Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wish I were in Denver to . . .

See The State of Things

Stop by MCA Denver at 2 pm on Wednesday, 8/27, to catch the giant ice sculpture, The State of Things, in its pristine glory. Then return over the next 24 hours (if it lasts that long) to witness changes that comment on the destruction on democracy in our country. The artists, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, will also install The State of Things in St. Paul during the Republican Convention in Mineapolis. MCA Denver is at 1485 Delgany , 303 298 7554. http://www.voices4democracy.org

Friday, August 22, 2008

Breakfast, Bruncheon, Supper, and Dinner at Four Denver Originals

Sometimes it takes just one place to make a town feel like home to a traveler. During a week in Denver, I found four.

The Tattered Cover

"Do you want all of the veggies?" asked the woman taking my order at the Tattered Cover Book Store's food counter. Of course I did. It's not often that one's offered a breakfast sandwich with actual vegetables, and I didn't want to miss a one. All the veggies turned out to be fresh, crisp cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, onions, tomato, and a big slice of artichoke heart. With cheese and a fluffy, well-cooked egg that had nary a whiff of grease, this was the tastiest, most satisfying version of the egg-muffin I've ever had. The price: $2.25.

The Tattered Cover occupies three stories of the historic Morey Mercantile Building and is filled with quirky, comfortable seating in which readers (and eaters) are invited to linger as long as they like. Muffin and coffee in hand, I strolled around the bookstore's huge main floor considering chairs, couches, desks with antique lamps, and finally chose a vintage wooden booth with coat rack.

In front of me was a poster for Banned Book Week, to the right an America's Food Source Map that read, "The greatness of the U.S. is founded on agriculture." Hanging overhead was a Western shirt from nearby Rockmont Ranch Wear. Through a wide doorway behind me, I glimpsed the inviting Calendar Room with wide windows and long tables, where a couple of people sat working at their laptops.

Tattered Cover is notable for the extraordinary breadth and depth of its wares, the frequent readings it hosts, and the thoughtful, often passionate, appreciations staff members write for many of their books and magazines. After breakfast there with my boyfriend a couple of days later, we spent some time exploring the store, wishing we had hours more to linger.

Upstairs, where most of the books are, the Tattered Cover has two fireplaces--one in a cosy corner flanked by the Philosophy and Mythology & Metaphysics sections. Come winter, I'd love to eat my breakfast there.

At 1628 16th St. and Wynkoop, the Tattered Cover Book Store is easily reached via the free 16th Street MallRide shuttle buses. It's open 6:30 am-9 pm, Monday-Thursday, till 11 pm on Friday; 9 am-11 pm on Saturday; and 10 am-6 pm on Sunday. 303-436-1070; www.tatteredcover.com

Bump & Grind

I'd happened on the Bump & Grind while strolling along 17th Sreet on Sunday afternoon a few hours after arriving in Denver. Through the big front windows, I spied waiters garbed in short skirts, aprons, bustiers, and heels rushing about. The place was packed with a mixed-gender crowd, happily digging into brunch. I'd already eaten a panini from a cart on the 16th Street mall, and a dinner date with friends was only three hours away, but I stepped inside to find out whether they did this every day.

Not exactly: the cross-dressing waiters are featured only at the weekend Petticoat Bruncheons. But Jim and I found ambitious breakfast offerings there on Thursday, when the room was quiet, the waiter was wearing civvies, and the atmosphere was mellow.

Waiting for the waiter to chose just the right mugs for us from an open shelf behind the counter, we took in the colorful, funky decor. A giant blue Mona Lisa, cut in two, dominated the wall behind us; next to it was a huge lamp composed of the figure of a waitress holding a tray on which rested a ballerina, wearing a lampshade on her head. "Don't you wish you'd brought your camera?" I asked Jim.

Once we'd filled our mugs--Jim with green tea, and I with a coffee known as Dangerous Monkey ("He's dark and smooth and spearheads Pablo's revolution")--we settled into a well-aged blue vinyl banquette, graced with a bottle of Miracle Bubbles and, on the wall above us, a line-up of Barbie dolls in boxes.

The food proved to be terrific, and as photogenic as our surroundings. Both Jim's elaborate bagel and lox plate ($7.50), complete with fresh dill, and my chive-scented Tijuana burrito ($5.25) came with a virtual fruit salad of fan-carved garnishes. If I lived here, I'd be a regular at both breakfast and bruncheon, try everything on the Bump & Grind's menu--and take pictures.

You'll find the Bump and Grind Café at 439 E. 17 St. between Logan and Sherman (303-861-4841). Come early for bruncheon on Saturday or Sunday (10 am-2 pm), or be prepared to wait. Weekday hours are Tuesday-Friday from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm, but Tuesday breakfast is pastries only. The B & G is closed on Monday.

Buckhorn Exchange

Promising us a unique dining experience for our first night in Denver, our friends Sylvia and Hal took us to the Buckhorn Exchange, the city's oldest restaurant, founded in 1893 by Henry H. Zietz, who was a scout for Buffalo Bill Cody and nicknamed Shorty Scout by Chief Sitting Bull.

The Buckhorn specializes in steak and game, both on the plate and on the wall. You eat surrounded by a veritable zoo of stuffed animals, cases full of the weapons required to bring them down, and other memorabilia from the restaurant's colorful history.

We shared appetizers of spicy, marinated rattlesnake ($15.75) and Rocky Mountains Oysters ($9.75)--a first for all of us--sliced thin and deep fried, that could have passed for chicken or veal. For those torn between entrees, the Buckhorn offers several combinations--I went for elk and quail, both tender and savory--and invites you to make your own. Entrees are pricy in the evening, with buffalo and elk well over $30, but lunch is a relative bargain, offering elk medallions for $18 or a buffalo burger for $9.50.

You don't have to eat at the Buckhorn, though, to enjoy an evening there. I'd love to go back for the free music offered Wednesday through Saturday in the inviting Victorian lounge upstairs. That's where the hand-carved oak bar that pre-dates the restaurant now resides. Above it hangs the Buckhorn's 1935 liquor license, the first one issued in Colorado.

Buckhorn Exchange can be reached by Denver's light- rail trains, which stop right across the street. It's open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 am-2 pm; supper is 5:30-9 pm Monday-Thursday; 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday; and 5-9 pm Sunday. Happy Hour is held weekdays from 4 to 6 pm. There's no cover or minimum for the musical entertainment--usually Western singers; hours are 7-9 pm, Wednesday-Thursday, and 7:30-11, Friday-Saturday. 1000 Osage St., at 10th Ave., 303-534-9505, http://buckhornexchange.com


Our last dinner in Denver was an extraordinary Tuscan meal at Panzano, said to be one of the best restaurants in town. We were tempted by the special Sunday night prix fixe ($30 for salad, main course, and dessert), but couldn't resist dishes from the regular menu: Crespelle ai Funghi, mushroom-stuff crepes, with fonduta sauce and white truffle oil ($9); Caesar Griglia, featuring grilled heart of romaine ($9.50); Coleman Ranch veal scallopini with lemon, capers, and sundried tomatoes ($25); and capesante (my favorite), seared sea scallops, wrapped in leeks, served over saffron risotto, with basil leek nage and tobiko, a lovely and subtle complex of flavors ($26) . We practically licked our plates, and with no room for dessert--next visit--wandered out into the evening, still talking about the wonderful dishes we'd just enjoyed.

Next time I'm in Denver, besides dinner at Panzano, I'd like to drop into its Taverna during happy hour and try the martini made of Tuscan 1000 Flower Honey and Sapphire Gin. If the timing's right, maybe I'll even take one of the Saturday cooking classes periodically offered by Executive Chef Elise Wiggins.

Panzano is the restaurant of the Monaco Hotel. It's open daily for breakfast, 7-10 am, and lunch, 11 am-2:30 pm. Dinner is served from 5 pm till 10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 pm Friday-Saturday, and 9:30 pm Sunday. There's a happy hour with half-price drinks every day from 4 to 6 pm. 909 17th St., 303-296-3525, www.panzano-denver.com

Found while walking in Denver . . .

Liliana's Cart

There will be even more food vendors on the 16th Street mall to accommodate the crowds during the Democratic Convention, but Liliana, who hails from Bosnia and has been a presence on the mall for a dozen years, is worth seeking out. I had my first meal in Denver at her cart, which was the first food source I saw on the two block walk from our hotel. Its menu offered meat and cheese paninis, as well as hot dogs, ice cream, and lemonade, but envisioning a week of major meating eating, I craved vegetables. For $4, Liliana made me a veggie panini that included cooked broccoli and carrots.

For a few moments I was her only customer, so while she cooked, we talked about life and literature. Liliana expressed the opinion that you don't get a lot out of reading works in translation unless you're familiar with the country's culture and history, but thanks to her, Ivo Andric, is on my reading list.

Patriotic Plantings

At Grant St. Plaza and 18th St.,, across from the Warwick Hotel, there's a big bronze planter in the shape of a U.S. map, sculpted by Edgar Britten in 1955, filled with greenery.

Political Improv

Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to actually see anything there, but delegates who'd like some comic relief from convention speechifying might want to hie themselves to the Avenue Theater and catch "Convention?" which features a new party called The Patriots seeking the 2008 presidency (Tuesday nights through August; 7:30; $10 including a free drink). Friday-Saturday, there's "Free Gas" (7:30; $15). 439 E. 17th St., 303-321-5925 , avenuetheater.com

24-hour Eating Place

Delegates, will you feel wired and hungry when you leave the convention at midnight or the bar in the wee hours? Leila's, at 820 15th St., serves $6 omelets, $7 panini, and Mighty Leaf tea 24 hours a day. I didn't eat there, but my accomplice, Jim, liked it. We wondered what the serious sound system gets used for. 303-534-2255.

In the Colorado Convention Center

For the first time at a Democratic National Convention, caucus and committee meetings will be open to the public (advance tickets required). To get to the meeting rooms, when Jim and I were in Denver, you walked by at least two big ads on metal legs urging you to "indulge your senses" at "Denver's finest gentlemen's clubs." Will they have taken them down for the Democrats? Or added something for the ladies. . .?

Conveniently near Coors Field . . .

1. Irish bar with music

Scruffy Murphy's, 2030 Larimer, offers traditional Irish music sessions Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 pm, when it's $10 for Smithwick ale and bangers and mash or shepherd's pie. Open mike on Thursday at 8 pm; performances Friday and Saturday at 9. 303-291-6992; http://www.scruffymurphysdenver.com

2. Historic imbibing

The home of the Whiskey Bar (you can guess what they specialize in) is the red brick Barclay building, 2205 Larimer, on the National Register of Historic Places. 303-297-0303; http://www.whiskeybardenver.com

Meditation anyone?

At the Avalokiteshvara Buddhist Center, 1081 Marion St. in Capitol Hill,
you can join a free 30-minute noontime meditation session on Tuesday or Wednesday. Wednesday evenings, 7:00-8:30 pm, the Center offers a drop-in class in meditation for $10, refreshments included. 303-813-9551; abc@meditationincolorado.org

Worth the Detour

The Black American West Museum & Heritage Center

In a modest Victorian house in Denver's Five Points neighborhood, a whole world of African-American history and experience unfolds: blacks escaping from slavery, buying their freedom, and heading west; homesteading, founding towns, joining the Gold Rush; becoming cowboys, soldiers, scouts, teachers, bankers, doctors, lawmen.

There I learned about Clara Brown, who was sold away from her family, bought her freedom, reached the Rockies in a wagon train, and opened a laundry in Central City during the Colorado gold rush that made her a wealthy woman. Nat Love, whose riding and roping skills earned him the name Deadwood Dick. Bill Picket, who founded a traveling rodeo that showcases black cowboys and cowgirls. Deputy U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves, a skillful detective who may have been the model for the Lone Ranger. And "Stagecoach Mary" Fields, who hauled freight and delivered mail in Cascade, Montana.

The heart of the museum is the collections of Paul Wilbur Stewart, who'd grown up in Iowa thinking there were no black cowboys. But in the 1960s, visiting a cousin in Denver, he saw one--a local black rancher--and learned that as many as one in three cowboys had been black. Inspired to find out all he could about the history of blacks in the west, Stewart moved to Denver, opened a barbershop there, and began his research, collecting artefacts and recording oral history interviews, and eventually sharing his collections with the public.

Besides the larger history of blacks in the West, the museum tells the story of those who made the Five Points neighborhood the vibrant center of black life and culture in Denver. Among them were Dr. V.B. Spratlin, born, a slave, who fearlessly cared for those quarantined in the "pest houses" that many doctors were afraid to enter, and for 27 years was chief medical inspector and quarantine officer of Denver; drugstore owner J.H.P. Westbrook who infiltrated the Denver Ku Klux Klan; and Justina L. Ford, Denver's first black woman doctor, whose home now houses the museum.

Over the course of her 50 year career, Ford, known as "The Lady Doctor," delivered some 7,000 babies. Since she was a strong believer in home birth and was for a time denied hospital privileges, many of them were born here.

Although most of the Five Points businesses featured in the exhibit no longer exist, Welton Street, the main street of the area, is said to be still the only commercial strip in the country owned primarily by blacks. The Rossonian Hotel at 27th and Welton, where jazz greats stayed and played in the integrated lounge during the 1940s and 1950s, has long been closed. But I read in the June issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum that it will "rise from the ages to be a legitimate entertainment destination again."

The Black American West Museum will be open for extended hours August 22-30: 10 am-6 pm (it's usually open Tues.-Sat. 10-2 in the winter, and 10-5 in the summer); admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children 12 and under. 3091 California, near the 30th-Downing Street stop on the light rail D line (also a bus stop), 1 ½ miles or so from downtown; 303-482-2242; http://www.blackamericanwestmuseum.com

Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library

A few blocks down Welton Street, in a branch of the Denver Public Library, are more resources for exploring African-American history: terrific exhibits in the Western Legacies gallery on the third floor; and in the second floor reading room, manuscript collections and oral histories, most of which are available for research without previous reservation. The reading room is open Mon.-Wed., and Fri.-Sat. From 11 am to 4 pm; the rest of the museum, Mon-Tues, 12-8 pm, Wed..and Fri., 10 am-6 pm, and Sat. 9 am to 5 pm. 240l Welton St; 720-865-2401; http:// aarl.denverlibrary.org

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Tango in Two Cities

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two cities, two tango lessons, two very different teaching philosophies:


Wandering around the People's Fair at City Center Park in Denver this June, my boyfriend, Jim, and I happened upon a performance by a group called Tango Colorado. We liked what we saw enough to come back for the lesson that followed.

To begin, we walked in a circle in time with the music. Then we partnered up and moved together in ballroom position but without touching. It's a bit of work holding one's arms in the air without a partner's to share the weight, so I was looking forward to getting fully into position. First, though, the instructor had us switch roles; now I was leading, arms still in the air. When we finally were allowed to touch, the instructor emphasized that you don't have to be pressed tightly against your partner to tango, but can maintain a distance you feel comfortable with.

So this lesson was all about conquering one's fear of enforced intimacy, of being brought excessively close to a stranger. Not a bad idea, I thought, remembering dance classes in which one or two couples would refuse to change partners, perhaps not wanting to end up in an unwanted clinch.

New York

A few weeks later on a Friday at Chelsea Market in Manhattan, I took a very different sort of class--alone this time. As recorded tango music played faintly in the background, we were drilled at length on footwork in all directions--forward, back, left, right--then on arm positions, before pairing up.

Once we did, we were urged to press our stomachs together, then to put our hand over our partner's heart. "Can you feel your partner's heart beat?" asked our teacher. Solemnly we nodded. "Tango is all about the heart," she told us. I nearly gave in to an attack of the giggles, though I'd tangoed this closely before.

We changed partners frequently, sometimes after what felt like only a few seconds, so by the end of the lesson each follower or leader had a chance to feel heart and belly of every opposite number.

There was a brief break after the lesson ended. The tango regulars drifted in--high-heeled women, guys looking around for familiar partners--then the band began to play. Few of my fellow students stuck around for the dance. It may be that all that passion on display had been a bit intimidating.


Ah, those heels . . . . I'd been tempted to boo when the Denver instructor opined that women like to tango because it gives them an excuse to wear sexy spikes. Are there any milongas around that cater to wearers of sneakers and flats?

Where to Tango

For tango events and classes in Denver, see http://tangocolorado.org/calendar.aspx

You can tango in New York City any day of the week; see http://www.dancetango.com/calendar.html, or call the tango hotline: 212-726-1111.

The last tango evening at Chelsea Market, 9th Ave and 15th St., takes place August 22, beside the waterfall, with a lesson at 5 pm, and milonga with free champagne, 6-10 pm. Through the end of September, there's a free milonga in Central Park Saturday evenings, rain (in the Dairy) or shine (at the Shakespeare Statue), 6-9 pm, with a beginner lesson at 7.