By Kara Williams, on June 26, 2015

What’s new in Denver

In its annual list of fastest growing-cities in the United States, Forbes ranked Denver sixth. Not only are new residents flocking to the Mile High City for job opportunities, but tourism is booming as well: In the past decade, the city has experienced a 48 percent increase in tourism. All of this action means brand new Denver hotels are popping up in key downtown areas, and recently opened restaurants add to the vitality—with many new projects on the horizon, as well.

Here’s a peek at some of the key hotel properties that have opened in the past year, and a sampling of some new (and new-to-me) restaurants I checked out on a late spring couples’ trip to Denver.

Union Station & The Crawford Hotel. Following a $54-million facelift, the circa-1914 Beaux Arts downtown train terminal at Union Station reopened last summer as the home of not only a handful of retailers and restaurants, but also of the 112-room Crawford Hotel. Named after Denver preservationist Dana Crawford, the luxury property features different eras of the century-old building: Art Deco “Pullman” guest rooms evoke train travel’s hey day; “Classic” rooms inspired by the Victorian era have huge windows; “Loft” rooms are in the train station’s former attic with exposed wooden beams, and influenced by the hotel’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood. There’s no lobby per se, which confused me a bit when I peeked in the train station to see the renovation. “The entire Great Hall is our lobby,” said a staffer behind a small front desk. He was referring to an expansive space with soaring ceilings; a place where passengers wait for Amtrak and RTD light rail trains.

Viewfinder Tip: In 2016, a 23-mile rail line will run from Denver International Airport directly to Union Station, making it easier than ever to transfer to downtown hotels.

Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center. This 230-room hotel opened downtown in the former Colorado National Bank Building in 2014, and the Renaissance did a phenomenal job incorporating historic details from the old bank, built in 1915. History buffs will absolutely appreciate the restored wall-sized lobby murals dating to 1925 and depicting the lives of American Indians, painted by iconic muralist Allen Tupper True, History fanatics also will appreciate the three vaults with 33-inch-thick doors that serve as meeting rooms. The exterior also is impressive, with towering white marble columns (hewn from the same Colorado quarry as the Lincoln Memorial) and massive, monogrammed bronze doors. While design at this hotel is throwback, decor is undoubtedly modern: Classy touches include bright geometric rugs and curvy high-back couches in the three-story lobby at Renaissance Denver Downtown CIty Center.

Meeting room at the Renaissance

The ART Hotel. I wish The ART Hotel, a 165-room boutique property next to the Denver Art Museum, already had opened during my May 2015 trip. Alas, this brand new building debuted in mid-June 2015 with its very own collection of modern pieces by artists such as Larry Bell, Claus Oldenberg, Tracey Emin, and Sol LeWitt. The modern hotel promises lots of open space and natural light, with contemporary rooms featuring original art.

Two more anticipated scheduled hotel openings in Denver include the Westin Denver International Airport and a downtown Hyatt Place/Hyatt Hotel combo in November 2015, with a Kimpton hotel adjacent to Union Station coming sometime in 2016.

Also never to be forgotten: the 7-year-old Ritz-Carlton, Denver, which will open a brand-new fitness center in August 2015. Currently, guests enjoy complimentary workouts at the Tru Fit Athletic Center next-door. The Ritz-Carlton Denver also recently invested in updating its guest rooms with fresh paint, carpeting, wall decor, and soft goods. Rooms formerly had a heavier feel, with warm, buttery hues such as soft peach, rust, gold and orange; now guest rooms feature a soothing color palette with infusions of blue, some silver and white, plus neutral, creamy tones for a contemporary, yet comfortable-and-classy look.

Denver also has welcomed a handful of new-ish restaurants in recent months.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar. The proper name of this casual, contemporary joint that opened in October 2014 comes from “hop” (as in a beer ingredient) and “doddy,” the slang term for a cow in Aberdeen, Scotland. Lime green diner-like chairs and high-top tables are packed during the weekday lunch rush; the restaurant occupies a key spot, kitty-corner from downtown’s Union Station. Natural ingredients are the focus here; all beef ground fresh daily comes from hormone- and antibiotic-free, “humanely raised” cows. Buns are made fresh twice a day and French fries are hand cut. It all tastes great, too—especially the generous serving Parmesan fries with truffle aioli and the not-as-spicy-hot-as-it-sounds El Diablo burger: Angus beef, pepperjack, habenaros, serranos, caramelized onions, salsa and chipotle mayo. I also couldn’t leave Hopdoddy without trying the vegetarian “hemp seed patty.” The nutty white bean burger, with quinoa, carrots, basil and other veggies and herbs, was delicious, but a bit difficult to eat, since it fell apart. Thankfully, every oversized burger served on a metal tray comes with a fork and knife.

Charcuterie at The Nickel

The Nickel. Kevin Taylor Restaurant had long occupied the ground-level restaurant space at Hotel Teatro, but a new concept, dubbed The Nickel, debuted last summer, with a more casual setting (oval wooden tables, striped leather chairs, and huge windows in a two-story space) and a focus on locally grown and raised, seasonal ingredients. Because The Nickel chefs cure the majority of meats in-house, one must-try is a charcuterie plate. Guests-custom order meats, such as prosciutto di parma or chorizo secco, as well as cheese, pickled veggies and sweet accompaniments (like seasonal jam) as you would order sushi rolls, via a paper checklist.  Be careful not to fill up too much on delicious appetizers, lest you not have much room for items from the wood-fired grill, such as Colorado Lamb Rack and local Colorado-based 7x Wagyu Beef Coulotte. When I visited, I opted for a rich dish of handmade pasta with Dungeness crab, loads of garlic and smoked butter. I still managed to put away a side of braised pork meatballs. I appreciate that the draught beer is an all-Colorado list, and cocktails are made with barrel-aged spirits, many of which are distilled in the state.

Ophelia’s. Located in a historic brick building that once housed a brothel, adult bookstore, and peep show, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is a bit on the bawdy side. That is, I wouldn’t necessarily bring pre-teen children to this hip, dark restaurant where erotic movie posters hang on the walls. However, adults with a grown-up sense of humor likely will appreciate the irreverent decor in the two-level restaurant. Upstairs has a full bar and cozy banquette seating, with some chairs overlooking a downstairs stage, where a wide variety of musical acts perform on the weekends. The basement level is worth a peek even if you’re seated upstairs; there’s a neat bar down there, and the backsplash is made from a few thousand mini green Jagermeister bottles. The doors in the restrooms are clever, too (I’ll leave that one for you to discover on your own). Food here is meant to be shared, with items such as hummus “brothel boards,” gourmet flatbreads, duck wings, and Wagyu beef sliders. This restaurant just debuted in April; reservations are highly recommended.

How do you find out about what’s new in a city?