09/07/2010 10:48 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: Denver Showdown Lowdown

As a New Yorker bred and buttered on the East Side of Manhattan, I find it inconceivable if not unconscionable that Denver has snuck in on Bronco hoofs to become my favorite city. If anything, I should be calling it an incorrigible burb of unsophisticated boobs and bohunks, the proverbial cow town where one earns one's spurs the old-fashioned way, on a horse. But Denver, as I have come to know it over seven years in Colorado, is of course completely the opposite--hip, cool, and--here's the kicker for me--the best damn sports town in the universe.

My wife and I had stayed near LoDo many times before, but this time we had decamped at the Oxford Hotel, a historic throwback no more than a field goal from Union Station, the old-school crossroads with the suggestion "Travel by Train" above its front door. The Oxford puts you in the midst of LoDo--the Tattered Cover bookstore is but a few blocks away--but my ulterior motive for staying there was football: the Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado and Colorado State to literally kick off the college football season. We had been to a Denver Broncos game at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, but this time out we would eschew the car and make our stay at the Oxford the nexus for a truly urban Labor Day weekend.
Cities are really all about proximity: getting from Point A to Point B with the fewest possible headaches. That's where Denver beats all. We got a quick and complimentary ride from the hotel and back Friday night to go to the Taste of Colorado confab by the Civic Center--and to catch Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who were playing for free. Though the whole weekend was in the 90s, this night morphed into mild perfection, with the band rocking and thousands of people swinging the night away.

The next morning we went for breakfast at Dixon's, a block from the hotel, based on a friend's recommendation. Our breakfast was pretty near perfect, but the best part was watching the CU-CSU fans get tuned up for the big game with bloody marys and other tuneful libations. I was starting to get it: a pre-game meal for fans in LoDo meant a quick walk to the light rail for a five-minute two-stop ride to the stadium.

Talk about the path of least resistance. Aside from a skirmish with Wackenhut security types which I will enumerate in another post, our $2 ride was highlighted by buying ducats for the game from the first person on the train. Our best move was finding the shade in the upper deck at Invesco Field, among CSU students, and then moving to even better seats out of the sun and closer to the field.

The game itself was something of a dud, with CU finally dominating from start to finish in the Dan Hawkins era, but no matter. As any real fan will tell you, being there means you must bear witness to clunkers, if only to be ready for that one game played by gods for the ages. On the ride back I was thinking: how cool is this? One stop is Invesco Field and the Broncos; the next is Pepsi Center for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche; then the third is Union Station, our stop, with Coors Field and the Colorado Rockies just up the block from the Oxford.
Given that sports was at the center of our weekend, it seemed only appropriate that we matriculate at Big Game, a sports bar just around the corner from the hotel but a restaurant that is full of surprises. There was the usual floor-to-ceiling video screens, natch, but it turns out Executive Chef Leroy Harris takes the notion of Big Game quite literally. Rather than standard "Beat State" fare, Big Game has a completely new take on bar food: our "housemade Kennebec potato chips with blue cheese crumble" were indicative--a superb take on an old standard. There is an actually category for handcut fries, which range from Cheddar Cheese to British to Mayland "Crab" fries and go from there to "Disco" and "Killer" fries with jack cheese, mozzarella, bacon, ranch, and blue cheese. The lamb chops were fresh from Colorado and suitably enormous and the braised bison short ribs were served with the comfort of white cheddar polenta. Elk and venison were also available along with more standard steak and chicken fare.

"You are a very talented man," I said to Chef Harris as we were leaving, and I was not surprised 5280 magazine had voted Big Game the best sports bar of 2010. But it's not the games that will bring us back here but the game.

All in all, our weekend in LoDo was all we could have hoped for. If only we could have stayed to see the Rockies Monday up the street at Coors Field.