This diary is written by a Irishwoman.
Utopia, your name is Colorado!
At nosebleed altitudes, rampant outdoorsiness rules. Hawks and migrating pelicans make it a birding paradise.
From hikes to beer, bongs and bikes, it’s created for pursuit of happiness. Also hoppiness, insist inhabitants.
And hippiness? Further gilding the state’s beer-soaked reputation as the Napa Valley of handcrafted ales is the two-year-old legalisation of pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, cannabis, marijuana, wacky tobaccy, or cannabis sativa, call it what you will.
In short, Colorado’s mellow. In tasteful, eco-friendly Boulder, locals down tools and head off by four to toke, blast, weed, sink a cool one, head out with the dogs. How refreshingly different from workaholic America is that?
Well, a visit to The Farm introduces us to the place my pal Cynthia calls “the Bloomingdales of dispensaries” – an upscale marijuana store.
Unvarnished wood hints at western vibes. Glass cases spotlight artsy blown-glass bongs. Their “merch” counter peddles T-shirts and Zig-Zag rolling papers.
Waiting customers peruse giant blackboards listing today’s harvest. A sales assistant sweetly explains “Diesel Dump,” “Couch Lock,” and “Head Band”. As far as I could make out, Couch Lock equals inability to rise from sofa; Head Band hits behind the eyes. I forgot what Diesel Dump means, but one puff knocks you into 2017.
“Oh, forget that crap!” hisses Cynthia. “They just get stoned and invent stupid names!”
Speculating on Jerry Garcia’s choice, we’re led to the consultation boudoir. Comely maidens fawn, then get straight to the point: up or down, painkillers or sleep aid, tinctures or tea? Cyn needs sleep aids, so we pay a modest sum for grass and gummies. It’s cash only, of course, since federal law still forbids canna-banking.
We tried the gummies later; bingo, you’ll out-snore Rip Van Winkle.
Beer names run to the eye-rolling too – “Insane Rush” by Bootstrap, or “Great Divide Aged Yeti”.
In cutely western Niwot, Powder Keg Brewery runs tastings where chocolate stouts and IPAs rule.
The bars also have quirky names, like Powder Keg or Bootstrap or Left Handed (in deference to southpaw Arapahoe Chief Niwot).
Former Dubliner Dan Shine likes to satirise this with new “brews,” like chewy, mouthable Pong and Reek from Western Disposable Brewery ($12 the half bucket. “No two batches alike”.)
But it’s hard to satirise names that satirise themselves, so we sank “Totes McOats, oatmeal stout with notes of dark chocolate, brewed with significant toasted oats for silky-smooth mouth-feel”, and pronounced it passable. Meh.
His “100 Best Things To Do in Denver Before You Die” lists breweries and bars, including the newly renovated Union Station, now a beaux arts beer-and-bistro hall. It’s gorgeous, and so are the trains. (The one from the Rockies to San Francisco is not to be missed.)
Strolling the station with Kurt Wolff, a country music nut and IPA fancier, I asked for picks: “Well, Codename Superfan from Odd 13 is a regular in my fridge, I love it!”
Fresh, super-juicy, he went on, and I reflected Denver really is the place for the IT-savvy young, non-judgmental and super-easygoing, and encircled by outdoor pursuits. Its ever-improving downtown now enjoys a pedestrianised main drag sporting pink pianos, wider sidewalks for outdoor tables, and free shuttle buses – a good recipe.
Previously I’d visited its Animal Wildlife Sanctuary with its elevated walkway and 33 lions, its National Weather Service (NOAA), IM Pei’s Center for Atmospheric Research and its museums and zoo. All impressive. The western feel is earned.
Best of all is the old-timey Brown Palace Hotel off 16th Street, still there, and with the best resident piano player in the West.
Inside, a glass atrium soars from swanky dining and memorabilia all the way to heaven. Ladylike tables are set for afternoon tea: mini-sandwiches and porcelain.
Luckily, old-timey cocktails exist too: Negronis, Tom Collins. Kurt and daughter Violet and I sink into banquettes to listen to John Kite, their glorious resident pianist who takes any and all requests.
After Old Fashioneds, we asked for and sang La Vie En Rose, marveling at generous acoustics.
And then there’s Nederland, podunk hamlet in the shadow of the Great Divide at 8,234 feet, and home of the Carousel of Happiness. A very simple pleasure, it’s an old-fashioned merry-go-round featuring a hand-carved menagerie revolving to the strains of The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. Rides are a mere buck (profits to charity). Created by local Scott Harrison, it uses an antique frame, and is run by volunteers. Writer-scholar Doug Cosper escorted me to a spotted cow while he took a gorilla.
It was absurdly touching.