Call in sick one gorgeous Friday this summer, it’s going to be a day to remember: Cruisin’ the ‘Fax, native style.
The country’s longest continuous street, once called the “Wickedest Street in America,” by a real authority, Playboy magazine, is still long, but these days it’s much more diverse rather than depraved. Sure, there’s some shadowy stuff from the Capitol to the Anschutz campus, but the days of Sid Kings strip club, XXX theaters, speakeasies and parading prostitutes are pretty much just memories.
Start early. For the full effect, get a $5.20 RTD day pass to the No. 15 bus. No parking woes. Drink what you want and leave the driving to the bus.
Time for breakfast. We go east toward Downtown to Pete’s Kitchen, 1962 E. Colfax Ave., and get gyros and eggs or the Hunter’s Style breakfast — fried eggs on hash browns and ham with green peppers and feta cheese — and a couple cups of light-brown coffee. Now you’re ready. Next up: some history and tourism. Back on the 15 to the State Capitol. First, a glance inside of one of Denver’s architectural marvels, The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Catholic or not, the “meh” French Gothic Revival cathedral at Colfax and Logan is eye-popping inside. Italian Carrara marble, and even more marble from Gunnison, create a stunning altar and bishop chair. Not only amazing to see, the current parish community feeds hundreds of people from the sides of the cathedral every day. The poor from Colfax are still keeping it real. Donate some cash while you’re there.
Tour time. Walk to the State Capitol, 200 E. Colfax Ave., up the north steps and tell them you want the tour. You’re one mile high, and there’s markings to prove it. Selfie time. Every weekday at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the guided tours begin, and they’re free, walk-ins welcome. Colorado boasts one of the most beautiful, charming, weird and noteworthy capitols in the world. The views inside and from the inside are unforgettable. The stories are rich with Colorado history and names you’ll recognize: Tabor, Carr, Pike, Ute, Arapahoe and more. Don’t leave until you’ve examined everything in Mr. Brown’s Attic. Spooky quiet in the summer after the legislators leave.
Snack time. Back on the bus to Voodoo Donuts. Imported from the wilds of Portland, Oregon, this now-Denver classic, 1520 E. Colfax Ave., creates some of the best and most outrageous pastries in the city. Our favorite? The maple-bacon-chocolate bar and lots of coffee. Keep up the pace folks. We have a long way to go.
Back on the bus. Time for a little shopping. Welcome to the Tattered Cover bookstore, 2526 E. Colfax Ave., an icon of Denver thinkery. Bibliophile Joyce Meskis turned what was once a little used book thing into a bastion of literature and culture. Just about any author living as long as you can remember has been through here. It’s the usual fare and so much more and killer vibe. Just pick one section and dive in.
All aboard the 15 again. Talk among yourselves or read your treasure from the Tattered, we’re taking a little ride east to Aurora, to the land of haute stuff when it comes to ethnic cuisine.
Lunch is Tacos y Salsas, 9103 E. Colfax Ave. Comida Mexicana. Dive-y and divine. Everything here is good: tortas, burritos and gorditas, but the tacos are what to order. Our favorite: al pastor con piña, seasoned pork, or the deshebrada, shredded beef.
Back on the bus. A little more shopping, this time at another Denver icon, Twist and Shout music. Vinyl, tapes, CDs and hordes of cool stuff await you at 2508 E. Colfax. It doesn’t matter what your music is, it’s here in ways you won’t expect.
And would you look at the time. Happy hour. The choices are endless. Our picks? The Irish Snug, 1201 E. Colfax Ave., so Irish. The Satire,1920 E. Colfax Ave., so funky. The Cheeky Monk, 534 E. Colfax, so heavenly for craft brew cultists, and where we frequently end up, Prohibition, 504 E. Colfax Ave., so cool. Cheap drinks abound. Have a snack if you must, but go easy. HOT CHEESE DIP ALERT. Dinner’s next.
Time for the main culinary event. Two choices, both epic. It’s either a mouth explosion of spice and textures at Ethiopian restaurant, 2816 E. Colfax, or a virtual overdose of flavors and sights at Mataam Fez, 4609 E. Colfax. Either way, you eat with your hands. Ethiopian offers authentic and somewhat casual northeast African favorites, doro wat, kikil and soft, pungently sour injera bread. No frills and spot on.
Mataam Fez is a Denver landmark and has been for decades. Real Moroccan treats served in classic style, on the pillowed floor with Arabian sounds and desert tent accoutrement. Expect belly dancers on weekends. It’s prix fix for all kinds of lamb, chicken and vegetarian specialties. You eat with your hands, towel over your shoulder and get bathed in rose flower water at the end during a tea ceremony. Amazing that dinner so entertaining can be so stunningly delicious. They define b’stella along the Front Range.
Show time. You needed to take care of this part days or weeks earlier: A concert or a play. Lots of choices, all good. For ticketed music, either the Ogden, the Filmore or the Bluebird, all within several blocks of each other in central and Cap Hill Denver, bringing top talent from near and far. For theater, it’s back on the bus to Aurora for some of the best the Front Range has to offer. Both the Fox Arts Center and the Vintage Theater, 1468 Dayton St. regularly stage top attractions, but The Vintage theater boasts a full summer-theater calendar: Sunset Boulevard, Ghost the Musical and Frankie and Johnny in the Claire D Lune are one tap. The Fox opens its season in October.
I know, you’re tired. But you haven’t had the full treatment. Now, for some real Colfax. If you chose a ticketed music attraction, it’s time for a nightcap back at the Satire, Prohibition or maybe some Latin drag at Charlies, 900 E. Colfax, one of the funnest and friendliest gay bars in Denver, all very Colfax. If you saw a show at the Vintage, now it’s time for a show at an Aurora institution, The Zephyr, 11940 E. Colfax. Back on the bus and farther east. Friday night is live music night here. The drinks are cheap, no cover charge and bands range from jazz, to blues, to rock, to country. Happy hour starts again at 11 p.m. Find your second wind and sail into the end of the evening.
We’re not done yet. It’s time to see what Colfax is all about, the people. Back on the 15. It sounds sketchier than it really is. Sit at the front of the bus if you’re that worried. Everybody’s been a having a good time. Back toward Downtown. The bar-rush breakfast is waiting for you at Tom’s Diner, 601 E. Colfax Ave. This is serious Colfax. The food’s not bad, not that you care at this point. Just something, anything to soak up that last couple of Fireball shots. Avoid the temptation to hit the Belly Bombers. Do yourself a favor and get the Sunrise Sandwich with sausage, or just go for it and get the biscuits and gravy. Drink extra water. Look around. These are the people who don’t have sense enough to go home and go to bed when they know their parents would have told them to. Waiters, musicians, tourists, insomniacs, lost souls and quite possibly an extra-terrestrial or two make up the late show. This is Colfax and has been for generations. A place to meet, greet, eat and make some memories. Enjoy yours.
Other SUMMER FUN installments here: