An Alternative Guide to Denver
Tours compiled by Danielle Krolewicz, with the help of the following Denver VOICE vendors:
Armand and Devora Casazza, David Gordon, Raelene Johnson, and Dwayne Pride.
Intro by Sarah Harvey
Photos by Giles Clasen, Chase Doelling, Chelsea Gittle, and Sarah Harvey
Welcome to our seventh annual tourism issue and our second “Invisible City” guide. The walking tours on the following pages are quite different from most city walks you’ll encounter. These tours were created by Denver VOICE vendors, and they include both familiar landmarks and very personal landmarks.
Take David Gordon’s tour of South Broadway: you’re probably familiar with the Mayan Theatre, but have you ever given Quality Paws a second thought? Well, David has. That pet store is significant to him because it’s where he used to buy cat food, back when he had cats and an apartment of his own. And, after his circumstances changed, it’s a place he’s gone to in order to take shelter from the weather. It’s a significant spot on his individual map of Denver.
At the VOICE, we believe it is important to consider lives that are different from our own—to walk in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. If you stop to consider the lives around you, you’ll realize there is a different version of Denver for everyone living in this city. As our community grows and changes, we think it’s worth celebrating those lives by reflecting on some of the invisible cities that exist within Denver.
Home away from home—
Armand and Devora’s guide to Five Points
With many services for people experiencing homelessness and poverty, the Five Points neighborhood is a busy place with a lot of diverse foot traffic. VOICE vendors Armand and Devora Casazza are two transplants who have spent a lot of time in the area, and they’ve selected a handful of spots they think everyone should experience.
1 — Start at the Mercury Café.
“The Merc is a hidden treasure that’s literally hidden,” says Devora. “The walls are covered with so much ivy that you’d miss it if you blinked.” The Mercury Café hosts weekly events like tango, belly, and swing dance lessons, poetry slams, yoga, meditation, and many special events that vary monthly. They’re open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch Saturday and Sunday, so you can sample some of the organic food Devora loves.
2199 California St. • 303.294.9281 • mercurycafe.com
2 — Walk out of the Merc and turn left on 22nd St. Turn right at Lawrence St. to reach the Lawrence Street Community Center.
Men, women, and families have access to free meals, showers, laundry, and a safe space to spend their day at the Lawrence Street Community Center (LSCC), which was built in 2015 and is run by the Denver Rescue Mission. When Devora’s heart stopped at Stout Street Clinic, she found refuge following surgery at LSCC, and it’s there she met Armand, her now-husband. As Armand describes it, Devora could barely hold herself up when they met. “Armand saved my life,” says Devora. “He was my savior—my mini broken Jesus.”
2222 Lawrence St. • 303.294.0157 • denverrescuemission.org
3 — Take a small detour by turning right on Park Ave. and walking a block to Broadway. The “Denver—Love this City” mural will be across the street on the northeast side of the intersection of Park Ave., Broadway, and Arapahoe St.
Devora, who is originally from New York, enjoys looking at all the street art and murals on the buildings in Five Points. “It’s part of the city—it’s part of the allure to me.” The painting at the corner of Park and Broadway stands out to Devora because it makes her feel proud of the home she’s found in Denver.
4 — Walk one block north on Broadway back to Lawrence St. (or detour down an alley or two to check out more street art) and make your way to Volunteers of America—the Mission.
According to Armand, VOA is the second-best free meal in Denver. The Mission is a day shelter that provides meals three times a day Monday through Thursday, Friday at noon, and Sunday at 1 p.m. On more than one occasion, VOA has helped Armand and Devora get gas money—the two live in their van—and both of them appreciate the kind-hearted staff and volunteers that work here. Other services include job training, clothing, and food assistance.
2877 Lawrence St. • 303.295.2165 • voacolorado.org
5 — Turn right on 30th St. and walk southeast until you get to Mestizo-Curtis Park.
Mestizo-Curtis Park, commonly called Curtis Park, was built in 1868, making it the oldest park in the city of Denver. To reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding the park, the word Mestizo was added to the name in 1987. It’s fitting that Armand and Devora both love this park for that diversity, which they feel makes it accessible for all. “One side you got drunks and some pot-smokers, the other side you got people with kids playing and people playing sports,” says Armand, who usually falls asleep while Devora watches the sports and people.
30th – 32nd, Arapahoe – Champa • cityparksalliance.org
16th St. Mall
Dwayne’s on-the-cheap guide to the 16th Street Mall
VOICE vendor Dwayne Pride invites you to walk a mile in his shoes. Experience his tour via walking on the pedestrian mall that lines 16th St. from Broadway to Wewatta (or from the MallRide that runs the same route). Both are free, which is a theme on this tour and a very important word in Dwayne’s vocabulary.
1 — Start the tour on the west end of the mall where Dwayne starts most of his days, Panera Bread.
This is often where Dwayne can be found selling the VOICE. He appreciates the MyPanera program at Panera because the rewards often include free bagels and coffee. Dwayne, who stays in a shelter right now, says he valued the free food even more when he was living on the streets last year. “Sometimes I might not have eaten the whole night before. A lot of mornings, it was just necessary.”
1380 16th St. • panerabread.com
2 — Make your way east to Skyline Park.
Skyline Park hosts a variety of events that vary depending on the season. On June 9, the park between 16th and 17th was transformed into a pop-up beer garden that will remain through October 7. The family-friendly garden includes games like ping-pong, miniature golf, and yard games, as well as live music every Friday and Saturday night. Dwayne likes to go there in the mornings because it’s usually quiet and sometimes he can take a nap.
Arapahoe, 15th St. – 18th St.
3 — Let the music guide you to the permanent art installation A Series of Chess Tables.
Installed on the mall in 1992, the concrete sculpture of a chess table was designed by Colorado artist and architect Doug Eichelberger and features tile by Denver artist Susan Wick. The sculpture has a practical purpose: it can be used for actual games by passersby—just BYO chess pieces.
Each year since 2009, painted pianos have been placed on the mall. This year, there are two on this block. Dwayne says it is a pleasant area to sit outside, eat, and listen to people play—musically inclined or not.
On the mall, between Curtis and Arapahoe Streets
4 — If you didn’t fill up on German sausages and pretzels at the beer garden, then get your walking fuel from Diego’s Mexican Food & Tequila Bar.
This Mexican joint is an actual underground restaurant, found in the basement of the building on the corner of Champa and 16th. Dwayne likes to go there and watch the Broncos games while taking full advantage of Diego’s salsa bar and free chips.
1600 Champa #3 • 303.343.4671 • diegosdenver.com
5 — While you can hop on the mall ride at any point, we suggest you take in the tour by foot—especially if the weather is nice. Head half a mile east to the Pavilions and check out the many buskers that perform here.
The Mall hosts street performers of all kinds, but Dwayne has narrowed it down to two favorites. According to Dwayne, when the busker who goes by Chainsmoker isn’t smoking, he’s performing magic. If you aren’t lucky enough to catch a sighting of Chainsmoker, you’ll most definitely see RoboMike. He dons a homemade Michael Jackson robot costume to entertain passersby.
This marks the end of Dwayne’s tour, but there’s still plenty of exploring to do downtown!
500 16th St.
A Colorado native’s guide to Colfax
When he was in high school, VOICE vendor David Gordon spent a lot of time in and around East Colfax. Although he doesn’t spend as much time there now, he’s noticed that many of the places he remembered from his high school days have closed in the last five years. For David, Colfax represents a lot of memories and a changing Denver.
1 — Start at Thatcher Memorial Fountain, City Park.
Just a short detour off Colfax and down the street from East High School is City Park. “It takes me back to the good ole days when I was a young, energetic, handsome guy,” jokes David. “We used to go there every Sunday when I was young. We used to drive through the park and hang out, feed the ducks, and go fishing at the lake.” When he was older, this was the place he would go with friends when skipping class. There are lots of things to do and see in the park, so explore at your leisure.
City Park Esplanade
2 — Head south on Esplanade toward East High School.
Visible from City Park, the tower of East crowns this section of Colfax. Notable graduates/attendees of East include Pam Grier, Don Cheadle, Neal Cassady, Judy Collins, and, of course, David Gordon.
1600 E City Park Esplanade
3 — Turn left onto Colfax and head east to Pete’s Gyros Place.
Grab lunch around the corner like David used to do at Pete’s Gyro Place. According to David, “it’s been there forever” and he spent lots of lunch periods here. Pete Contos, who moved to Denver from Greece in 1956, is the namesake of this Pete’s and five others in the Denver metro area.
2819 E Colfax Ave. • 303.321.9658
4 — Continue walking east on Colfax Ave until you get to the Bluebird Theater (about a five-minute walk).
David, who is expert on what “used to be,” says this was once an X-rated movie theater, a fact you won’t find on the Bluebird’s website. Built in 1913 and renamed in 1922, it has “gone through various phases over the years,” according to its website. David says, “I like it better as a music venue because there’s action and performances several times a week.” Despite its seedier history, according to him, “There’s more action there now.” Surrounding the theater are plenty of bars, coffee shops, and restaurants, proving his point.
3317 E Colfax Ave. • 303.377.1666
5 — Hop the 15 bus at Cook St. and head west to the High St. stop to visit DenUm (or walk the mile in between the two and check out the spots you might’ve missed earlier).
Technically the first VOICE “office” was a booth in a dive bar, but after that it had a long stint in the Denver Urban Ministry building—now Denver Urban Matters. DenUm today is a resource center that helps with basic needs, provides support for job seekers, and is an advocate in the community for people experiencing homelessness and poverty.
1717 E Colfax Ave.
303.355.4896 • denum.org
6 — Continue west for one mile toward the State Capitol building and the adjacent Capitol Hill Books.
Denver is home to its fair share of indie bookstores, but David prefers ones that sell old books. With Denver’s largest searchable database of used books, it’s no wonder David likes Capitol Hill Books best.
300 E Colfax Ave.
303.837.0700 • capitolhillbooks.com
David Gordon’s guide to his favorite blocks on South Broadway
VOICE vendor David Gordon prefers to sell papers and hang out in this neighborhood because of the atmosphere, which he describes as down-to-earth and open to new ideas. An added perk: most of the businesses are locally owned.
“They welcome everybody, all races,” says David. “The area co-exists with the homeless. They don’t run them off. They don’t bother them.”
1 — Start the tour by grabbing a slice at Pie Hole and preparing yourself for all the window shopping that’s about to happen.
Although David’s favorite pizza place, The Walnut Room, closed its location on Broadway last year, there are still several options for pizza by the slice in the neighborhood. Of them, David likes Pie Hole best. It’s unpretentious and, with slices for $2.50 and toppings that start at an additional 23 cents a pop, it’s also the most affordable option.
44 S Broadway • 303.777.4743
2 — Head north on Broadway to True Love Shoes and Accessories.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot the giant red shoe on the sidewalk. David likes this store because they sell quality men’s and women’s shoes at reasonable prices—shoes and sandals are $48 or less and boots are $58 or less. He also appreciates the welcoming staff, whose friendliness toward people extends to the goods they carry: nothing is made from animal products.
42 N Broadway • 303.860.8783
3 — Go next door to Quality Paws.
This pet store is more of a boutique pet store, selling natural pet foods, toys, and supplies. David says, “I’ve known Danielle [the owner] for eight years—that was before I became homeless.” David used to shop here for food for his cats, Hope and Spirit. He no longer has cats, but David still stops in here to chat with Danielle and the friendly staff. And, if the weather gets bad while he’s vending, he ducks in here to stay dry.
46 N Broadway • 303.778.PAWS • qualitypaws.com
4 — For an embodiment of what David loves about SoBo, head next door to Hope Tank.
David explains what—and who—Hope Tank is: “It’s a charitable boutique where a portion of the sales goes to a certain organization.* So when you go in and buy a product, it will show what organization the money goes to. Not only is [owner Erika Righter] making a living, she is giving back to the community and supporting local artists who create the products. That’s awesome.”
64 N Broadway • 720.837.1565• hopetank.org
*Including the Denver VOICE
5 — End a tour with a drink and a movie at the Landmark Mayan Theatre.
David often vends papers outside the Mayan, though he’s never been inside. Built in 1930, the theater has three screens. The building itself is unique, one of just a few theaters left in the country designed in Art Deco Mayan Revival style. Oh, and it has a bar inside.
110 N Broadway • 303.744.6799
A born-again Boulderite’s tour of Boulder
Several VOICE vendors call this city home, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t include a Boulder tour! Although not a Boulder native, VOICE vendor Raelene has lived in Boulder several times throughout her life and says she has “always felt at peace in Boulder.” On her tour she shares places of significance from her past and present, and a few spots she enjoys.
1 — Start your tour in North Boulder at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.
The Boulder Shelter operates as a shelter during fall, winter, and early spring. It also offers things like “wake-up morning services” year-round that include showers, breakfast, mail, and locker access. The shelter was the second place Raelene lived when she moved to Colorado from Florida in November 1997. “All I knew is that I wanted to leave Florida, so a church paid $60 for a bus from Clearwater to Denver.”
The first place Raelene slept was across the street outside the Boulder Housing Authority building at 4800 Broadway. She remembers sleeping between the fence and a big metal container so as not to be seen from the road.
4869 Broadway • 303.442.4646
2 — Head west to Foothills Community Park.
After visiting the shelter, Raelene recommends you take a drive up a canyon to explore the mountains and natural beauty for which Boulder is known. Lee Hill Drive is nearby and takes you toward the 65.2 acres of Foothills Community Park, but this is just one of Boulder’s many accessible options.
800 Cherry Ave. • 303.413.7209
3 — Hungry after all that exploring? Head to the Pearl Street Mall, park your car nearby (you’ll be on foot for the rest of the tour), and hit up Pizza Colore.
One of the places Raelene stops for a quick, inexpensive bite is Pizza Colore. She likes it because the slices are big and cheap and she can’t resist the cannolis.
1336 Pearl St. • pizzacolore.com
4 — Once you’re feeling re-energized and full, check out the mall at your leisure, but don’t miss the Boulder Theatre.
Comedians, musicians, and everything in between have graced the stage at the Boulder Theatre. Raelene has been to several shows here, most of which she wins tickets to by entering drawings, especially at the Farmers Market.
2032 14th St. • 303.786.7030
5 — Walk south on 14th, then turn right onto Canyon Blvd. and walk west until you get to Central Park’s Boulder Bandshell.
When Raelene was in Boulder the fist time, she was a 15-year-old runaway from Connecticut. “Back then, there wasn’t a ban to sleep there overnight,” says Raelene. Nowadays, the outdoor amphitheater hosts live music and dance parties throughout the summer.
1212 Canyon Blvd. • boulderdowntown.com/go/central-park-bandshell
6 — Head north on 13th St. back to the Pearl Street Mall and Raelene’s spot.
When she isn’t at the Boulder Farmers Market or one of the festivals in the surrounding mountains, this is the where Raelene has established herself as a VOICE vendor. She feels grateful to the VOICE. “They didn’t care about my past, education, felonies, or anything except that I wanted to work,” says Raelene, who started vending almost a decade ago and is the top female vendor.
Pearl Street Mall at 13th St.