The Epicenter Residents have dinneroutdoors at AGAVE (242 Boulevard SE; 404/588-0006; dinner for two $60), where chef-owner Jack Sobel brings the Southwest to the Southeast with a culinary range that stretches from spicy añejo tequila shrimp to cayenne-spiced fried chicken. Then they walk—yes, Atlantans walk—along Carroll Street, which is lined with shops selling contemporary art and renovated houses painted purple, blue, and lime green.
Galleries CABBAGETOWN ART WORKSHOP 212 Carroll St. SE; 404/222-0644. Outsider-artaficionado John Dirga's reluctantly commercial novelty shop specializes in children's work and panoramic photography. ART FARM 835 Wylie St. SE; 404/584-2078. This collective produces performances by avant-garde groups such as the Jack in the Black Box Theatre Company, which recently put on My Lady/Malady, a play loosely inspired by the life of Tennessee Williams. UP THE ALLEY GALLERY Pickett's Alley, off Carroll St.; 404/222-0644. A permanent exhibition lets visitors snap photos of John Dirga's dogs in an ever-changing (Egyptian, Jedi) tableau. Whimsy, obviously, is the specialty.
Restaurants CARROLL STREET CAFÉ 208 Carroll St. SE; 404/577-2700; lunch for two $18. Executive chef Glen Williams's "epicurean fusion" creations include a wide range of quiches (the chicken-and-jalapeño version is best) and daily specials such as grilled rack of lamb with fresh onion marmalade. Canvases by Cabbagetown painters hang on the walls. 97 ESTORIA 727 Wylie St. SE; 404/522-0966; dinner for two $20. The vegetable samosas served in the blond-wood space sound exotic, but they match well with a pitcher of cold beer—choose from a list of 30 different brews.
Keep an eye out for local luminary Cat Power—a very moody indie singer-songwriter worshipped internationally by a cultish fan base
Innovative spirits and urban pioneers turn a once-dicey promontory into Denver's grooviest artists' residence
By Andrew Collins
The Scene Plenty of Denverites have never set foot in Highland, an off-the-main-drag enclave northwest of downtown. Still, the neighborhood claims more artists per capita than anywhere else in Denver, and indie pride has kept chain stores largely at bay.
The Backstory Scots who worked in the nearby silver mines established the district in the 1880's and built its Italianate and Queen Anne houses. By World War II, Highland had become Denver's Little Italy; a generation later, the same blocks began welcoming a new wave of Latino arrivals. Over the past decade, young artists, professionals, and families have snapped up the neighborhood's promising fixer-uppers and renovated lofts.
Local Fauna Neo-bohemians on $1,500 mountain bikes cycle past old-timers working under the hoods of pickups.
The Epicenter There are two Highlands: the coarser, red-brick east side,and the tidy, Victorian west side. Their hub is Highland Square, a cluster of restaurants and shops splashed across West 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.
Restaurants CORAL ROOM 3489 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/433-2535; dinner for two $50. In a mock-Polynesian den of bamboo and rattan, scenesters snack on such pan-Asian creations as citrus-and-soy-marinated hamachi served on top of mango-cilantro sticky rice. HIGHLAND'S GARDEN CAFÉ 3927 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/458-5920; dinner for two $85. Epicures flock from far and near to this 1890's bungalow for internationally inspired dishes. A favorite: hoisin-glazed sea scallops rest- ing on a bed of sautéed plums, figs, and ginger. LUCIA'S CASA DE CAFÉ 3301 Tejon St.; 303/433-4626; brunch for two $15. A java joint and de facto community center, tucked inside a vintage drugstore. Grab one of the mismatched chairs and dig into waffles and a silky vanilla malt.
Shopping FROLIK ON 32ND 3715 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/458-5575. The smart woman's clothing boutique. Frolik's 1905 cottage on Highland Square is a one-stop shop for Hanky Panky lingerie, versatile Blue Dot denim, and accessories such as Hobo handbags. ST. KILIAN'S CHEESE SHOP 3211 Lowell Blvd.; 303/477-0374. Purveyor of the city's best artisanal cheeses, from Oro Blanco goat cheese to gooey Epoisses imported from Burgundy. Belgian chocolates are also flown in fresh.
Galleries GALLERY SINK 2301 W. 30th Ave.; 303/455-0185. Warhol Factory alum Mark Sink runs this acclaimed photography showcase, representing a long and impeccable roster of emerging (Beth Yarnelle Edwards and Lori Nix) and established (Elliot Erwitt, Karl Blossfeldt) talents. 7 ZIP 37 3644 Navajo St.; 303/477-4525. New shows are mounted every three weeks in the gallery's storefront, and works by all 15 members of the Zip collective are displayed in back. Prices are deliberately kept low: many of these eclectic pieces go for under $100.
On Friday night, Navajo Street is reborn as an arts festival. Catch an art opening or the provocative Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo St.; 303/477-9984)