Born of a gold rush and originally prosperous as a cow town on the American frontier, Denver has emerged anew over the last decade as a cosmopolitan city best known for its entrepreneurialism and its Super Bowl-bound football team.
Have a beer, smile, and don’t be afraid to chat with the person next to [you].
This multi-cultural boomtown at the heart of the US boasts a growing collection of glistening skyscrapers that herald its arrival as an urban hub. The metro area is also home to — or the birthplace of — major brands like Chipotle, Coors and Gray Line.
Dubbed the “Mile High City” thanks to its position a mile (1,609 metres) above sea level, Denver is not only one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, but also leads the nation with the most sustainable economic development and job growth, according to the 2015 Leading Locations report. The metropolitan area created 46,200 jobs in 2014 luring new financial services firms (like WorldRemit and Charles Schwab) and invested heavily in the development of clean energy at the Solar Technology Acceleration Center in Aurora.
Denver welcomed a record 15.4 million overnight visitors in 2014, of which 2.4 million were business travellers, a jump of 5% year-on-year, according to statistics from trade association Visit Denver. Travellers are lingering too, staying longer downtown thanks to an ever-growing menu of cultural attractions, including the revitalized LoDo Historic District, Sixteenth Street Mall and the iconic Denver Performing Arts Complex (the nation’s second-largest live-entertainment centre).
Anne Blyth, president of the Rocky Mountain Business Travel Association (RMBTA), said the main industries luring business travellers to Denver include IT-software, aerospace, biotechnology, financial services, shale oil and cleantech, with major companies like Panasonic Enterprise Solutions expanding their presence in the metropolitan area in 2015
Of course Denver’s greatest appeal – other than its Rocky Mountain backdrop – has always been its location smack in the heart of North America. This makes it an important commercial and transport nexus, as well as a popular destination for meetings and conventions.
The Colorado capital claims 300 days of sunshine per annum.
The Colorado capital also claims 300 days of sunshine per annum and has 200 city parks from which to enjoy it. Add to the mix an emerging food scene and a dizzying array of microbreweries that specialise in hopped-up ales, and it becomes clear why businesses are rushing to set up shop in this laid back metropolis on the prairie’s edge.
Blyth, of the RMBTA, said the business atmosphere in Denver is one that’s both friendly and casual. “It’s more laid back than somewhere like New York or San Francisco where it’s just go, go, go,” she explained.
Sarah Elliott, one of the city’s many East Coast transplants, agrees. She moved to Denver in 2011 for a job in social services and said she immediately noticed a difference in attitude among the locals. “People in Denver are not obsessed with talking about what you do or where you work; they’d rather talk about the mountains or how many days they got in skiing this season,” she said. “It’s much more casual in talk and in dress.”
People in Denver are not obsessed with talking about what you do or where you work.
Elliot believes people work hard so they can enjoy their time off. “I’d tell a business traveller to loosen their tie, have a beer, smile, and don’t be afraid to chat with the person next to them,” she said.
It comes as a surprise to many visitors that Denver, a city of less than 700,000 people, boasts the United States’ fifth-busiest airport, according to data from Airports Council International. But Denver International (DIA) is a vital hub for three large US carriers: United, Southwest and Frontier. As the only major commercial airfield within 500 miles (805 kilometres), it welcomes more than 53 million passengers each year and generates more than $26 billion for the region’s economy.
Despite the crowds, DIA it ranked eighth in the world on a 2015 survey of the best major airports by Skytrax, a London-based research firm, thanks to its helpful staff, spacious layout and great amenities (the seasonal cuisine at Root Down in Concourse C is legendary). Road warriors also praise DIA for its free wireless Internet access and ample charging stations throughout.
Be warned, however, that Denver’s central business district is a considerable distance from the airport — 27 miles (43km). The public bus SkyRide ($9-13) departs for the city centre every 15 minutes during peak hours, and taxis will charge a flat rate of $55.57 for the same journey (which includes the airport entrance fee). Accessing downtown will become much easier in April 2016 when a $1.2bn light-rail line connects DIA with Union Station in the LoDo district in just 37 minutes ($9).
Denver often touts itself as a destination that offers value for money, and the city recently ranked as one of the most economical business travel destinations in the world on a report from Expert Market, a business-to-business sourcing service. The Mile High City was the fourth-cheapest destination in the US and among the top 30 globally with an average daily cost to business travellers of $329 (including food, lodging and car rental).
Denver’s LoDo neighbourhood is a great example of urban revitalisation and Union Station is its flagship. This historic train hub will soon link Denver with the airport and is home to a number of swanky bars like The Terminal and Cooper Lounge. In 2014, The Crawford hotel opened here. It has several luxurious rooms that recreate the glory days of train travel, but also a number of key perks: There’s free car service within a two-mile radius, free Wi-Fi, in-room iPads and access to the nearby Oxford Club, Spa & Fitness Center.
Located across town in Denver’s Golden Triangle Museum District, the $50m, 165-room Art Hotel is part of a complex called Museum Center that opened in June 2015 to rave reviews. This art-filled property is just two blocks from the Civic Center and one mile from the Colorado Convention Center.
It’s the only place in town to try a beer flavoured with Rocky Mountain Oysters (fried bull testicles).
Dinner for one
Rioja is a Denver institution located in the heart of the city’s oldest and most historic block, Larimer Square. Award-winning chef, Jennifer Jasinski, is widely credited with putting Denver’s fine dining scene on the culinary map, and at Rioja, she specialises in high-end Mediterranean dishes made using local ingredients.
A ten-minute drive away on a restaurant-lined stretch of East Seventeenth Street you’ll find Beast + Bottle, which, like Rioja, has seasonal menus sourced locally. The unconventional wine menu, which highlights lesser-known varietals from around the world, makes this award-winning eatery a refreshing alternative in a beer-obsessed town.
The city that gave the rest of America Chipotle, Qdoba, Noodles & Company and Einstein Bros. Bagels is chock-full of home-grown “fast-casual” restaurants for anyone who just wants a quick bite after work. Among the best are Larkburger (all-natural black angus beef burgers) and Bubu (build your own veggie and protein bowls). Denverites also rave about the green chile and breakfast burritos at local chain Santiago’s.
Beer is big business in Denver.
Off the clock
Beer is big business in Denver. Hanging out at the city’s six-dozen craft breweries is a favourite pastime among locals. A good place to start is Wynkoop Brewing Co., the grandfather of brewpubs with a nearly 30-year history in the LoDo neighbourhood. It’s the only place in town to try a beer flavoured with Rocky Mountain Oysters (fried bull testicles, a local delicacy dating back to Denver’s “cow town” days). While some breweries have their own kitchens, most enlist the help of food trucks, who park out front and ensure no beer enthusiast goes away hungry.
As cosmopolitan as Denver has become in recent years, it’s the snow-capped peaks looming on the horizon that have always lured the most visitors. November through April is ski season in the Colorado Rockies and there are half a dozen resorts within 70 miles of the metropolitan area. The closest, Echo Mountain, is just 35 miles west of downtown, and is one of only a handful in Colorado to offer night skiing on weekdays. Loveland, 53 miles away, is much larger with 93 trails and 10 lifts spread across 1,800 acres (730 hectares) of powdery terrain. Most ski resorts transform into playgrounds for hiking, mountain biking and fishing over the summer months.
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