Photo Credit: Sarah Welch

New York has Grand Central Terminal; Washington, D.C. has Union Station. Now, with a massive, just completed restoration and redevelopment, Denver’s historic Union Station is poised to become a similar an economic catalyst and community focal point for the Mile High City. With a focus on preserving the historically significant features of the 1914 Beaux-Arts building, it has now returned to its origins as a multimodal transit hub and local hospitality destination.

The building, which also marks its 100th anniversary this year, was instrumental in transforming Denver from a dusty frontier town to the largest city between Chicago and San Francisco. Over the years, though, thanks mostly to the growth of automobile culture (though, also air travel), the station’s significance declined. With this renovation also has come a repurposing.

Denver Union Station (DUS) still serves as a transportation center but this time it is primed to be the central locus of Denver’s emerging multimodal culture – bringing together bus termini and adding eight new tracks for AMTRAK and light rail and connecting to two free downtown shuttles. Soon, there also will be commuter rail and a dedicated line to Denver International Airport.

With its soaring 65-foot ceilings and arched windows, the old waiting room has been christened “The Great Hall.” Retail stores dot the periphery and include an outpost of the justly famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, Bloom flower home decor and jewelry shop, and 5 Green Boxes creative gifts and jewelry store. The Station also includes a wide variety of eating and drinking establishments that thankfully are of much higher pedigree than one has come to expect at such terminals.

The old ticket windows have been turned into The Terminal Bar, which features more than 30 Colorado craft beers and a huge outdoor patio. Looking down on the Great Hall from the second floor balcony is The Cooper Lounge, where a wide variety of cocktails are available along with an extensive wine list.

Within the Great Hall is a pretty amazing array of restaurants:

  • Stoic & Genuine, a seafood restaurant from Chef Jennifer Jasinski; (Top Chef, winner of the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest and owner of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, and Euclid Hall in nearby Larimer Square)
  • Mercantile Dining & Provision, a full service restaurant and market from Chef Alex Seidel (of Fruition, a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2010) for locally made foodstuffs, many of them produced at Fruition Farms, Seidel’s 10-acre sheep dairy and creamery in nearby Larkspur
  • The Kitchen Next Door Community Pub, an extension of the Boulder restaurant
  • Snooze, A.M. Eatery, another location of the popular breakfast and lunch joint
  • Fresh Exchange, fast casual place serving salads, sandwiches, and more
  • MilkBox Ice Creamery, located in the station’s classic former barber shop, featuring Denver’s Little Man Ice Cream
  • PigTrain Coffee, featuring Colorado’s Novo Coffee
  • ACME Burgers and Brats

Visitors also can relax on the Wynkoop Plaza, a refreshing outdoor space with 300 water jets in front of the station.

And adjacent to DUS just to its south, Portland-based Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill actually was the first eatery to open in the redevelopment. Thirsty Lion serves lunch, happy hour and dinner but its main attraction probably is the 52 beers on tap. Still, they have created a welcoming place where friends, families and area workers equally can enjoy the pub’s seasonal menu, beers, craft cocktails and 25 wines by the glass in the expansive, unique interior or large outdoor patio. I was a guest for lunch recently and enjoyed Bacon Wrapped BBQ Prawns, Copper River Salmon, and a chocolate brownie made with porter beer! All were well executed and delivered by a friendly waitstaff.

  The upper floors of the north and south wings of the building are occupied by The Crawford Hotel, named for Colorado’s legendary preservationist, Dana Crawford. The Crawford is a 112-room independent hotel, featuring three styles of uniquely decorated guest rooms that reflect the different eras of the building’s 100+ year history, including:
  • “Pullman” rooms modeled after the vintage luxury private railroad sleeping cars
  • “Classic” rooms with a contemporary twist on traditional design styles featuring tall ceilings and large windows
  • “Loft” rooms with exposed wood timbers, high vaulted ceilings and contemporary designs meant to resemble lofts in the adjacent Lower Downtown neighborhood
  • five suites, meeting space, and private event spaces

Named to the National Register of Historic Places, Denver Union Station expects to achieve LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

As the late, great historian Tony Judt* has written, during the century (about 1860-1960) that saw the rapid development of urban American, localities that embraced rail – which included embracing train stations – promoted the growth of community and civic culture as the lynchpin of a vibrant economy. Again, that changed after World War II with the spreading isolation of automobile culture and the associated growth of suburbia. Development and investment moved away from the city, especially the city center.

Nowadays, we are experiencing something of a “Back to the Future” moment. Once again, trains and train stations are being reinvested by farsighted cities that recognize their value as economic assets but also as generators of community and community character. With the reawakening of Denver Union Station, Denver is well positioned to reap these benefits as our residents, businesses and visitors “share (this) public space to common advantage.”



*For more of Tony Judt on cities and rail:

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.