DENVER (AP) — A busy street connecting downtown Denver to the interstate, roaring with trucks and running alongside railroad tracks, might not sound like a trendy neighborhood in the making. But now's the time to visit Brighton Boulevard before it begins to look too much like any hipster street in any other city. It offers a close connection to Denver's gritty roots, as well a glimpse of what's coming, along with eateries, entertainment and more.
COWBOYS AND RODEOS
A mural depicting farm animals and dancing cowboys just off Brighton Boulevard is easy for drivers to miss. Its delicate greens and oranges, on jewel-like tiles on a concrete wall, are almost invisible in the shadow of Interstate 70. Like the rest of the neighborhood, the installation is best appreciated by visitors on foot, so get out of your car — but watch out for traffic.
From the mural, it's a short walk to the National Western Complex , which hosts rodeos, martial arts tournaments, alpaca exhibits, classic car auctions and concerts throughout the year. For two weeks each January, the National Western Stock Show takes over the complex, a festival of cattle auctions, horse shows, Western art exhibits and more. The Coliseum next door also hosts events, including circuses.
The Coliseum sits where a 19th century smelter processed gold and other ore from Colorado's mountains, drawing Welsh and Eastern European immigrant laborers. Jobs at smelters, slaughter houses and factories also meant opportunity for people like Joseph Fisher, a former slave who arrived with his family from the South by wagon train after the Civil War and is listed among early neighborhood homeowners as a smelter worker and "prize fighter."
MUSEUM OF TRANSPORTATION
Back toward downtown from the National Western Complex is the Forney Museum of Transportation , a nostalgic stop for its classic inventory. Founder J.D. Forney was a cousin of 19th century steam locomotive designer Matthias Forney, so the museum is a train spotter's dream. The cavernous hall sitting along railroad tracks also displays a nail-polish red 1936 Morgan racer and other vintage cars, motorcycles, bicycles, planes and boats, including a Martin AirCar designed for land, sea and air travel. The collection ranges from toy-sized models to Big Boy, a steam locomotive that traveled more than a million miles before it was retired in 1962.
If the sight of the Forney's 1927 Rio Grande diner car, stemware at the ready, makes you hungry, head down Brighton to the family-owned Butcher Block Cafe at 38th Street. Sit at the long counter on a red vinyl-topped stool and order coffee and a cinnamon roll big enough to share. The pastries, a Denver fixture for two decades, are tender and not too sweet, and friendly servers bring them topped with a dollop of melting butter.
Later, try one of Brighton Boulevard's fancier restaurants. The Source , a European-style food market in what was once a brick foundry at 33rd and Brighton, includes eateries like Comida, where winter squash pancakes, bacon jalapeno griddled tacos and a long list of cocktails are on the menu. Three blocks away, in an old produce depot that has been turned into an office complex called Industry , the Will Call tavern serves drinks, burgers and empanadas.
SIGNS OF GENTRIFICATION
The trendy restaurants and Industry's tech and public relations tenants are just some of the signs of gentrification to hit this neighborhood dotted with small homes as well as machine shops, car parts warehouses and roofing and packaging manufacturers.
Also new: entertainment that's not a rodeo. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has ventured out of its downtown theater for an immersive, interactive performance project called "Sweet and Lucky," set in a massive warehouse on Brighton Boulevard, running May 17-June 25. The show is being done in collaboration with Third Rail Projects, based in (where else?) Brooklyn, New York, whose co-artistic director, Zack Morris, is a Colorado native.
Another warehouse nearby houses Denver's Great Room Escape , an experience somewhere between theater and game in which participants pay to enter a room and use clues and riddles to get out.
Other indicators of change include recreational marijuana shops and artists moving into warehouses along Brighton. Galleries and ateliers for dressmakers and artisans working in wood and metal have also popped up.
The neighborhood even has its own catchy appellation: RiNo, pronounced like the horned mammal, for "river north," because this corner of Denver is north of the Platte River. After all, what's a trendy neighborhood without a nickname?
If You Go...
BRIGHTON BOULEVARD, DENVER: The street leads north from downtown Denver. Travelers driving from Denver International Airport can take I-70 to the Brighton exit.