Convening in Colorado

Things to do in Denver if you're a Dem, in town to choose a presidential nominee, or simply a tourist of any party

June 29, 2008|By Christopher Reynolds

DENVER - Greetings, superdelegates, standard delegates, compromised Floridians, miffed Michiganders, would-be VPs and all-access VIPs. As you and the other Democrats convene here Aug. 25 to formally choose a presidential candidate at last, you will be wined, dined, wooed, spun, schmoozed, queried, denounced and perhaps bamboozled by all manner of unreliable operatives, members of the media and, of course, one another.

Don't trust those people. Trust me.

For instance, if, over a welcome cocktail, one of the locals seems to be inviting you to partake in some Dazbog with Hickenlooper, your drink has not been drugged, and this is not a Justice Department sting. Dazbog is a popular local coffee brand. John Hickenlooper is Denver's mayor. And Denver, for the record, is a city of 570,000 people at the eastern edge of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

It's a mile high, as you might have heard. More to the point, it's the capital of Colorado, one of several Western states that leaned slightly right in 2004. Had they leaned slightly left, John Kerry would be in the White House. If I were a Democratic strategist, I would have put the party here, too.

A word to those of you who backed presumptive nominee Barack Obama from the beginning: If a couple of burly Clinton people show up to bury the hatchet and offer you a free ride to the convention center on 14th Street, take evasive action. The Colorado Convention Center is a big, beautiful building in the heart of downtown, and Denver's taxpayers spent about $300 million to expand it four years ago - but that's not where the party is.

The delegate floor will be a few miles away at the Pepsi Center, which holds more seats and houses Denver's pro basketball and hockey teams (the Nuggets and the Avalanche, respectively). In fact, this convention could be a bit like those hockey games, with hip-checking, high-sticking and nose-punching. Ratings could depend on it.

A note to those of you whose hearts remain with Hillary Clinton: If one of the Obama people invites you over to the Sheraton and mentions a Supreme Court appointment, don't get your hopes up. That's what the Sheraton calls its cafe and nightclub. At this Supreme Court, happy hour starts at 4:30 p.m., and the nacho plates go for $8.50.

During the convention, about three-quarters of the 1,225 rooms upstairs will be occupied by the California and New York delegations - which means that, in three days, more liberal opinions will be heard at the Sheraton's Supreme Court than have been heard at the federal one in the past three decades.

Even when there aren't lobbyists throwing around fistfuls of money - as they surely will during the convention's four-day run - it's easy to have fun here.

Since its first gold rush in the 1850s, Denver has been a boom-and-bust town neighbored by an embarrassment of outdoor temptations, including skiing in the Rockies and hiking, running and biking in the foothills.

To this backdrop, the convention brings as many as 50,000 delegates, media and hangers-on. The Democratic leadership controls the schedule and about 17,000 of the area's 38,000 hotel rooms, so those people will decide not only when everyone gets to sleep but also where.

In other words, if you're not a superdelegate and your next Denver visit will not be during the convention, you're in a better position to use some of this advice.

The past two decades of high-tech industry growth have been good for Denver, as evidenced by the Pepsi Center (opened 1999); the 1,100-room Hyatt Regency Denver (opened 2005); the Colorado Convention Center (opened 2004); the $110-million Hamilton building at the Denver Art Museum (an addition that opened in 2006); and the 202-room Ritz-Carlton (opened January), which, beginning in about 2010, is to be rivaled by a new Four Seasons hotel.

For a bird's-eye glimpse of these and other wonders (yes, those buses on the 16th Street Mall are free public transportation), step right up to the Hyatt (convention headquarters) and take the express elevator to the 27th-floor Peaks Lounge for a floor-to-ceiling view full of Rocky Mountains and skyscrapers, with the twinkling city at your feet.

If your hosts want to wow you with steak and Wild West atmosphere, someone might suggest the Buckhorn Exchange, said to be the oldest restaurant in town: It's been dishing out buffalo, rattlesnake and more traditional meat since 1893.

Some flesh-eating locals prefer Elway's (owned by John, the former Broncos quarterback), either the original one in the Cherry Creek area (about three miles southeast of downtown) or the new one in the Ritz-Carlton downtown, which features a dining room full of blown-glass in fiery hues and a power table (eight chairs, round) that's half-encircled by stacks of wine bottles. It's called the wine-tower table.

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