Posts tagged ‘LoDo’

Denver Rocks the Culinary Casbah

It has been two months, three days and 16 hours since I took part in a Culinary Connectors tour in Denver, Colorado, and I still wake up in a fevered sweat dreaming about Max MacKissock’s smoked beets with grain, sorrel and yogurt. He’s the chef (or Cuisine Bean, as the Bean Team calls him) at The Squeaky Bean, one of three restaurants featured the night I took Culinary Connector’s “Top Restaurant” tour.

I have Becky Creighton to thank (or perhaps to curse, since, as I said, I’ve been unable to think of much else) for introducing me to MacKissock, currently on a Food and Wine list of the country’s top new chefs.

Creighton is the owner/creator of this three-hour tour, one of several she offers through the company she started five years ago, and not only did I get the opportunity to swoon over MacKissock’s fresh, innovative dishes that treat plants (Squeaky Bean owns six garden beds and an organic farm called the Bean Acre) like movie stars, but I got to meet him and his crazy partner, Johnny Ballen, who produced a hilarious video spoof of what they called “the bionic restaurant” that sprang back to life in June 2012.

The Squeaky Bean, that took root in 2009 in Denver’s Highland neighborhood in a ridiculously teensy space, was never hurting for fans or customers. But it occurred to the partners that if MacKissock was able to work that kind of magic in that handkerchief size of a kitchen, just think what might be possible in a former saddlery building in LoDo with three times the space.

Let’s just say Annie Sullivan** has nothing on MacKissock. And getting to meet him and the other star chefs on Creighton’s culinary tours was a highlight of my trip to Denver, like meeting the reclusive artist who painted your favorite painting. Or running into Brad Pitt in an elevator.

Creighton, who worked in tech for 10 years before shooting off in a completely different tangent, was burnt out, fed up and “hated going to my job every morning.” She went to Sedona with a journal (don’t we all?) and with a glass of wine in hand, set out to design a job she would love.

“Ninety-nine percent of what I wrote related to food, wine and people,” she says which is exactly what Culinary Connectors is all about—connecting people with the chefs and the food they’re experiencing.
The fact the food scene in Denver was about to explode, something she was told by Lon Symensma, the lemongrass-loving superstar who ran the kitchen at New York’s Buddakan before choosing Denver as the spot for his own restaurant, didn’t hurt the success of her pioneer entrepreneurial effort.

“Denver has long been known as a craft beer town,” Creighton said. “But its adventurous, young population is now being recognized as well for pushing the culinary envelope. There’s so much creativity here. Denver wouldn’t dream of becoming another Portland or another New York. The food scene here definitely calls its own shots.”

Besides the Squeaky Bean, which I’m happy to report still maintains its Farrah Fawcett memorial (wasn’t fair, Ballen said, that she died the same day as Michael Jackson) and added a Roger Ebert memorial (with two candles up), we visited Symensma’s ChoLon, a contemporary Asian (well, duh?) bistro that showcases the culinary luminary’s rampant imagination, and The Kitchen, the Denver version, that like its Boulder elder sibling, believes in creating community through food. I particularly loved their commitment to the environment including composting, wind power and the recycling of used cooking oil to power one of the server’s car.

I could go on and on about Denver’s provocative and inventive food scene, but hey, my stomach will only stretch so far.

Although Creighton didn’t play matchmaker at these restaurants (she does, but not on the particular night I imbibed), I also loved, loved, loved TAG and Root Down.

Get in touch:

The Squeaky Bean, still dedicated to irreverence and fun with its vintage cookbook menus, bills clipped to seed packets, wine poured from lab beakers, cocktails categorized by movie titles and a lit-up bingo board, is at 15th and Wynkoop, 303.623.2665,

ChoLon, named after the largest Chinese market in Saigon, is at 1555 Blake Street, 303.353.5223,

The Kitchen, a spinoff of the popular Boulder concept that was started nearly 10 years ago when Kimbal Musk and Jen Lewin’s black lab jumped in Hugo Matheson’s lap, is at 1530 16th Street (Entrance on Wazee Street), 303.623.3127,

TAG, created by Chef Troy Guard who says he goes to bed thinking about food and wakes up thinking about it, is 1441 Larimer St, 303.996.9985,

Root Down, whose bottomless blood orange mimosas during Sunday brunch will leave you grinningly blissful, is at 600 W. 33rd, 303.993.4200,

Culinary Connectors
, whose Becky Creighton grew up with loud Lebanese family members eating lots of food, can be reached at Box 271441, Littleton, CO, 303.495.5487,

**She’s the Miracle Worker who taught deaf and dumb Helen Keller to read and write

Iconic fashion brand still outfitting cowboys and celebrities in Denver’s artsty LoDo

Prada, Armani, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Rockmount.

Um, Rockmount?

Whether you’re aware of this iconic fashion brand or not, you’ve seen it many times. Paul McCartney, when he hosted Saturday Night Live, wore not one, but two different Rockmount shirts. Heather Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (and indeed most of the entire cast) donned Rockmount’s snap-button shirts in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain. In fact, the shirts worn by Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist were bought in a charity auction for $101,000 and now reside, entwined together for eternity, in L.A.’s National Autry Center, a museum devoted to Gene Autrey and all things western.

Ronald Reagan, Elvis, Miley Cyrus, Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks and just about every honoree in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wear or have worn (sorry Elvis) the shirts that Papa Jack Weil started making back in 1946. He served as CEO of the company and showed up every day, sitting at a wooden desk near the entrance of the five-story red brick warehouse in Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo), until he died in 2008 at 107. He said he owed his longevity to the wisdom of quitting smoking at 60, giving up drinking at 90 (except, of course, for twice-weekly medicinal shot of Jack Daniels) and losing the red meat at 100.

He told his grandson, Steven Weil, who now runs the store and the Rockmount brand (It’s short for Rocky Mountains, in case you’re wondering) that he got up every morning, read the obits and if his name wasn’t in there, he’d get dressed and go to work.

Papa Jack more or less invented the Western shirt. Or at least the first with snaps. Still in production today, these slim-fitting shirts (Papa Jack claimed they were less likely to get snagged on cactus or sagebrush) with the signature sawtooth pockets, yoke and shotgun cuffs are so much a part of the aura of the West that samples reside in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian.

At the historic store in LoDo (1626 Wazee) where the company has been making shirts for 65 years, there’s a small upstairs museum with saddles, quilts, cowboy lunchboxes, photographs, three generations of shirts and a couple “Jack A. Weil Boulevard” street signs from the city’s annual acknowledgement of the founder’s birthday.

Still scratching your head about Rockmount? Here are a couple other places you may have seen the iconic shirt:

** William Shatner wore one on an episode of “Boston Legal.”

** Costume designers for the 1993 Nicolas Cage flick “Red Rock West” purchased 20 of the same white shirt to ensure Cage’s character was always emanating pristine Rockmount.

** Robert Redford outfits the entire staff at his Sundance Resorts in custom-made Rockmounts.

** Clark Gable wore one in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe

** Rockmount once sent a shipment to Antarctica

** When Cream performed their reunion concert in 2005, Eric Clapton sent an email the day before requesting a couple dozen shirts. Steve, who had to tell him there was no way even Federal Express could get them there on time, ended up flying over and hand-delivering them to London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Why does rock-‘n’-roll love Rockmount so much?

“Beats me,” Weil said. “Luck, I guess. And people seem to like the story. We don’t change with the wind. Rockmount is about classic American design.”