Recently, I traveled to Colorado for an extended weekend with some long, lost college buddies. Before we headed to beautiful Breckenridge, I spent my first day in Denver, a city I've not previously visited.
Exploring the city on foot, I wanted to see how the new home of Peyton Manning stacked up culturally with our town.
Bookstores and record stores
My new phone apparently had some kinks to work out, because the map app sent me the wrong way on Colfax. But that's part of exploring, strolling along where Neal Cassidy might have walked when Jack Kerouac paid a visit. So I ran right into the Tattered Cover "Theater of Ideas," located in the historic Bonfils-Lowenstein Theater. My jaw just dropped ... literally. The only comparison I could make to Indy would be if you put the wide selection and knowledgeable floor staff of the old Borders in Castleton, plopped it into the Indiana Landmarks Center and added a coffee shop. And it turns out that this is one of three locations for the 40-year-old independent bookstore!
Tattered Cover formed a complex with its neighbor Twist and Shout, the largest independent record store in Denver. The Mile-High City has five indie record stores to our three. Do all these independent stores indicate advanced culture? Well, considering the two cities have roughly the same unemployment rate and Denver has 200,000 fewer residents than Indy proper, I'd say Denver wins in its support of these purveyors of literature and music.
One percent for art
Eventually, I righted myself and headed back downtown. On 14th Street, I spied a 4-story-tall blue bear attacking the Colorado Convention Center. It's the most visible public art piece of about 20 throughout the complex. (Big Blue beat our baby brachiosaurus peering into the Children's Museum of Indianapolis by five years.)
Since 1988, that big, blue bear, and more than 150 works of art have been funded by Denver's public art program. By a mayoral directive, 1 percent of any city-led capital improvement project costing more than $1 million is earmarked for public art.
Just imagine for a moment that Indy had a percent-for-art program. In 2010 when we expanded the Convention Center, we'd have had $2.75 million to spend on public art. Building Lucas Oil Stadium would have added another $7.2 million! Currently, by my count, there's only one public artwork on the grounds of both facilities. City Councilman John Barth proposed this program last year, but I've not heard any rumblings since.
(Our other visual arts are similar: Like us, Denver holds a monthly First Friday gallery walk in arts districts that aren't centralized.)
Nearby I saw tracks in the pavement, and lo and behold, a mythical light rail train passed right in front of me. Now, I've heard talk about light rail in Indiana, but our general assembly has shown a characteristic lack of leadership by stripping provisions for it and punting to counties to take up the mass transit initiative as individual referenda, which seems extremely likely to fail if it ever makes the ballot.
As a biking community, Denver's bikeshare program has been in place since 2007 in advance of the city's hosting of the Democratic National Convention. Our just-introduced Indiana Pacers Bikeshare program employs the same company, and if you have a membership here, you can use it there. During my walk in Denver, I didn't see so many of the more than 100 miles of bike lanes, and most people were riding on the sidewalks, even along the wider city streets. (Indy has about 64 miles of bike lanes.) Still, nothing compares to our Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick. It's one real factor that has Denver beat.
Right next to the Colorado Convention Center stands a diva's dream, an entire complex of theaters, a concert hall and an opera house. Imagine the Palladium, IRT, Circle Theatre, IndyFringe "black box" theater, Indianapolis Opera, Athenaeum Theatre and Clowes Memorial Hall rolled in with retail shops, all in a central location.
Craft beer and food
I ended my walk at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen for lunch, opting for the house-made beef short rib kielbasa, some white cheddar spaetzle and a Dechutes Black Butte Porter, one of the few Colorado beers on the menu we can't get here. Now, the Circle City has a ways to go before catching the home of the Great America Beer Festival, but the last numbers posted where from 2012, and we've had dozens more breweries start here since then.
Colts versus Broncos
My walk on Colfax -- past the unmistakable waft of dispensaries, past the Fillmore Auditorium, Tom's Diner (which planted that Suzanne Vega song in my head), liquor stores, Ethiopian restaurants and barber shops seemed like a traverse along Hipster Avenue. It was definitely nothing like anything here in Indy. Once I redirected myself downtown, the civic and cultural amenities really began to shine, in some cases a mile above us.
I realize that a stroll-through on one random day serves as a poor diagnostic of a city. It didn't give me the full picture of Denver's underlying successes and problems. I don't know how the quality of our artists compares with that city's creative. That said, I gained great insight from hoofing it and observing with a newcomer's insight. Though I hesitate to use the sport reference, Denver in lots of ways is a colt all grown up.