Denver is my birthplace, but we left and settled in Southern California when I was 3 years old. Since then, I’ve only been back a handful of times.
It’s a clean, fun-filled city that blends tight conservative values with liberal permissiveness a mile above sea level. Pine-treed peaks dot the majestic Rockies in the distance, taking you from wilderness to modern metropolis in thirty minutes.
One thing about the city that stood out for me on a recent trip was the pianos that sit on Denver’s 16th Street Mall. The “mall” is a series of blocks where you can shop, eat and people watch. Ten pianos, painted by local artists, have been placed on each block as part of the “Yours Keys to the City” program. The idea was developed by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District. Its purpose is to inspire locals and visitors to not only be creative but to engage with each other on the street in a positive way.
As I was walking down 16th Street, it reminded me of a cross between the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California and the La Rambla in Barcelona. The center of the street has a pedestrian pathway that features cozy benches, overhangs, and pathways. A free shuttle, as well as rented buggies, take tired walkers from one end of the street to the other.
I watched a tattered homeless woman play her heart out sitting at one of the pianos, accomplished as any ragtime or lounge musician. It was touching to hear her freely express her talents without anyone shooing her off in repulsion. As she sat tinkling the keyboard, you could see in her eyes that she was being temporarily transported to happier times.
The city of Denver enacted a humanitarian policy to never let anyone be without a place to sleep. Because of this, a significant number of homeless people have been attracted to the downtown area. As you can imagine, not all of the locals are pleased by this.
Although Colorado is now known for its relaxed marijuana laws, there is so much more to Denver than people realize. The city motto is “Keep Denver Beautiful” and, from what I could see, they’re doing a fabulous job of it.
In recent years, there has been a major clean-up and beautification effort downtown. The recently renovated Union Station, built in 1894, sits beside one of the most immaculate and modern sets of railroad tracks I’ve ever seen.
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The eclectic mix of historic and modern buildings in the central part of downtown Denver is stunning. You’ll find friendly people, gastronomically pleasing restaurants, shimmering hotels, museums, art and culture throughout the city.
By the way, my sister and I, who happened to be in town at the same time, tried some gator at Bayou Bobs and it tasted like chicken.
The restaurant was right next to my hotel, the Grand Hyatt, which is conveniently located in the center of downtown and is a lovely place to stay.
I hope the pianos of Denver’s 16th Street Mall stay put. Who knows? Maybe the next Ray Charles or Van Cliburn will be inspired plunking the ivories on the street as a parade of happy people passes by.
Have you ever been to Denver? What’s your favorite place to visit there? Please leave a comment below.