by Eric Elkins –
Denver’s Dairy Block is an all-day experience and if you’re not looking for it, you might miss it. You could walk right by the alleyway between Wazee and Blake, bisecting 18th and l 9th Streets in downtown Denver, as you’re wandering the usual bar crawling routes along LoDo’s nightlife district. And if you’re walking by during the day, you’ll see the cornhole boards down the alley and a glimpse of the public art, but unless you turn and make your way in, you might not realize you’re standing near the first fully activated pedestrian alley in Denver.
But whether you’re there day or night, the alley and the buildings around it make up the Dairy Block, which is a little haven of fun and food.
Once home to the historic Windsor Dairy, the block hosts restaurants, bars, shops, and even a coworking space. It’s anchored by the design-forward Maven Hotel and the 16-venue Milk Market — a vision of local restaurant empire builder, Chef Frank Bonanno.
“Milk Market is a gateway to Denver,” says Bonanno. “Straight from the airport, it’s where out-of-town guests come first to get settled and learn about our incredible city. From the initial conception of the space, we strove to be so much more than just a food hall. Working with our local institutions like the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and local vendors big and small throughout the city, Milk Market is constantly activated and a community platform promoting unity in downtown Denver.”
Take a lap through Milk Market, and you’ll find bars, sit-down restaurants, quick-service food counters, and a New York-style pizza slice concept called Engine Room out on the alley. What makes the market especially unique is the way it was all created, curated, and cultivated by Chef Bonanno and his team. Ir’s a one-stop way to experience the many facets of the elevated cuisine Bonanno brings to Denver.
But the Dairy Block is more than the Milk Market, with several additional Denver legends contributing to the “micro-district” as well.
Chef Kelly Whitaker, known for his Italian-inspired-with-a-twist cuisine, has two concepts inside Free Market, which spans a quarter of the block on the alley. Chef Whitaker is a champion of house-milled grains, and restaurants Brutø and BØH are no exception. Brutø’s flatbreads and other grain-based delights are roasted in a Stefano Ferrara pizza oven imported from Naples, and the raw bar is a perfect spot for oysters and bubbly. Meanwhile, the coffee counter BØH serves up fresh pastries and breads, along with other grain goodness (like porridge and polenta).
Over in the Maven Hotel, stop in at Kachina Southwestern Grill for Frito pie (served properly, with the bag), Navajo tacos, and a Colorado bison empanada.
The bar scene in the Dairy Block is compelling enough to keep a proper cocktail lover set for a full evening (see sidebar). From the whimsical stylings of Devin Chapnick at Poka Lola, to the Derby-themed Run for the Roses speakeasy (where local fave Steven Waters employs some of the most beloved bartenders in the city), to the whiskey-flavored Seven Grand, not to mention Blanchard Family Wines for the oenophile in your crew, the drinks are a good reason to stick around.
“You could visit daily and experience something new each time,” says Bonanno. “Every day, every hour is truly different.” The morning coffee rush transitions to the business lunch; indulgent afternoons become happy hour reunions. The dinner and nightlife crowds turn up just as the alley’s festive lights and public art come alive for the evening.
And it’s not just the food and cocktails that maintain the energy of the Dairy Block. No trip would be complete without a stroll through the retail spaces.
The 3,000-square-foot Fetch Shop is the first-ever brick-and-mortar from Denver’s roving quarterly market producers formerly known as Denver Flea. And true to their legacy, Fetch is a dynamic, ever-changing experience that highlights local products. The founders think of it as a “retail test kitchen,” where local retailers can set up shop for whatever amount of time that makes sense — pop-up or long term — getting immediate feedback about their products.
Along with its food counters, Free Market hosts a collection of retail experiences, including a weekend marketplace. And you’ll also find a slew of additional shops along the alley and throughout the block, with a focus on unique products and services. These boutiques are purveyors of everything from leather goods to distinctive jewelry to men’s and women’s clothing you won’t find anywhere else.
Whatever time of day you visit The Dairy Block, you’ll find something unique and worthwhile.
“The Dairy Block offers guests an opportunity to experience craft cocktails, gorgeous artwork, shopping from local vendors, and Instagrammable moments at every corner,” says Chef Frank. “It offers visual stimulation, an incredible food and drink scene, unique shopping experiences, and luxurious accommodations, all in one city block.”
Go see for yourself.