Last weekend, circumstances created an unusual travel opportunity for me. It’s a long story, but it involves catching a red-eye to Boulder, Colorado for a day’s stay before heading back to Houston by car. A day isn’t much time to devote to as nice a destination as Boulder, but I can now tell you from experience it’s just enough time to get to know the locals a little, try some dank craft beers and watch someone (probably not me) listen to classic rock while stoned on edible marijuana treats.
There’s already a travel writer with a television show called The Layover, but I decided try my hand at Anthony Bourdain’s concept and see what Boulder had to offer over a single day. Because it was also St. Patrick’s Day, my excursion boiled down to this: whose St. Paddy’s celebration was greener, Boulder’s drinkers or the town’s weed enthusiasts? Call it the Luck of the Irish vs. the Luck of the “Highrish.”
If you’ve never been to Boulder, here’s the thumbnail: it’s slightly northwest of Denver, just a 28-mile drive from Denver International Airport. About 100,000 people live there. It’s nestled in a valley, in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, and is home to The Flatirons, distinct sandstone formations that tower over Boulder and are 300 million years old. It’s clean, with lots of bike lanes and sidewalks and mountain trails and fit people using them all. In short, it’s beautiful. Whenever I’ve visited, which has now been a handful of times, the skies have been sunny and clear, so the natural and polished beauty of the city hasn’t been veiled by nimbostratus clouds.
The city has a youthful verve about it as it is, ostensibly, a college town. It’s home to University of Colorado’s main campus. Many of those UC students and others filled the streets of Boulder on St. Patrick’s Day. My daughter lives there, so she and her friends served as tour guides for my boomerang hang. And it was definitely a boomerang. There wasn't even time for me to take in a good meal at a nice restaurant.
“You got 24 hours, so you got pizza, Dad,” my daughter said. This suited me fine. Pizza pairs well with beer and we started early by visiting Hazel’s (think Spec’s, but replace the rabbit with vintage aircraft) and chose selections from Wibby Brewing (Moondoor Dunkel was a favorite), Station 26 Brewing Company (Tangerine Cream, which tasted like a dreamsicle, was nice) and Odd 13 Brewing (n00b IPA, which was a smooth, Sierra Nevada doppelganger). All Colorado brews and all salivation-inducingly delicious. In this battle of "green beer" versus "sticky green," I was squarely on Team Beer.
Hazel's was handing out free Jameson cupcakes to customers and had Irish food and Irish whiskey tastings all afternoon. I couldn't forsee the recreational weed businesses passing out samples to shoppers. Drinkers 1, Bong Rippers 0.
What food speaks to bong rippers better than pizza? We got proper sustenance from Boss Lady Pizza on “The Hill,” a commercial district filled with bars and restaurants near the university. The artisan-styled slices were
Texas Colorado-sized, with flaky crusts and unique topping combos. The place was packed with chatty, satisfied students. On St. Patrick's Day, the restaurant was serving them free slices over a three-hour block. This was a smart, preemptive move commissioned by the university to help the collegians fill their bellies ahead of the day's beer-quaffing and puff-puff-passing.
From there, we traveled to Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder. We followed green-clad partiers into West Flanders Brewing Co. The crowd there was beer-biased, of course, though not without good reason. The brewery’s Trippel Lutz, a Belgian tripel style with a golden hue, is amazing. Over at Pearl Street Pub & Cellar, Dropkick Murphys were on the P.A. While my daughter’s friends guzzled Irish car bombs, I spoke with Kevin and Spencer. Kevin said he too was visiting Boulder, for the first time, in his case. Spencer, who’d graduated from UC, was showing him the sites. We were drawn to them by Kevin’s T-shirt, which was clover green and featured caricatures of Cheech and Chong. This started our quest to learn which group was celebrating better between Boulder’s drinkers and smokers.
“Well, that’s a tough choice because I’ve been unionized for about a year-and-a-half now, but, definitely before that, green,” said Kevin, landing on the side of cannabis fans. “I have to make a living, so I made a sacrifice. It is what it is,…but, definitely I would still say green.”
“I went to school here, so anything on Pearl Street, for me, is fantastic. I love the green beer,” said Spencer, tossing some support to the town’s drinkers. “Then you’ve got your natives, who are all about the green. For me, it’s just about meeting the people and figuring out what they like and going with the party for them. Go with the flow.”
Spencer’s take reflects what Boulder is about in the sense that it is an easy-going place. Here, you can do what you like without much judgment being poured all over you. Because Houston is decidedly not as open-minded about recreational pot, we had to find someone who would not be drug-tested into the unemployment line to help us determine how Boulder’s smokers were celebrating the day. To preserve his anonymity, we’ll call our weed-eating guinea pig, "Lloyd."
Boulder is 25 square miles in area and that means there’s a marijuana dispensary or recreational weed store per each square mile. There are lots of options, but only Terrapin Care Station capitalized on the holiday with a leprechaun-themed print ad. As the ad suggested, we followed the rainbow to the pot. Once there, we had to check in with security and relinquish our identification cards temporarily. A digital clock on the wall blinked 4:20 and never changed. We were escorted three at a time behind a door separating the lobby from the salesroom. There, we found glass cases and high shelves filled with pot products.
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Later in the evening, our taste-tester, Lloyd, consumed a dozen THC-infused mints purchased at Terrapin, right off the St. Patrick’s Day deal list. Lloyd said he’s been faded before, but he said he’d never listened to classic rock while stoned. So, we created a Spotify playlist for him that started with “War Pigs” and included the requisite tracks - "Smoke on the Water;" "White Rabbit;" any Pink Floyd song. He said the edibles began taking effect right about the time John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” scrolled up, coincidentally. He was listening to Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?” when he started searching for a black light app on his phone (he found one, they actually exist, though we don't recommend trying them on any black velvet posters since they're just facsimiles of the real deal). He was asleep by the time the playlist got to Santana’s “Oye Como Va.”
So, who had it right, the drinkers or the smokers? The best answer came from Sean, a fellow we’d met at Pearl Street Pub earlier in the day. He donned green and gold hats to celebrate the day, trading one for the other as the mood hit him. And, his answer to our silly query was about as Boulder as can be since it advocated for personal freedoms that did not come at the cost of one's fellow neighbors.
“I think everybody should know themselves and know what works well,” Sean said. “Some people can drink and keep it together and some people can’t. And, some people can probably smoke pot and keep it together and some probably can’t. They should just know themselves and be responsible.”