American Culture

The Scrogue's Guide to Denver and the DNC: the People's Republic of Boulder

Reigning atop a short list of the nation’s hippest leftist university towns, Boulder will be holding court at the base of the Flatirons as the DNC legions descend on Denver. Just a half-hour away, Boulder’s Democratic denizens are hoping to lure some of them to partake in its progressive proferrings. Here, then, is a brief introduction to the People’s Republic.

Nestled in a green valley on the eastern edge of the Rockies and surrounded by thousands of acres of public open space, Boulder offers a coveted combination of culture and nature in close proximity. Convention-goers can pay homage on a day’s outing before or after the events in Denver, or an evening escape to the al fresco bars and restaurants that line Pearl Street Mall, the pedestrian heart of downtown.

Democrats from out of town should feel right at home in deep-blue Boulder. Long a liberal stronghold in a historically reddish state, Boulder has further upped its number of registered Democrats since the 2000 presidential election. The city council is 100% elected Democrats, as are the three Boulder County commissioners.

Boulder’s reputation as a nexus for peaceniks, environmental activists, organic vegans and Buddhist practitioners is, like most stereotypes, justified to a point. You’ll definitely run into these Boulder icons and others, including plenty of lycra-clad bicycle commuters, triathlete moms pushing jogging strollers, and world-class rock climbers. The city’s collective fitness and eco-consciousness are rightfully legendary. Don’t expect many hippies or itinerant bohemians in tie-dye and dreadlocks anymore, though; they’ve been largely priced out by Audi-driving trust-funders and entrepreneurs who cashed out of their start-ups just in time. After all, it takes something other than The Power of Now to muster up a down payment on a home in Boulder’s still-rising real estate market where the median price is well above a half-million dollars. Boulder is plenty liberal, although it’s definitely a bastion for rich liberals.

But even conservatives would be hard-pressed not to enjoy a day in beautiful Boulder. The compact city of 100,000 offers a host of opportunities for exploration, contemplation and manducation (that’s eating, by the way: helped me find an alliterative synonym). Here are a few possibilities:


  • Rent a bike at University Bicycles (9th & Pearl downtown) and pedal the Boulder Creek Path, a couple of blocks to the south. This gentle paved route, beloved by cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers and dog-walkers, runs seven miles from the jaws of Boulder Canyon to its eastern terminus on the plains.
  • Rent a tube and float Boulder Creek. Tube rentals are available from Whitewater Tubing at 8th & Pearl, or buy one at the Conoco station at 1201 Arapahoe. By late August, water levels are low, offering a mellow cruise downstream. Put in at Eben Fine Park at the west end of Arapahoe Avenue.
  • Hike at Chautauqua Park beneath Boulder’s most famous natural backdrop, the sandstone slabs called the Flatirons. From the Ranger Cottage at Baseline Road and Grant Street, a network of trails takes off from the big meadow and weaves into the pine forest. Great views of Boulder and the plains can be had from the top of the meadow, or venture farther along the Mesa Trail or into Bluebell Canyon for a more intimate encounter with Boulder’s mountain foothills. Post-hike refreshments are available at the historic Chautauqua Dining Hall, continuously operated since 1898.


  • Global warming and its consequences may ultimately be the world’s most pressing political problem, and a visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesa Lab offers a unique opportunity to delve into a better understanding of the earth’s climate and weather. Scientists at NCAR do cutting-edge research on climate change, which is the subject of two major new attractions in the exhibit area. The first provides a visually exciting, comprehensive view of the Earth’s past and present climate; the other is a self-guided audio tour about atmospheric science, the distinctive architecture of the building, and the ecology of the NCAR mesa. Guided tours of NCAR are offered daily at noon. Self-guided tours are available from 9-5 on weekdays, 9-4 on weekends. For directions or more information, click here.
  • The largest natural history collection in the Rockies is on display at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Permanent exhibits showcase dinosaurs and fossils from North America, including rich archaeological sites in Colorado; wildlife from the Rocky Mountain region; and ancient and modern indigenous cultures of the American Southwest. The current temporary exhibition is Silavut: Inuit Voices in a Changing World, charting the engagement of Canada’s Arctic native peoples with a changing climate. Click here for hours and directions.
  • The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, otherwise known as BMoCA, presents a constantly changing tableau of innovative visual and performance art. The museum’s educational mission means a regular emphasis on hands-on programs and interpretation for young people. (Click here for current exhibitions.) Admission is free when the Boulder County Farmers Market is happening out the front door, on Saturdays from 9-4 and Wednesdays from 4-8. A free guided tour of the museum is offered Saturdays at 11. Closed Mondays.
  • Herbal tea drinkers abound in Boulder, perhaps no surprise given that it’s home to Celestial Seasonings, producer of more than 100 varieties of bagged tea — black, green, red and white, too. Though the company is now a corporate giant, its commitment to sustainable farming and fair trade evoke the consciousness of founder Mo Siegel, who used to wander the Boulder foothills gathering herbs and blending them for sale to local health food stores, creating such famous flavors as Red Zinger and Sleepytime. Free tours of the company headquarters and manufacturing plant are offered daily, with a chance to sample every tea they make. For hours and directions, visit the Web site.

NOSH AND IMBIBE (okay, so no more alliteration)

Boulder has hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bars, so it’s daunting to even try to pick a few to suggest. But here is a sampler, each a tribute to Boulder’s captivation with creative, casual eats and atmospheric downtown drinking locales. All are on or near the famous Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian experience that offers heavy boutique browsing and hobnobbing with the locals and tourists on parade.

  • The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, 1770 13th Street, may not be the expected entry at the top of this list, but I put it there because this magnificent landmark is a must-see for any visitor to Boulder. And the food, which draws from a multitude of international cuisines, is very tasty. The teahouse — an absolute work of art — was a gift to Boulder from its sister city in Tajikistan. Created by more than 40 Tajik artisans, the traditional Central Asian teahouse features a hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools and columns, and intricately carved exterior ceramic panels. While breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, both inside the teahouse and outdoors beneath the umbrella tables along the creek, you can also come just for tea: the menu is a veritable book. The homemade chai is particularly good.
  • The Kitchen, 1039 Pearl, calls itself a “community bistro” with a seasonally evolving menu focused on fresh, locally sourced fare. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the main level, while The Kitchen “Upstairs” is a popular wine and beer lounge with bar and contemporary low table seating for close conversation. A wood-fired oven provides rustic appetizers to complement the 750-label wine list and 50 varieties of beer. The desserts have a following of their own, especially the caramel-drizzled house specialty, sticky toffee pudding, better than any I’ve ever had in England.
  • Centro, Boulder’s “Latin Kitchen” at 950 Pearl, has an indoor/outdoor bar and patio that defines West Pearl’s “see and be seen” scene. The menu is full of fresh, fun dishes from Central and South America including appetizers like crab empanadas, ahi tacos and roasted summer corn soup. Best mojitos in town. Don’t count on talking much here, especially on a warm summer evening when the place is thronging.
  • The Mediterranean, 1002 Walnut, better known as “The Med,” is a Boulder classic that’s been drawing hordes of happy-hour-hungry locals for more than 15 years. It’s hard to find a better refresher than a chilled Sangria and array of tapas (try the roasted garlic with gorgonzola and sun-dried tomato pesto on crostini) on the Med’s back patio, which features a courtyard and fountain surrounded by painted murals that evoke a summer scene in Italy or Spain.
  • Brasserie Ten Ten, 1010 Walnut, features casual French bistro fare with some exciting twists, like lavender-crusted sea scallops, Moroccan curried pork, and Ahi Basquaise:mustard spice-seared Yellowfin tuna with almond risotto, ratatouille sweet pea coulis and a tomato-red wine reduction. Lunch here is a special favorite of mine, the same fine food at very reasonable midday prices.
  • Seven on Pearl, 1035 Pearl, is one of Boulder’s uber-hip drinking and dining experiences, and as such I’m a little reluctant to mention it, given how much I detest pretension (particularly evident among the patrons)…but the food is fab and it does capture an entertaining slice of the more sophisticated Boulder scene, so… Argentine-born chef Diego Coconati takes fusion to further reaches with cuisine that blends his Latin American roots with high-intensity flavors from Asia. Get an enticing menu preview at the site.
  • Hapa Sushi Grill and Sake Bar, 1117 Pearl, one of four Colorado locations (including Cherry Creek in Denver), offers creative Japanese dishes and fine sushi cut to order on display in the bar area. Happy hour (Monday-Saturday from 2:30-5:30, and Thursday-Saturday from 10:o0 till close) features two sushi rolls for $6.50 and sake for $3.50. It’s worth waiting for a sidewalk table outside to watch the mall-strollers meander by.
  • Sunflower, 1701 Pearl, is quintessentially Boulder. Offering “fine organic dining,” Sunflower features free-range poultry, non-endangered wild fish and game, and a wide range of vegetarian offerings with certified organic produce, local when available. A gorgeous brunch is also featured on weekends, with dishes like Banana Brulee French Toast and Duck Confit Hash & Eggs.

If you just need a quick caffeine jolt on the fly, there are lots of alternatives to standard chain espresso in downtown Boulder. Here are my personal coffee houses of choice:

  • Trident Café & Booksellers, 940 Pearl, features reliably smooth, never-bitter espresso shots, real whipped cream for mochas that’s squirted out of their silver “Hungarian contraption,” and a poster of Jack Kerouac on the wall overlooking the baristas. I know this Boulder institution well, having written half my dissertation here fueled by giant lattes. Next door is a seductive off-price book shop with a fine array of titles in a small space.
  • The Cup, 1521 Pearl, serves arguably Boulder’s best, most European cappuccino. The foam is always swirled into an intricate design for an aesthetic touch, but the appeal is more than cosmetic, which you’ll discover as you taste how dark and rich the fair-trade Conscious Coffee is here. The pastries are equally noteworthy by European standards. When it’s nice out (which is more often than not in Boulder), the big garage door fronting Pearl Street is raised to create an airy indoor/outdoor space.
  • The Laughing Goat, 1709 Pearl, is Boulder’s sort of bohemian coffee house (retaining vestiges of nearby predecessor, the now-defunct Penny Lane) that features, in addition to fine Kaladi Brothers Coffee from Denver, regular poetry readings and live music on the weekends. The setting is dark, cozy and a little funky, or you can grab a sunny sidewalk table outside.

There, that’s enough to keep you busy for, oh, about a week. Despite Denver’s draws, it is, one must acknowledge, out on the plains. Boulder is the urban Colorado most people picture when they’re looking for something a little more in sync with the Rocky Mountain heights. Dyed-in-the-wool Dems will be very happy here.

2 replies »

  1. The pastries are equally noteworthy by European standards.

    Finally some information I can use – and put to the test. We shall see, The Cup. We shall see.

  2. One not-so minor warning about the Trident if you’re planning on eating some of the food from their case – don’t do so if you have a food allergy. The Trident uses the same tongs to serve everything in the case, so everything in the case qualifies as cross-contaminated. But for just coffee, it’s hard to beat the ambiance.