While Portland and Austin may lay claim to the “keep it weird” moniker, Denver is into strange things, too (and not just the TV show). There’s a park built on a cemetery, a museum dedicated to a Titanic survivor, a hospital for your dolls, plenty of fusion confusion cuisine, quidditch leagues, and an aquarium where you can hang out with mermaids and a sloth. Further afield in Colorado, there’s a festival dedicated to a man cryogenically frozen in a shed, the very haunted hotel where the Shining was filmed, a castle built out of junk, kangaroo yoga, sand boarding, ski biking, and llama hikes.
When a sleepy cowtown becomes a boomtown and green turns into gold, I guess it’s to be expected that some quirks and characters come along for the ride. Yeah, Denver’s weird, but it sure beats boring. And despite our best efforts at keeping these secrets hush hush (some for reputation sake, some to keep the spoils all to ourselves), here are some things to look out for the next time you’re exploring the Mile High City.
You can’t get in or out of town without confronting “Blucifer,” the airport’s demonic watchdog. The blue mustang and his steely orange gaze live on in infamy as the sculpture that killed its creator before completion. Yup, while most airports are concerned with security and efficiency, DIA is endlessly battling rumors of possessed horses and gargoyles. For years, there have been whispers of conspiracies like the airport’s secret underground tunnels that are said to be the home of the Freemasons, the Illuminati, or even more bizarre, a colony of lizard people with secrets and clues hidden in the dystopian wall art.
Undergoing a massive half-billion-dollar renovation, the airport is currently adorned with ads like, “Construction or Cover Up?” and “What’s happening behind this wall? A. Gargoyle Breeding Grounds B. Top Secret Freemason Meeting C. Improved Airport Experience.” You can see them all by Googling #DenFiles. At least they know how to laugh at themselves.
South Park is Real
The creators of the raucous animated comedy met at CU-Boulder (where the real Chef still dishes out lunches), but if you pay attention, there are Colorado references throughout the show. The town of South Park is set in Fairplay, a small Western mountain haunt, but the best episode you can relive IRL is undoubtedly Casa Bonita, a strange strip mall Mexican joint in Denver.
Better known as Mexican Disney Land or the pink castle, this indescribable (and largely inedible) “restaurant” boasts indoor cliff divers, gunfights, gorillas, puppet shows, strolling mariachis, and Black Bart’s pirates, which only scratches the surface of it’s “entertainment value.” Part dinner show, part WTF, it’s billed as the “World’s Most Exciting Restaurant.” Demand a table by the 30-foot waterfall and hope you don’t get sick from the taco salad or the sopapillas (the most edible things on the menu).
Pray at the International Church of Cannabis
As the first state to legalize marijuana back in 2014, Denver’s green scene is fairly normalized by now. Dispensaries are on virtually every corner and the lingering scent of a midday toke is basically the city’s aphrodisiac. But many locals don’t know about the International Church of Cannabis.
The waiting room looks like a cross between a yard sale explosion and your grandma’s attic that falls somewhere between eccentric art gallery and Spencer’s gift shop with games (board and arcade), plastic couches donated from Shaun White’s house, oddly shaped furniture, cartoons and animations. Upstairs, a tripped-out rainbow synagogue is as much a temple as it is Instagram gold, where you can experience Beyond, a 38-minute “guided meditation and rock show” complete with crazy holograms, inspirational quotes, and psychedelic lights.
For those that scoff at their beliefs, members simply known as elevationists, respond with something to the effect of, “Should we be taken any less seriously than a religion who believes Jonah lived in the belly of a giant fish?” Peace and love, my peeps.
Take a Psychedelic Ride
In 2020, Denver is getting one of the first Meow Wolf’s outside Santa Fe and people couldn’t be more stoked for the immersive art museum slash murder mystery to come to town. To build up the hype, the House of Eternal Return has been hosting a number of popup installations and underground art parties.
But their coolest promo? A brand-new artist-created, rollercoaster-like thrill ride at Elitch Gardens. Called Kaleidoscape, it’s described as a fantastic voyage through a parallel dimension and total sensory overload. USA Today and LA Times voted it one of the most anticipated openings of 2019.
Eat at a Former Mortuary
Serving drinks out of a vintage VW beetle with prime views of the skyline, Linger is one of Denver’s best rooftop restaurants. But to the unsuspecting tourist, that’s all it is, a great place for dinner and a cocktail.
For those in the know, the dining room has a bit of a macabre past. Once a former mortuary that held the body of Buffalo Bill, the now “eatuary” serves dinner on repurposed examination tables with water poured out of formaldehyde bottles and a dessert menu in the shape of a toe tag. Yup, you may want to think twice the next time you order that Corpse Reviver because you never know how long you’ll…linger.
The Coors Factory is the Cheapest Bar in Town
One of the most popular free attractions near Denver, you could spend 30-minutes learning about the malting process, but if you’ve been on one brewery tour, you’ve been on them all.
At Coors, you can actually skip the factory all together and head right to the “hospitality lounge” where three free samples are waiting for every guest. Their pours rotate seasonally, but if you’re lucky they have Zima on tap, which is a throwback to your childhood and essentially alcoholic Fanta. You might want to Uber to this one.
No One Actually Eats Rocky Mountain Oysters (but They May Drink Them)
As Denver’s original craft brewery, Wynkoop has been known to push the envelope from time to time, never afraid to infuse ingredients like green chile and gummy bears into their beers. But their ballsiest move was an April Fool’s joke brought to life, the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. Made with 25 pounds of freshly sliced and roasted bull testicles, it’s said to have coffee and chocolate notes that overpower the “other junk.” In fact, you’d be nutty not to try it.
Great American Beer Festival is Oktoberfest on ‘roids
Some may believe 4/20 is Denver’s national holiday, but locals know that when GABF rolls around, the beer flows like water. The largest public tasting event in America, you can try over 4,000 brews from every state under one roof (or one big blue bear). From your hoppiest of IPAs to fruity notes and unique blends like peanut butter and jalapeno, even if you don’t like beer (guilty) you’re likely to find at least a few new sips you enjoy. Trust me, as a non-beer drinker, it’s worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.
You also never know who you may run into. Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox has been known to pour his beer Big Hurt on occasion, and all three Hanson Brothers have flown in to hand out samples from their Oklahoma brewery, Mmmhops (I can’t even make this stuff up). Tickets sell out almost immediately so make sure your refresh fingers are ready the minute they’re released.
To Infinity and Beyond
With the second largest aerospace economy in the nation, Denver is leading the charge in space and aviation startups and research, affectionately called Aerospace Alley or the Silicon Valley of Space by insiders. Thanks to its recent expansion, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum has become ground zero or the state’s mission control.
If you ever wanted to be an astronaut, dreamed of going to space, or at least hitting the skies, it’s worth checking out. New exhibits include gyro chairs and simulators, virtual reality pilot training, behind the scenes airport tours, and discovery flights. Yup, with no experience necessary, you can co-pilot a Cessna glider plane for a bird’s eye view of the Rockies. It’s one small step for mankind and one giant leap for Denver.
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