Queer, Green and Fit in the Mile High

A guide to LGBT Denver, from an insider

 

Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Denver—known affectionately as the Mile High City—is becoming one of the most desirable cities in the nation, for residents and tourists alike. Its charm? With a focus on arts and culture, a vibrant nightlife, a booming economy enhanced by the legalization of recreational marijuana, a progressive political vibe, a fit self-image (named by Forbes as the fifth healthiest city in the nation), close to mountain recreation, and an all-around queer-friendliness, Denver seems to have the best of both worlds. Colorado’s capital is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream spot that merges almost seamlessly with the progressive mindset of the urban dweller.
 
Denver has become an unlikely front-runner as an LGBT-friendly destination. There is no shortage of gay-friendly hubs, owned and frequented by the city’s fabulous power lesbians and queer gurus.

The Mile High City is on top when it comes to outdoor recreation, which is one of the reasons for its flourishing economy, tourism and the defining reason many choose to move here. The city is only an hour from a plethora of outdoor activities including camping, fishing, rock-climbing, skiing, boating, hiking, backpacking, rafting and much more.  

While you’re visiting, get out of the city, strap on your hiking boots and check out some local favorites. Turquoise Lake, near Leadville, offers jet skiing, boating, campgrounds and hiking. Rocky Mountain National Park’s camping and hiking is world-renowned throughout the year, but especially in the fall, when it lends itself to elk-bugling and leaf-peeping. Check out Glacier Basin near the quaint town of Estes Park. With fall approaching and the air getting crisp, you may fancy a warm-up with a hot springs visit that offers cabin lodging at one of the many amazing natural springs. A few top options include Indian Hot Springs, Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs, Strawberry Park Springs and the Sulphuric Hot Springs.

White powder slopes and ski culture are integral to the Rocky Mountain region’s popularity. Popular ski resorts near Denver include Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, Winter Park, and A-Basin—just to name a few. (Look into The Epic Ski Pass for unlimited resorts in the area.) For an extra workout, opt for a cross-country ski adventure, popular in Vail, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, Keystone Resort and Aspen Snowmass.

Pocketed into neighborhoods, queer urban culture is thriving throughout the city. For a true queer Denver experience, check out these local spots for food, drinks, lodging and fun that offer a diverse range of flavors.
 
Capitol Hill
 
Colfax Avenue, the main strip on Capitol Hill, earned its adored title ‘the longest and wickedest street in America’ by Playboy years ago, but it’s more than a legend for many of the queer locals today. Near the gold-domed State Capitol building, Capitol Hill is an out and proud neighborhood for the queer elite and hipsters alike.  
 
Eat. Sleep. Bud.

 
Want a local overnight experience versus a traditional hotel? Adagio Bud+Breakfast (1430 Race Street, 303-370-6911, budandbfast.com) is a cannabis culture experience. Located in a Victorian home at the premier cannabis-friendly lodge in Denver, relax, smoke up on the patio and stroll the neighborhood like Jack Kerouac. Need a late-morning pick-me-up? Walk four blocks west (hint: if you see the mountains, that’s west) to The Colfax Pot Shop (1500 E Colfax Ave, 720-328-6256, thecolfaxpotshop.com) for a sweet selection of strains, edibles and joints. The rainbow flags in the windows signal the pot shop’s queer-friendly vibe. Got the munchies? Brunch it up at Sassafras American Eatery (320 E Colfax Ave, 303-831-6233, sassafrasamericaneatery.com) a Southern comfort restaurant with a queer-friendly environment and pretty girls serving you home-style biscuits and gravy and Cajun Bloodys. Also check out Capitol Hill Mansion Bed & Breakfast (1207 Pennsylvania St, 303-839-5221, capitolhillmansion.com), owned by an adorable gay couple in the heart of Capitol Hill. There’s no shortage of dispensaries in Denver, but while you’re on the ‘Fax, hit up Good Chemistry (330 E Colfax Ave, 720-524-4657, goodchem.org) for cheap recreational bud that doesn’t sacrifice potency. A pleasant reminder: It’s legal.   

Cheers for Queers. Coffee. Cocktails.  
 
If you want the full, queer nightlife experience (after all, you’re fabulous and feeling the Colfax spirit, a little wicked) go to Blush & Blu: Spirits. Space. Coffee Place (1526 E Colfax Ave, 303-484-8548, blushbludenver.com), recently noted by SheWired as one of the nation’s “10 Last Lesbian Bars Standing.” More than your average divey, dark gay bar, it’s a community event space (hosting open mic poetry nights, comedy shows, karaoke, fundraisers, live music and more), a coffee shop with a serious selection of espresso drinks and tea, as well as a tavern with handcrafted cocktails. Blush & Blu is more than a bar; it’s a queer collective at the center of Denver’s LGBT community.

Be a dancing queen at X Bar (629 E Colfax Ave, 303-832-2687, xbardenver.com), one of the hot-test bars in the city, with an awesome space, attractive bodies, a sexy patio and a weekly women's party on Thursday nights with DJ Robot5000 and  The Blondetourage. X marks the spot as one of the coolest queer clubs on Capital Hill.

Our Vibe Attracts Our Tribe
 
While you’re making new friends and checking out the ladies, get street-smart queer fashion with Dose Apparel (1526 E Colfax Ave, facebook.com/doseapparel), founded and run by local lesbian, Crys Shannon, whose tagline is “Love is an energy that exists in all of us.”

If you’re out for the evening, also check out The Church Nightclub (1160 Lincoln St, 303-832-3528, coclubs.com/the-church) with a Gothic architecture feel, hot DJs and a club atmosphere where you can get your boogie night on.

Make a stop at Lala’s Wine Bar (410 E 7th Ave, 303-861-9463, lalaswinebar.com) on your adventure and choose from more than 60 wines by the glass. The atmosphere is posh, and the staff is hot; Lala’s is the perfect evening out with the girls, and Wednesday nights here boast ladies’ night specials.

Downtown—16th Street Mall

Downtown Denver is abuzz with activity and is the center for upscale, luxurious hotels—plus, there are options for activities and bars for helping you network and mingle with other out-of-towners as well as the locals. Centrally located, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump from the Colorado Convention Center, The Rockies Baseball Stadium, and the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

If you want luxury downtown, check out Hotel Teatro (1100 14th St, 303-228-1100, hotel teatro.com) a five-star luxury hotel smack dab in the middle of downtown, close enough to do some sightseeing. One of the top-ranked hotels in the nation, Hotel Teatro offers exceptional packages, including a wine package and 24-hour room service to keep you comfortable and in a constant state of bliss.

Want some fun mixed with style on your stay? The Curtis Hotel (1405 Curtis St, 303-571-0300, thecurtis.com) is more than a hotel, it’s a pop culture experience. Each floor has an interior design personality of its own. Here, you can enjoy a unique and top-notch luxury hotel with a humorous slant.

The Magnolia Hotel (818 17th St, 303-607-9000, magnoliahotels.com) is a true upscale experience of old world charm meets modern style, with elegant rooms, gas fireplaces and a complimentary beer and wine reception.
 
Grab a local draft or listen to local bands while you’re strolling downtown and check out Appaloosa Grill (535 16th St, #110, 720-932-1700, appaloosagrill.com) with live music every night, a fine selection of scotch and whiskey and a late-night happy hour, you’ll fit right in with the locals and attractive women who frequent this downtown destination.

Looking to do some networking and get a workout? The Denver Athletic Club (1325 Glenarm Pl, 303-534-1211, denverathleticclub.cc) is an elite facility where the city’s power people work out, relax, talk business and network.

While on 16th Street Mall, walk down to Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret (1601 Arapahoe St, 303-293-0075, lannies.com) and experience the highly popular cabaret, burlesque, impersonation acts and comedic relief provided by by host Naughty Pierre. You’re in for naughty fun!

Uptown—Restaurant and Bar Crawl Row  
 
Just two blocks south of Colfax is 17th Avenue, a restaurant and bar hopper’s dream. With an overload of restaurants lining the street, you’ve got a day filled with bar stops—and some of the best eateries in the city.
 
With perfect bites to suit your type, Denver is courteous to your lifestyle and knows that there are different strokes for different folks when it comes to mealtime. WaterCourse Foods (837 E 17th Ave, 303-832-7313, watercoursefoods.com) is Denver’s original vegan restaurant. With delish and affordable entrees, a vegan bakery and dairy-free smoothies to die for, WaterCourse offers healthy fare at an affordable price.

Need some serious cuisine with a local flair? Parallel 17, a French-Vietnamese bistro (1600 E 17th Ave, 303-399-0988, p17denver.com), and Olive & Finch (1552 E 17th Ave, 303-832-8663, oliveandfincheatery.com), a warm market and bistro with a bakery and great to-go options as well as a coffee bar are a block away from each other and owned by local entrepreneur Mary Nguyen. Both offer tasty, healthy, creative eats and are well-known queer hangouts.

Patios, Libations and Brews… Oh My!
 
Denverites are in love with the bottomless options at The District (1320 E 17th Ave, 303-813-6688, districtdenver.com) like $10 all-you-can -drink mimosas and Bloodys on weekends.

For fun and festive queer culture, scuffle your way to the notorious drag queen bar and restaurant, Hamburger Mary’s (700 E 17th Ave, 303-832-1333, hamburgermarys. com /denver). Chill on the huge social patio, and enjoy the babe view at this one-of-a-kind burger-joint with a queer flair!
 
The Santa Fe Arts District
 
Art. Galleries. Hot babes. What goes better with the LGBT and queer culture than urban art? There’s no shortage of art galleries (there are more than 60), bars and a few outstanding coffee shops, as well as places to get fit in this up-and-coming Denver nabe. The First Friday Art Walk is host to a large attendance of visitors and locals strolling the streets for the free, open art show. With live music, performance art, food trucks, free wine or beverages at the galleries, and a neighborhood party, being different is what helps you fit in here.

On your stroll in the coolest hood in Denver, fuel up with a glass of wine or a Bulletproof Joe at The Molecule Effect (1201 Santa Fe Dr, 720-502-6966, themoleculeeffect.com) and peek at the crazy cool art installations.

If you’re looking for a way to work off the extra beer weight while you are in one of the fittest cities in the nation, check out the newest fitness trend all the locals are buzzing about. Awaken: Gymnastic Strength Training (777 Santa Fe Dr, 970-430-1630, awakenadultgymnastics.com) takes gymnastic techniques to help you develop long, lean muscles, with a focus on flexibility. With huge glass windows overlooking the art district, you can see hot bods working out as you pass by. The plus? The classes and environment are queer and trans friendly.

Check out The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (772 Santa Fe Dr, chacweb.org), found- ed in 1978 by a group of visual and performing artists. The organization was established as a space for Chicano/Latino artists to explore visual and performance art and promote and preserve their culture through the arts.

Fine Fare. Dives. Burlesque. Queer Vibes.
 
Broadway in the Baker District is one of the most bar-active streets in Denver and is home to a plethora of boutiques, top notch eats, yoga studios, coffee shops and more.

If you’re in Denver on the second Friday of the month and strolling down Broadway, get yourself to the Living Room (1055 Broadway, 303-339-6636, coclubs.com/the-living-room) to join Hip Chicks Out Second Friday Happy Hour for women, drinks and appetizers at 6pm. Find out more at hipchicksout.com.

Swing over to award-winning gem Beatrice & Woodsley (38 S Broadway, 303-777-3505, beatriceandwoodsley.com) which offers a seasonal menu of top-notch dishes—plus, the bar is made out of beautiful wood and aspen trees. 3 Kings Tavern (60 S Broadway, 303-777-7352) is a dive not to miss if you need a low-key drink in a punk rock environment. This venue offers live shows and is home to the longest running burlesque troupe, ‘Panties at the Bar.’

Also check out Li’l Devils Lounge (255 S Broadway, 303-733-1156, lildevilslounge.com), the best kept secret in Baker with a paradise patio and a tropical drink list. Crown Social (1446 S Broadway, 720-353-4701, crownsocialdenver .com) is your piano bar feel destination, with top-notch drinks and antiques for sale in every corner. Punch Bowl Social (65 Broadway, 303-765-2695, punchbowlsocial.com) offers a playful night out with an arcade, bowling alley and a stellar patio.

Feeling thrifty? Check out Mutiny (2 S Broadway, 303-778-7579, mutinyinfocafe.com), a unique used book, record shop and “information cafe” in the Baker-Broadway district.
 
The RiNo District

It used to be a warehouse district, but RiNo is now home to art collectives, sustainable community living, small businesses and some of the most unique collectives in Denver.  

The largest and longest running monthly women’s party in the nation makes its home in Denver at Tracks (EXDO Event Center, 1399 35th St, 303-863-7326, tracksdenver.com). This legendary event that’s been around since 2002, put on by Babes Around Denver (babes aroundenver.com) makes its mark every first Friday with music by national celebrity entertainer DJ Tatiana. With a diverse attendance of women ranging in style and age (women from ages 21 to 80 years old!) this party is off the hook and boasts an average attendance of 1,500 women each month. BAD donates a portion of every month’s proceeds to a partnered nonprofit or charity. It’s a win-win.
 
While you’re in RiNo, make sure to check out The Source (3350 Brighton Blvd, 720-443-1135, thesourcedenver.com), an artisan food market in an old warehouse that offers folks a one-stop shop for local bread, meat, flower arrangements, treats, lattes, bites, brews, spirits, boutiques and more for the unique individual.

Get sweaty at QiFlow Fusion Fitness (5838 W 25th Ave, 303-593-1593, qiflow fusion.com). This facility is not your traditional yoga studio. QiFlow offers fusion classes like QiCycleFlow, bootcamp workouts, yoga-sculpt and butt-lifting barre workouts. You’re sure to sculpt a sexy bum from these workouts as well as get sweaty, flexible, strong and centered.

Here’s an outdoorsy fit tip: Many locals opt to work out for free and be in the great outdoors. Red Rocks Amphitheater (18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison) is only a half-hour from the city, and this top rated concert venue offers more than kickass shows. Do it like a local and run the 192 steps up to the entrance of the amphitheater. Run it a few times, and you’ll be feeling the booty burn.

Put some pep in your step and freshen your ‘do while you’re here. Ashe Atelier (3377 Blake St, #101, 303-777-7437, asheatelier.com) is a gender-free, full service salon. The barbers at this queer salon will make sure you feel and look fabulous every time.

Last but not least, don’t forget to sample local spirits and brews! Local brewery Black Shirt Brewing Co. (3719 Walnut St, 303-993-2799, blackshirtbrewingco.com) is a local hangout favorite along with The Infinite Monkey Theorem (3200 Larimer St, 303-736-8376, theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com), a woman-owned winery in the city with a great atmosphere and top-notch wine.

Holly Hatch is a feminist, queer activist, former editor of Out Front Colorado and Weird Sisters West and the co-owner of Blush & Blu.Connect with Holly online at BlushBluDenver.com.