The train doors opened up, I stepped off, and suddenly I was transported back in time. I had left the big towering buildings of Denver with crowds of people bustling around and arrived in historic Olde Town Arvada. My time machine only took 20 minutes! The first thing I noticed was the welcoming old-timey water tower standing near the train tracks. You don’t see water towers like that any longer. What was once a supplier of water to this small town is now the landmark of a community.
I walked off the train platform and noticed that no building was over a couple of stories which is why the water tower stood out to me. The streets were filled with people casually walking down the middle of them, and restaurants’ outdoor seating spilled over into the street in a welcoming way. I was greeted by restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, art stores, and bakeries. Suddenly the world felt like it slowed down, and I let out a big sigh of relief.
Surprisingly this was my first trip to Arvada since I have lived in Denver, and now I have no idea why I waited so long to go there.
Olde Town Arvada – A Small Town in the Shadows of a Big City
The small community concept in cities has started to permeate Denver in the last decade. But the one downside to this concept is unless you live in that little neighborhood, it’s often hard to get there if you don’t want to drive there or are a tourist visiting Denver. However, Olde Town Arvada and its small-town Main Street charm is easily accessible on the RTD light rail system in Denver!
Twenty minutes and $6 will get you to and from Olde Town from Denver’s Union Station. It’s only 8 miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Denver, but it feels like a completely different world.
Olde Town Arvada Map
Be sure to check the RTD schedule for times.
Olde Town History
If you are a history nut, Arvada is full of it. When you get off the light rail, you’ll find a bunch of informational signs about how Arvada was the site of the very first gold strike in Colorado. Plus, my favorite piece of history was that this rail commute I just did has been around for more than 100 years! In 1902 the Denver Interurban ran from Arvada to Denver on electric powered trolley cars. I had no idea that the Denver area had a trolley system historically.
Downtown Arvada is also designated on the National Register of Historic Places, which means that many of these buildings on Main Street are original and add to that small town feel.
9 Surprising Finds in Olde Town Arvada
Apple Pie, Baseball, and Main Street USA – that’s the backbone of the July 4th holiday weekend. In an effort to enjoy all of those things this year – I gathered up my visiting parents and headed to Arvada Olde Town! I had to substitute apple streusel from Rheinlander Bakery for the apple pie, but it was worth it…mmmm German streusel! We had Colorado Rockies tickets, and decided to take the light rail to Arvada to experience their Main Street feel for an afternoon and then easily hop on the RTD back to the baseball stadium in time for the night game.
My whole afternoon was full of surprises as we experienced the restaurants and shops of Olde Town. There were a lot of “that’s so cool” moments. So much so that I’m already planning trips back there! Plus I got to meet and talk to a bunch of the shop owners which made it even more fun to dig deeper into their concepts and products.
Here are 9 of my biggest surprises on my first trip to Arvada Olde Town.
1. The Country’s First Craft Seltzery
I didn’t want to like this concept. When you go into a place with that attitude, and you walk out feeling like it’s a totally cool…it’s a success. I didn’t want to like it because the idea of hard seltzer was a bit too main stream for me and my weird tastes. It screams college girls and Zima. How’s that for an 90’s throwback? I thought it was just some fad that sort of replays every 20 years or so. On top of it – this was a craft seltzer bar…which even annoyed me more because of the overuse of the marketing word ‘craft’. But dammit…I walked out of there impressed and wanting more.
Elevated Seltzer in Olde Town made me a believer in the seltzer trend. My dad and I sat at the bar and did two flights of all of their seltzers on tap. My first thought was how weird it was to see this perfectly clear liquid coming out of a tap. It felt all wrong. However, when I tasted their popular Cherry Lime hard seltzer, it was all right!
I talked to the bartender, Danielle, and she told me that Elevated is the nation and the state’s first independent seltzer company. They have 4 flavors that are always on tap (lemon lime cucumber, cherry lime, pina coloda, and acai), and the rest of the taps rotate with seasonal flavors.
All of their products are zero carbs, zero sugar, and gluten free. It’s just yeast, water, and sugar. The sugar is eaten up during the fermentation process. They come in at about 100 calories for 12 oz. But that doesn’t mean they are wimpy. The seltzers range from 5 to 7.5% in alcohol which is similar to beer.
Two brothers, Hunter and Warren, started this business in 2019 when they ditched brewing beer and started making seltzer. They also have plans to expand into the world of cocktails while making each one enjoyable on its own. I can’t wait for that!
“In a market dominated by corporate giants, we wanted to take things into our hands and do things our way.”
I liked people who take on the big guys, and I’m rooting for Elevated Seltzer to succeed. I absolutely loved the Elderberry, Grapefruit, and Pina Colada flavors during our tasting. In fact, I might have even walked away with a few cans! I’m a seltzer believer now.
2. It’s a town for Whiskey Lovers
I’m used to thinking of Kentucky when I think of whiskey and bourbon. Arvada certainly didn’t come to mind when I thought of great whiskey destinations…until now. Just walk into Schoolhouse Libations and you’ll be stopped in your tracks at the sight of their legendary whiskey wall. Just look up at the score board above the bar which has the number of bottles of whiskeys on their library shelves. It read 1,882 which put them at one of the largest whiskey lists in the country. That number also represents the year that the Arvada one room public schoolhouse was established (1882); it’s now the home of Schoolhouse libations.
I stared at that wall of whiskey and wondered how in the world they were able to locate the right bottle when there are 1,882? The bartender explained their inventory system and how he finds them. “It’s pretty easy to find what I’m looking for, unless someone puts a bottle back in the wrong place,“ he said with a laugh.
I learned that the most expensive 1 oz pour they had was $320 of Eagle Double Rare (only 299 bottles made in the world), and the least expensive pour is their well whiskey coming in at $3. I guess you can say they have something for everyone! I enjoyed my glass of Talisker Storm from Scotland, it had a peaty, smooth flavor and it was only about $13.
As you take your time and sip your whiskey, you can’t help but be enthralled with the schoolhouse décor in the bar. It’s beyond clever, starting with the bar made of #2 pencils. The walls have old chalk boards on them, the ‘chandeliers’ are made of old school desks welded together, and the high-top bar tables have periodic table elements on them…but the secret is that when they are all pushed together into one large table they make up the entire periodic chart!
I could’ve stayed at Schoolhouse Libations all afternoon, but we had a lot left to cover. Plus, I likely would’ve been drunk on whiskey and never made it back to the baseball game!
3. It’s full of Nostalgia
Scott Spears is a bit of a legend in Olde Town and for good reason. Scott owns multiple businesses, including Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations. His businesses are all incredibly diverse; restaurants, bars, ice cream, candy, toys, and socks – but they all have one thing in common. They are full of nostalgia and fun.
Scott is a man who loves a good theme…a man after my own heart (ahem…I LOVE theme parties). He has taken some of these themes to levels I couldn’t have even imagined. He has an eye for details. Those details are what attract people and keep people talking about his businesses; that’s just good marketing. He creates an atmosphere that pulls you in and overwhelms your senses.
Many of his creations really do lean heavily on nostalgia.
Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations
I told you about the whiskey bar, but surprise, there’s also a restaurant! When we were seated for lunch, it felt like a normal dining room and restaurant. However, as I looked around, I realized it was a work of ‘theme’ art. The chairs were old school chairs, the lamps were made out of world globes, the tables were made of old gym floors cut up, the booths were made out of school bus seats, and the walls made of bleachers! As I waited for my food, I walked around the entire restaurant looking at all of the details, it felt sort of like a scavenger hunt.
Speaking of the food, I was equally impressed with the theme that continued on the Schoolhouse menu. Not only did we get chicken and waffles on a stick (a chicken-tender coated in waffle batter and fried), but we got the sloppy joe with sweet potato tots, and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off. It was all delicious and fun…especially the PB&J.
Sloppy Joe and tots
PB&J with the crust cut off
Make sure you make a trip to the restrooms; the theme continues there. Plus – the hallway leading to the restrooms have presidential portraits lining the walls. However, upon closer look, it lists the president and describes their drinking habits. Did you know that Harry Truman was a bourbon fan and often started his morning with a shot?!
Super Zoom Bang Bang Toy Store
One of the things I liked most about Scott’s business strategy to create a strong community in Olde Town was his desire to determine what was missing (in terms of main street businesses) in Olde Town, and what could bring more people that could help the entire community. He determined that every cool, hip town had a toy store. That’s how Super Zoom Bang Bang was born.
However it’s not your average toy store – it’s full of nostalgia and unique toys.
“We try to bring in things that you can’t find easily on Amazon or you can’t find at big box stores. The harder to find, cool stuff is always what sells the best.”
I walked around and picked up a little red egg of Silly Putty and thought, I haven’t seen silly putty for years. There were so many throw backs from my youth, it was a walk-through toy time. They even had a whole corner of kites! The best part is that you could touch and feel the toys for a more fun experience.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into So Radish restaurant was a mural of Michael J. Fox on the wall. Now that’s not something you see every day. But it fit right in at the 80’s themed So Radish restaurant. Another one of Scott’s creations, So Radish features a 100% plant-based menu with gluten free options. I’m pretty sure that back in the 80’s I didn’t even know what gluten was!
Not only will you be struck by the site of a Michael J Fox mural, but you’ll be surprised by all of the incredible color and neon in the restaurant. Similar to Schoolhouse, it deserves a good, slow walkthrough to catch all of the 80’s nostalgia. And you absolutely must check out the bathroom…you might want to bring sunglasses.
We tried the fried brussels sprouts and the kaleidoscope salad and ate it up just like Ms. Pacman eating ghosts! If you like street art, the 80s, or vegetarian food – then stop here!
Their famous brussel sprouts!
Don’t forget the ice cream. Scrumptious was Scott’s first store in Arvada Olde Town. It’s one of the first stores you see when you get off the RTD light rail. However, we saved it till the end and then sat and enjoyed our ice cream while we waited for the train back to the Coors Field.
All of the ice cream is made on sight with as many all-natural ingredients as possible. I had the Scotcheroo ice cream – peanut butter, Rice Krispies, and chocolate– delish! The portion sizes are huge…I had the kids cup and that was the size of most people’s mediums.
And if ice cream isn’t your thing (what?), maybe you are more of a candy person. You are in luck because Scrumptious in Arvada is also a candy shop. Once again, here you will find nostalgic candies that will bring memories flooding back to you. I saw candies there that I hadn’t seen since my childhood – hello Fun Dip and Slo Pokes. Plus, they also had unique items like key lime KitKats!
You’ll definitely leave Scrumptious on a sugar high.
4. Got Spices?
During the pandemic, I started ordering spices from Penzy’s Spices when a friend turned me on to them. They have a really super culture about them and I loved their marketing. I know what you are thinking – spice shops have a culture? Yes – strangely a spice shop can have a culture. You just have to sign up for their emails to really understand what I’m saying. I didn’t honestly know where the spices were shipped from, and then I got off the RTD and saw a Penzy’s Spice Shop right there in Olde Town Arvada! I had absolutely no idea that they had a store in Colorado!
If you love to cook, this is a must stop for you in Arvada. You will find spice combinations you hadn’t even considered before!
5. Real German Streusel and Stollen
Es ist gut! Walk into Rheinlander Bakery, take a big whiff, and prepare to smell Europe. Oh…how I miss Europe. If you need to get your German streusel fix, or you just have an immense sweet tooth to satisfy, stop at Rheinlander. Rheinlander Bakery, has been a community fixture in Olde Town Arvada since 1963.
They have cases filled with cookies, cakes, bars, and streusel. And the back is filled with tons of bakers busily frosting and kneading, and cutting. It’s a busy place, but totally worth a stop.
They even have one of my favorite German deserts for the holiday season – Stollen. You don’t find many places in the US that make Stollen, and when you do – you remember it and make sure you go back in December when they are baking it!
6. So Many Socks
The theme continues at Scott Spears’ retail store Sock. As you might guess, it sells socks…just socks…thousands of socks. The little yellow historic home with a white picket tube sock fence is a fun stop. Even if you aren’t into socks, you can’t help but marvel at just how many different designs there are in this little house!
You want llamas – they have it. You want gnomes – they have it. You want unicorns – they have it. You want puffins – they even have puffins.
Just walk in and try to think of the strangest thing you can and ask the clerk standing behind the register ‘table’ made of a washer and dryer what their strangest socks are. Don’t be surprised when she shows you right to the Bob Ross socks.
7. Jewelry Making and a Puppy
The door read, “Open slowly, shop puppy in training” – ummm yes…I will absolutely go inside and meet a shop puppy! Sure enough Balefire Goods has a shop puppy named Bishop. He’s a lovely dog that loves a good scratch behind the ears. Bishop will follow you around as you browse around this beautiful jewelry and art store featuring one of a kind handmade jewelry from small makers in Colorado and beyond.
Actually – it’s not really a shop – it’s a gallery. If you love shiny things like me, then you’ll love looking around Balefire Goods. Not only do they have really unique jewelry offerings, they also have glassware, prints, and they teach metalsmithing. When I was there, they were making a beautiful men’s wedding ring of gold. This isn’t your average jewelry store!
8. A Dark Secret Speakeasy
Spirt Wine Provisions is a liquor store specializing in whiskey, natural wine, and mixology…and it has a dark secret. There may just be a speakeasy in back.
The Stockroom is just that – an old, dark stockroom. However, when you are let through the plain white door that says “Employees Only”, you will not only find a dark stockroom, you’ll also find tables, a smooth bartender, and a simple looking bar stocked with the largest variety of bitters I’ve seen – 160 to be exact. My advice…try a drink with the umami bitters.
Take a moment to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. In true speakeasy form, the Stockroom keeps a low profile. It’s a place where you should plan to disconnect from your digital life, you won’t get any cell phone reception here. But a speakeasy is about socializing in a forbidden way, so put down that phone and pick up a cocktail.
You can order off the menu, but they best way to approach this speakeasy is to talk to the bartender and let them know the type of drinks you like. You like it sour? Boozy? Sweet? Complicated? Neat? And the bartender will create a drink for you on the fly. You might even get some flames in your glass! But whatever you will get in your glass, it’ll be good.
In lieu of a password, all you have to do is stop at the cash register of Spirit Wine Provisions and ask if you can “help stock boxes” and you will be led past through that unassuming Employees Only door into boozy cocktail world.
This place is so new that it’s hard to find info on it…after all…it IS a speakeasy – so it should be hard to find information on it! At the time of this writing, it’s open Wednesday to Saturday 4PM to close. They also do custom mixology classes for groups.
9. How Perfect it is for Getting to a Rockies Game
My final Olde Town Arvada surprise is just how easy and cheap it is to get back and forth to downtown Denver for a ball game. We were heading to a Rockies game, and the train ran like clockwork and drops you off 3 blocks from the stadium. You avoid all of the parking mess and it’s only $6 round trip per person.
Plus – if you park at the park and ride in Arvada, you can hop on the train, go to a game, and then come back to Olde Town for a night cap or late-night ice cream!
Turn Your Olde Town Arvada Visit into a Progressive Dinner
I know what you are thinking – how can I go to all of these places in an afternoon or evening?! I get it, there are so many good restaurants and bars here that it’s hard to decide which place to go. I have a solution…turn your visit into a progressive dinner and try them all!
My parents and I did just that and ate and drank our way through the Olde Town restaurants. Here was our route:
- Appetizers – So Radish
- First Drinks – Elevated Seltzer
- Main – Schoolhouse kitchen
- 2nd Drinks – Schoolhouse Libations
- Dessert – Scrumptious
- Nightcap – Stockroom
- Tomorrow’s Breakfast – Rheinlander Bakery – take home some streusel!
I found 9 surprises in my short afternoon in Olde Town, and I can’t wait to go back for more. Next time I’m not waiting for a baseball game, I’m just hopping on the light rail and heading there – it’s so easy!
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