Curtis Fentress / Photo © Jason Knowles
The Oxford Hotel / Courtesy Wikipedia
Frank Lloyd Wright Table and Chairs at the Kirkland Museum / Courtesy Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
The Kitchen Denver / Courtesy The Kitchen
Darrin Alfred is associate curator of architecture, design, and graphics at the Denver Art Museum (DAM). His exhibition credits include The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-71 in 2009, and most recently, Design Lab: Three Studios, which showcased the work of three Denver-based design firms: DoubleButter, MATTER, and Tres Birds Workshop.
Best Historic Architecture
Not merely close to home, the Denver Art Museum’s North Building (1971) is the only completed public project in the United States by the Italian master of modern design, Gio Ponti. The Milan-based architect designed the structure with Denver-based James Sudler Associates. The controversial seven-story building allowed the museum to display its collections under one roof for the first time.
The new structure was an innovative move away from traditional, temple-style museum architecture. Ponti’s signature contributions are immediately apparent in the articulated curtain wall, striking window arrangements, and pierced roofline features, all of which break up the massive appearance of the square towers and add to the building’s sculptural richness. Using tiles for the building’s skin was among the techniques Ponti had been experimenting with to create the illusion of weightlessness and immateriality. More than a million handset flat and highly reflective faceted warm gray glass tiles enliven the surface of the building in constantly shifting patterns of light and shadow. The glass tiles, manufactured by Corning Glass Works, were determined to be less susceptible to Colorado’s wide range of temperatures and weather than traditional ceramic tiles would have been.
Best Off-the-Beaten Path Architecture
TAXI’s gritty, urban location may seem off the beaten path, but this former Yellow Cab dispatch center turned office complex on the west bank of the Platte River in Denver’s River North (RiNo) district was once the city’s industrial heart. Over the past decade, the abandoned site has grown into a unique mixed-use community made up of six buildings and other amenities, including a pool built from corrugated steel shipping containers. Drive is the latest addition to the TAXI mixed-use campus. Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture served as architect of record and Stephen Dynia Architects was the design architect of the four-story, 40,000-square-foot project that draws on the raw, industrial architecture of its adjacent neighbors: TAXI 1, TAXI 2 (Will Bruder, David Baker, Harry Teague, and Alan Eban Brown collaborations). Swing by the old diesel repair garage housing a biotech company and microscope manufacturer, 3i. Denver-based Tres Birds Workshop dramatically altered and modernized the entire building using 100 percent reclaimed materials—most notably, a thermal exterior wall system made from 21,000 recycled PET plastic water bottles.
Best Museums and Galleries
The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts is truly one of the most unusual museum experiences anywhere. In addition to its three remarkable collections—international decorative art, regional art, and the work of avant-garde painter, Vance Kirkland—the way the Kirkland displays its collections gives it a noticeably different look and feel than most other museums. The art is arranged salon style with paintings and sculpture shown in the same galleries with decorative art. No space is left unoccupied. In some instances, the Kirkland uniquely composes paintings and objects as vignettes as if you have walked into someone's vintage home.
Gildar Gallery is a young gallery founded by Adam Gildar on South Broadway. It showcases emerging artists and features progressive, edgy work by local artists such as Pattie Lee Becker, Jonathan Saiz, Brittany Gould, and my personal favorite, Amanda Marie. This gallery has a fresh perspective and voice.
Over the last year, Denver-based firm Semple Brown Design has designed some of the hottest spots in Denver's Lower Downtown Historic District (LoDo), from the new Squeaky Bean to Hapa Sushi. You can't go wrong with any of the choices, but the Kitchen Denver is the gem in this crown. Located in the 1906 Sugar Building—named for its builder and original tenant, the Great Western Sugar Company—light pours into the minimalist industrial space from two walls’ worth of tall windows. The whites, grays, and browns of the décor make the room feel even larger and more serene. Order the Aperol Spritzer and oysters from the raw bar.
Teri Rippeto opened the restaurant Potager in 1997, and little has needed to change since. It’s a place that immediately reminded me of San Francisco (I worked at SFMOMA for seven years before moving to Denver in 2007), and it’s conveniently located near my home on Capitol Hill. One thing that does change: the menu. Each month, Potager’s chefs design and compose a menu to show off the finest ingredients available in Colorado.
Best Bars and Clubs
The Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel is the very definition of a classic, and I stop by anytime I’m with an out-of-town guest. This cocktail lounge, located in a historic hotel near Union Station, opened the day after Prohibition ended. Modeled after a bar on the Queen Mary, the narrow, neon-lit room boasts original art-deco decor, bas relief depicting toasts from around the world, marble floors, and some of the coziest booths in the city. But, for me, it’s the greyhounds made from fresh-squeezed grapefruit that keep me coming back.
Take a spin on B-cycle, the public bicycle sharing company formed in partnership between Trek Bicycle Corporation, Humana, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. I‘ve been an annual member since before they opened and it’s one of the best ways to get around the city center and see some of Denver’s historic neighborhoods. Its facilities include bicycles and solar-powered stations positioned throughout the city. Users purchase day passes and can check out and return bikes at any station in the city. It’s a great way to reach many of the city’s urban parks and historic neighborhoods: LoHi, City Park, Cheesman Park and the Botanic Gardens, Cherry Creek, and Confluence and Civic Center Parks.
I like my coffee, almost as much as my donuts. And a few stops around town are worth checking out for your caffeine fix, including Happy Coffee and Novo Coffee Roasters. Novo just opened its retail location at 1600 Glenarm Street in Downtown Denver, near I.M. Pei’s 16th Street Mall. The intimate space was designed by Rick Griffith of MATTER with assistance from Open Studio | Architecture and Graphics.