At Denver's Union Station, thousands lined up on Saturday (July 26, 2014) to get a look at the newly refurbished train station. Between smiles and jaw dropping looks of awe, locals tried to absorb all the gleaming newness of the station. The tired looking train station has been transformed into an elegant, yet useable, show-stopping attraction for the city of Denver.
The new station is more than anyone could have imagined. One visitor said (through a signing interpreter for the deaf, he asked his name not be used), "This is way more than a train station. Good job Denver." An eight-year old boy, running through the fountain on the plaza in front of the station said, "Whoever thought of this [fountain] is amazing. Now I can get soaking wet and not get in trouble."
Indeed, Union Station has something for everyone. That is how the members of the Union Station Alliance planned it. The hub for RTD light rail, Amtrak and bus service is way more than a transportation center. It's one of the best ways to spend the day people watching, shopping, reading, meeting and eating. "Denver citizens asked us to create something that gives them lots of reasons to use it," says Joe Vostrejs, who was in charge of the look and feel aspects of the station. Every detail has been thought out to bring back the civility of travel, create place for every day people of Denver, but with a touch of European far niente, the art of doing nothing at all but enjoying the passing of time with friends and family.
Every bit of the station that could be preserved was freshened up, including the wood trim, the windows and the station ticket office, which is now the Terminal Bar. Order a craft beer, wine or cocktail from the old ticket window, inside the bar or from your seat in the Great Hall. Restaurants line the Great Hall and servers will take your food order (from Acme Burger and Brat or Fresh Exchange) or drink order from the Terminal Bar while you play shuffleboard at one of the two center tables. Buy a book from the Tattered Cover and grab a coffee (Pigtrain Coffee Company) or an ice cream at Milkbox Ice Creamery. Purchase a bouquet of fresh flowers at Bloom or locally crafted gift (5 Green Boxes) when meeting a loved one at the train or heading home from the light rail.
On the plaza side of the Grand Hall, signature restaurants from Denver's most established venues are open for breakfast/lunch and/or dinner. Snooze, Denver's beloved breakfast spot, is open for breakfast and lunch. The Kitchen, Next Door Union Station, in the south wing, is open for lunch, community hour and dinner. Hanging above the bar is a classic 1950's neon sign from an original Union Station restaurant.
Stoic and Genuine is Chef Jen Jasinski and Beth Gruitch's newest dining venture. New England has nothing on S&G. The seafood is fresh beyond compare and arrives daily by air. A raw bar and oyster granitas, with icy concoctions of hot peppers and cool cucumbers, are the house specialty (the fried clams are my must have). This place puts the kabosh on avoiding seafood in a landlocked state. The Mercantile, Chef Alex Seidel's, a homage to local and farm cuisine, will be open later in August or early September.
The Crawford Hotel occupies the top levels of the station. Guests enter through the Great Hall and are met by ambassadors who check them in with iPads. Rooms vary from a standard Pullman, which is reminiscent of train car sleeping quarters, to larger suites. The third floor rooms are in the former attic of the station with expansive wood beams that traverse the space. Every room is a bit different, but with modern furnishings that borrow designs from various golden eras of train travel.
In the hotel and the Great Hall, the new design touches are so well thought out they look like vintage restorations. I've been told they are not new, which is hard to believe. As of press time, the hotel's bar the Cooper Lounge was not yet open. But a sneak peak revealed a clean art-deco elegance that will invite you back in time to the golden age of train travel in the 1940's and 1950s.
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