Posted January 06, 2015
By Jeffrey Steen, Dining Out Choosing your own adventure at Union Station As the temperature dips below freezing and we wake to frosted window panes, there’s a childlike excitement that surges through the Mile High City. It’s not one thing that excites us, but many. How many of us have awoken to views of snow-capped mountains, pining for the ski slopes? And who hasn’t bundled in scarves and mittens to cheer on Rudolf as he floats above the glowing Parade of Lights? Or walked along the 16th Street Mall, passing the Christmas Market across from Fisher Tower, down to the mile of garland and magical canopy of lights in Larimer Square? This is why we love Denver in the winter. And if there were any one landmark that symbolizes everything we love about our city, past and present, it would be Union Station. Unveiled in 2014 after loving restoration, it is its own winter playground—a place to huddle away from the cold; a place to share great company and world-class food; a place to shop; a place to rest; and a place to play. So how best do we enjoy the many colorful characteristics of Denver’s most recognizable icon? We have a few ideas in mind—day trips and itineraries for all manner of adventures. Pick one, pick several, or be inspired to make your own. That’s the point, after all—to experience the many wonders of a truly magical Denver winter.
A Dilbert Dalliance: The Work-and-Play AdventureTuesday, 7pm — Arrive at The Crawford Hotel. 7:15pm — Check into a Superior Loft at The Crawford. It has marks of new and old, so you get a sense of where Denver’s come from, and where it’s going. Exposed brick lines the walls, while marks of leather-bound retro furniture give it a sophisticated Mad Men-like flair. If you feel like splurging (or your business account can handle it), upgrade to the Premium Loft with a footed tub, warming towel rack, and fun Front Range-inspired art. 7:45pm — Happy hour at Cooper Lounge. After flipping through a few channels on the 46-inch LED HDTV in your room, you decide it’s time for a drink. Head over to Cooper Lounge on the second floor of the Crawford, right above the Terminal Bar. With gorgeous views overlooking the Great Hall and the wide world beyond, savor a Timeless Old Fashioned as you watch the lazy snow fall, or chat it up with those out-of-towners braving the storm to spend the week skiing in Vail. 8:15pm — Small bites at The Kitchen Next Door. Acknowledging your unrelenting appetite, you wander downstairs and over to the little sister of LoDo’s The Kitchen, already abuzz with evening revelers. You take a seat at a hightop in the bar area and text your coworker for some company. As you sip on a Grüner Veltliner, you order a few Bacon-Wrapped Dates, because, well, you can never get enough of those. When your colleague finally does arrive—albeit late, extracting himself from a conversation on the virtues of Denver beer at Terminal Bar—you order a few sliders to boot, and, sure, the Honey-Sriracha Wings.
Head Chef Anthony “Sal” Salazar recommends keeping it local with produce from Monroe Farms: Cumin Carrots, Roasted Beets, or the Next Door Garlic Smashers9:15pm — Retire to the Loft. Work starts early, so best to get a good night’s sleep on those ultra-soft pillows. Wednesday, 7am — Workout. For some reason, getting up to exercise in The Crawford’s fitness center in the restored basement of the train station seems more like adventurous playtime than a workout. Thirty minutes on the treadmill while watching the news and you kill two birds with one stone. 8:30am — Breakfast at Snooze. After a steamy hot shower, you saunter down to Snooze, an A.M. Eatery where you beat most of your coworkers to breakfast mecca. Grab an orange mug brimming with hot coffee, and settle into a booth with a newspaper from next door’s Tattered Cover and you’ve got your business news and breakfast in one fell swoop. If the traditional pancakes aren’t calling your name—or one of Snooze’s legendary pancake flights for that matter—rest assured the Chilaquiles Benedict with barbacoa and ranchero will. 9:30am — Conference. Downstairs, away from the murmur of the Great Hall, is where the work magic happens. Down in the Galley Room lies a whopping 2,380 square-feet of meeting space with HDTVs, wireless mics, free WiFi for those FarmVille distractions, and all the coffee you can drink. But that’s just one of the many rooms available; rumor has it The Crawford can partially rent out the Great Hall upstairs—that’s 12,000 square-feet—if your company ever decides to host the world’s biggest holiday party.
Art and History A very intentional cultural aspect of the recent Union Station renovation includes the addition of historical and contemporary art, most of which is Colorado-centric. By the elevator lobby on the first floor, for instance, you’ll notice photos of the Great Hall’s demolition—a maze of scaffolding criss-crossing the entire space. In the South Wing Corridor, you can find several pieces inspired by the building itself, both as realist interpretations and more artistic renderings. Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of art, however, resides in the basement Conference Center. Titled “105th Meridian,” this piece showcases Union Station’s exact position on top of the 105th Meridian, marked by a bronze line leading into the Station on the plaza above. Regarded as a harbinger of good future, forward progress, and self-reliance, “the 105th” is forever a reminder of Denver’s lofty ambitions and cultural successes.12:30pm — Break for lunch. Hallelujah. John, that guy from accounting, wants to talk more about spreadsheets, so you grudgingly agree provided you can dig into a juicy Brat over at ACME Burger & Brat. He nods. You endure analysis of proper cell resizing while savoring a Tender Belly link piled high with sauerkraut on a fat bun. A lusty lager from Terminal Bar completes the deal. 1pm — More conference. More spreadsheets. There’s some pretty rockin’ coffee going around, though, and somebody had the good sense to order pastries from PigTrain Coffee upstairs. The gooey ones. 5pm — Conference ends, museum tour begins. Sara from HR wants to check out the local art museum, so you grab your wooly scarf and hop on the 16th Street Mall Ride, less than a block over. A quick jaunt over to the spaceship-styled Denver Art Museum, and it’s not long before you’re climbing up the dizzying staircases and ogling the architecture of Liebeskind alongside impressions of Matisse. Awe-inspiring. 6pm — Dinner at Stoic & Genuine. Sara wants to end the conference on an impeccably delicious note, so you head back to Union Station where Executive Chef Jennifer Jasinksi’s Scallops and Big Eye Tartare are waiting for you. Per diem be damned; you go all out with Fried Surf Clams, Bacon-Wrapped Cod Chowder, and a luscious Chocolate Bread Pudding that even Grandma couldn’t replicate. 8pm — Drinks at Terminal Bar. You’re not ready to call it a night, and neither is Sara. So, you decide to land at Terminal Bar where the Rusty Nail is too tempting to refuse and where John from accounting has decided to cozy in for company. Fortunately for you, John’s much less interested in spreadsheets after a few Manhattans, so the conversation leans more on Broncos shenanigans and less on work drudgery. 10pm — Movie in bed. Taking advantage of turn-down service and silky-smooth sheets, you dive into bed and watch “The Terminator.” It never really gets old, does it? Thursday, 8am — Breakfast. It’s a slow start to the day, and hard to leave your Loft behind, but you eventually make it out the door. You’re not really in the mood for a sit-down affair, so a tall Americano and a flaky croissant from PigTrain Coffee downstairs does you just fine. All packed up, you wheel your bags into the bite of another crisp winter morning. The grinning valet pulls your car around in a jiff and loads up your suitcase. Before heading out, you see Sara walking through the front doors of the Great Hall. She runs over with coffee in-hand. “Good conference,” she quips with a roll of her eyes. “But let’s meet back here for drinks, okay?” You nod with a smile, driving away as Union Station’s red-and-green holiday lights shimmer in your rearview mirror.
Joe Meets Jane: A Dazzling Date NightFriday, 6:30pm — Operation Flowers. You’re a nervous wreck, sure, but this date has to start right, so you slide into your crisp button-up and pleated khakis and duck into the Great Hall. You’re not meeting this girl empty-handed, so you drop by the Bloom flower stand at the far end and pick up some “I’m-not-trying-too-hard” carnations and find a high-backed easy chair to practice your suave welcome. 6:45pm — Drinks. She shows up, casual but gorgeous in a silky blouse, her hair tossed to the side. You hand her the flowers with a wink, then suggest you start the evening with a cocktail or three. Off to Mercantile Dining & Provision, where you swing up to a seat at the bar (after pulling one out for her, of course) and tease sips out of Be Here To Love Me cocktails. No subtle message, you insist, just good Tennessee whiskey with stonefruit sass. She smiles and makes a joke about her Tennessee uncle’s ironic hatred of whiskey. 7:15pm — Snacks. Warmed up and already deep into conversation about careers and family, you nod over your shoulder to the dining room where she easily follows your lead into a soft blue chair at a window-side two-top. “Hungry?” you ask, though the answer is obvious. She nods, and starts to gush about the Pork Pâté on the menu. “We’ll have that and the Mussels,” you whisper to the server as refills of your cocktails glide to the table. 8pm — Dinner. Is it eight already? It’s hard to believe how well the date is going, and while you don’t want to rush it, your appetite draws your attention to the Duck Breast on the menu, complete with duck thigh sausage, dirty rice, and gumbo jus. She’s completely on board with a next course, talking up the Chicken Roulade. And yes, as the two dishes arrive with just a hint of pomp and circumstance, you know there will be plenty of “Lady and the Tramp” bite-swapping.
Executive Chef Alex Seidel offers his own date night specials: Octopus a la Plancha inspired by Chef’s trip to the Basque region, served with fingerling potatoes, roasted cauliflower, arugula, and a fennel salad. Pair it with the 2009 Crianza Senorio de P. Pecina Rioja.8:45pm — Dessert. Dinner’s over, and while you’re both enthralled in a retelling of first dates gone terribly wrong, you know you have to change the setting to keep this one on track. So you hint at something sweet. She’s all about it, and you meander over to the Milkbox Ice Creamery after stopping to do some people-watching in the Great Hall. You’re down for a shake—with a spirited kick—so you get a heaping helping of Crème Fraîche ice cream drowned in rum. One shake. Two spoons. Totally smooth. 9:30pm — End of date. After final sips of your boozy sweets, you see her hide a coy yawn. Time to call it a night, even if you’d rather continue. So, you slyly mention how you have some big engagement in the morning and give her an out. “Yeah, I should get going,” she says with a tinge of regret. “Can we do this again sometime?” All you need to do is smile, take her arm, and walk her out into the starlit night.
Two, If By Train: Grandparents Come to VisitSaturday, 11:30am — Preparation. After 10-plus years, Grandma and Grandpa finally decide to make the trek to Denver from Grand Junction. They’re not much for airplanes, so train travel was definitely the way to go. You know Grandma likes knickknacks of every shape and size, so you shop around at 5 Green Boxes before they arrive. The perfect gift jumps out at you—a small candelabra. She loves candles, your grandmother. Even more than leggings. 11:49am — Reception. Gram and Gramps pour out onto the station platform with oversized, clunky suitcases in tow. Fortunately, an Amtrak porter merrily loads up the trunks onto a dolly and rolls them into the Great Hall while you listen to Gramps talk about how much better it was to take a train than one of those darned aero-planes. 12:05pm — Tour and brunch. It takes a bit to get everything accounted for, and Gram and Gramps are in awe of the glistening Great Hall, so you spend some time wandering around and ogling the architectural features and old-timey photographs. You suggest grabbing a quick brunch/lunch at Snooze, where you watch Gramps stir four packets of sugar into his black coffee. They’re keen on the savory side of the menu, so you suggest the Green Eggs ‘n’ Hamwich on ciabatta for Gramps, and Gram’s all-time favorite sandwich, the Reuben (aka Peter Paul Rubens). Between smacked lips and sips of saccharine-sweet coffee, you hear about all the happenings in Grand Junction, and a play-by-play of every neighbor you never knew. Oh, and Mittens died.
The team at Snooze has a few picks to keep in mind: Pot Pie with rosemary sausage gravy, and a sunnyside-up egg; Verde Benedict with pulled pork and green chile hollandaise; and the unexpected Pear and Cranberry Quinoa with mascarpone, candied walnuts, spiced pears, and cranberry-pear compote1:15pm — Check-in. Before Gramps can ramble on too long about what Denver was like back in his day, you close out brunch and amble through Tattered Cover before finally heading to The Crawford to check in. Gramps insisted on staying in a hotel, so why not keep things convenient and easy? You made all the arrangements, of course, putting them up in a Premium Classic room with Victorian trappings and contemporary comforts. Gram loves that kind of stuff. 1:35pm — Home. After you get the suitcases to their room while explaining how to use the iPad that comes with the room (“Is that one of those e-Tablets?”), you escort them down to the car and take them back to your condo downtown. The real adventure begins. Saturday Afternoon and Sunday — Touring Denver. Gram always wanted to see the Molly Brown House, so you manage to eke in an afternoon tea there. Gramps is far more interested in “seeing the sights,” so you dot around downtown admiring cultural and historical landmarks like Larimer Square, the Denver Mint, the Denver Public Library, the “cute, quizzical” Blue Bear, and, of course, the Capitol. Too soon, however, the trip comes to a close and you make your way back to Union Station to enjoy a final meal together before their train leaves. Sunday 12:15pm — Packing. Gramps is swiping across the iPad with a look of wonder on his face as Gram goes on and on about how comfortable the bed was. “And,” she adds excitedly, “did you know they have laundry service?” Apparently, Gramps spilled coffee on his favorite sweater. Still, with all of this enjoyment, you manage to herd them down to The Kitchen Next Door where you dig into some lunch before their departure. Grams, ever more adventurous, orders the sweet-and-savory Cuban, while Gramps goes classic and relishes the Beer-Battered Fish ‘N’ Chips with a cold Hefeweizen. 1:10pm — Goodbye. Filled with a hearty lunch and sated with a lot of laughter, you guide Gram and Gramps over to the train platform where their suitcases are waiting. Chit-chat lingers as the train pulls up and you give them both big hugs. Gram gets a little teary, but then it never takes much to make her cry. Suddenly, you realize you haven’t given her the candelabra. Rushing back to the car and bounding back up to the platform, you catch your breath and hand her the package. “For me?” she smiles. You nod, smiling back. “You’re such a sweetheart. See you soon?” You nod as Gramps leads her by the hand onto the train and back under a crystal clear sky to the west.