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On Denver: A Moment in the City of the Moment

Another day comes to an end in Denver.

The Tommy Lee Jones puppet at Buntport Theater/

Patrick Hansen's Blue Bearstang.

A moment in Denver reminds the Confluence editor why this city is his city.
It's a beautiful Friday afternoon in late January as I write this. It's pleasant enough for a walk that cuts through my neighborhood's industrial district with Mini (our Great Dane) and Duncan (our presumed Finnish Spitz mix), including visits to a lovable St. Bernard who ostensibly guards an auto shop/junkyard and a pair of goats who now spend most of their time in a makeshift plywood shed. (Duncan can't see the goats, but he still whines with anticipation whenever we pass the goat shed.)

The orange haze of sunset drips with the blue notes of dusk, the musky scent of high-grade marijuana growing in the warehouses hangs heavily in the air, and the train tracks and power lines contrast with the Rocky Mountain foothills on the horizon just a little bit more than usual.

It all reminds me why Denver, the city of the moment -- this moment -- is my city.

Today, the champion steer from the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo was the guest of honor at a reception in the lobby of the luxurious Brown Palace Hotel downtown. In a few days, the cowboys make way for the ski bums as the SIA Snow Show kicks off its sixth year here (after more than 50 years in Vegas and NYC) at the Colorado Convention Center, just a few blocks away from the Brown Palace. In between, I'll be seeing Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone, a creation of Denver's perfectly skewed Buntport Theater, featuring a life-sized puppet of said actor that requires three star-crossed puppeteers to operate.

It's a pretty good spread for a week. This city learned how to throw a party with the Democratic National Convention in 1908, practiced for 100 years, then threw an even better one in 2008. Bring on the Super Bowl? The Olympics? We don't need 'em. We've got the Stock Show, the Snow Show and the Great American Beer Festival every year -- which are each pretty much the Super Bowl and the Oscars rolled into one for their respective industries.

This is the city named to honor a guy who'd already resigned (Kansas Gov. James Denver); the city encrusted with the detritus of the vast mineral wealth that flowed downhill two lifetimes ago, right down to the Denver Mint (we make money); the city that Henry John Deutschendorf took the name of, in order to accentuate his Rocky Mountain highness.

We're the city on the edge of a vast and inspiring wilderness. There is no other major city in the U.S. with such an enviable location. Within 200 miles are the continent's tallest sand dunes, more than 15 ski resorts, dozens of 14,000-foot peaks, countless canyons and chasms and miles and miles of trails that truly get you away from it all -- and home in time for Jeopardy!

As Mini and Duncan will attest, we're a great dog city. Other cities often send dogs to the Denver Dumb Friends League because they know they have a better shot at finding a home in Denver than anywhere else. Dog parks, dog shops, dog parades, dog events -- check.

Downtown is a model for downtowns everywhere. Its striking comeback in the last 20 years has fueled the entire city. The historic but brand spanking new Union Station is a catalyst for LoDo on the same scale as Coors Field was 20 years ago. The ballpark made the forgotten neighborhood famous, and the train station might well make that famous neighborhood the Rocky Mountain Manhattan.

We are entrepreneurs. We're doers. Denver's got an independent streak a mile high, and we love local -- local food, local beer, local booze, local art, local music, local neckties, local anything and everything.

There are 40-plus breweries, a half-dozen distilleries, and 300-plus marijuana dispensaries. There are people making cool things around every corner. There are pickle-makers, leather craftspeople, candle-makers and people making puzzle rooms and security robots and ice cream sandwiches and hyper-realistic celebrity masks. And did I mention the marijuana dispensaries? (I know. I did.)

The restaurant scene is on fire. Denver went from an also-ran to a must-eat seemingly overnight. And green chile, of course. (Not chili. Never.) I love it so much, I'd inject the stuff into my eyeball if my doctor recommended it. (He doesn't.)

I recently bought a piece of original art, Blue Bearstang, at the new Bear Creek Distillery, six blocks north of my house. The place had an art show of "Animashup" sketches by Patrick Hansen. He grafts a ram to a crawfish, or melds an octopus with a unicorn or hybridizes a frog and an elephant.

Blue Bearstang mashes the most beloved piece of public art in the city with the most feared, hated, and misunderstood one: I See What You Mean and Blue Mustang, respectively.

The former, also known as the Big Blue Bear, peers into the second floor of the Colorado Convention Center and has become an icon because people think it's cute and cuddly, although a ferocious bear of its stature would be able to swallow a school bus without even chewing.

The latter, also known as Bluecifer, is a statue of the same hue that stands menacing sentry at Denver International Airport. With glowing red eyes, Blue Mustang not only looks evil, but it actually killed its creator, sculptor Luis Jimenéz, before he could finish it. (It really did.)

And maybe that's why I knew I had to have Blue Bearstang the second I saw it. It mashes the cozy and comfy side of Denver that could eat you in one bite -- but doesn't -- and the side of the city that could kill you before you finish it -- and does.

That's art for you. It's hard to put into words.

Just like Denver.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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