 oz. NY Strip was excellent. It comes old school with a choice of soup of the day or house salad, choice of potato & fresh sautéed vegetables.

- If you are going to have steak in Denver and are not on an expense account, then Bastien's Restaurant is an AAR Must East.

Odyssey Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar: While I wasn't impressed by the name (it sounds like a Greek diner), I was impressed by the thought of $8.95 Monday pasta special. Covid-19 prevented us dining there, but they provided a solid curbside take-out. A subscriber's review was not as generous as she felt the food may not have traveled well, suffering a condition I have heard called takeoutosis.

• 7-11 (2341 E. Colfax): I only mention this place because when I walked by I noticed they were playing opera music from an exterior speaker (it was obviously Seramide: Ah! Quel Giorno Ognor Rammento from the incomparable Dolora Zajick). It seemed quite surreal until I realized why: to force unwanted lingerers to vacate the area. It was quite effective as they appeared to have moved one storefront over, out of ear-shot and smell-shot. I was intrigued by the creativity that was brought to bear to solve this intractable issue. Of, course I needed to know more and questioned the store manager. I offered that maybe there was even a better solution: country music or perhaps dinosaur rock. As I am a man of science maybe they could experiment to determine what genre is the most offensive to the average 7-11 lingerer. This could be a fascinating study. To which the manager replied "I just put the CD that headquarters mails me in the CD player". All I can do is try.

Pizza

• While you can get a damn good bagel in Denver, I think asking for a damn good pizza in Denver is just too damn much. Our Uber driver, Jersey Joe, recommended a place called Benny Blanco Slice of the Bronx, but as soon as I opened the lid and saw a solid red disk of sauce, I realized that Joe needed to have his Son of Vineland credentials revoked.

- It turned out that the best pizza in Denver was a made in our own oven. Here's a link to the recipe.


Refreshments

• Satire Lounge: Some establishments you visit because of their reputation, others because of their location, still others because of their cuisine. This place because of its name and because it was located next to a liquor store that reminded me of a good friend.

- I'll be upfront, it's a dive bar with a 4-6 Happy Hour of $2.50 Bud drafts, BOGO appetizers, an eclectic juke box (when's the last time you heard Whiskey in the Jar?) and fascinating clientele.

- You know you're in a dive bar when a bottle of Lord Calvert Canadian Whiskey is displayed above the bar, backlit on a small platform, like a relic in a Catholic Church.

- It's next door to "John's Liquor's" which has a vintage neon sign, that my good friend may find quite useful when he inevitably opens up a gay bar: "John's Liquors Park in Rear".

• Bar Bar: First of all, love the name. Second this is a dive bar, picking up the theme here? It features Pabst Blue Ribbon $2.50 - ANYTIME, no food (though there is a vending machine), and Thin Lizzy on the Jukebox (picking up a theme here?). The liquor inventory here is pretty lean as the Bar Bar is a beer bar and is the only bar I’ve ever frequented that stocked DeKuyper Root Beer liqueur. Bring quarters for Ms. Pac-Man and cash for your bar tab. Open 7am till ?? every night.

- A client² mentioned that if we enjoyed the atmosphere of the Bar Bar, we needed to visit Nob Hill Inn. So next stop . . .

• Nob Hill: It’s a dive bar, so I think the name is a play on words. Besides the endorsement we received from the client at the Bar Bar (see above) I was drawn to this place by its Yelp reviews "Great stiff drinks and free entertainment. If you like to people watch, this is the place to be!", "My kind of dive. Heavy pours, pleasant crowd" and "They serve cheap drinks that are strong". These reviews reminded me of Nick, the bartender from It's A Wonderful Life who said (with a heavy Brooklyn accent): "Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere. Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?" We arrived slightly after twelve noon, so we decided to stick with beer (Coors Light draft @ $3.50). I put "The Boys Are back in Town" on the Jukebox and engaged Bart the "BARTender" in conversation. Bart is not only a Bartender, but a guardian angel, as he helped a patron with his phone, arranged a cab for a tipsy client, chased tokers away from the rear entrance and since it was the Missus birthday (only the best for her), served us a Scooby Snack on the house (thankfully sans whipped cream). Bart mentioned that another great dive bar was the Lions Lair, so . . .

• Lions Lair: Closed due to Covid-19 (another dream denied).

Note: Just when you think it can't get any better . . . there is a place on Colfax called The 1UP Arcade Bar (an obvious play on the mushroom icon from Super Mario Bros.) that serves on Monday, $1 Labatt Blue drafts. The place houses an extensive inventory of video games and pinball machines, including the World's Largest Pac-Man.

British Bulldog: From the outside this place could have been another dive bar, but once inside it's just a nice British pub. Football on the telly (Leipzig vs. Tottenham), Fuller's ESB & London Pride on draft, and an extensive Pakistani menu, you can't get more British than that.

• My Brother's Bar: This place has been a bar since 1873, which was three years before Colorado was a state (the 38th btw). Has a connection to the beat generation via former patrons Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It reminds me of McSorley's and the Old Towne Ale House with tin ceilings and a well worn bar, that has seen more than it's fair share of spilled beer and whiskey chasers. Contains the most eclectic list of draft lagers I have ever quaffed: Modello Especial, Labatt Blue, Kronenbourg 1684, Prost Keller Pils, Barmen Pilsner and Pilsner Urquell. They're known for their hamburgers. Mine came old school still, wrapped in wax paper with a little grease, a side of French fries in a red checked cardboard boat. It also came with a condiment caddy (containing relish, onions, pickles, and pepperoncini), something I've never seen before. It also came with a helping of classical music and blessedly no tv.

- Located at the south corner of 15th and Platte. I only mention this, as this place is so self-assured that it does not have a sign on the front. Park in the lot behind the building for free.


Sights

• The Molly Brown House Museum: Took the Missus here for her birthday. This is the house where The Unsinkable Molly Brown lived. She was featured in two movies, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Titanic, that highlighted her role in the suffragette movement and her heroic actions during the sinking of the Titanic, otherwise the movies are a canard (her first name was actually Margaret, Molly was Hollywood fiction, as it was more melodic). The house was built in the 1880s in the Queen Anne style and has been lovingly restored to its 1910 appearance. - The house is a good reflection of how rich people lived in the early part of the last century. I’m not sure though, if Margaret deserves a museum or if it’s worth $14 ($12 for Veterans).

• The Colorado State Capitol: A fine capitol, though nothing special. Out of the four capitols I have toured, this ranks number four (behind Washington, DC, Harrisburg and Austin).

- There are some beautiful murals in the rotunda by Albert True with poetry by Thomas Hornsby Ferril (Carl Sandburg called him "The Poet of the Rockies"). One of the murals was titled "Beyond the sundown is Tomorrow's Wisdom, today is going to be a long time ago", which sounds like a rather nice motivational poster (less trite, slightly cynical and more philosophical).


Coffee

When reviewing coffee shops most people use criteria such as the quality of the bean and the roast and the ability and creativity of the barista. But I have very different criteria, let’s call it the AAR Coffee Rating Exemplar (ACRE).

1. The coffee must be hot. Now some may think this a given, but trust me that this is an issue in more than a few places.

2. The chairs must be comfortable. Think over stuffed club chairs. Someplace I can read the New York Times or Plato’s The Republic in a style befitting a man of my position.

3. The nosh must be tasty: A variety of freshly baked goods is required.

4. The vibe must be interesting: Maybe it’s relaxing, funky, hip (but not too hip), great music (but not too loud), or an interesting theme.

5. Intangibles: Maybe the owner is really personable or there are great views to be had or great art or architecture to be inspected.

- The below establishments meet all five ACRE criteria and are therefore an AAR Must Coffee.

The Tattered Cover: Hot coffee, in an overstuffed leather chair, with a tasty oatmeal raisin cookie, in a former mercantile building built in 1896 (with magnificent, massive exposed wood beams), and it's now a book store, which doesn't seem to mind that I peruse some of their inventory while drinking my sufficiently hot coffee and eating my nosh. Can it get any better than that?!

Pigtrain Coffee: Located in the recently renovated Union Station. When it comes to food and drink, normally I give Union Stations a wide berth, but numerous Denverites told me different. So . . . the waiting area of the head house has been updated with wingback chairs and coffee tables, so I could enjoy my hot coffee and vanilla bean scone while I admired how people of a bygone era travelled in style and dignity, all while my wife visited an adjacent flower shop.


The Homeless

In my lifetime I have traveled a little farer and a little wider than most and have not come across a city with as many homeless people as Denver. It is truly staggering, with many streets being lined with tents where they live surrounded by their detritus. At one place we stayed (Grandpa's), you had to be careful about stepping in human excrement. On top of that there is also a significant amount of street people, who while not appearing to be homeless, fill many of the streets panhandling, lingering and checking out my wife's ass (why can't they use their peripheral vision like the rest of us?). And on top of that there are all the slackers, shredding their way from marijuana dispensary to tattoo parlor.


Denverites I spoke to about this, appear to be upset, but seem reconciled with these developments. Many feel the reason behind much of this is Colorado's cannabis friendly laws, exacerbated by Covid-19. I was hopeful that Denver would have some grit (especially when compared to Boulder), but there is a fine line between some grit and some half naked guy screaming obscenities in the middle of the street.


Bottom Line: Denver is still in the running for possible residence, as a subscriber mentioned it could have been the right place, wrong time³.

Misc

• Required Drinking: The Trader Joe's at 750 Colorado Ave is the best Trader Joe’s I’ve ever patronized, as it’s quite large (more space for English Peas and 10 Minute Farro) and has a connected wine shop (that also sells the hard stuff). We all know the Trader Joe Wine Shop has unique vintages at unique prices and by unique prices, I mean ridiculously low. Recommend you go with Cocobon Red Blend @ $5.99 - An AAR Must Drink.

• Required Denver Listening: Who else but the eponymous singer of Rocky Mountain High.


Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.


¹ Grandpa's is like a small but significant number of Airbnbs, great lodgings/facility, with merely competent service and minimal business sense.

1) It's called Grandpa's because the owner's father lived there before he died and that's what her kids called his place. While I'm as sentimental as the next guy, I'm not a fan of the name, I mean who wants to stay at somebody else's (dead) Grandpa's house?

2) It does not use keyless entry so we had to coordinate meeting the owner (always a hassle, as when traveling ETA's always shift), who then only gave the two of us one key. The new front door actually has keyless entry, but since the owner does not know how it works, it remains unused.

3) The owner spent around 20 minutes showing us around. After a day of traveling I just want to unpack some of my stuff, take a shower and relax. If the owner wanted to briefly check in with us the day after our keyless entry check-in, that would be cool, but I wanted my Mikey time.

4) The outside front gate lock sticks so much that opening it requires you to place your entire weight on the gate to force it down. The owner is aware of the issue, but said "it's difficult to fix".

5) There is no off street parking. There is an extensive backyard that can be accessed through an alley, but the back fence has no gate.

6) We slightly moved two pieces of furniture, which the owners ordered us to return to their original position prior to check-out. We would have moved them back anyway, and didn't appreciate their tone.

7) They never responded to our request to extend our stay.

Note: I covered some of this in my open letter to Airbnb owners.


² Clients vs. Customers: My wife used to work for Ernst & Young (EY). During one of our early dates, I mentioned a customer where I worked and asked about EY's customers. She pointedly informed me that "EY does not have customers", and for a second I thought "how does that work?", but then she continued "we have clients". "Oh" I thought, "well excuse me!".


³ Listen to the opening riff from Dr. John's Right Place, Wrong Time and compare it to the hook from Cake's The Distance. It's note for note, am I the only person to notice this?


Downtown Denver from the Colorado State Capitol Building
The Cash Register Building through Utility Poles (view from Sonder: The Essex #203 balcony)

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