Sometimes change seems to happen all around you, but not to you. Such is the case in Denver’s East Colfax neighborhood, whose immediate neighbors—Lowry and Stapleton—have both recently received residential and commercial makeovers. Soon, though, the 684-acre enclave of East Colfax (the local neighborhood association embraced the name, instead of East Montclair, this past August) is poised for a transformation.
Last fall, the city of Denver purchased the defunct PT’s strip club at East Colfax Avenue and Valentia Street with hopes of turning it into a community gathering spot or an affordable housing development. And in November, Denverites approved a general obligation bond allotting $55 million for the East Colfax Bus Rapid Transit project, which will run along East Colfax Avenue between the Auraria Campus and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. But the neighborhood already boasts a bevy of gems, including diverse eateries, inviting coffeeshops, and an attraction that no amount of development can alter: unique Colorado history.
During the past 20 years, East Colfax has become home to refugees from East African and Southeast Asian countries such as Somalia, Bhutan, and Myanmar. So in addition to long-standing Latin American restaurants like Tacos Acapulco (try the pupusas) and 7 Leguas Mexican Grill (get the tacos al pastor), flavor seekers can also enjoy authentic Ethiopian-style lentils and injera (flatbread) at Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar and pick up specialty groceries like jasmine tea and Thai durian crackers at Family Asia Market. For a caffeine fix, there’s Pablo’s Coffee.
East Colfax might not have a big, shiny community hangout like Stapleton’s Stanley Marketplace (yet), but it does offer a distinct community vibe all its own. The best place to find it? Quince Essential Coffee House, where java junkies can pair beans from Kaladi Coffee Roasters (Denver) and Jubilee Roasting Co. (Aurora) with board games and open mic nights. For more structured socializing, head next door to the Sprightly Escapes escape room: Your team of friends or colleagues will work together to break out of an old motel (fitting) or save the dinosaurs from extinction.
Between the decommissioned Air Force base in Lowry and the string of neon-signed hotels along the neighborhood’s main drag, East Colfax offers a one-of-a-kind glimpse into east Denver’s past and present. For a complete picture, consider a bike tour of the area, starting with the neighborhood’s northern border on Montview Boulevard. Head south on Ulster Street where, from the 1920s to the 1950s, the houses at 1740 and 1760 served as part of the Greeters of America Home—a guesthouse and gathering place for members of the hospitality industry. Continue south toward East Colfax Avenue along either Valentia or Trenton streets—welcoming residential roads dotted with classic Denver bungalows—and reward yourself with a cheap beer at the Hangar Bar. Opened by two Denver women in 1938, this time-honored dive was a popular hangout for Lowry pilots and military personnel during WWII.
-Jeff Waraniak, 5280 Magazine