Heart of the city

Sarah Kuta

As far as neighborhoods go, Denver’s Golden Triangle has it all—arts and culture, history, civic buildings, coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and more. In fact, you might just call it the heart of the city.

This relatively small neighborhood is one of the oldest in Denver, home to the seat of Colorado’s state government (the gold-domed capitol building), and packs an artistic punch with more than a dozen world-class galleries and museums within its boundaries.

 “In the last 10 to 12 years, the Golden Triangle neighborhood changed dramatically and became a powerhouse of culture, art, and contemporary life here in Denver,” says Christoph Heinrich, director of the Denver Art Museum.

What better excuse for me to explore the neighborhood than the Denver Art Museum’s groundbreaking “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature” exhibit, now on display through Feb. 2, 2020. I put on my walking shoes and set out to uncover all this vibrant neighborhood has to offer.

The one and only

Visitors examine artifacts in the Northwest Coast Indian Gallery at the Denver Art Museum, located in Denver’s Golden Triangle. Courtesy of Denver Art Museum

You’ll want to dedicate some serious time to the Denver Art Museum’s Monet exhibit. After all, not only is it the largest exhibit the museum has ever hosted, it’s the largest and most comprehensive Monet exhibition anywhere in the world in 25 years—and Denver will be the only city in the U.S. to host this magnificent collection.

How did Denver land such a significant show? When Heinrich’s friend and former colleague Ortrud Westheider became director of the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, the two began brainstorming ways to collaborate—and landed on Monet. The Denver Art Museum recently received a generous donation of four Monet works from the late Fred Hamilton, while the Museum Barberini worked with a private collection with a substantial number of Monet paintings.

All told, the two museum directors successfully solicited loans from the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, France; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mass.; The Art Institute of Chicago, Ill.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, N.Y.; as well as other lenders—including several private collections, from all over the world.

The Denver exhibit features more than 120 Monet pieces spread across 20,000 square feet in three galleries, starting with Monet’s first painting and ending with the last few pieces he created before his death in 1926. Using letters and other materials, the exhibit tells the story of Monet’s life.

To Heinrich, Monet’s ability to communicate natural landscapes through color and brushstroke is the work of a genius.

“Our focus is really on nature, on Monet the landscape painter,” says Heinrich. “His landscapes can be incredibly emotional. They are wild, they are rough, they are sweet, they are serene, they are just outright beautiful or they are dramatic. Nature is not good or bad, nature is not beautiful or ugly—it’s all of it.”

Of course, my visit to the Denver Art Museum wouldn’t be complete without perusing some of the other impressive exhibitions, like “Treasures of British Art” (on view through Jan. 12, 2020) and “The Light Show” (on view through May 3, 2020). There’s just something so peaceful about wandering through the engaging halls of this museum.

A taste of history

Visitors examine artifacts from Colorado’s American Indian tribes at History Colorado Center. Courtesy of History Colorado

Next on my list was a visit to History Colorado Center, which is a relative newcomer to the Golden Triangle, opening in 2012. This isn’t your average history museum. History Colorado finds a compelling way to connect Colorado’s past to our modern-day lives with interactive experiences and exhibits.

I’m a big history buff to begin with, but the center could truly captivate anyone—its exhibits are incredibly relevant to today’s interests and trends, while also incorporating interesting historical elements. Case in point: You can see the actual Colorado state flag that traveled to the moon with Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11, as well as pieces of moon rock (on view through Jan. 4, 2020).

Enjoy afternoon tea at The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa. Courtesy of The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa

For a relaxing break, I stopped in for afternoon tea at the AAA Four Diamond-rated The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, which, technically is just outside the Golden Triangle neighborhood. It first opened its doors in 1892, and I always make time for tea here, especially when I have guests in town or I’m celebrating something special—it still feels like a treat, no matter how many times I’ve gone.

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the door is The Brown Palace’s spacious, eight-story atrium, complete with a stunning stained-glass ceiling. You can enjoy some good people-watching, while being pampered with a tea blend of your choosing, scones (complete with Devonshire cream shipped from England), tiny sandwiches, and miniature desserts. As you sip tea from delicate cups, you’re serenaded by peaceful live piano or harp music.

If you’re visiting The Brown Palace on Friday or Saturday, I recommend sticking around for cocktails and live jazz by the John Kite Trio. Then, enjoy a delectable meal at the hotel’s elaborately decorated, AAA Four Diamond-rated Palace Arms restaurant, with its large red leather chairs and couches, flags, and gold accents.

Works of art

Historic artifacts of Margaret “Molly” Brown are on display at the Molly Brown House Museum, including her riding coat showcased here in the parlor. Courtesy of Molly Brown House Museum

After a refreshing night’s sleep in one of The Brown Palace’s well-appointed guest rooms, it was time for me to hit the Golden Triangle pavement again, starting with the Molly Brown House Museum. Located inside a historic Denver home built in 1889, the museum tells the story of Margaret “Molly” Brown, a local philanthropist and activist who is perhaps best known for surviving the Titanic disaster in 1912.

To get a peek inside this beautifully restored Victorian house full of antique art, furnishings, and decor, I joined a 45-minute tour to learn more about this inspirational woman from our not-so-distant past.

“What really makes the museum special is the story of this spirited and very forward-thinking Victorian woman who came from a working-class background, and later used her high-standing in society to fundraise and advocate for important causes,” says Stephanie McGuire, curator of collections at the museum. “She was very much ahead of her time, and she inspires us here at the museum every day.”

After a quick bite, I wandered over to the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. At the core of this incredible museum is the estate of Vance Kirkland, a prolific Colorado painter and collector. The museum, which relocated to the Golden Triangle in 2018, showcases more than 150 years of art through more than 30,000 works by 1,500 artists (approximately 4,300 are on display at any given time). The new 38,500-square-foot building, designed by architect Jim Olson, is a work of art itself, with its terra cotta bars in shades of yellow and gold.

One of the museum’s most unique and impressive elements is Kirkland’s fully preserved three-room studio building, which was transported about a mile west to its new home at the museum in 2016. “Visitors can see the workroom where he created his iconic dot paintings, and the straps from which he sometimes suspended himself above the work when creating large paintings,” says Maya Wright, the museum’s interpretation manager and historian.

My cultural immersion continued with a pair of small museums in the heart of the neighborhood. As you’re strolling through Golden Triangle, you may stumble upon the Byers-Evans House, home to the Center for Colorado Women’s History. The house, which is like a living time capsule for the 1912–1924 era, is visible only by guided tour, and where you’ll learn the stories of the various women who lived and worked here. Then there’s the Clyfford Still Museum. You may be skeptical about a museum dedicated solely to one artist, but this intimate museum does not disappoint. Because it’s laid out chronologically, you can see Still’s progression as an artist and learn the story of his career as an abstract expressionist.

Visitors examine artwork on display at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver’s Golden Triangle. Courtesy of Visit Denver/Rebecca Stumpf

For dinner, try a cut of local, grass-fed beef at the AAA Four Diamond-rated restaurant, Guard and Grace. Chef and owner Troy Guard envisioned the restaurant as a modern take on the traditional steakhouse. Instead of dark wood and heavy, formal decorations, Guard and Grace feels light and airy, with 20-foot windows, an open kitchen, and unpretentious decor. The food is lighter, too. “We’re more seafood- and vegetable-driven, and we have smaller-sized steaks,” says Guard. “Not everyone wants to eat a 24- or 36-ounce steak.”

Finally, after a day of walking and delicious food, I decided to surround myself with even more beauty at the AAA Four Diamond-rated the ART, a hotel, featuring a post-modern collection curated by Dianne Vanderlip, who spent nearly 30 years at the Denver Art Museum. As the name suggests, art is everywhere at the hotel—from the guest rooms to the hallways to the porte-cochere, which features a 22,000-light installation by Leo Villareal.

After exploring this important and artistic Denver neighborhood, one thing became apparent to me: the Golden Triangle is a feast for the senses. From incredible restaurants to thought-provoking works of art, and cultural exhibits, this neighborhood is overflowing with energy, creative expression, and meaningful experiences.

Sarah Kuta is a Longmont-based travel and lifestyle journalist who loves to visit new places, explore the outdoors, and spend time with her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Daisy. Her work appears regularly in Food & Wine, The Denver Post, Simplemost, Livability, Fodors, and other publications.