Denver’s Cheesman Park neighborhood guide: Bars, bikes, ghosts and more

The Cheesman Park neighborhood often gets forgotten, or rather, lumped into Capitol Hill. Here’s what it has to offer.

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We have nice views from the rooftops in Cheesman Park. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
We have nice views from the rooftops in Cheesman Park. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Cheesman Park often gets forgotten, or rather, lumped into Capitol Hill. It’s the tiny space between Cap Hill and Congress Park, bounded by Colfax to the north, Eighth Avenue to the South, York Street to the east Downing Street to the west.

The mostly residential area is named for the park that occupies a fairly large portion of it, and that park has also earned the neighborhood an odd reputation. (More on that below.)

It serves as an unofficial epicenter for the LGBTQ community in Denver, where the Pride Parade begins, where locals call the King Soopers “Queen Soopers” and where (technically just across the street from the boundary) the GLBT Community Center of Colorado is located (1301 E. Colfax Ave.).

Kathy Riley howls during Laughter Yoga under the Walter Scott Cheesman Pavilion at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jeff Johnston calckes during Laughter Yoga under the Walter Scott Cheesman Pavilion at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A man sits in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Lilly pads at the Denver Botanic Garden. (Kevin J. Beaty)
 
A bee wiggles over a flower at the Denver Botanic Garden. (Kevin J. Beaty)
The Denver Botanic Garden's iconic architecture. (Kevin J. Beaty)
Bob Myers and his dog Tex in the Cheesman Park neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kyle Frazer plays with his puppy, Gwen, in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A scooterer in the Cheesman Park neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A biker in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Sunbathers relax on the lawn at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A high rise in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Stairs and patterns. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A kid on a bike in a pool of light in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jaymie Toma and the view from her Botanic Garden-side high rise. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A microscene of the Denver Botanic Garden, as seen from Jaymie Toma's balcony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Little Stinker, one of the Denver Botanic Gardens' corpse flowers, is in bloom Aug. 6. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
Kyle Frazer plays with his puppy, Gwen, in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A high rise in the Cheesman Park neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A home and a high rise in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Homes in the Cheesman Park neighborhood. Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Cheesman Park high rises. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A high rise and a handful of old houses in the Cheesman Park neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Laughter Yoga in the Cheesman Pavilion at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cheesman Park has a lot to offer. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Population: 8,181 (according to American Community Survey five year estimates)
Percent white: 83.84
Percent black: 4.34
Percent hispanic: 6.82

Food and drink

Happy hours

Squire Lounge, 1800 E. Colfax Ave.
4-7 p.m. daily
$2 well drinks
$1.50 domestic draft beers

Marion Street Tavern1223 E. 13the Ave.
3-7 p.m. daily
Discounts on select drafts, house wines, well drinks and shots.

Lion’s Lair2022 E. Colfax Ave.
4-8 p.m. daily
$2 drafts of PBR and High Life
$2 well drinks and shots
$3 domestic bottles
$3 wine
$4 drafts of Guinness
$1 off everything else

Best restaurants, according to me

For fast and greasy: Torta Grill, 1818 E. Colfax Ave.
Pro tip: Get the vegetarian option, the Enrique, even if you’re not vegetarian. The cactus is delicious.

For dessert: Voodoo Doughnut, 1520 E. Colfax Ave.
My personal favorite is the Old Dirty Bastard — a raised doughnut with chocolate icing, crumbled Oreos and peanut butter drizzle.

Liks Ice Cream, 2039 E. 13th Ave.

Ice Cream Riot, 1238 E. Colfax Ave.
Pro tip: Get a Pop-Tart ice cream sandwich.

Looking west down Colfax Avenue. Ashley Dean/Denverite)
Looking west down Colfax Avenue. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

For late nights and early mornings: Pete’s Kitchen, 1962 E. Colfax Ave.
The Greek diner is a Denver staple open 24/7.

For fine dining: Potager, 1109 Ogden St.
OK, I’m cheating with this one. It’s two blocks west of the neighborhood, into Capitol Hill. But it’s so good. Contrary to what the name suggests, it’s not a French restaurant. The kitchen doesn’t adhere to any one style, but it does focus on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant has a rustic feel, a beautiful patio and a great wine selection.

Tacos: Tequila Tacos Whiskey, 1514 York St.
This one is only out of bounds by a few steps on Colfax and York. The restaurant formerly known as Pinche Tacos has small space and sometimes long waits, but the tacos are worth it.

The patio at Potager. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
The patio at Potager. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
Best restaurant delivery

Grand China2200 E. Colfax Ave.
This place is almost always empty, so who knows what’s really going on there, but the food is fantastic and usually delivered quickly.

Torta Grill, 1818 E. Colfax Ave.

Best coffee shop

Thump Coffee, 1201 E. 13th Ave.
The biggest selling point here is actually the space. It’s a big coffee shop with plenty of seats and a small sidewalk seating area. It’s also the only coffee shop in the neighborhood besides the Starbucks inside King Soopers and the Dazbog across the street from there. Although, you could cheat and cross Colfax for…

Caffe Sanora1201 E. Colfax Ave.
It’s little, but it’s got comfy couches, a decent amount of a sidewalk patio space, friendly staff, good food and a small beer selection. They also serve mimosas during weekend brunch hours.

Parks

Cheesman Park
Cheesman Pavilion at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) park; summer; denver; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty
Cheesman Pavilion at Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Duh.

The neighborhood only has one park, but it’s among Denver’s largest and occupies about a quarter of the area.

My personal favorite thing about Cheesman Park (the park) is that, unlike City Park and Washington Park, it’s not covered in goose crap. Yes, that’s because there’s barely water, but who needs a pond you can’t even get in.

There is a nice little fountain, right in front of a nice big pavilion. Sometimes the pavilion provides a venue for things like swing dancing, laughter yoga and quinceañera photo shoots.

The best thing about Cheesman, though — besides its mountain and downtown views — is its history.

Old grave markers and vaults in the abandoned City Cemetery, sometime around 1950-60. (Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/X-18966)
Old grave markers and vaults in the abandoned City Cemetery, sometime around 1950-60. (Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/X-18966)

Before it was a park, it was City Cemetery. It was the only cemetery in Denver when it was founded and it stayed that way until 1876. As big, beautiful, expensive homes were built around it, residents started to complain that it was rundown and a magnet for youthful shenanigans. Colorado Historian Thomas “Dr. Colorado” Noel tells the story in this short documentary.

So, the city asked everyone to relocate their loved ones, and then hired a contractor to move the unclaimed bodies to other places and paid him around $1 per body. That’s when things got shady.

Noel says that from looking at records, he estimates there are 1,000-2,000 bodies still in the ground.

And here’s a doozy of a sentence from Noel: “If you do go there with your dog and your dog starts digging, watch closely, because probably they’ll come up with a tibia or a femur or some body part.”

Naturally, this place is ripe for ghost stories and legends. Many people (reasonably) say the unclaimed bodies are those of prostitutes and homeless people. Some say the contractor chopped them up. Rocky Mountain Paranormal has some accounts of paranormal activity recorded here.

Denver Botanic Gardens
A microscene of the Denver Botanic Garden, as seen from Jaymie Toma's balcony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver botanic gardens; residential real estate; kevinjbeaty; denverite; denver; colorado;
A microscene of the Denver Botanic Garden, as seen from Jaymie Toma’s balcony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Once a big dirt patch, the 24 acres of the Denver Botanic Gardens are packed with arid gardens, water gardens, “internationally inspired” gardens, shady gardens and ornamental gardens.

The park also serves as an outdoor music venue in the summer, and it hosts other events, too.

Admission is $12.50 for adults, $9.50 military and seniors, $9 for students and children 3-15, and free for children 2 and younger.

Transportation

Walk score79, very walkable, most errands can be accomplished on foot

Transit score: 53, good transit, many nearby public transportation options

  • The 10 runs 12th Avenue, cutting through the park.
  • The 15 runs Colfax Avenue on the northern border.
  • The 6 runs Eighth Avenue on the southern border.
  • The 24 runs York Street on the eastern border.
  • The 12 runs Downing Street on the western border.

Bike score: 95, bikers paradise, flat as a pancake, excellent bike lanes

There are shared lanes along Ogden Street, 12th Avenue, Franklin Street north of the park and High Street within the park. A protected bike lane on 11th Avenue begins at Ogden Street and continues west.

There are four B-Cycle stations in this little neighborhood:

  • 920 Downing St.
  • 1279 Marion St.
  • 1490 Gaylord St.
  • 1051 York St.

And there are a few more just outside the boundaries:

  • 1551 Lafayette St.
  • 2451 E. Colfax Ave.
  • 2504 E. 12th Ave.
  • 990 E. 11th Ave.
  • 1425 Ogden St.

Crime

According to the Denver Police Department, the total number of crimes recorded in the neighborhood since Jan. 1, 2016 is 721 through the first eight months of 2016. That’s 1,351 crimes per square mile. In 2015, there were 1,008 crimes, for 1,912.71 per square mile.

That puts Cheesman at No. 8 for most crimes per square mile in 2016, behind the Central Business District, Civic Center, Union Station, North Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill, Five Points and East Colfax.

Weird thing

Just about every night in the late summer and early fall, right around sunset, a huge murder of crows flies around doing what I think is an unnecessary amount of squawking.

The Birds.

A video posted by Ashley Dean (@ashleyjilldean) on

Ashley Dean

Author: Ashley Dean

Ashley Dean covers dining and nightlife, and other odds and ends. She previously covered music and did some copy editing for the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. She's from New York, likes her bourbon straight and has strong opinions about Kanye West. She can be reached at adean@denverite.com, 303-502-2804 or @AshleyDean.