A Return To Unfamiliar Territory
“Sweet Child O’Mine” plays just loudly enough over the commotion of the patrons at Henry’s Tavern on 16th Street in Denver to hear Axl Rose’s screaming vocals. The Eagles and Cowboys are tied at a touchdown in the 3rd quarter. A group of business men that were in front of me in line at the hostess desk had decided against sitting at the bar because their game was over, so they grabbed a table instead. This… was a big city sports bar, of course aside from any bar being an easy choice to watch a sports game; this one was also obvious from the amount of TV’s plastered on the walls and hung from the ceilings systematically throughout. The employee dress code seemed to be either a football jersey or a black button down shirt, to no surprise, the only jerseys worn by the employees were the Broncos. It was now the beginning of the 4th and the Eagles and Cowboys were tied again at 14.
The bar itself was the most alive on this strip of consumerism which was the “16th Street Mall”; a recent renovation of the area that turned the street into a massive outdoor mall. Many of the bars were more or less hangouts for local vagrants and stoners. I walked into a nice one, but was so packed that it was an easy choice to turn around and walk back out. The other two I ventured into fell into the vagrant and stoner category, not my style, since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado was enacted, many bars fell into this genre and it was hard to enter without getting a 2nd hand buzz. Henry’s Tavern however was alive, well kept, civilized, and had a few empty bar stools. The interior street side wall was garage doors and partially the front wall as well which offered patio seating, but was closed for the season. Black marble lined the bar with a “chill section” which was about a 4-inch wide line of ice between the marble and “finished beverage” section, it’s (obvious) purpose is to keep your beverage cold which it did very well! The open ceiling exposing the HVAC duct work and structural support gave the tavern the modern industrial feel, much like that of a Chipotle. The bar tenders were very friendly and interactive, and also spoke loud and clear enough to understand them. The Eagles had scored another touchdown early in the 4th and now with 11 minutes to go the Cowboys make an amazing touchdown, once again tying the game, now at 21.
“At this altitude, the alcohol hits you twice as hard.”
My beverage of choice was a Polygamy Porter by Wasatch Brewery out of Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a very dark, thick drink with a full head on it. It was remarkably smooth and light and had a not-to-strong caramel-like flavor. I was told by someone I met earlier during my visit to “be careful, at this altitude, the alcohol hits you twice as hard”. At this moment I decided I had invested some interest in the game and would stay till the end. I was doubtful I could make it back to my hotel room in time to see the end of the game. 7 minutes left and the Eagles pulled ahead with a field goal.
I had visited Colorado back in 2008 and recently did a photo essay on it, however, the opportunity to return recently arose and I never turn down the chance to travel. This visit would be extremely different, it was for work purposes (my current full time grind) and would involve some uninteresting moments visiting field offices, however I’d overcome a lot of fears since my last arrival and that would certainly prove true. While my visit lasted 5 days, in this article I am covering the most enjoyable time which is a Saturday night through to Sunday night.
Another tie with a Cowboys field goal and then a field goal from the Eagles, putting the score at 27-24 and less than 2 minutes to go. Three timeouts for Philly remaining and only one for Dallas, this was going to be an interesting end game! I had the random luck of having a series of travelers sit next to me throughout the night. One woman who had traveled to London recently and while she stayed in London on her own, her friends had continued on to Amsterdam, a man from Fort Myers who, like myself, was here for business, and a woman from Russia. Bryant misses a long pass with 48 seconds left and an arousing “awe” from my fellow patrons, Denver roots for Dallas as a backup I guess.
The one bartender started striking up conversations with one of the travelers that sat to the right of me. She made an inquiry about the chill section of the bar; “Does this get defrosted every night and refilled?”, “Actually, a miniature Zamboni comes out and preps it for the next day” the bartender joked. I never did find out the actual answer, but I assumed it was in fact drained and refilled, probably just not every night. 12 seconds, Dallas calls a timeout after a successful pass to the 31 yard line; 2 seconds left and Dallas ties the game yet again at 27-27! Next is a questionable fumble for Philly, they keep the ball and go for a game winning touchdown! After that, I paid my tab and left the bar. On the way back to my rental car I wandered into a very luxurious downtown Sheraton that was throwing a party. I desperately needed to use a restroom and was able to worm my way through some crowds to the facilities. I’m assuming the party had been related to politics since the candidates have been playing through their predictable acts of interviews and big city appearances. After my pit-stop, I made my way back to the hotel.
Acrophobia and Destruction
Atop Warrior Mountain, one side is nothing but sharp snow frosted mountain peaks and below is a sea of thick green pine trees, all lit by a cloudless blue sky. On this business trip I had one free day to do as I wished, so I figured, what’s the point of traveling if I don’t get any amazing experiences? I woke up at around 5AM (my body still accustomed to Eastern Time) I jumped in the shower and thought of what to do. I got dressed and looked out my 7th story hotel window, nothing but flat plains, so I went into the hall and walked to the opposite end, this was the side with the nice views. I found myself staring out at a specific mountain, it wasn’t the tallest, but it looked rather inviting… This would be my goal. I got in the car and started driving.
I had some maps of the area printed out (I never use GPS units, not only do I find them extremely annoying, but they bring a sense of attachment to the modern world that I don’t like) that I used to find some key roads. I turned off one street that led to a place called Mt. Eden, but the specific road to the top was closed for the season, so instead of giving up I just kept driving hoping to find another mountain to conquer. The road got steeper, the cliffs got deadlier, more curves and swerves in the road caused me to drop my speed to 25mph (I’m usually more of a 5-15 over the limit kinda person, now I was averaging 1-15 below the limit), and the air got crisper. After about a half-hour I started to see hints of snow and fewer vehicles. There were a few spots I pulled off, not only was my fear of heights kicking in, but the crisp thin air started affecting my oxygen flow (I think).
After almost backing down several times from this challenge to get to where-ever this road was leading, I kept deciding to continue. I eventually found myself at Echo Lake, along with several other adventurers and even some families. There was a park ranger I spoke with who was rather friendly; I asked him the altitude which at this point was 10,600 ft. I took some shots of the frozen lake and walked around a bit to stretch my legs and regain some composure. After enjoying the view I returned to the car and decided to continue. I almost talked myself out of the idea, because the road didn’t appear to ascend any further, but I know I wanted a better view, better pictures, and a bigger accomplishment. I continued on the same road which stayed relatively flat for a short while before starting to rise again and take me around some more nail biting cliffs. I also began to find snow all around me and on the road, which poses the question: Why is there always snow on the top of mountains, even when it’s warm? Well, according to my friend “Sam the Scientist”, while the warmth being generated from the Earth’s core slowly rises it becomes thinner and expands which creates a cooling effect, the higher the mountain top, the further away from the core it is. And as far as the heat from the sun pounding down on the earth, it’s most affective when it hits flat ground, but when it hits jagged edges, the heat gets dispersed and doesn’t have as much of an effect.
I finally get to a point where fear gets the better of me and I completely stop, although it couldn’t have been at a better spot. The heights are taking their toll on me along with the steep cliffs and the occasional parts on the road where there are no guard rails. I pull off onto the side of the road which is covered in snow that I hope I can get out of, and is also on the cliff side of the road. Probably one of the worst spots, but it turns out that this is a view I can’t pass up. I get out of the car and snap a picture.
And I know what you may be thinking “That doesn’t look very high or steep”, and looking at this picture now it doesn’t to me either, but pictures don’t do it justice at all, in person it is much much higher than it looks here and 100 times more amazing of a view. I stopped here for a while and just embraced the view before continuing. After getting my fill of beauty I decided to get going, except I don’t….the rental car is stuck. So, after doing the old “back and forth” routine for a couple minutes I eventually get the car moving and continue on my way to what would be possibly the most breathtaking view I’ve ever had!
This is the view from the top of Warrior Mountain! Well, behind me was about another 20 foot climb through rough brush, pine trees, and snow, so this was good enough for me. I stood at this spot for around 25-30 minutes just simply enjoying the fantastic view and the absolute silence. I hear people go on and on about the peaceful quietness of a country home on the farm, well, I’ve been to a country home on the farm before and it was nowhere near this quiet. Up here you don’t hear a single thing. The air is still, no animals scurrying about, no birds chirping in the chilled pine trees, no business men in a panic getting to their next appointment or speed lovers flying past in their Mustangs and Ferrari’s, no crickets grinding their legs together in the grass (or lack of grass here), just pure silence….
After enjoying a view I will remember forever and destroying a bit more of my acrophobia, I started heading back down, the protein bar and bag of granola I consumed had been used up and my stomach would soon be growling, so I headed back down to the Denver suburbs to grab lunch.
I met up with the coworkers that I had traveled here to enjoy a bit of healthy eating at a place called Vert Kitchen. A very small place with a heavy plant-based menu and a quant outdoor eating area on the back patio. And if you’re too cold, don’t worry; they have patio heaters to supply ample heat when needed. There’s also a small garden alley between 2 other buildings, which was more of a play area from some kids during my visit here.
Forging The Bull
After some more exploring around downtown Denver, which included several museum stops, I wound up with my coworkers again at The Buckhorn Exchange, which is basically another museum that happens to be a steakhouse. In fact, it’s the oldest restaurant in Denver and as a double whammy; is located in Denver’s oldest neighborhood! It opened its doors in 1893 and has an extremely rich history, along with a lot of animals on the walls. While I’m no hunter nor ever plan to hunt/kill an animal of any kind, I am a fan red meat. Our table was located all the way at the back of the 2nd floor, which means we basically got a tour of the whole place. The lighting is pretty minimal, but not as dark as most old-style bars. The menu comes in the form of a newspaper, telling the history of the steakhouse and its creator Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz, who spent some time with the famous Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. It also lists all the famous people who have sat down at a table and ordered a meal, like President Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Jimmy Cagney, Charlton Heston, and many others.
My order was the Buffalo Tenderloin Steak, which was excellent! My coworkers ordered Elk, and Cornish Game Hen, and after sampling each I have to recommend the Hen as it had the most flavor. I spent a bit of time looking around the place and spent a moment talking with the bartender, which got me a behind the scenes view of the bar itself. I got a close-up view of the very first Colorado state liquor license which, at the time, costed a measly $25 back in 1935. The original cash register is also still behind the bar, though the bar itself was originally on the ground floor, it was moved upstairs some years back.
Later that night I found myself at the Bull & Bush. I’ve never been to a place I could describe as “rustic” until now. The dark atmosphere was lit by 20 watt light bulbs and candles, not those fake flame candles either. There was a fireplace in the back brick wall which was currently burning away some logs, above the fireplace was the current list of beers on tap and their names were carved into dark blue wood. I sat at the bar which was plated in copper; it was covered nicks, dents, bends, which gave it character. The dim lights reflected its shiny dirty gold world back at you. The front of the battered metal was protected by smoothed round timber held in place by brass cuffs. The Native American bartender asked my preference and I asked the available stouts on tap. I went with a Stonehenge Stout, dark, heavy, and smooth like most others; the lighting effects gave it a blood red color at the right angle. I had to be cautious though; the right crease in the bars surface would cause my beverage to spill over.
This was my last night during this visit to Denver. During these few days I learned something special, just because you’ve been somewhere, doesn’t mean you’ve experienced it. During my visit back in 2008 I saw some amazing views, however, during this visit I saw some that were even better and I also learned that I have more courage than I originally thought. I had taken my rental; a 2013 white Hyundai Veloster; up to the top of Warrior Mountain, a 11,200 foot challenge that put my courage and confidence to the test. I reflected on this while listening to a song that was as old as I am, Take On Me by Ah-Ha.
I took a break for a moment from the 80’s soundtrack and chatter of the other patrons and headed to the restroom. I practice the old and practically dead tradition of placing a napkin over my drink, I figured if anything it would prevent the early 20th century dust from falling in. At the restroom the doors were labeled “Bush/Damsels” and “Bulls/Squires”; inside the “Bulls” restroom the wall featured the famous poker hound art, “Pinched With Four Aces”, “A Friend In Need”, “A Waterloo”, and a couple others, the thing I loved about this place was that there was something old-yet-familiar everywhere. I returned to my seat to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” followed by “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by The Human League. I finished my beverage and made my way back to the hotel. It was about 11:00pm and the trip was coming to an end, in 10 hours I would be on a plane heading back to Cleveland. Unfortunately I would have an aisle seat on the plane where I would be unable to see the mountains below, but I was alright with that, I usually shut my eyes and clenched the seat during takeoff anyway. I felt that I had gotten a good enough view of the mountains which had made the entire trip worth it! I hope that the next time I have a mountain view like that, it’ll be somewhere in the mountains of Southeast Asia!
Here’s a peek of the ribs I had ordered earlier at Bull & Bush: