Despite Colorado’s overabundance of natural beauty, Denverites, and especially Broncos fans, still find plenty of time to complain about things like blown pass interference calls, the fact that Las Vegas and Phoenix are sucking all the water out of our beautiful white Rockies, and most especially, about how much cooler the Mile High City used to be before your happy New England ass rolled uphill.
You’ve heard the ‘back-in-the-day’ laments–especially if you really are escaping some über urban utopia like L.A., Manhattan or Chicago–about how the sky was bluer, the powder was deeper, and sun-blessed girls jogged by like fields of daffodils. (And John Albert Elway could huck a football over the moon if he wanted to). Well, some of the legends are actually true. There were days when you could climb a 14’er, eat a five-pound pizza at Beau Jo’s in Idaho Springs and then channel Kerouac by getting your butt kicked by a transvestite outside Kitty’s on Colfax near Capitol Hill. Oh, those were good times for all.
But some of the ‘realer’ aspects of Rocky Mountain reality do seem to have disappeared in recent years. Open prairies have been swallowed by sparkling subdivisions, and good drinking dives have been co-opted by McMicrobreweries serving up 20 different shades of yellow ale. So lest we forget some of our favorite topics of complaint, here are 10 things that were a lot more fun in Colorado back when you were still buying acid-washed jeans at the Paramus Mall.
1) Colfax: Once named “the longest, wickedest street in America,” by Playboy Magazine, the “Fax” used to run a 24-hour Mardi Gras along the entire length of its 26+ miles. Hookers, hard drugs, legendary watering holes like the Lion’s Lair and Pete’s Satire Lounge (both still rocking), as well as a seemingly endless array of head shops, check-cash joints, comic/t-shirt/poster nooks and all-night diners produced a steady parade of shady people in search of illicit thrills. The bus commute, affectionately nicknamed the “Freaky 15,” was like an interactive tour of a demilitarized zone. Gentrification, historic designations, lofts, yuppies and–gasp!–new bookstores keep trying to push the freaks back up the alley, though.
2) Boulder: From hippie haven to yuppie utopia, Boulder’s long strange trip from far left outpost to dude-world destination can sometimes too easily be seen as the Kandy-Kolored dream’s ultimate derail. Rather than raising consciousness or debate these days, it seems that the fair elves of Dude-indell are more interested in raising heart-rates, real estate values and Subarus. And Pearl Street Mall has to have the most beautiful, well-fed panhandlers in the world (can you get a degree in begging now?). But hike the Flatirons on a Friday night, grab a beer in Chatauqua Park, then head down to the Fox Theater for live reggae/blues/folk/funk in one of the best intimate venues in the world and you know the old town still has plenty of soul.
3) The Blue Bonnet: Once a somewhat hidden hideaway of killer Mexican food, Elvis, Frank Sinatra and The Eagles on the jukebox, cold beer and stiff margaritas with really shitty parking has now become an open-aired pub of killer Mexican food, cold beer, stiff margaritas and really good parking, and who wants to go there? (Apparently, tens of thousands of people). Also see, Las Delicias, El Chapultepec…
4) The Wynkoop: The original bastion of craft-brewed beer and deep downtown-intensity, the Wynkoop helped create Lo-Do, like a tipsy train station itself ready to race you off to a different culture (but only to other suds-run countries such as Ireland or Australia). The Wynkoop helped me gain a wife (the scene of our first date), this town a heart, and this city a mayor. A snowy day sipping ESB in the original bar made you feel like you could write Ulysses (but with easier words). Once they added the upstairs though, frat boys filled the open space and the quiet locals with literary ambitions gave way to over-gelled mannequins in search of baby cougars. Of course, most folks might say, “That’s what bars are for.”
5) The Denver Broncos: Not only was the original Mile High Stadium a keepin’-it-cooler version of Invesco Pasture, where the former stallions are currently getting sheared, but the original team(s) had more character, too. From Floyd Little to Craig Morton, Haven Moses to Louis Wright, TJ, Gradishar, Alzado, D. Smith, Atwater, Terrel and Biff Elway himself, these guys were lifers, forever bleeding orange and blue. Now we’ve got ice cream man McDaniels on the sidelines in a white track suit (was that on Ebay from the Michael Jackson estate?), and a self-banished bumpkin in Poteet Cutler, the original Jethrosexual. But Kyle Orton? At least we get to keep watching Champ Bailey’s Hall of Fame career.
6) Vail: Once ground zero for easily accessed alpine opulence, Vail built its name as a kind of everyman’s Monaco. But the fantasy of butter buffed runs, Bogner-shaped butts and big blondes from Texas in white, furry boots has met the reality of global warming and beetle kill. One of skiing’s truest signs of the times, ‘Ever Vail,’ is a complete reimagining of the mountain’s western edge with trick energy saving features up the yahoo. And I thought all you needed to dissolve all sins was a day skiing powder in the Back Bowls.
7) Coors Beer: The first reason for even knowing Colorado existed other than gold, skiing, and all those mountain meadow backdrops, Coors was the Mile High brew. You couldn’t get it east of the Mississippi unless someone personally brought it to you. And for anyone that grew up here, it was our handheld introduction to alcohol. But then Coors went global, just as micro-bibing began to explode. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t walk into any bar in Leadville, Alamosa, Delta, (or even the Campus Inn), order a cold draft and not imagine Sam Elliott growling, “The miners called it banquet beer,” which is pretty cool.
8.) Elitch Gardens: From the Mister Twister roller coaster to the Trocadero Ballroom, the Spitfire and 50 freakin’ lanes of Skeeball, Elitch Garden’s was the single high point destination of any summer (twice if your cousins came to town!). But since ‘Elitch’s’ moved to its present location on the Platte, it’s more like a hodgepodge collection of rides at the county fair. You spin around. You get nauseous. You eat pizza. You go try to meet girls in Lo-Do.
9) Berthoud Pass: Denverites learned to snowboard at Berthoud Pass when almost no other ski area in North America would let them ride the chairs. You could get a chili cheese dog in the café, a Coke and fries, and even a ramshackle room up there at the top of the world. But that’s all torn down now, to the delight of the hikers, I’m sure. Something funky and original about Colorado skiing went with it though. Thank goodness Loveland is still keeping it real.
10) I-70: Entire years have been lost to traffic jams here, powder days and birthdays, anniversaries and opening acts at Red Rocks shows. An absolutely incredible improvement over humping over Loveland Pass in a blizzard (the Eisenhower Tunnel opened in the ’70s), there was only about a decade where ‘The Ike” really was the freeway to freeriding. Better known as the “I-Lot,” I-70 west of Denver is often better served for tailgating now. •
Pete Kray is an East High School graduate who married a Cherry Creek girl. He keeps a framed copy of John Elway’s Broncos rookie card next to his wedding photo. You can read more of his writing, including excerpts of his upcoming novel, The God of Skiing, at www.shredwhiteandblue.com.
GOT 10 MORE THINGS THAT YOU THINK WE MISSED?
How about Casa Bonita, Colorado Springs, Jolly Ranchers and the Cherry Creek Reservoir?
Leave your nominations for what’s ruined in Elwayville in the comments below.
And… keep an eye out for the next issue of Elevation Outdoors and Elwayville’s “Skiing toward the Super Bowl.”