Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1000 Words: Above the Weather

Sometimes the possibilities for everything seem endless from 35,000 feet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Endorsement: First Snowfall

I never appreciated snow until I moved to Colorado. The anticipation of a foot of freshy over the next two days is almost too much for me to handle. In honor of ski season, and the first snowfall of the year....

“There is nothing in the world like going out onto an untouched, open, virgin mountain slope drenched under a thick blanket of new powder snow. It gives a supreme feeling of freedom, mobility. A great sense of flying, moving anywhere in a great white paradise.” - Hans Gmoser, September 1974

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1000 Words: The Harvest, and Giving Thanks

We're a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving and it probably seems like a simple concept to many, but where I come from fall and bringing in the crops is a big deal. Its a time to reflect, a time to celebrate the rewards of hard work, and a time to be thankful for anything and everything. Yesterday I was told that all of the crops are in on the family farm. Today I'm reminded how many things I have to be thankful for.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Endorsement: Steve Jobs

People die every day. No one can avoid it, and who can say that one person is more important than another. Can anyone actually say that a president is more important than a father who worked his life away in a coal mine to provide a better life for his family?

That said, I do think we can learn from high profile people as we reflect on their lives. Steve Jobs created amazing things for the human race. Then he took those things and reinvented them by making them understandable and attractive to the masses. He pushed limits. He pushed his employees to create new ideas, and then make those ideas attractive and understandable. He paid amazing attention to detail. And on top of it all he was an iconic showman. He died way too young...there’s a lot we can learn from a guy like Steve Jobs. Carpe diem, people.

1000 Words: Moab, UT

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Endorsement: "I Hope Your Day Gets Better"

Someone once told me about the long-lasting impact negative encounters can have on people. You cut someone off accidentally and they yell at you, you have a bad encounter at work, whatever. It sticks with you, you retell the story and your blood pressure goes back up, etc. Well, I'm done with negativity.

While walking my dog the other day, I saw a biker get into it with a pedestrian. The biker was miffed and thought that he was "cut off" by the ped. The ped clearly meant no harm and as the biker was yelling choice words at the pedestrian while he pedaled off, the pedestrian politely yelled back:

"I hope your day gets better!"

Brilliant. Typically the yelling leads to more yelling and increased anger...and for whatever reason people gravitate toward the negative. But in six simple words this guy managed to make the biker feel bad for being so angry, actually said something nice in return, and didn't perpetuate the negativity. Far too often we're impatient, angry, wanting to pass blame, or just generally in a bad mood (myself included). My new goal is to never be negative again. Life's not that bad, in fact, its pretty short and sweet. I choose to enjoy it more.

Along those lines, I hope your day gets better!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Endorsement: Be a Gentleman

Most of the content I put out on The Goat is original...but every once in a while I read something that combines great photos with nostalgia and a solid message. Which is why this deserves a couple minutes of your time:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's Good: Spuntino

It’s no secret that I love the Italian lifestyle and pretty much everything that comes with it that doesn’t involve the terms “Jersey” or “shore.” Fresh veggies, cheese, cured meats, wine, pasta dishes, limoncelo, primo dishes followed by secondi dishes, more wine, espresso, three hour lunches followed by a nap, more cheese, Paninis, balsamic, seafood…I have one or more of those items daily – often 3-4 of those items daily (the nap, not so much). What I really appreciate is the simplicity of where traditional Italian foods come fromand how they are prepared. Most of the time we’re talking about centuries-old methods ofcuring meat, making cheese or cutting up homemade noodles. If its not broke, don’t fix it – which is what I appreciate about Spuntino in the LoHi neighborhood.

The little cafĂ© doesn’t have a huge menu (it changes on the chalk board often), and virtually no pasta (that I’m aware of), but what it does, it does well. Spuntino literally means “snack” in Italian, after all. Paninis, bruschetta, soups, salads, flat breads, and deserts…lots and lots of deserts. Not only to they make their own tarts, tiramisu and gelato (go with the salted chocolate carmel), but they have somehow perfected an idea that I always had but never knew it – make anything and everythinginto popsicle form. From your normal strawberry and chocolate flavors, to some interesting combinations (French toast, toasted coconut) to the exotic flavors that I’m somewhat scared to try (avocado vanilla, blueberry cinnamon). If you dream up the flavor, I’m sure Spuntino could put it in popsicle form. The great part is that most everything on the desert menu is made daily, so the next time you visit, they’ll have some type of new goodness for you to sample or take home with you.

I like Spuntino for a variety of reasons: fresh food, interesting combinations, gelato (in the restaurant and pints to take home!), cool space in an old LoHi building, virtually unlimited desert options, wine on tap, and a friendly staff who just generally seems like they enjoy being there. And really, who wouldn’t enjoy earning a paycheck by serving snacks, deserts and wine? It’s like handing out smiles and hugs for a living. Grazie, Spuntino!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

1000 Words: Camping

The camping season is coming to a close. The only good news is that ski season is on the horizon. Get outside, soon, and often.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Endorsement: Say Something Nice

I saw this, loved it, and thought it needed to be shared on a Tuesday. I need one of these in the park by my place, and if there were one there, I'm pretty sure I'd just set up camp for the day and just listen. Saying something nice isn't difficult, and it usually results in a smile.

By the way, did I tell you that you look nice today?

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's Good: Panzano Brunch

The quest to find the perfect brunch is a constant one…mainly because the research is so much fun. I love weekend brunch. No, seriously, I LOVE brunch. It’s the perfect mix of sleeping in (typically), coffee drinks, breakfast meats, danishes and pancakes, eggs, sandwiches, steak, large plates and fruit juice mixed with booze. You can grab a table at 8:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. You can order a side of French fries with your scramble, a milkshake to go with your blueberry pancakes, or a screwdriver to compliment your reuben. Bacon and a beer? That’s brunch. Pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream with a glass of champagne? That’s brunch too. It’s a veritable no-holds-barred meal - there are no rules, and anything goes.

My latest find and new favorite is the brunch at Panzano. Consistently recognized for its delicious Northern Italian cuisine, gluten-free menu, fresh baked breads and wine list – and known for weekday power lunches and higher-end dinners, I never thought about Panzano having brunch until it came up in my Eat Denver Dining Deck.

Located in a 30s/40s era building and sharing space with the lobby of Hotel Monaco, the atmosphere is best described as “refined awesomeness.” It’s a quiet space, but if you want to liven things up a little, ask for a seat with a view of the kitchen and then watch the chefs do their work.

I expected a tasty menu filled with some of my favorite Italian standbys, but there were three things that moved Panzano’s brunch menu from “really good brunch” to “who wants to go back next weekend?”

1) The way they seamlessly mixed Italian ingredients with American brunch. Pancetta and fontina cheese omelet? Salumi scramble? An Italian layered casserole with puliese bread, eggs, prosciutto, spinach, basil, feta, provolone, scallion and chilli flake? Yes, to all of the above, please.

2) The price point was really reasonable. For a restaurant that serves $20-$30 plates for dinner I was expecting to pay more than $7-$12 for the plates listed above. Thankfully, I was able to sample the ridiculously delicious Italian omelet for the same price as lunch at Biker Jim’s or a burrito from Illegal Pete’s.

3) $9 bottomless Bellinis. I don’t think I need to say much more about this. Amazing. Go, get yourself an Italian inspired brunch, and sip on a Bellini that will never be empty…

The wait staff was professional and personable, the surroundings are appealing, the restaurant smells like fresh baked bread and pancetta, the food is delicious and the Bellinis are bottomless. Meet me at Panzano on Saturday mornings…

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Endorsement: Random Compliments

Walking home from work one day this past week, a woman was leaving my building with a friend as I was entering. It happened to be one of the not-so-frequent days when I was dressed up a little more than normal. The woman (who I've never met) stopped, looked at me and said, "You look really put together today. That shirt looks great on you." And then she continued the conversation with her friend and went on her way.

I don't think I'm a person who needs positive reinforcement all of the time, but I'm also not immune to walking a little taller and smiling a little wider after someone provides a random compliment. It doesn't take much to compliment someone - their shirt, hair, shoes, watch, or even their smile - and the result is that you've probably made someone feel a little better, and a little more confident.

My goal this week is to find one person to compliment each day - something little, something nice, and something that will hopefully make someone's day. If you're reading this, give it a shot this week and let me know what type of reaction you receive. It feels good to be genuinely nice to people...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1000 Words: Cascade Lakes

There are a lot of things that make Oregon great. The Cascade Lakes are several of them.

Monday, August 1, 2011

1000 Words: Happy Birthday, Colorado

Happy 135th, Centennial State. Thank you for being you.

Telluride, June 2011.

Vail, February 2011.

Denver, December 2010.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What's Good: Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria

There are pizza joints, and there are pizza joints. Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria is the latter, and there are a variety of reasons that make it the best pizza joint in Denver.

Pizza is a pretty simple food, really. Some baked bread with a variety of veggies, meats and cheeses. Marco's serves two styles: New York Pies and Neopolitan - in fact, they're one of only 40 restaurants in the U.S. certified as an authentic Neapolitan restaurant by the Verace Pizza Napoletana. That's a lot of big words, but basically it means their pizzas are pretty basic (mostly tomato and mozzarella-based), fresh and generally amazing. They're cooked in a traditional coal-fired oven at a crazy high temperature – which translates to getting your food quicker and having a good mix of soft and crunchy crust (drool). I’m no foodie, so I won’t try to describe the ins and outs of Marco’s ingredients or cooking methods, but try the Sicilla if you’re into meat, or the Abruzzo if you’re a veg (or even if you’re not…the Abruzzo is on the top of my list regardless).

If you can, try not to fill up completely on pizza and sample some of the other greatness on the menu like the limoncello chicken wings or even the house salad (spring mix, mozzarella, grape tomatoes & balsamic). And do not, I repeat, do not leave without ordering a Nutella pizza for desert…I just started sweating while thinking about it. There’s a reason Marco’s was the top reader’s choice for pizza in this year’s 5280 Top of the Town.

Some other randomness that makes Marco’s great:

  • The ballpark neighborhood location. It’s a great mix of LoDo, pawn shops, funky people, tattoos, local businesses and Rockies games. ‘Nuff said.
  • Shiner Bock on tap. The pride and joy of Shiner, TX. These guys deserve their own post.
  • The back patio. Which will remove you from the pawn shop clientele via 7-foot brick walls and patio lights for some ambiance. They even have heaters available for those chilly spring/fall Denver nights. Sit back with a Shiner and enjoy a Downtown Denver evening.
  • The wine list. It’s not the top list in Denver, but its good wine to go with good food. Who can argue with that combo? Go with the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
  • The lunch special. A personal margherita pizza, house salad and a fountain drink for 9 bucks. Boom goes the dynamite.
  • The wait staff. Friendly, helpful people who remember your name if you stop in a couple of times. Specifically, say hi to Marcel Alaniz (Sol) behind the bar and make friends with him…now. Find out why he was a 5280’s Reader’s Choice for Best Bartender in Denver.

I think I’ve painted the picture here, and I didn’t even mention the antipasto plate with reduced balsamic, Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma; or the gluten-free options. Good God…who wants pizza tonight?

Friday, July 22, 2011

1000 Words: Union Station, St. Louis

I wish train travel in the U.S. was as elegant as the Grand Hall in St. Louis' Union Station. Happy Weekend, and safe travels, wherever everyone is headed for some weekend fun.

St. Louis Union Station, Grand Hall

Monday, July 18, 2011

1000 Words: The Beauty That's Around You

I was thinking about "the point" of my blog this morning and it occurred to me that most of what I publish here has to do with enjoying what you already have, or what currently exists around you. Its okay to want more and strive to be more successful, but don't forget to appreciate the beauty that already exists around you. Its most likely free, and they are probably the things you'll remember most when you're gone.

"Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it."
- Dalai Lama XIV

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do Something: Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey Tour

It was about two years ago that I discovered Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. I wasn't a very big whiskey fan before taking my first sip of George's namesake, but my liquor cart never goes without it these days. I'm not saying that Stranahan's is the best whiskey out there (my vote actually goes to Templeton Rye), but its the distillery tour, combined with its smokey flavor that won me over.

I've toured a number of breweries, from our neighbors in Golden to the scrappy startups in Ft. Collins, and I'll always be a fan of brew tours, but the good folks at Stranahan's do a great job of combining a solid story with an interesting 'still process and a whole lot of pride in their product. You'll get to hear about how the process starts from the bi-product of a local brewery, how the 'stills actually work, what types of barrels are used and how long each batch has to sit before its ready to be sipped. Oh, and then you get to sample some of the deliciousness to finish the tour before you exit into the Rackhouse Pub for some lobster mac 'n cheese, or something similarly fantastic off their menu.

The whole experience is part educational, part supporting a local business, part "I wish I worked here," a touch of "Oh, so that's what Uncle Jesse was always up to out in the Back 40," and it finishes with a sample of some of the best whiskey out there. And if you time it right, you might have the chance to buy a bottle from one of their quarterly Snowflake batches *drool*. Its clear they put a lot of effort into their craft - hand labeled bottles, extra steps in the distilling process...they've become so popular that the labels are actually put on by volunteer enthusiasts - it makes even the non-whiskey drinker appreciate how its created.

I don't know much about making booze, but if you are looking for a fairly quick, interesting and fun activity on a weekend afternoon with a group of friends, make a stop at Stranahan's (book your tour ahead of time...they tend to fill up early and often) and then grab a bite at the Rackhouse as you figure out which one of your friends has enough room for a 'sill in his basement.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Endorsement: Ft. Collins, CO

It's a fact, there's a lot to do in Colorado. Camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, biking, eating, drinking, kayaking...it's one of the only places I know of that has prairie, mountains, urban areas and desert all in one place. The problem is there are so many things to do, so many places to see that I tend to forget about a few tried and true areas that never disappoint - like Ft. Collins.

Sixty-six miles north of Denver and tucked between I-25 and the Roosevelt National Forrest, Ft. Collins is a highly underrated city for a number of reasons - but let's talk about what makes it great.

Its a college town. And with that comes young people, smart people, active people, entrepreneurial-minded people, attractive people and people who want to be with those aforementioned people. It creates lively sections of town - like Old Town and University Park - and it gives people something to universally root for (Colorado State) and something to universally root against (The Buffs).

People bicycle everywhere. And its not just bikes, people are generally active in Ft. Collins, but they literally bike EVERYWHERE. There are a lot of places in Colorado known for their active lifestyle and environmentally-minded nature...Ft. Collins is both and doesn't brag about it. Towns in Italy are really the only thing I can draw a comparison to (from my somewhat limited experience) when it comes to the number of people using pedals to get from point A to point B. Very cool.

Beer. Denver has a lot of microbrews, true. But Ft. Collins has a lot of really, really good and fun-to-tour breweries. Odell, Ft. Collins Brewing Company, Funkwerks, CooperSmith's and, of course, New Belgium Brewing. The great part is that you can tour all of these via a cruiser bike in one afternoon. Be prepared to meet some genuinely nice, somewhat hipster-ish (in a good way) and definitely knowledgeable taproom workers whose job is most likely cooler than yours. Grab a taste test or two, a growler and some schwag...you won't be disappointed.

Cache la Poudre Valley (and Mishawaka). Denver has I-70 and the gateway to Summit County, Vail, Frisco, etc. But if you want a really true, non-resort mountain experience, head west from Ft. Collins on Highway 14 and follow the Cache la Poudre River. The scenery is amazing, you can find a drive-in camp site fairly easily, there's very little traffic and the river is great for fishing, paddling or just falling asleep to the sound of in a tent. If you're into big resorts, spas, furry boots and hot tubs, it probably won't be for you. And that's a good thing. Oh, and I really need to give Mishawaka its own post because there's just so much good about it...but I'll just say that its a bar/amphitheater a few miles from Ft. Collins, on the river, that is a one-of-a-kind experience. Plan a trip around a concert...its the type of place that makes you appreciate life.

I could go on, but let me just offer up my perfect 48 hours in the Ft. Collins area:

Friday night - Drive to campsite along the Cache la Poudre River, set up camp, grill your dinner, start a fire and open a few beers/wine/Strannahan's with friends, fall asleep to the sound of the river flowing outside of your tent.

Saturday - Eggs, bacon and coffee over the camp stove; wake up a little by grabbing a quick hike or just read a little; venture into Ft. Collins with your bikes; tour 2-5 breweries; make some friends; grab a bite to eat in Old Towne Ft. Collins. Make your way back up Highway 14 to Mishawaka, tailgate a little before the concert, enjoy some live music in the mountains and along the river. Drive back to campsite, start a fire, discuss who brews the best beer in Ft. Collins with friends. Fall asleep to the sound of a river flowing by.

Sunday - Eggs, chorizo, peppers and onion scramble over the camp stove, with coffee; relive Mishawaka concert memories with friends; fish or hike for a few hours; pack up camp and head home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

1000 Words: Tap Rooms

Its interesting to learn about the different ways beers are created. Generally, brewers are even more interesting. Which makes their tap rooms very interesting. Visit them. Often. (Ft. Collins Brew Tour post coming soon...)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

1000 Words: Happy Father's Day

"Every time the rain comes out but the sun still wants to shout, that's when I know you're around..."
- Donovan Frankenreiter, Swing On Down

Friday, June 17, 2011

1000 Words: Open the Door

A little inspiration on a Friday: You don't know what's on the other side of that door until you open it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's Good: Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs

Summer and hotdogs go together like rye and bitters. You typically don't have one without the other. Typically this means gathering with friends for a backyard BBQ, packing a few Plumpers on the camping trip, or grabbing a Rocky Dog while being consistently mesmerized by Tulo. But a few months ago, Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs moved into my 'hood, and now I'll never look at hotdogs the same way.

Biker Jim's has "gourmet" in the title for good reason, but let's be honest - its a hotdog joint. So I appreciate the Easy Rider meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas logo on the wall and the fact that every dog has the option of cream cheese - applied by a caulk gun. The ambiance is a feel-good mix of exposed brick, brushed metal and tattoos. I liked the place before I tasted anything.

The menu goes from the exotic (Alaskan Reindeer, Pheasant, Wild Boar) to the more mainstream (all-natural beef, the Perfect Italian), and includes comfort-style sides like mac 'n cheese and fried green tomatoes. They also have a "Something Different" section on the menu that includes not-so-frequent options like the Wiener Wellington and the Yak Dog. Looking a little closer at the website you'll find that nearly all of their dogs are locally raised and produced, without hormones, antibiotics, nitrates or nitrites. And the buns are baked locally. Seriously cool. This ain't your grandfather's hotdog stand...

I'm a huge fan of condiments, and that was where things went from "really good" to "I'll be back." The option of sauteed onions comes with every dog, and a Taj Majal of toppings awaits you once the flame cooked dog is in hand. Multiple mustards, multiple kechups, banana peppers, onions, jalepenos...just about anything you'd ever want, short of Gummy Bears. They had me at "multiple kechups." My original voyage included a Perfect Italian dog with sauteed onions, some type of peppery ketchup, dijon mustard and banana peppers.

Imagine going your whole life watching old school antenna-based analogue TV, and then stumbling upon the Super Bowl playing on a 70-inch HDTV. That's the best way to describe my hotdog experience at Biker Jim's. Hotdogs done amazingly well, lots of options, made by some pretty cool people, and the only cream cheese caulking gun in Colorado. I think I know what I'm doing for lunch tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1000 Words: Denver. Yeah, it really is that good.

Just when you thought winter was the best season to be in Denver, spring came along. And then summer. And then fall...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do Something: Teva Mountain Games

One of my favorite things about Colorado is that there isn't really a bad season. I come from an area where the summers are hot and humid and the winters are cold and cloudy, so the fact that Colorado goes from sunny and warm to sunny and cool to sunny and snowy on a ski hill is something that I always appreciate. And every year when the slopes start to close and the Rockies start playing, I get the Summer Mountain Itch. Hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking, climbing...you name it. That's what makes the Teva Mountain Games worth visiting.

For five years I've wanted to check out the Games and finally made the trip up to Vail to see it this past weekend (its the first weekend in June each summer). Not knowing what to expect other than some amazing bouldering and kayaking competitions I'd seen covered in past years on 9News, I was pleasantly surprised when we parked the car and immediately stumbled upon the Eukanuba Dockdog long jump competition. Dogs jumping 18-25 feet into water? Yes, please.

After trekking down Vail's path through town we came to the Village - filled with climbing walls, food vendors, outdoor sports brands handing out schwag and selling products and a variety of competitions going on in and around town. We stopped to see the kayak freestyle event (guys and gals "surfing," Colorado-style) before grabbing a beer and finding a variety of things I didn't know I needed until I saw them. Some new Teva "Mush" kicks, a portable iPod speaker from Goal Zero, and a new neck gaiter for the 2011-12 snowboarding season - all at discounted rates.

The rest of the afternoon involved a fly-fishing spot casting competition, the bouldering World Cup (always amazing), mountain biking races, and a very entertaining Mud Run - all in 70+ degree mountain weather. Finally, the day ended with something I never knew existed - the Extreme Vertical Dog Competition, essentially a high jump for dogs off a dock into water. As I sat there in the sun with a mountain view watching a newcomer named "Jackson" start at 4'6" and take over the crowd as he made it all the way past the six-foot mark, and then witnessed a new world record (eight feet...the Craig's List dog jumped eight feet vertically!) I thought to myself, "Why am I not staying here tonight with my mutt, and when should I book my hotel for next year?"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1000 Words: 14,000 Feet

Summer in the mountains is highly underrated. Get up there and explore - its why you live/visit here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's Good: Lou's Food Bar

I talk a lot about food in this space, but really...why not, right? We need food, we enjoy food, and some of the most memorable moments with others, or even in general, involve food (e.g., The Last Supper, Michael Corleone's dinner with Mark McCluskey). Denver is rife with good places to grab a bite, as well as various (and different) neighborhoods to visit for said bite. That, to me, is what Lou's Food Bar is all about.

Lou's is up on the 1800 block of 38th Avenue, and it fits that exact neighborhood well. I don't claim to be a history buff, but that area of Denver is the only one with former mob ties. A little gritty, a little funky, a little hipster, and pretty damn cool. Copy and paste those comments for Lou's.

Case in point, their website reads: "Sausage. Cheese. Big Salads. Fried chicken. Pie." Ummm, yes please.

I've only really had the chance to sample some cured meats and cheeses, a couple beers and a desert via cruiser bike on a Sunday afternoon, but it was apparent that this is a place I like. Food that someone put some thought into, but has some comfort. Nothing flashy, but definitely tasty. The atmosphere is relaxed, but is still a good place to show off to your co-workers. And the happy hour (3:00-6:00, daily) helps keep the bank account afloat. More than anything, I like a place that has a fun atmosphere, serves good food, isn't pretentious, and has a sweet patio with cool lights for a summer night in Denver. I'll be back to try more, but the first impression was "I like hanging out with that person."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Endorsement: Spontaneity

Rewind to a couple of Fridays ago: I was set to meet six friends for a low key happy hour, The Ale House was the decided-upon locale. Here is the somewhat accurate rundown of events that followed (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

6:05 - Meet Joe at the Ale House, Chris shows up about 10 minutes later

6:15 - Chris makes the comment "Hey, there's cheap flights to Vegas, who wants to go?" Sarah shows up shortly thereafter.

6:25 - Vegas discussion continues. Sarah doesn't have her kids this weekend and had a long week at the law offices. Seems extremely excited about the Vegas idea. Gets her iPad out to search flights.

6:45 - Second round of drinks ordered. Vegas discussion continues, five tickets are found via iPad for a United flight later that night. Joe goes to call wife and attempt to obtain an unprecedented hall pass. I check on the other two happy hour attendees who have yet to show up.

7:00 - Joe amazingly gets a "sounds like fun, go for it" from what is obviously the coolest wife on the planet. I confirm, our sixth friend is out, but Rachel replies "Vegas? Yeah, cool. I'm in." Original Vegas flight option is no longer available...Sarah continues searching for options.

7:20 - A 9:30 United flight is identified. Five tickets - including a leg room upgrade from Chris (he's taller than me). Group relays their full names and dates of birth to Sarah who is booking the flight on Travelocity via her iPad. Rachel is unsuccessfully looking for a parking spot at the Ale House. Factual note: Chris is the oldest in the group.

7:45 - All we need to do is hit the "confirm purchase" button when Chris chimes in, "We're about ready to drop quite a bit of money on a flight to spend 11 hours in Vegas. We could go up to Blackhawk and tear it up for that amount of money. Should we think about this?" Which is extremely ironic considering Chris goes to Vegas an average of 10 times per year. Group laughs mockingly at Chris while each orders another round. Flight confirmed. Chris calls Planet Hollywood to obtain comped room, "just in case" and orders a limo to pick us up (yes, that's how often he is there).

8:00 - Quick stop at home to let the dog out, quick call to friend to ask to let dog out in the morning. Carpool with the two sober members of the group driving to DIA while listening to a montage of Frank Sinatra, Motley Crue and Lil Wayne (we were a bit giddy by now and "making it rain" as best we could).

8:30 - Arrive at DIA with nothing but the shirts on our backs, IDs and ATM cards. Quick race to see if Chris' Clear card is actually quicker than going through the short security line. It wasn't. Hop the train for the B Gates, while 3 members stopped by McDonald's and Steak Escape for a horrifically awful meal. Rachel and I opted out of the cuisine.

9:30 - Wheels up. Due to extended legroom, group decides to have a "sitting flutter kick" contest to see who can go the longest without stopping. Chris orders drinks from flight attendant - two per person. Flight attendant loves our story, provides 10 drinks for $25. First big win of the night.

9:45 - Important pact is made: If you win what your flight cost, you get to keep it. Anything above that is split amongst the group equally. Sort of like socialism without all of the oppression.

10:15 (MST) - Rachel wins flutter kick contest.

10:30 (PST) - Wheels down. Several "Hangover" and "Swingers" quotes thrown out, limo guy with a sign with Chris' name on it briefly attempts to run the other way.

10:50 - Arrive at Planet Hollywood. Scope out the scene, get "free" bracelets to comp cover charge at a club that was opening that night. Go to said club for overpriced drinks, watch funny people dance and obtain bottle service while techno music plays. Gambling itch sets in...

11:15 - Joe and Chris are not hungry so they head straight to the blackjack table with Sarah. Rachel and Jim head to P.F. Chang's for a superior meal to McDonald's or Steak Escape.

Midnight - Jim meets up with Chris and Joe at blackjack table. Chris and Joe started out slowly, but were beginning to win a little. Jim takes Third Base at the table. Sarah comes back with cigars.

12:05 - 4:00 - Group is up - particularly Chris and Joe, but I was a few hundred up as well. Free drinks, funny comments including waving "buh-bye" to the dealer every time she had to hit a 12-16, splits, double downs...we were on a roll. Rachel sits down after a while and wins a few hands. Seriously, this never happens in Vegas.

4:00 - Chris is up BIG, but Joe is up even bigger. I was up pretty big, but ended on a flat note and am now just up "well." Rachel decides to "check out" the hotel room for a 30 minute nap. I make an ill-advised trip to the craps table to try to get back to "pretty big" before cashing out. End up dropping a third of my winnings. Lesson: Kenny Rogers is always right.

4:30 - Group cashes out. Jim sees a yellow chip for the first time. All totaled we were able to pay for everything but essentially one flight. No kidding: four flights, the limo, the legroom (bad choice, if you ask me) and breakfast for everyone at the Bellagio.

5:30 - Head to McCarran Airport with full stomaches and happy, but exhausted faces. Lots of laughs about dealers, bad bets, funny characters and no sleep. Group crashes hard on the plane.

9:30 - Wheels down, 15.5 hours after we met for an innocent happy hour in Denver. Jim, Chris, Sarah and Rachel all head home to sleep. Joe goes to coach his daughter's soccer game. Hats off to Joe.

Moral of the story: Do something spontaneous...it might just be a ton of fun. Or in the words of Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try."

1000 Words: Sunrises

Sunrises are better than sunsets. I will not argue that point. When you have a chance, get up in the dark, grab a cup of coffee, watch and enjoy.

Photo: Sunrise, Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Monday, May 16, 2011

What's Good: The Green Russell

Different situations call for different drinks. Winding down on a summer weeknight? I'll take a Blue Paddle, please. Hot summer afternoon? Tequila and tonic with lime (try it sometime in lieu of a marg). Then there are days when you need a cocktail. A REAL cocktail. Gin. Bourbon. Bitters. Ice. If you're having a "cocktail" day, or even if you just want a really, really good drink, go to The Green Russell (1422 Larimer St., Denver).

Lots of "Prohibition-Style" cocktail joints have been popping up around the country (try Peche in Austin) but its the Green Russell's location (behind Larimer Street, downstairs, not easy to find), the fact that you have to walk through a pie kitchen to get there (fully expecting to pass by Peter Clemenza on the way through), the lighting/fixtures/barstools and general atmosphere, and most importantly, the staff's knowledge of great booze and cocktail artistry - the Russell is a step above any of the "speakeasy's" I've visited.

The bar is owned by the same group that brought us some Denver favorites - Osteria Marco, Mizuna, Bones, and Lou's - so the menu, while limited, is solid - try the "pig in a blanket" for a side-of-pork-twist on an old favorite. But let's be honest here...you go to the Russell for a cocktail, not food, and not even beer or wine for that matter.

The menu has several house-suggested drinks, all are good, but if you want to see the suspender/vest/newsboy-cap-wearing bartenders showcasing their know-how, go with the "Bartender's Choice." Here you will be able to tell your 'tender you like a gin-ish drink with a hint of egg white, or simply "something with bourbon" - or whatever might help ease the trials and tribulations of your previous 10 hours. What you'll get in return is a cocktail made with care - in every sense of the word. You notice the fact that there's a hint of pepper where there has never been before, or that the one giant ice cube keeps your drink cold while not watering down your Leopold's (the Russell is reported to have an ice block-making machine that cranks out 300 lb. blocks that are later cut down, and then chipped down at the bar for that exact reason).

My last visit I asked for "something with rye and bitters" - 10 minutes later (good drinks take time, folks...if you want a vodka/cranberry go to the generic sports bar down the street) what I got was an Old Overholt with (regular) bitters, the house made pepper-infused simple syrup and a blood orange slice/rind for flavor with one large hand-cracked ice cube. It was one of the best cocktail experiences I've ever had. Just what I needed after a cloudy, long day at work.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Endorsement: Open-Ended Travel

I had the amazing opportunity to take two weeks and travel abroad recently, and I'm sure I will be posting multiple thoughts and photos from the trip in the coming weeks. Put simply, here is a recommendation for anyone looking for a way to truly enjoy a slice of life if you are able: book an open-ended, multi-destination trip somewhere abroad. Make sure your train reservations are transferrable and your hotels have a 24-hour cancellation policy, and just go.

The most memorable moments of my trip involved busses when I thought I had tickets for trains, figuring out a Slovakian public transportation system at 9:30 p.m. without a translation book, ordering off a menu written entirely in Italian from a waiter who didn't speak a lick of English, the option of spending an extra night anywhere I ended up, walking 30 blocks with luggage from a train station to a poorly marked hotel and spending an extra 30 minutes at a cafe to enjoy another glass of wine and just watch people because I didn't have any place to be at any particular time.

These are the types of experiences that will make you feel a little less significant and empowered at the same time. The world is a big place, and if you don't take the time to let go, be okay with whatever comes your way and just enjoy the moment every once in a while, you'll miss most of what the world has to offer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Good: The 1-Up Bar (LoDo)

I'm a fan of Rockies baseball, non-cliche sports bars, craft beers, a place that knows how to make a good bourbon cocktail and any place that serves fine meats and cheeses. But sometimes (albeit, rarely) my inner-video game geek rears his Mountain Dew-drinking, parents'-basement-crashing head. For those special occasions, I now have a place to call "home."

The 1-Up Bar is a teenage-voice-cracking dream on Blake Street that consists of pretty much any and every retro video came console you could shake a joystick at. Joust, Centipede, PacMan, his life-partner, Ms.
PacMan, 1942, Donkey Kong, Asteroids...I'm sure there are some they don't have, but you would be hard pressed to not find at least one game that brings back memories of Atari joystick cramps or Nintendo Thumb.

As if "pixelated happiness" wasn't enough, you can wash down your low score sorrows with a PBR tallboy or similar. To be honest, I was so enthralled with the games, I can't remember what they had on tap - I only know that they had food, the beer was cold and the quarters were numerous. To cap it all of, The 1-Up bar blew my mind with a "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" brilliant idea to give patrons a rest and cure any video-induced bug eye: Giant Jenga. Its not a complicated idea, and its actually more fun than it sounds. Four tables of three-foot-tall Jenga games made from 2x4s. Watch your toes, eat the ghosts, shoot down WWII aircraft, invade space, and jump barrels while jousting on a flying ostrich with a cold beer in your hand. Your inner-13-year-old will be pleased with the 1-Up Bar.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

1000 Words: Outdoor Concert Season

I was reminded today that many tickets for many concerts are on sale soon. Music is amazing.
Get out there and listen to some this summer.

(Photos: Vampire Weekend, Miike Snow, Cage the Elephant, ACL 2010)