Bonnie Brae was created in the 1920′s. George W. Olinger, one of the city’s well known businessmen had been impressed by a subdivision he saw in Kansas City that was named Bonnie Brae, meaning “pleasant hill” in Gaelic. He wanted to recreate the aura of peaceful Scottish village in Denver. So, in 1923, the company hired the acclaimed landscape architect Saco DeBoer to design the street system for the new neighborhood in a fashion similar to the Kansas City subdivision that inspired Olinger. Yet, in planning the neighborhood of Bonnie Brae, DeBoer rejected the grid system that characterized Denver’s streets and focused on the land’s contour and innate beauty instead. The result is what makes Bonnie Brae stand out as one of the most unique neighborhoods in Denver.
To demonstrate his pride in the neighborhood, Olinger built stone pillars at the entrances on Tennessee and Kentucky streets, which still stand today. In Europe, architects and designers had been experimenting with daring, innovative styles that later became known as Art Moderne, emphasizing horizontal lines and soft angles with curved corners. Many of the homes in Bonnie Brae were constructed in these groundbreaking styles of the sleek Bauhaus tradition.
The turning point in the neighborhood’s development came in 1936 when Ellipse Park became the centerpiece of Saco DeBoer’s plan. Homes built up around the park with easy flowing streets winding around the elliptical-shaped park, turning Bonnie Brae into a spectacular residential enclave.
As Bonnie Brae grew, businesses opened. Carl and Sue Dire opened the Bonnie Brae Tavern in June 1934, seven months after the repeal of Prohibition, and it continues as an iconic neighborhood hot spot still at the center of what is called the “Main Street” of one of Denver’s most irresistible neighborhoods and one of urban Denver’s most vibrant neighborhood commercial districts.
This small area with its 700 homes surrounded by quiet and safe meandering streets, soaring mature trees and welcoming neighbors makes Bonnie Brae stand out with its small, unique, one of a kind homes and some of the most lavish multi-million dollar custom built homes in Denver. Today Bonnie Brae is best known for its brand new “scraper” homes. These McMansions have replaced many of the traditional Tudor and ranch style homes historically found here, and are highly prized by sophisticated urban dwellers.
This eclectic neighborhood has professionals, new families and retirees. The average age is 40 and there are merely 1400 residents in this very special area. The neighborhood has something for everyone, from comfy bookstores, coffee hideaways, Greek Baklava and high end boutiques. Since Bonnie Brae is in the heart of Denver there are amazing schools, both public and private, and over 98% of K-12 students in Bonnie Brae go to private schools.
And if you want those extra ten pounds to come off before the holidays, everything you would want is within walking or biking distance so you can leave your car in the garage. Each year the neighborhood has the Bonnie Brae Picnic in late summer in Bonnie Brae Park and when you are done building a state of the art hamburger with your next door neighbor or playing Frisbee golf you can stroll through the alleys taking in the newest art in the area. The “Alley Art” phenomenon is sweeping Bonnie Brae!
This neighborhood is within walking distance of Washington Park. And that’s something to sing about. Wash Park is a 155-acre tour de force of spectacular grounds including two lakes, two flower gardens, one of which is a replica of George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon. Apart from activities like jogging, walking or biking, the park is a center for social activities, encourages creative community involvement and has been designated as one of the “Great Public Spaces in America”.
And Bonnie Brae is dripping with historical local color. One of Denver´s most popular and historic pizza parlors is found here in Bonnie Brae along with a spectacular wine store, and all nearby amenities, including the public library, are just a stones throw from your front door. You are in close proximity to the RTD Light Rail Station and also about a mile away from Denver University including their recreation center, college sports and music programs and theatre. The commute to downtown Denver from Bonnie Brae is less than 15 minutes, and it’s only 5 minutes to the nearby Cherry Creek shopping center with its 160 top of the line stores, high-end restaurants, health conscious everything and some of the best Gelato on the continent.
The Bonnie Brae business district holds onto the flavor of its 1920s heritage with pride through its businesses, many who are still run by second-generation family owners. Bonnie Brae Conoco has been family run since 1942 and the Bonnie Brae Tavern has been the hub of the neighborhood since 1934 when Carl Dire converted his gas station into a tavern, installing four booths and a bar with eight stools. Their self-proclaimed motto is, “A place to know, a place to go!” and the loyal customers still come for comfort food and to see familiar faces! Carl’s wife, Sue, did all the cooking. Hamburgers, beers and shots of whiskey cost a dime back then and the crowds now get in line for the legendary pizza, making this the neighborhood favorite. The décor is “well-scrubbed linoleum floors and leatherette booths”.
Near to Bonnie Brae are the elegant tree-lined streets, which characterize upscale Belcaro named for the spectacular Georgian Estate built by Senator Lawrence Phipps in the 1930’s. Bonnie Brae has easy access to Belcaro and the sought after Old South Gaylord Street with art galleries, wine bars and great food.
“Food glorious food, hot sausage and mustard”. Bonnie Brae has food for every palate. Every ethnic concoction can be found and rooftop dining to five star cuisine is just moments away. The Campus Lounge is a good place to head if you like to watch a good sports game on TV while enjoying some Mexican food or a good burger with lots of pool tables and happy hour twice a night. Yes, twice a night. If you want yummy it’s, Katherine’s French Bakery and if you live in the city of Denver chances are you know Bonnie Brae Ice Cream, a citywide and neighborhood favorite for years.
Old South Gaylord Street is eatery paradise. And it seems that every restaurant has a little special flare to call its own. Since 1977, Reivers Bar and Grill maintains the ability to keep creating the timeless classics you love to eat! They also provide free valet and on Trivia Night they pay cash to the winner. The Tavern Wash Park offers a great weekend breakfast menu, including bottomless Mimosas and a build your own Bloody Mary bar. Washington Park Grille is the “Italian Grille with a Twist” and has live music three times a week and Devil’s Food Bakery and Cookery is a cell phone free zone! So, short and sweet: Bonnie Brae is a sanctuary right in the heart of the city.