This Colorado college town with a big-city beer rep revels in its outdoorsy, free-spirited vibe.
by Sarah L. Stewart
Though Fort Collins, Colo., remained a dry city until 1969, it has since become the second-largest producer of beer in a state known for its brew. Odell Brewing Co. (Old Town, odellbrewing.com) became the first microbrewery in this college town of 130,000 in 1989 and now ranks among the top 40 craft brewers nationwide. Gold medal winners like the floral Easy Street Wheat share the airy tasting room with an ever-changing lineup of small-batch creations like the deceptively potent Palisade Peach Ale. A few blocks away, The Fort Collins Brewery (near Old Town, fortcollinsbrewery.com) plans to triple in size this summer with a brand-new, 30,000-square-foot brewing facility and restaurant. The FCB is best known for its Chocolate Stout, but don’t miss the tangy Major Tom’s Pomegranate Wheat or the smoked-malt Kidd Black Lager, which begs for a plate of barbecue. New Belgium Brewing (Old Town, newbelgium.com), the third largest craft brewer in the country, offers free 90-minute tours of its whimsical, wind/solar/methane-powered brewery (be sure to zip down the spiral slide connecting the first and second floors). The tour showcases five generous samples such as Ranger IPA, a 91-point India pale ale packed with a mouthful of grapefruit flavors, and limited-edition offerings from the Lips of Faith series. CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing (Old Town, coopersmithspub.com) has earned a reputation among its in-town peers for quality beers like heavily Cascade-hopped Punjabi Pale Ale. Close to Colorado State University’s campus, fellow brewpub C.B. & Potts (CSU, cbpotts.com) incorporates its unusually named Total Disorder Porter and Buttface Amber Ale into a menu of beer-marinated fajitas and steaks.
Brewery tasting rooms double as popular local bars, but the laid-back, funky Road 34 Bike Shop, Deli & Tavern (CSU, road34.com) offers a distinct change of scenery with picnic tables crowding the floor and bicycles dangling from the ceiling. The “biker” bar (check the racks out front) has several seasonal and limited-edition New Belgium and Odell selections on tap. True to its name, the European-inspired Café Vino (Old Town, cafevino.com) pours 150 different wines, but it also features 20 international and craft brews on draft and 47 bottles, many obscure. Dark wood, green lampshades and famous fish and chips make The Crown Pub (Old Town, crownpub.net) feel like a classic Irish watering hole, but its beer selections lean local: 10 of the 16 drafts hail from within the city limits.
College town though it is, Fort Collins has plenty more to satisfy hungry visitors than Chinese takeout and 24-hour pizza joints. On weekend mornings, the bright Silver Grill Café (Old Town, silvergrill.com) sells hundreds of its dinner plate-sized cinnamon rolls, which are made fresh nightly and smothered in a sugary glaze. Around the corner, locals gravitate to Suehiro Japanese Restaurant (Old Town, suehirofc.com) for inventive sushi rolls like a tempura Philly roll with jalapeños. Thick-crust, Colorado-style pizza defines Beau Jo’s (Old Town, beaujos.com), where mountain pies come piled with toppings like Canadian bacon and artichoke hearts, and a drizzle of Rocky Mountain honey turns the crust into dessert. Jay’s Bistro (Old Town, jaysbistro.net) offers a more upscale experience with swanky lighting, a cozy fireplace, hearty game dishes like New Zealand red deer and Colorado ostrich, alongside live jazz nightly Wednesday through Saturday.
The 43-room, 1920s-era Armstrong Hotel (Old Town, thearmstronghotel.com) fell into disrepair before it was renovated and reopened in 2004 with a blend of historic authenticity and modern style. An easy walk to the heart of Old Town, The Edwards House Bed & Breakfast (Old Town, edwardshouse.com) occupies a century-old home with eight unique rooms, a creaky staircase, softly lit library and an inviting front porch. The Inn at City Park (City Park, innatcitypark.com) features five rooms near an 85-acre green space and lake, plus homemade breakfast and complimentary afternoon wine and cheese. Downtown’s tallest hotel, Hilton Fort Collins (CSU, hiltonfortcollins.com), yields a sweeping view of craggy mountain peaks.
No coincidence that the mascot for New Belgium and its most popular beer, Fat Tire, is a shiny red bicycle: Fort Collinites love their two-wheelers. Bikes on loan from the Fort Collins Bike Library (Old Town, fcbikelibrary.org) offer a free opportunity to see the town like a local and pedal the winding, paved Cache la Poudre River Bike Trail. Also free is a stroll through the CSU Flower Trial Garden (CSU, flowertrials.colostate.edu), where more than 1,000 cultivars of dazzling purple, pink and yellow annuals test their hardiness in Colorado’s harsh climate. The Victorian buildings of Old Town house a variety of art galleries and shops such as Old Firehouse Books (Old Town, oldfirehousebooks.com), an independent bookstore in a brick structure that once sheltered the city’s horse-drawn fire engines. The formal hub of Fort Collins’ thriving arts scene is the Lincoln Center (Old Town, lctix.com), which hosts professional theater, dance, opera, orchestra and other performances year-round. The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center (Old Town, fcmdsc.org) opens a door to the area’s history, starting with 10,500-year-old evidence of human existence from the nearby Lindenmeier Archaeological Site. •