On a sunny winter day in Denver — the kind that beckons you outside — my sister, mother and I headed for a daylong adventure indoors.
After exploring picturesque mountain towns and quintessential Colorado scenery, we explored a new trend that’s taking off in the Mile High City: food halls.
Seven food halls have popped up across Denver in recent years and more are planned for 2019 as they become the epicenter for all things local — from gift shops to restaurants and craft beer.
“Denver is so millennial, so hipster,” said my sister Megan, a Minnesota native and Denver transplant, as we walked an alley marked with Instagram-worthy quotes and art displays outside one market.
From Minneapolis to Manhattan, the urban food hall trend has exploded across the country. A Cushman & Wakefield report estimates there will be 300 food halls nationwide by 2020, tripling the number in just five years. Like the expanding industry of breweries and distilleries, food halls focus on hyperlocal businesses and are becoming destinations for residents and tourists looking for uniquely local experiences all in one spot.
Our first stop was Denver Milk Market, with more than a dozen vendors in downtown’s Dairy Block, named for the dairy company it once housed. We ordered fish tacos and watched millennials crowd the market’s bar to play bingo while keeping an eye on the Broncos game televised overhead. As cheers and jeers from the football fans erupted, a nearby vendor doled out gelato while another dished up slices of pizza. It felt like a circular, bustling European market.
As we toured the city’s food halls, our mother was more skeptical of the latest foodie movement.
“It’s a collective — it’s supposed to be where you can get all your stuff,” my sister said, pointing out the liquor store, art gallery, coffee shop and restaurant at our next stop.
In fact, these bear no likeness to your average mall food court, packed with fast-food stalls. Instead, they are more like gourmet grocery stores with artisan food vendors and food trucks serving up fresh, local food all under one roof, giving diners a vast array of choices.
The city’s food halls are also attracting national attention and helping revitalize old buildings and once-quiet neighborhoods. In the RiverNorth Art District (RiNo), the former warehouse district is becoming a hip hub much like Minneapolis’ North Loop, and houses several food halls. But that’s come with a price. As we passed new apartments and condos, we skirted a homeless camp.
Here are five other markets to visit in Denver:
1. Avanti Food & Beverage
In the trendy LoHi neighborhood, this two-level space has photo-worthy skyline views from the patio. While we had to do a few laps around the block to find parking, that frustration was quickly forgotten as we enjoyed local beer and wood-fired margherita and mushroom pizzas from Brava! Pizzeria Della Strada. It’s one of seven restaurants housed in modified shipping containers in Avanti, along with two bars.
2. Denver Central Market
Inside a beautiful 1920s brick building with large industrial windows, the Denver Central Market has an airy, romantic vibe. A big-screen TV played a football game as people ate pizza slices and drank beer. We ordered a flight of ice cream from High Point Creamery and walked past a bakery, butcher, charcuterie and fish market.
3. The Source
After a flight of ice cream, it was time for a flight of beer. Inside the Source, a collective in a rustic, dimly lit brick building in the RiNo neighborhood, we sidled up to the bar in the Crooked Stave taproom to order a flight of sour ales. We worked off the calories walking through the recently added second market and hotel, which includes an art gallery, more restaurants and retail stores.
4. Zeppelin Station
We next stopped at Zeppelin Station, one of Denver’s newest food halls. The white walls and concrete floor give the space a modern, minimalist feel. Its “global-inspired” food stalls offer a range of international food, from Montreal-based dishes to Italian gelato. We ordered a bánh mì spicy avocado sandwich from Vinh Xuong Bakery and browsed the boutique clothing and art stores.
5. Stanley Marketplace
The sun was setting as shops closed up and crowds thinned at Stanley Marketplace, its massive neon retro sign glowing red and blue. On the border of Aurora and Denver, the former aviation manufacturing plant expands the food hall concept with yoga classes, a kids’ gymnastics studio, a liquor store and retail shops in addition to restaurants. We grabbed pint glasses to taste-test local beer in the Stanley Beer Hall, a pour-your-own-tap concept with 37 options.
Like the numerous taps, it’s tough to take in all of the booming food hall scene in one day. But you can get a taste that gives you an appetite for more of the city and of the major trend sweeping Denver and many other cities.