More than a century ago residents of south Denver’s Platt Park neighborhood woke up to rambling trolley cars scooching along Old South Pearl Street. The area was initially incorporated in 1886 as the Town of South Denver. James Fleming, a Pennsylvania transplant and the town’s only mayor, built his stately, stone-walled estate in 1882 at 1510 S. Grant St.. After he sold it in 1891, the historic landmark served as the town hall, jail and library until the property was annexed by the City of Denver in 1894.
While the trolley cars are long gone, replaced by stroller pushers, bright-hued bike cruisers and scooters, there is still a down-to-earth sense of community in this Denver enclave, where history and hipsters mutually converge along the 18-block stretch of turn-of-the-century Victorian homes, cobbled sidewalks and revamped brick buildings.
An outcropping of convivial watering holes, restaurants, java jointsand tea temples sit side-by-side local stalwarts such as Leo’s Automotive, the Denver Folklore Center and Greentree Cyclery. New lofts and upscale boutiques have attracted an influx of foot traffic, and June through October the popular Saturday farmers’ market – one of the best in the city – celebrates the neighborhood’s past and present with folk music, locally made crafts, gorgeous hand-cut flowers and farm-fresh produce.
Here is a sampling of places to discover:
Five Green Boxes
Glam up your loft at this fab and flirty home furnishings emporium that hawks everything from tulip-shaped vases and fanciful light fixtures to chairs and ottomans bedecked with candy cane stripes. Be sure to check out the shop’s smaller sibling of the same name, specializing in clothing and jewelry, just two blocks north. 1705 S. Pearl St.; 303-282-5481; 5greenboxes.com
Organically-driven clothes worshipers get their green on at this socially responsible boutique that stocks stylish and sexy duds for eco-conscious but fastidiously fashionable gals and guys. As an added benefit, the owners package your purchases in recyclable wrappings and carry lines that donate to charitable organizations. 1455 S. Pearl St.; 720-570-5076; unityboutique.com
The belly dancers, jazz musicians and a mind-bogglingly exhaustive wine roster at India’s Pearl are just a sampling of the many pleasant surprises that greet curry aficionados who make the pilgrimage to this opulent Indian restaurant. The food also delights the senses with modernized dishes such as tandoori duck, quail masala and honey-roasted rack of lamb. 1475 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-1533; indiaspearl.com
The Duffeyroll Cafe
A decadent start to your day, the Duffeyroll Cafe serves addictive hand-rolled and glazed-topped treats in a myriad of flavors: original cinnamon, English toffee, maple, orange, Irish cream and pecanilla crunch. Best of all, the rolls come in three sizes, including a miniature version, although the old adage, “bigger is better,” seems to apply here. 1290 S. Pearl St.; 303-953-6890; duffeyrolls.com
The charming patio, especially on a crisp, autumn day, is the perfect respite for catching up with girlfriends while noshing on sweet and savory crepes, earth-friendly salads, unique soups and excellent sandwiches. Try the toasted Italian sub palmed with balsamic vinaigrette and stacked with Genoa salami, capicolla and provolone. The French press coffee is also reason to linger. 1551 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-5699; gaiabistro.com
With a south-side sushi story approaching near legendary status, the dauntingly crowded, super-chic Sushi Den hardly needs another proponent to sing its praises. But the cultish hype is well-deserved for the sea of spectacularly fresh raw fish, creativity and constantly changing selection that never fails to reel you in. 1487 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-0826; sushiden.net
Every burgeoning neighborhood has its share of java joints that seem to open at quick-percolating speed, but Stella’s is a firmly entrenched Denver institution where hippies, college students from the University of Denver and city slickers are loyal fans of the strong coffee, local art, live music, cozy sofas and a shaded patio out front. 1476 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-1031; stellascoffee.com
The Village Cork
The banter at The Village Cork zigzags from intellectual philosophizing to the particulars of pinot noir, apt conversations for a cosmopolitan wine nook tailored to sophisticates who nibble on cheese plates and truffle mousse pate while comparing tasting notes from the globetrotting list of reds, whites and bubbles. 1300 S. Pearl St.; 303-282-8399; villagecork.com
Tea houses are spreading across the city like fall’s golden leaves, but this newcomer to the Platt Park ‘hood sets itself apart from the pack by offering Chinese – and only Chinese – loose leaf teas and tastings in a soothing, Zenified environment conducive to reflection and quiet conversation. 1882 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-2877 ; sevencupsdenver.com
This sleek and modern Japanese-style sake and beer pub features ceilings with cinder beams imported from Japan, bamboo trappings, silk-screened chandeliers and candy apple red shadowboxes. It is a novelty for Denver, both for its innovative menu – a compilation of traditional Japanese dishes, sushi and fusion experiments – and its unparalleled sake roster, which includes several signature sake cocktails. It also just happens to be the sibling to Sushi Den. 1518 S. Pearl St.; 303-777-0691; izakayaden.net
Lori Midson, restaurant critic for Colorado Avid Golfer (coloradoavidgolfer.com), lives in Denver and writes for a variety of publications.