Dear Denver, I am staying in LoDo for a trade show. How do I make the most of my time in this land of conference badges and chain restaurants?

Photo of a sign that says, "I heart the 16th Street Mall"

Cue the juggalos

As a current Denverite, it blows my mind that the 16th Street Mall/Lower Downtown (LoDo) area is touted as one of our main tourist attractions.

On its surface, this part of town is only appealing to those who actually dig on the Hard Rock Cafe, happy hour at Chili’s, dusty souvenir shops, and hobo fashion shows.

However, if you’re willing to scratch the surface a bit, there are some areas of respite in this part of town.

Illegal Pete’s: Local burrito bar towards the bottom of the mall.  Friendly vibe, lots of bikes and tattoos.  Daily happy hour from 3-8pm, which includes free chips and salsa.

Grimaldi’s: Coal-fired brick-oven pizza that is pretty damn delicious.  Order a pie and enjoy.  Beer and wine also available.

modmarket: Sure it’s a chain, but modmarket still offers up some healthier and delicious fast-casual options.  A good choice for a quick breakfast, lunch or a solo dinner.  Vegetarian and vegan items as well, plus beer and wine.

Native Foods Café:  Sure it’s another chain, but after a couple of days of traveling/eating out, made-from-scratch, all-vegan fare may be what your body is craving.  Just peep their menu – it may feel impossible to make a decision from all of that yum, but I am sure you will persevere.  Beer and wine also available.

Crepes ‘N Crepes:  Paris in BroDo?  Maybe not.  But stop into this quaint little Writer Square crepe shop for sweet and savory delights and a happy hour from 3 – 6pm Tuesday – Friday.

Amore Gelato:  Yummy, creamy gelato, right on the 16th Street Mall.

Novo Coffee:  Legit coffee, amidst a sea of chains.

The Ship Tavern:  For some reason I am drawn to all things nautical, so the Ship Tavern is one of my favorite places to escape the ish of the 16th Street Mall.  Located in the Brown Palace Hotel, the seating is limited and being a hotel bar, the drinks are a bit pricier, but definitely pop in, have a beer, and muster up the courage to head back out into hobo-landia.

The Cruise Room:  The Cruise Room is sexy.  According to its site, “The Cruise Room is downtown Denver’s first bar and opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Boasting Art Deco décor, this bar is original in its entirety. The Cruise Room was fashioned after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary.”  Regardless, it’s got the nautical thing going again and some of the best drinks in town.  A little pricier as well, but super worth it when you find yourself in LoDo and want to escape through a delicious martini and low-lighting.

Green Russell:  I have never personally been on a weekend night and am not sure if it gets super broed out or what, but during the week the Green Russell is a great place for a drink and a show: order a fancy cocktail and enjoy watching the meticulous TLC that goes into making it.

Peaks Lounge:  Located at the top of the Hyatt Regency, the atmosphere is a bit dated and the drinks are (again) a bit overpriced, but the views from this 27th floor lounge are definitely worth checking out.  (Pro tip: bring your visiting ma or pa and impress them with the stunning views.)

Double Daughters:  So many bars downtown are whack.  This one is actually cool.  Go for the atmosphere, stay to get drunk.

Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret:  Lannie’s is a cool cool club.  Located in the basement of the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall, you’ll feel like you accidentally walked into some speakeasy a couple decades too late.  From burlesque to comedy to music shows, Lannie’s has the right amount of kitsch without taking it too (too) far.

Comedy Works Downtown:  World-class comedy club.  Peep their calendar and prepare to LOL.

Photo of a cool ass tank top.

I Heart Denver Store

I Heart Denver:  Whenever I have to buy a gift for a friend, this is my go-to store.  (Even if it is in the fucking Pavilions.)  Colorado-inspired wares, produced by local artists, provide unique offerings to locals and non-locals alike.  Peruse their selection of soaps, candles, jewelry, art and graphic tees and learn about new products via their Facebook page.  This store is an absolute must.  Open Monday – Saturday: 10am – 9pm; Sunday: 11am – 6pm.

Rocket Fizz:  When I was younger, my siblings and I would scrounge around in the couch cushions, go through our dad’s coat pockets, and dig through the change dish, all in order to feed our Willy Wonka addiction.  After we harvested our house for loose coins, we would then walk a good mile or so to Greenburg’s Pharmacy in Springfield, where we would binge on 10-cent boxes of Lemonheads, Gobstoppers, Hot Tamales, Boston Baked Beans and Fruit Stripe Gum (even though it seriously lost its flavor after 60 seconds).  Years later, the purchase of those delicacies was limited to the internet, which just didn’t seem as fun.  Enter Rocket Fizz, located in Writer Square.  A visit to this retro candy shop will take you back to your more innocent days, and remind you of all the things you used to enjoy, even if you’ve forgotten them now.  It ain’t healthy, but it is fun.  Also a good assortment of Asian candies and  crazy-flavored sodas as well.  Open until 12:30am Friday & Saturday, and until 10:30am every other day.

Tattered Cover: This bookstore is a Denver institution.  Attend an event or read something good and then tell me about it (in 30-seconds or less; I have a short attention span these days).  Open Monday – Friday: 6:30am – 9pm; Saturday: 9am – 9 pm; Sunday: 10am – 6pm

Dikeou Collection: Imagine an offbeat art exhibit set amongst a Mad-Men era office building and you have the Dikeou Collection.  This 5th floor downtown art collection will certainly make you feel in the know, however plan your visit wisely since it has fairly limited hours.  Open Wednesday – Friday: 11am – 5pm, however like them on Facebook to learn about special evening receptions.

MCA Denver: This small, neighborhoody museum hosts some seriously fun events.  Exhibits change often and entrance is reasonably priced, so if you haven’t been or haven’t been in awhile, it is time for a visit.  Plus!  The MCA rooftop cafe is worth a visit in and of itself #treschic.  Tuesday — Thursday: 12 – 7pm, Friday: 12pm – 9pm, Saturday & Sunday 10am – 5pm.

Sidewalk Pianos:  In the winter of 2009, seven uniquely painted upright pianos appeared along the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver.  Since that time, tourists, musicians, drunkards and hobos alike have all taken advantage of these free instruments.  Although there is some mindless pounding on the keys that occurs, pedestrians can also bear witness to some pretty talented peeps singing and playing from 8am – 10pm, seven days a week (weather dependent).

Photo of an outdoor piano.

Someone please play Lean On Me, and then we can all start singing and smiling and then when it’s all over we can go back to ignoring one another and hating our lives