Sam Kornblatt hasn’t lost his Brooklyn accent despite having lived in Denver for more than seven decades. He migrated westward in 1939 after his doctor told him that Colorado’s rarified air would be good for his health. At 91, Kornblatt still works a couple of days a week at Rockmount Ranch Wear in Denver’s historic LoDo district. You don’t have to ask the nonagenarian twice to expound on all things Rockmount.
“This is a family business — three generations,” he says, gliding through the racks of colorful cowboy shirts and all manner of western paraphernalia. “Jack, my boss, worked ‘til he was 107.”
That would be Jack Weil (who died in 2008), Rockmount’s founder and force behind what has become the iconic American cowboy shirt. Popular with would-be wranglers worldwide, the shirts are also favored by Hollywood’s glitterati. Fans include Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson, Nicholas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, Kiefer Sutherland and Elvis, to name a few. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal wore Rockmounts in the film “Brokeback Mountain.”
“See here,” Kornblatt says, pointing to a replica of Ledger’s shirt that rests behind Plexiglas. “Jack was the first one to put snaps on these shirts. Now everybody does.”
Today, grandson Steve Weil runs the business from the store’s loft office, in a beautifully renovated brick warehouse. It’s just one of many meticulously restored edifices in the area — all legacies of the 1863 fire that leveled the city’s wooden structures. Determined never to suffer a repeat fate, Denver declared that all buildings must be constructed of brick.
And here’s another wonderful thing about downtown Denver: There is so much to be seen on foot, via bicycle or free shuttle because Denver does trails like no other city. It boasts 850 miles worth of off-road byways (visit trails denver.com), only a few of which you can conquer in four days’ time. But you have to start somewhere, so if you can extricate yourself from Rockmount, continue walking through picturesque LoDo, which claims to have the country’s largest concentration of Victorian and early 19th-century buildings. Next, if you love the outdoors, follow the Cherry Creek Trail to the REI Flagship Store.
Not an inveterate shopper, I rarely plug particular stores, but if you like to camp, hike, bike, kayak, canoe or climb, a pilgrimage to this cathedral is obligatory. The store, located in the grandly restored 1901 Denver Tramway building, overlooks Confluence Park, where the South Platte River and Cherry Creek meet. This REI features a 45-foot climbing wall — more like a mini-Matterhorn — and offers every known gadget and piece of clothing that helps makes travel and outdoor adventure, well — less adventurous.
Denver claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, the ice cream soda and shredded wheat, and now the Mile High City features way too many great restaurants to sample in one visit. But you can start by checking out visitdenver.com for a great list of choices.
The history of Denver has been shaped largely by its isolation, says Rich Grant of Visit Denver at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Because there was nothing else around for hundreds of miles, people looked to Denver for their needs, so the city grew and thrived, fed by the grit of its citizens.
Today, there are many wonderfully distinct communities like the “neighborhood-on-the-verge” RiNo (River North), where up-
and-coming and established artists, architects and furniture makers are putting down roots; the Art District on Santa Fe, with the largest concentration of art galleries (40) in the state and home to “authentic Mexican culture;” and Larimer Square, the first of Denver’s renovated neighborhoods. Tiny white lights illuminate this unique shopping and dining area year round. For an excellent roundup of Denver neighborhoods, visit denver.org/metro/neighborhoods.
Getting around also can be easy using Denver’s B Cycles — a bike sharing plan with dozens of stations throughout the city. There is no fee for using the bicycles as long as you keep each one no longer than 30 minutes. (denver.bcycle.com)
Whether you’re on foot or on wheels, it’s hard to ignore the plethora of public art scattered about Denver. This progressive city decided in 1998 that 1 percent of any capital improvement project of $1 million or more be set aside for art. As a result, 150 pieces have been installed around the city. A favorite is the 40-foot-tall blue bear (officially named “I See What You Mean,”) that peers through the glass walls of the Convention Center. We had a bird’s eye view of this giant, cornflower colored creature from our room at the Hyatt Regency, and watched as visitors delighted in discovering this whimsical sculpture and posing for playful photos.
For more information, see visitdenver.com.
Filed Under: Hit the Road