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Denver’s River North Arts District (RiNo) is the latest of the city’s neighborhoods to shed its hard-knock urban aura in favor of a trendier — albeit still funky — vibe.
The neighborhood can be confusing geographically, as it’s split in half by railroad tracks (with Brighton Boulevard anchoring the section to the north and west, and Blake, Walnut and Larimer being the “it” streets on the south and east sides). Calling RiNo “eclectic” would be an understatement. Contemporary galleries — including one that doubles as the secret entrance to a speakeasy — sit side by side with decrepit or utterly transformed warehouses and graffiti-covered buildings in addition to upscale boutiques, aged storefronts, breweries and shipping containers-turned-restaurants. Be sure to look for the orange rhino throughout the neighborhood, the district’s official mascot.
EatTucked into The Ramble Hotel, Super Mega Bien (SMB) fits seamlessly into RiNo with its colorful aesthetic and menu that transforms dim sum into a Latin American sensation. SMB is the second restaurant of chef-owner Dana Rodriguez, following the wildly successful Work & Class, which is located across the street.
“Cheese is my drug,” Rodriguez explained, as plate after small plate arrived on our table.
The menu changes, but during my visit, I ordered heirloom tomato salad with queso fresco; sweet potato dumplings with avocado sauce, roasted poblanos and Oaxacan cheese; and squash blossoms stuffed with goat and Manchego cheeses and served with pear compote and almonds. The dairy-free curry rice soup with shrimp is also tasty, and there’s plenty of meat in the dim sum. The cocktail menu draws from multiple regions and includes the Terremoto, a mix of crisp Chilean wine and floating sorbet. The restaurant serves dinner only, does not take reservations and is closed on Mondays.
SleepRetro elegance meets contemporary chic at The Ramble Hotel, a 50-room boutique gem and RiNo’s first hotel. Crystal chandeliers hang over deep leather banquettes, and cozy seating areas are found across the compact lobby, making it feel more like you’ve wandered into a wealthy relative’s estate than a hotel in one of Denver’s edgiest neighborhoods. Guestrooms are modern and come equipped with all the expected technology.
Other hotel highlights include the on-site Death & Co bar, the second outpost of New York City’s uber-popular establishment, making The Ramble Hotel’s lobby a go-to spot for locals as well as guests. Get there early, as seating goes quickly during happy hour. Coming this fall to the hotel is Suite 6A, Death & Co’s high-touch cocktail venue with just 20 seats.
PlayThere are a slew of craft brewery tours available in Denver, but save them for another day. To tap into RiNo’s quirky heartbeat, it’s best to experience its vibrant street art and learn about the people who created it.
That’s what Denver Graffiti Tour does. The operator offers neighborhood tours Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., with custom times available for groups of 10 or more. The two-hour walk, which covers about 20 blocks or 5,000 steps, costs $25 and features approximately 100 pieces of art viewable on RiNo streets.
The company has also interviewed local artists, and guides incorporate their backstories into the tour. They also touch lightly on typical urban issues — including gentrification and homelessness — providing an authentic portrait of this dynamic neighborhood. The tour ends within a short walk of The Ramble Hotel and a dozen top restaurants and pubs. Be sure to bring a water bottle and wear comfortable shoes.