Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cowboy Cosmo vs. PC Left-over Hippie Yuppie Capitalism

If Denver Metro reflects the ultimate in cowboy cosmopolitan, the city of Boulder, a mere 30 miles to the northwest, reflects the ultimate in self-conscious political correctness (garnished with a dash of left-over hippie and iced by a swirling layer of yuppie capitalism).

Left: The ubiquitous Flatiron Mountains from just outside Boulder. Right: Pearl St. Mall

Nestled snugly up against the Flatiron mountains, this town of beautiful extremes offers something for everyone. A year-round paradise for the all-season outdoors enthusiast, a hallowed University-centered refuge for the learned, a thriving business opportunity for the entrepreneur and an active, robust environment for raising a family or retirement.

This yin and yang balance of opposing forces, locked in constant, albeit gentile battle, backed by a serenely beautiful location makes Boulder one of the most unique cultural environments in the country. No wonder it also boasts one of the highest ratios of bookstores and degrees per capita.

Like all cities and towns along the "Front Range", Boulder has hugely transitional weather. The Chinook winds of fall and winter can exceed hurricane force at 80 mph plus. The winter brings 60 degrees one day, 15 degrees the next, and the regular summer afternoon thunderstorms can turn any picnic into a run for your life. Not to mention the June snow storms.

Driving over the high ridge that separates Denver from Boulder, the most visible landmarks that first come into view (besides the omnipresent Flatirons) are the larger structures of the University of Colorado, which dominates the city physically, politically and culturally. Beyond these modest high-rise structures, the city remains largely below the trees due to strict building height restrictions (one of many ongoing civic battles). This gives Boulder a distinctively beautiful small town look and feel.

Although there are several distinct districts to the town, the main hang out is the famous Pearl Street Mall, a four block pedestrian mall right in the heart of town. This is also where you'll find a preponderance of Boulder's many and varied book stores.

Left: Boulder Bookstore Main Entrance on Pearl St. Right: Just a small section of one of Boulder Bookstore's three main floors.

First on the list is the unparalleled Boulder Bookstore (pictured above) at the west end of the mall. This iconic new and used bookstore is a Boulder staple and one of the best organized and most pleasant new/used stores your humble Booktraveler has ever had the pleasure of visiting. Any description of this unique and beautiful store will pale by comparison to the experience. Boulder Bookstore is a big civic proponent and primary sponsor of the Keep Boulder Weird movement and website: "Your gateway to all things weird in Boulder, CO", need I say more?

Left: Entrance to the Left Hand Books basement store. Right: Left Hand Books, anarchy from the inside.

For all you anarchists out there, jump across the mall and down a block to the basement location of Left Hand Books; an "all volunteer, not-for-profit, progressive bookstore providing access to alternative viewpoints and difficult-to-obtain sources of information". This superb alternative reading outlet offers a collection of new book titles and magazines you simply can't find anywhere else. If it's subversive, if it's underground, if it's politically left or far left, Left Hand Books has it. It's truly an amazing store.

Top Left: Trident Booksellers and Cafe. Top Right: Trident booksellers side. Bottom Left: Trident cafe side

Heading further west along Pearl St., a couple of blocks off the walking mall you'll find Trident Booksellers and Cafe. Trident is half indie new book store and half full service coffee house. Serving the community for over 20 years, Trident offers a perfect place to hang, especially in the summer when you can sit out front and watch the world go by with a great selection of books, excellent coffee and a free mountain backdrop.

Top Left: Beat Book Shop. Top Right: Beat Book Shop interior. Bottom Left: Your Poet/Proprietor Tom Peters. Note: Tom doesn't like you to take pictures of the store without asking. Also, if you happen know how to replace an 8" woofer in an old box speaker, please give him a call.

Moving off the mall to the east in the still-trendy Pearl Street shopping district are two smaller bookstores that hearken back to an earlier era. The Beat Book Shop at 1717 Pearl St. offers a distinctly old school used bookstore experience with a great selection of hard-to-find used books as well as a great selection of used music on vinyl. As the name intonates, Tom Peters the Poet/Proprietor keeps a great collection of beat literature, underground and subversive authors along with an interesting mix of general used. Definitely worth a visit.

Top Left: Red Letter Books. Top Right: The Book Worm. Bottom Left: The Book Worm Cafe.

Half a block further east is Red Letter Second Hand Books, a straight-up second hand bookstore with a wide range of titles at cheap prices. As if that's not enough for the average booklover, take a cruise out to 28th street and go north 1 mile through the endless morass of strip malls to The Bookworm, a 10,000 sq. ft. used book warehouse and cafe that offers a HUGE selection of used titles at great prices. This store is extremely well organized and offers an incredibly wide range of titles in an easy to navigate layout that's fun to visit.

Put this all together with an exceptional menu of restaurants and eateries, a cornucopia of funky one-off retailers and an unparalleled natural setting, and you have one of the coolest destinations possible for any true booklover. My only regret is not being able to spend a couple of more days here to take in the amazing street performers and singular street scene which makes this unique town brazenly iconic. There is definitely no other place like it.

Pearl St. Mall entertainers. Left: Balloon Man (great at making extreme balloon fashions). Right: Didgeridoo Man (is that your Didgeridoo, or are you just happy to see me?).

Stay tuned for my next post when we once again throw off the shackles of civilization take in the spectacular beauty of the Colorado Rockies. Upcoming adventures include a a ride on the historic Georgetown Loop train and a run through Rocky Mountain National Park over the famed Trail Ridge Road: "The Highest Highway in the World".


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