Nearly all Denver visitors, not to mention residents, eventually make their way to Lower Downtown (or LoDo as it’s commonly called), the central district that is home to several of the city’s oldest buildings along with more modern gems such as the MCA. But while those who come to LoDo today find a neighborhood teeming with urban vitality, it was only about 30 years ago when many of the warehouses that now give the area its historic character stood boarded up and abandoned.
Then came the opening of former Governor and current Senator John Hickenlooper’s Wynkoop Brewing Co. in 1988, the arrival of Coors Field and Major League Baseball to 20th and Blake Streets in 1995, and the resulting transformation that continues today. The pace of change (and the fluctuation of LoDo’s unofficial boundaries) has rarely slowed since, from the renovation of Union Station in 2014 to the development of Dairy Block in 2017–2018 to the establishment of McGregor Square in 2021.
Although it would take at least a week to visit the dynamic restaurants and bars in the district, this day-long dining and drinking itinerary offers a solid taste of LoDo.
8 a.m. Coffee at Little Owl Coffee, 1555 Blake Street, or The Wild, 1660 Wynkoop Street
Among Denver’s foremost Third Wave coffee shops, the tiny but top-notch Little Owl does it all right, from the simplest single-origin espresso served in elegant ceramic cups to kicky seasonal concoctions like basil-infused honey lattes and peaches-and-cream cold brew. Since life is short and dessert sometimes deserves to come first, the chipper crew behind the crisp white counter also makes a mean affogato. If, by the same logic, some hair of the dog needs to come first, it should be said that The Wild is an excellent cocktail bar as well as a coffeehouse (espresso martinis go without saying). But most early birds are naturally here for cortados, Dalgona whipped coffees, and the like featuring beans from local roastery Middle State and optionally dressed up with syrups in flavors such as lavender and rosemary.
9 a.m. Breakfast at Onefold, 1919 19th Street, or Mercantile Dining & Provision, 1701 Wynkoop Street
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s not usually the most fun or creative — except at Onefold, where wildly diverse influences make for a wholly original menu that’s executed with aplomb. Think breakfast tacos combining bacon, chorizo, or sausage with scrambled eggs, grilled mozzarella, duck fat–fried potatoes, and salsa, all swaddled in handmade flour tortillas; congee topped with duck confit, poached egg, scallions, salted ginger, and chile oil or fried rice graced by lap cheong and fried egg; Hawaiian loco moco; frittatas with cheddar, cherry tomatoes, and leeks; and chile relleno–stuffed breakfast burritos on special. Better yet, don’t think — just come with a group who can order a little of everything.
On a similarly eclectic wavelength, there’s Mercantile, which whips up such stuff as Dutch baby pancakes with roasted apples, chicken and scallion waffles with chili sauce and citrus honey, and Turkish eggs with garlic yogurt and Urfa pepper Tuesday through Friday; a full slate of pastries comes courtesy of sister bakery füdmill.
From the wraparound mural inspired by a 17th-century landscape to the terrazzo floors and wrought iron details to the colorful patio prime for people watching, the Iberian peninsula–inspired “gastroteka” that is Ultreia exudes romance — and so does the menu, laden with pintxos and tapas made to be shared. Be it classic croquetas de jamón and pan con tomate or more elaborate trout escabeche with potato chips and patatas bravas with octopus, there’s something about lingering over a series of small plates alongside a refreshing glass of Cava or Vinho Verde that feels especially decadent in the middle of the day (cue the siesta). By the same token, you can approximate the dim sum experience at swanky modern Asian destination ChoLon, starting with the signature French onion soup dumplings and luxurious Singaporean-style kaya toast and ending with the spiced doughnuts accompanied by Vietnamese coffee ice cream and condensed caramel.
4 p.m. Happy Hour at Three Saints Revival, 1801 Wewatta Street, or Citizen Rail, 1899 16th Street
Talk about a pick-me-up: The interior of Three Saints Revival is a dreamscape designed to dazzle guests from the get-go. Drink it all in along with a selection of wines, beers, and cocktails for $5–$6; a smattering of meats, cheeses, and small plates such as ricotta crostini with pickled cherries or brandade with tapenade should tide the peckish over until dinner. Another hopping happy-hour haunt is Citizen Rail, known for its fanciful take on boilermakers ($7) — a glass of rosé and a shot of mezcal, for instance, or a sour beer and a shot of tequila — as well as irrestible snacks like flamin’ hot cracklings and potato chips with shallot dip.
6 p.m. Dinner at Sunday Vinyl, 1803 16th Street, or BRUTØ, 1801 Blake Street
While its adjacent Italian sibling Tavernetta is an equally stellar choice for dinner, Sunday Vinyl is a whole vibe and then some. This sultry Union Station wine bar from the James Beard Award–winning Frasca Hospitality Group serves up not only one of the city’s most spectacular selections of juice by the glass and bottle and a fabulous menu that ranges from deviled eggs and venison hot dogs to squash-blossom tempura and spaetzle with sweet corn, chanterelles, and truffles but also epic tunes through a state-of-the-art sound system (hence the name). In any number of musical genres as in wine, the team’s taste is impeccable — and so is their approach to service.
An equally intimate (not to mention eye-, mind-, and palate-opening) experience awaits at BRUTØ, run by chef Michael Diaz de Leon inside Free Market at Dairy Block. Heirloom and heritage ingredients including house-milled grains, fermented products of all kinds, and a low-waste ethos are among the diverse obsessions of the crew behind the chef’s counter, who turn out an ever-changing six-course tasting menu that reads intriguingly enough on paper — “Summer tostada: watermelon tartare, pepita guacamole, pickled rind,” say, or “Copper River salmon: aguachile, apricot, green apple, gooseberry” — but is even more exciting on the plate, accompanied by a full explanation of its intricate preparation. It’s all optionally paired with similarly fascinating wines, cocktails, or nonalcoholic beverages.
9 p.m. Nightcaps at The Cruise Room, 1600 17th Street, or Run for the Roses, 1801 Blake Street
When night descends on modern-day LoDo, the 1930s come back to life — at least at The Cruise Room in the Oxford Hotel, which opened the day after Prohibition was repealed. Order a cocktail that befits the bar’s stylish atmosphere: Only a martini, a Gimlet, a Tom Collins, or the like will do against its Art Deco backdrop, which was modeled after the Queen Mary ocean liner. Ambiance is key to the experience at the subterranean Dairy Block lounge Run for the Roses, where the plush decor is in keeping with the elaborate selection of drinks (printed in part on a deck of cards).
11 p.m. Midnight Snack at Pony Up, 1801 Blake Street
Denver isn’t, by and large, a late-night town, so locals are lucky that one of its few options for noshing in the wee hours happens to be incredibly cool. In addition to whipping up knockout cocktails, Pony Up specializes in French dips both classic and creative, like the Saigon featuring garlic pork, jalapeños, and herbs on ciabatta with pho broth on the side. No better way to cross the finish line of this dining-and-drinking marathon.