Do you associate train stations with a chaotic whirlwind of grit, misery and anxiety, a place you avoid at all costs unless absolutely necessary? If your answer is yes, you are a normal person. A normal person, that is, who has never been to Denver's Union Station.
The original mile-high Union Station opened in 1881, during the railroad’s glory days, but was destroyed by fire just three years later; its modern-day Beaux Arts façade dates to 1914. A hundred years later, in July 2014, the city unveiled a $54 million renovation of the terminal, which included the opening of several restaurants, bars, casual eateries and coffee shops within the station's walls.
It's immediately obvious why Union Station is dubbed "Denver's living room." People—locals—hang out there regardless of whether or not they're waiting for a train. During both my recent trips to Denver, it became my mission to eat and drink at every venue in the station.
For wine, head to Mercantile. The 250-selection list is carefully curated and more serious than the casual ambiance suggests. Wine director Patrick Houghton enjoys offering a great restaurant experience inside a train station: "You can pick and choose [from] a bunch of different places, get a killer bottle of wine, eat a great meal and get on the T (Denver's light rail)."
The wine list is peppered with geeky offerings from producers like Clemens Busch in Germany, Foradori in northeast Italy and Yvon Métras in Beaujolais, but also has its fair share of classics like Domaine Leflaive, Kongsgaard, Inglenook, Henschke and Bartolo Mascarello. There are some treasures for deep pockets, too: I spotted a 1996 Château Lynch Bages Pauillac ($490), a 1997 Col d'Orcia Brunello di Montalcino ($367) and a 2011 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée St.-Vivant ($2,275).
The wine list at Stoic & Genuine is smaller than Mercantile's but perfectly in harmony with the seafood-focused menu. Pair a glass of briny Château de Brézé, a Chenin Blanc from Saumur in the Loire Valley, with an oyster from the impressive raw bar.
Terminal Bar is at the center of the action. It has a great draught beer selection, with an emphasis on local brews. Grab a pint of funky Crooked Stave or hoppy Odell and take it with you anywhere within the main hall, where there are plenty of comfortable lounge chairs and couches. Snooze, a breakfast eatery, offers deliciously spicy bloody marys with habanero- and jalapeño-infused vodka. They also have Colorado winery Infinite Monkey Theorem's sparkling wine on tap.
For teetotal treats, don't forget to stop by Milkbox for ice cream, Pigtrain Coffee for a nitro cold brew and Acme for a deli sandwich. And if you feel like staying a while, book a room at the Crawford Hotel. Check out the slideshow below for more info on Union Station's many venues.