“Some places are like people: some shine, and some don’t” — Dick Hallorann
This past December I lucked out when a friend of ours dropped out of a sold-out trip to Denver where we’d stay at the historical Stanley Hotel, dress up and attend their yearly event. Too many people are unaware of this, but room 217 in the Stanley Hotel inspired horror novelist Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining.
During an already eerie, empty night spent in the hotel, King woke up after midnight in a panic. He had just had the strangest dream. "I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.” Stunning, right? I have always found dreams to be so powerful. It must be astonishing for King to look back and find that one of his most impressionable pieces was based off of this single, unexpected stay at the Stanley Hotel.
S A T U R D A Y
The first night, we decided to book a small, quaint AirBnB not too far from Downtown Denver. We scored with some goal-worthy interior and respectful owners who also ran a yoga studio down the street ...fitting. There are three things you should look for when booking an AirBnB unique from the average hotel experience:
Proximity: What’s the point of booking an AirBnB if it isn’t walking distance? Attention to Detail: The attention put into an AirBnB is a reflection of how serious the owner is about their side business. For instance, our Denver spot was stylish and provided morning bananas as well as Emergen-C, a beautiful touch. Five stars.
Bag check: I have been without bag check before and it is one thing I will never do again. I have a great habit of booking later flights home in order to squeeze out a few more hours of vacation time. Also since I aim for a closer AirBnB, I typically don’t look to rent a car. So where will you keep your things while you day drink? Priorities.
2. Matchbox Bar
This bar was recommended by a local friend-of-a-friend and served as a great afternoon drink spot. Apparently at night it fills up a bit and becomes something like a drug den ...? The bartender kept it pretty laid back for how early it was. When asking for a great place to eat he said, “If you guys are looking for the Denver experience, you’ll find it for cheap at Biker Jim’s which is right up the street.” and so we did.
3. Biker Jim’s
The guys were sold at “rattlesnake hotdogs”. I went with our bartender’s recommendation, an cheddar, jalapeño and ELK hotdog with their “classic” topping - cream cheese and bottled Mexican Coca-Cola marinated onions. It was amazing ...and cheap. Nice.
4. El Chorito
The rest of our day consisted of walking to the next, most recommended bar. I could immediately see why El Chorito made it on the list. Upon entering, there is a small bar followed by many tables and a multi-use stage. Depending on the night, you could either run into a live band or karaoke, not sure which is better in my book. We made our way to the back to find a pool table where we spent most of our time.
5. Mexico City
Drinking lead to starvation, which lead me to an enchilada burrito at Mexican City across the street. This would not have been my favorite had it been a planned dinner, I would recommend the food trucks alongside DT Denver, instead.
6. Gin Mill
The Gin Mill was a great time as it began to move later into the night. The dance floor was full and it consists of an open backyard area with ideal string lights and two additional bars. We spent a good amount of time here and the demographic was especially entertaining.
7. Star Bar
It began getting late and we had one main stop on the list, Meadowlark. Somehow we got sidetracked on the way - it may or may not have been the live folk band that wound us up at the pit stop, Star Bar. This place was lively and also consisted of a small, intimate backyard area. The crowd here was friendly, sparking up conversations left and right. Bri and I were simply hypnotized by the strumming of the man slappin’ the bass.
Ugh, Meadowlark - where do I begin? Basically, we found everyone that was missing from the other bars. This spot is underground and entirely too crowded. This worked out perfectly since we were all half passed wasted and just wanted to dance a lil’. I’ll give this one two different awards, one for the best outdoor patio area and another for the worst DJ. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is a Denver thing but I definitely expected better from one of the most popular downtown bars.
S U N D A Y
How this is not a vacation destination is beyond me. Driving up to the beautiful Stanley Hotel was much like a winter wonderland. Elk and Deer just rummage around as if they own the place and when it snows, it really snows. Within minutes tracks that were just there are covered and staring out windows, getting lost in the view is a must. The hotel itself is both beautiful and eerie - just what we’re looking for. There is the original hotel, a concert hall and the lodge in-between. During the night, we would venture through the creepily lit banquet halls. There is a locked attic worth exploring along with stalking room 217 (SK’s classic room) and 418, the rooms with the most reported paranormal activity. It is no surprise that this hotel left such an impression on no other than Stephen King.
Estes Park is a small town with not too many options and I am 100% happy that we wound up at Grubsteak. Offering a unique selection of Elk, Yak, Duck and Beef burgers, we were taken aback. Forgive me, I didn’t get the name of the burger but it was definitely Yak and most definitely consisted of chili mayo. Solid choice. Grubsteak also whipped up a beautiful Irish Coffee and offered local, beers from the Estes Park Brewery.
4. Concert Hall
Doors were at 7:00 PM and the band did not go on until 9:00 PM, so we spent our spare time living like kings and queens in a lounge-area of the Lodge. The century gothic-themed living room was the perfect scene for pre gaming, especially with a balcony overlooking snow-struck trees and slippery ice victims people watching. For the third year in a row, Murder by Death who WestWord noted as a “critically acclaimed Indiana-based gothic Americana band” performed their sold-out, three night extravaganza in the mystical Concert Hall. Attendees are encouraged to dress in 1920’s attire and the vast majority of them live up to it. The entire set is a dream come true. Lead Singer Adam Turla has the resurrected windpipes of Johnny Cash - simply a sight to be seen. If that isn’t enough, the bar offers Shining-themed beers with Jack Nicholson front-and-center. Did I mention there is a photo booth? Done.
I don’t know what is better, the concert itself or the fact that everyone marches back up to the Stanley afterward, still in the old century attire. Truck through the infamous maze after a couple cocktails at the Whiskey Bar. It is worth it just to be still and converse with various demographics from all over the world while watching the snow slap onto the moonlit statue of Freelan Stanley, the man with the ideas. Absolutely a night to remember, an evening that is now a tradition.
M O N D A Y
Don’t forget the Lodge’s continental breakfast and breathtaking views. I would have made the entire trip for this moment, alone.
Alright, so. Lastly - be sure to make a short stop at the most beautiful spot in the entire town, Estes Lake. Each of out jaws dropped while driving alongside the lake so we were sure to make the stop on the way out, well worth the quiet moment after such a non-stop weekend. Thank you to the pleasant surprise that is Estes Park. Sorry photos can’t do you any justice.
*Very important side note: Be sure to Google "Denver Airport Conspiracy Theories" in order to make sense of the eye-catching murals.