Denver, Colorado: 6 First Impressions!

It’s been exactly a month. One month since we left the East Coast for the Mile High City. Although we’re still in the same country, I felt a bit of culture shock as we arrived in Denver that third Sunday in July – everything just felt soooo different from Boston. While I know you can’t completely get to know a city in only a month’s time, it does give you a few weeks to form some pretty strong first impressions of the town and its people. So what do we think of this Rocky Mountain metropolis? Read on to find out!

   Denver Downtown Views

1. Denver is friendly.

Toto, we’re not on the East Coast anymore. As a born and raised Midwesterner, I consider myself to be a friendly person, and I think most people who know me would agree. However, after four years in Austria (a country who thinks Americans are superficial because they like small talk) and four years in Boston (the East Coast’s version of “how dare you talk to me?!” at its finest), my natural St. Louisan tendency to strike up a conversation with strangers has been deeply and thoroughly squelched. So squelched, in fact, that it weirded me out when I returned home to St. Louis a few years ago, and a man up the street asked me how I was as I walked by him on my way to lunch. “Do I know this man? No…Why is he talking to me?” my Boston-influenced brain thought.  In fact, my fellow Midwesterners were always easy to spot in the East. I was on a bus once, and a lady caught my eye, as she was behaving very abnormally. What was she doing? Talking to the bus driver. “Where are you from?” I curiously asked her on my way off. “Michigan”, she replied. I thought so – Bostoners would never talk to a fellow human being on public transit. Another night, I was walking out of a crowded restaurant, and accidentally bumped in to a lady near the door. “Sorry”, I said automatically, not expecting an answer. “Oh, honey, don’t worry. No big deal!” replied a sweet voice. Seeking to test my Midwesterner-spotting skills, I turned to her and said, “Thanks, where are you from?” “Illinois,” she answered. Two points for me!

It’s easier to be friendly with beautiful mountains around in Colorado!

Anyway, back to Denver – it’s not the Midwest, but people here do talk to you! Our first Denver interaction was with our Lyft driver from the airport to our AirBnB – he talked to us the entire way! Markus and I were both a bit shocked, to say the least, and hesitantly made conversation back – we were a bit rusty. But Denver friendliness goes way beyond car rides. Grocery store cashiers here want to know how my day is or if I have any fun plans for the weekend. People at the coffee shop strike up a conversation as we wait for our coffee together. My physical therapist acts like he’s my best friend, and his secretary seems to want to chat with me about anything and everything. I have to admit, it still feels weird to talk to strangers after eight years of suppressing this habit, but Denver is slowly chipping away at my East Coast/Austria-made fortifications, and I slowly feel the natural St. Louisan in me starting to peek out, wondering if it’s needed again after all those years of hiding…

2. Denver is hipster.

I think Markus said the word “hipster” (very enthusiastically, mind you) about 3,000 times our first week in Denver. A hipster, for those of you who don’t know, is “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream”. Think ironic t-shirts, craft beers, beanies, capri jeans for men, goatees and moustaches, etc.  Our first day here, we went to a café that had a bike repair shop connected to it. I have never seen Markus so excited. He told me no less than 20 times, “It’s a café, where you can buy coffee and get your bike repaired. At. the. same. time. So hipster!”

The Denver Bicycle Cafe

Another hipster thing we’ve seen are scooters – everywhere. Scattered around the city, you can just pick one up, pop in your credit card, and ride it to your destination. Many bars even have parking for scooters alone! Denver also has great bike lanes, and we’ve been enjoying using the B-cycle program to ride bikes to work. It’s not uncommon to see a hipster on a bike, wearing funky glasses and skinny jeans, likely on his way to try out the latest craft beer … now I’m just waiting for Markus to grow his goatee and join them himself.

A Bar with a VW Bus and Ping Pong Tables – Feels Hipster to Me 

3. Denver is casual.

Arriving from Boston on our first day, we were struck with how casual everyone looked. The whole vibe just felt so different – everyone looked like they were going to hang out at a good friend’s house for a casual night in compared to going out to a nice fancy dinner with dressed-up girlfriends. I never really thought that people were super fancy in Boston, but here in Denver, the atmosphere is just so much more relaxed. The guys all have mesh hats (which Markus has fully embraced), and the girls’ outfit of choice seems to be a nicer T-shirt and jeans or shorts, even for going out to dinner at a nice restaruant in the evening. At a trivia night the other night, I was surprised to see how many people wore hoodies to the bar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in Boston. Our first dinner out, I asked my friend who has lived here for years what I should wear, and her answer was “Casual. Denver is always casual. You don’t dress up in Denver, unless you really want to.” And from what I’ve seen so far, she’s been right. As someone not very fashion-oriented, I am fully on board for this. Too bad I left all my hoodies in St. Louis!

Markus is keeping it casual and wild with his newly-bought Colorado hat.

4. Denver loves happy hours.

Having lived in the land of the Puritans the last four years, we had almost forgotten that happy hours existed. Boston, still so influenced by those God-fearing pilgrims, has extremely strict liquor laws, and happy hours do not exist. They were also hard to find in Austria, which means we appreciate them even more now after eight years away (although if you ever meet a German speaker, definitely ask them to say the phrase “happy hour” for you. I guarantee that you will laugh. In the German language, you almost always stress the first syllable of a word, so Austrians say “HA-py OW-ur” – instead of the English “ha-PY ho-UR”. Therefore, when an Austrian says he is going to a “happy hour”, it truly sounds like the hour itself is in a good mood: a happy hour, an hour that has just had a wonderful day and can’t stop smiling to itself. You know our good friend 4:00 – always showing up with a smile on his face!).

Sign Seen Around Denver

But the German speakers may have something there – the hours are happy ones, and Denver is full of them. Everywhere you go, every bar, every day of the week, there are drink specials. One bar we went to has Moonshine Mondays, Taco Tuesdays (with margaritas!), Whiskey Wednesdays, something else on Thursdays, and bottomless bloody marys and mimosas on Saturdays and Sundays – I had to break the news to Markus that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go there every day.

Sign Seen Around Denver

5. Denver has no locals.

We’ve been in Denver a month now, and I have yet to meet a person who is actually from Denver. Do they actually exist? Where did they all go? It seems like everyone in the city moved here from somewhere else. And it’s true, the city is growing at a crazy pace. In the last 7 years, over 100,000 new people have moved to Denver. The funniest thing I learned was that there are so many people from other cities living here that when people go to the Colorado Rockies’ baseball games, they often wear their own home team’s jersey instead of the Rockies’ ones. When we passed people coming home from a baseball game last week, we saw Cardinals jerseys, Yankees jerseys, Cincinnati Reds jerseys – and the Rockies were playing the Washington Nationals!

The only local we’ve met so far – a moose in Rocky Mountain National Park!

6. Denver is outdoorsy.

And finally, what would a reflection of Denver be without a mention of the outdoors? The Rocky Mountains, visible to the west of the city, are a short drive away, and it seems to be the norm that everyone does mountain-related activities on the weekends. Camping, hiking, climbing – these seem to be the usual topics of conversation every Friday when discussing plans for the weekend. It’s an interesting comparison to Austria – in Salzburg, the mountains were also right there, and people would do mountain-related activities occasionally, but it seems to be much more prevalent here. Perhaps that’s because most people in Denver are transplants, and they moved to Colorado for the mountains specifically? Whatever the reason, we think it’s great that people are so connected to nature.

Rocky Mountain National Park

But it doesn’t stop with the mountains. Parks are a big thing in Denver, and all these transplants seem to take advantage of the multitude of open green space as well. From volleyball to kickball to jazz concerts in the park, the parks seem to be a common gathering space for friends to enjoy the warm summer evenings Denver has to offer. And one last note – the sunsets in Denver are amazing. Beautiful blues and oranges light up the fluffy white clouds, which the Denver-ites associate with the blue and oranges of the Broncos. The first time I heard someone yell “God loves the Broncos!” after commenting on how lovely the sunset was, I was a little confused, but luckily my friend explained to me that he was not a crazy person and this is the normal Denver thing to say…

Rocky Mountain National Park

As we continue our stay in Denver, I am sure that we will learn much more about the city, its people and its culture. If you have any Colorado recommendations or thoughts, let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to follow us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook  to stay up to date with all our latest happenings and travels!

Our Current Denver Stats:

Favorites:

Restaurant: White Pie Pizzeria

Bar: The District

Hipster Café: The Denver Bicycle Cafe

Parks: City Park, Cheeseman Park

Gym: Movement 

Nature: Rocky Mountain National Park

For the Digital Nomad

Co-Working Space: ModWorks

Walkability: Decent, although easier with a car

Bikeability: Great – they have a nice bike share program  and decent bike lanes

Nightlife Level: High

Restaurants and Bars: Tons!

4 Comments

  1. Katie,
    There is a bike/coffee shop in Bloomington, Indiana called Bike & Bean. Indianapolis has electric scooters set up around town too.
    I really like Colorado. I enjoyed Denver. If you get a chance, head to Colorado Sorings and check out Garden of the Gods. I would also highly recommend the train ride from Durango to Silverton. The train route is absolutely stunning!
    I love your stories! Keep them coming!

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