LoDo — Denver’s Oldest Neighborhood in New Splendor

by Sandra Henderson  |  Published September 4, 2014

With a plethora of chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars, and happening brands like San Francisco-based Timbuk2 moving in, Denver’s historic lower downtown — LoDo — has become a paragon of hip urban renewal.

Denver, Lower Downtown (Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr)

But tell my 79-year-old father-in-law that LoDo is hot, and he won’t believe you. When he grew up in Denver, the area roughly bordered by Larimer Street, Speer Boulevard, Wewatta Street and 20th Street was the “wrong part of town;” a skid row. Larimer Square belonged to the vagrants and desperadoes back then. Yet half a century prior, Market Street was the city’s red light district, lined with saloons and brothels. Originally, it was the Native Americans who established encampments along the South Platte River where LoDo is today.

“LoDo is an incredibly vibrant mixed-use neighborhood that caters to residents, businesses and tourists from all generations and from all over the map,” says Holly Barrett from LoDo District, Inc. “Given that most of LoDo’s buildings are restored historic landmarks, we are proud to call ourselves the birthplace of Denver, as well as the current heartbeat.”

Indeed, LoDo has one of the largest concentrations of Victorian and turn-of-the-century architecture in the country. Present-day LoDo is characterized by a dynamic mix of restored historical buildings, brick warehouses and industrial structures, with shops, restaurants and art galleries on the ground floor. Above are offices, housing every kind of business from law firms to tech startups, and condos and lofts, including some of the priciest, most luxurious addresses in town.

Barrett’s personal favorite spot in LoDo is the patio of McCormick’s Fish House at the corner of 17th and Wazee. “You can chat with friends over the patio rail — everyone knows everyone else in LoDo — do business over great food and cocktails or simply bask in the sun while watching the world walk by.”

The historic LoDo district itself is very walkable and easy to reach from the 16th Street pedestrian mall by hopping on the free shuttle bus.

Union Station in New Grandeur

Judging from the few short weeks since Union Station’s long-anticipated grand reopening this summer, one thing is already certain: Denver’s central train station at Wynkoop and 17th St. will once again become LoDo’s revived heart — a place for travelers and locals to gather for food and drinks or simply to sit and read the newspaper. 5280 magazine called the massive transformation into one of the world’s first multi-modal transit hubs, which took more than a decade, an “unprecedented achievement in urban planning and design” and “one of Denver’s most significant civic endeavors — ever.”

The iconic landmark’s renovation revealed a classical Beaux Arts design on the interior that gives the central Great Hall a worldly flair. The new Denver Union Station, at once destination and jumping-off point, features restaurants, bars, eclectic shopping and a posh 112-room boutique hotel, The Crawford.

Union Station, built in 1881, has historical landmark status, which is why many of its original details were preserved or restored, yet updated for functionality. The station’s historic train ticketing office, for instance, now houses the Terminal Bar. The Crawford Hotel’s interiors, decorated in the style of the Great Train Era, had to conform, too, even if that meant building a suite’s bathroom around a diagonal support beam dating to the 1800s.

Larimer Square

Once Denver’s first city block, Larimer Square is now a chic district, with avant-garde urban boutiques and fine restaurants lining Larimer St. between 14th and 15th Street. If you want to return from your Denver visit with a whimsical Western souvenir or splurge on an intricately designed pair of cowboy boots, the kicky Cry Baby Ranch is your store.

Larimer Square (Photo: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr)

Larimer Square (Photo: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr)

At lunchtime, The Market offers the ambiance of a bustling European café, with bistro tables set up against wall-to-wall shelves stacked with French and Italian groceries and delectable sweets. The made-to-order sandwiches are tasty and satisfying.

An evening stroll under Larimer Square’s canopy of twinkling lights, strung over the entire block, is lovely. For a romantic dinner, stop at the remarkably authentic Parisian Bistro Vendôme. Round off the night at the elegant champagne bar Corridor 44. The selection of bubbly includes rare and exquisite exemplars.

LoDo Tours

LoDo District, Inc. as well as Historic Denver, Inc. offer guided walking tours, or you can download a walking tour map for DIY sightseeing throughout one of Denver’s oldest business districts. Learn about the history of the beautiful buildings and travel back in time through the stories about hotels, saloons and brothels, and the notorious characters who occupied them.

The Mile High City’s craft beer scene is booming, and there is no shortage of old and new local breweries, many offering tours and beer sampling events. Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th St.) calls itself “Lodo’s legendary public house;” and rightfully so. The legend began 1988, when current Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, helped establish the brewery famous for small-batch beers and hearty fare. Take a tour.

Recreational marijuana is legalized in Colorado. A variety of cannabis tours take visitors to dispensaries and growers and answer questions, some in “420-friendly” limos. The Colorado Pot Guide has more information, including where to stay.

Coors Field & B’s Ballpark Museum

Another iconic LoDo destination is Coors Field (2001 Blake St.); the baseball park is the home of the Colorado Rockies. If you are in town during season, catch a Major League ballgame, the quintessential all-American experience.

Coors Filed (Photo: Kwong Yee Cheng via Flickr)

Coors Filed (Photo: Kwong Yee Cheng via Flickr)

Down the street from Coors Field, B’s Ballpark Museum (1940 Blake St.) brings America’s favorite past time alive with a treasure trove of over 1,000 baseball memorabilia that ranks among the world’s top private collections and includes autographed bats, balls, historical photos, game-worn jerseys and more. You can’t miss the giant “U” from the main entrance of the “House That Ruth Built” (the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in New York City, built 1923).

But wait … Before you head out for a perfect day in LoDo, dress up for the occasion in authentic apparel from Rockmount Ranch Wear. You’ll have that confident swagger of a Colorado cowboy (or Matthew McConaughey, who’s a big fan of the formfitting signature snap-front shirts). Cowgirls-for-a-day will love Rockmount’s selection of laced and embroidered belts and purses.