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A local’s guide to Denver

From murals and street art to cutting-edge galleries, Denver’s River North (RiNo) Art District is a true hub of creativity — here’s our pick of where to go

A local’s guide to Denver
Ratio Beerworks patio

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The RiNo Renaissance
Once a hub of industry, the River North (RiNo) Art District has transformed into a square mile of cocktail bars, craft breweries and galleries squeezed into old warehouses, factories and scrapyards. Among the best contemporary art spaces is Weilworks, the studio, gallery and home of RiNo co-founder Tracy Weil. Here you can see Weil’s bright, expressive large-scale work, plus his sketches and ideas in progress. 

For contemporary ceramic art, head to Jonathan Kaplan’s exquisitely designed Plinth Gallery for anything from ornate vases to thought-provoking abstract pieces. Visions West Contemporary, meanwhile, focuses on landscapes, animals and environmental issues inspired by the Rocky Mountains.   

Over at Helikon Gallery & Studios, a repurposed former warehouse, there are 14 artists’ studios as well as two ground-floor galleries that exhibit their work. You’ll find a similar setup at GRACe; hidden at the back of an old scrapyard, it has a gallery and affordable studios for more than 70 artists, from painters and jewellery makers to photographers, fashion designers and more. 

Creative and culinary
RiNo is home to an array of spaces that combine creativity with drinking or dining. RiNo Made, for example, isn’t just a buzzing market hall — although it does dish up fabulous food, from Korean barbecue to Indian street snacks. It’s also home to RiNo Made Store, the Art District’s official shop, which stocks a carefully curated selection of locally made jewellery, ceramics, prints and more. 

If you prefer to combine art with booze, award-winning brewpub Ratio Beerworks has spectacular murals, design collaborations with local artists, exhibitions and live music — as well as great beer. For cocktails, meanwhile, head for contemporary art gallery Millers & Rossi, where, behind a painting, you’ll find one of the coolest speakeasies in the city.     

At Denver Central Market, stick around after you’ve grabbed a slice of wood-fired pizza or a scoop of artisan ice cream and head around to the back alley. Nearly every inch of this tiny lane between Larimer and Walnut has been adorned with exquisitely rendered street art from both local and internationally acclaimed artists. 

If you’re after more street art then you’re in luck. Head to Station 16 at The Source Hotel — a contemporary urban gallery showcasing the work of graffiti-influenced artists. The same complex is home to a delicious array of top restaurants and bars, along with the award-winning Source Market Hall, one of the best places to eat and drink in the city, full of vendors, bars and breweries.  

Artist Rather Severe working on a mural

Tracy Weil’s Top 5 street murals
Tracy Weil is RiNo’s co-founder and current creative director

Larimer Boy & Girl
Jeremy Burns has created two murals in one by painting the alternate sides of a building’s exterior slats with different images. Walk in one direction and it appears to be a boy with a surprised expression; from the other it’s a girl with a melancholy face. Find it on 27th and Larimer.

Power & Equality
Shepard Fairey is the most influential street artist of the last decade and this striking image of a black woman staring hopefully towards the sky was the star attraction of 2018’s Crush festival of street art. Located in the parking lot behind Denver Central Market.

Hermes
Fusing classical art with urban styles, world-renowned Spanish duo PichiAvo create unusual, bold, cross-cultural mash-ups. See their large-scale portrait of the Greek god Hermes duelling with graffiti tags on the corner of Blake and 32rd Street.

Herbert’s Grove
Granddaughter of great Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer, RiNo local Koko Bayer plasters walls with abstract collages inspired by her grandfather’s designs. Visit Ironton Distillery to see her haunting grove of eyes and trees.

Mantradala
Legendary Californian street artist Cryptik fuses intricate, hand-drawn calligraphy with ancient Eastern symbolism to create trance-like pieces that he calls mantradalas — part mantra, part mandala. To see one of his creations, visit the parking lot of 2669 Larimer Street.

Top tip
On the first Friday of the month, numerous studios, normally closed to the public, open their doors between 6-9pm for the RiNo Art Walk, with special exhibitions, live music and more.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)