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As the Pepsi Center moves into its second decade of use in 2011, the arena remains state-of-the-art both inside and out. Located in the heart of Denver, Pepsi is definitely the center of attention on many Colorado nights and the stunning multi-use arena is befitting the beautiful capital of the Centennial State. It is home of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, the NLL's Colorado Mammoth, and it regularly hosts the world's biggest musical performers when they come to town.
The Pepsi Center catches the fan and any architecture lover's eye right away. It combines soft curves and an overall elliptical shape, contrasting them with sharp triangle-like protrusions that are made up of hundreds of windows - creating awesome glass facades, giving everyone a "wow" sensation when it is admired from close or afar.
The many doors at the main entrance of the Pepsi Center and the plentiful number of ushers eager to help in any way possible makes going into the building a breeze. After entering into the grand atrium, the "Altitude Authentics" team store invites visitors and is seemingly always packed. Fans can find all the latest gear for both the Nuggets and Avalanche and the store offers all the hats, jerseys and other memorabilia that can't be found anywhere else.
As you travel up the great escalators in the huge entrance of the Pepsi Center, you notice a massive and visually interesting hanging statue, half made up of hockey players, half basketballers.
Once on the first, second or third level, food and drink stands and bathrooms are abundant while their lines are usually nonexistent. When it comes to watching a game, there's literally not a bad seat in the house as the Pepsi Center is a marvelous place to catch a competitive contest.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
At first glance, it seems as though the Pepsi Center's food and beverage is run of the mill, but there is more to discover depending on what floor the fan is on.
Hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries and popcorn can be found on both the first and third floors mixed intermittently with Old Chicago pizza stands. But what separates the Pepsi from others is the out-of-the-ordinary food choices as well. Carved sandwiches of roasted meats, fajitas, buffalo burgers and Dippin' Dots ice cream stands dot the arena as well and entice the fan's appetite for great food.
Domestic beers ($6.75) can be found at any place food is sold, and the soft drink of choice is, of course, Pepsi ($4.75). Also, Jack Daniels mixed drink stands are on every level and their bartenders make a variety of potent potables if beer is not your taste.
But where the food and drink get interesting are at the Pepsi Center's in-house bar (Blue Sky Grill) and restaurant (The Ridgeline). Both of these special destinations are located within the club level although The Ridgeline can be accessed by any fan within five minutes left in the game. The Ridgeline offers a full and unique menu with a long wine list as well. Plus, The Ridgeline has many micro-brew options for the more picky beer drinker and it features its own patio in case a fan needs to step outside for some fresh air. Blue Sky Grill is a full-service bar and restaurant that focuses on Western cuisine, including buffalo tenderloin, buffalo ribeye and ribs.
When I attended on April 11, 2011, I was fortunate enough to sit on the Suite Level, where they offer much more unique food and drink options than on the other two levels. While beer flows plentifully throughout the Pepsi Center, I was surprised to find numerous smaller bars placed all around the Suite Level. There are tequila, whiskey, martini and full-service bars on the Suite Level for any fan looking for a mixed drink instead of sipping on suds. And another aspect of the food and drink on the Suite Level is that every other section has an usher designated to it from whom you can order food or beer without even leaving your seat. For the most serious fan that doesn't want to miss a second of action, this is an incredibly extraordinary benefit of sitting on the Suite Level.
And when it comes to food, the Suite Level is special. There is a dessert stand, with many different delectable cakes, a "snack bar" with cotton candy, giant pretzels and other treats and various other specialty food stands. This particular night, the "Artisan Press" called out to me, and the food was delicious. I enjoyed the "Smoky Joe," and Italian-style flatbread sandwich with ham, bacon, turkey and cheddar cheese. While it wasn't inexpensive ($12) the sandwich was large and filling with the addition of fresh kettle chips that come included.
Pepsi Center's atmosphere is always fun and designed with the fan in mind first.
The great atrium entryway includes around 10 large television screens that show other games, pregame coverage or live coverage of the night's game for the late arrivals.
After traveling up the giant escalators one can be a bit disoriented, but not to worry, the Pepsi Center's gracious and friendly ushers are there to answer any question you may have and to point you in the direction of your seats. Once in your seat, fans are in for an entertaining evening.
There are no bad seats in the Pepsi Center, believe me, I've sat basically everywhere. Even from the top row, players are easy to make out and there are no obstructed views. Of course, Suite Level comes with the amenities of food and drink from a private box, and sitting in the lower level puts the observer in the action - whether it's the giants of the hardwood or the monsters on the ice.
Also, there is a Nuggets' dance team that dances during timeouts to keep the energy level high, and there's also a cheer-leading squad to catch the observer's eye. "Super mascot" Rocky is the best in the NBA and if he makes his trademark backwards over the head shot from half court, the crowd will go crazy.
Pepsi is in a prime location, just minutes from downtown Denver. The Arena is located adjacent of Six Flags: Elich Gardens, making a full day of fun at both places a feasible option.
But the best part is that Pepsi Center is in LODO (Lower Downtown), the happening place to be in Denver. LODO is home to hundreds of bars, clubs and robust restaurants and it's all within 10 minutes walking distance from the arena.
Brooklyn's is an upscale feeling sports bar with good, if not great food. The restaurant's front door is literally within 100 feet of Pepsi and it makes for a great place to pre or postgame party. They boast 10 HD plasma TVs, which make watching the game there almost as fun as in Pepsi, plus 15 beers on tap and 15 on bottle. Burgers run under $10, can be buffalo, chicken, beef or veggie, and they are delicious.
Suite 200 is the newest club, and officially the hottest night spot in Denver now (the Nuggets Kenyon Martin, Clippers' Marcus Camby both have had birthday parties there). Club Bash is also a wild club scene and The Church offers techno music.
For a more quaint time, there are a seemingly endless number of smaller bars and "dive bars" in LODO to accommodate anyone's taste.
Nuggets fans are a bit different, in the fact that Denver didn't make the playoffs from 1994-2003 and many became disenfranchised with professional basketball. But, with the drafting of Carmelo Anthony in 2003, the Nuggets made a dramatic turnaround and the fans have come back.
Since many are seemingly newer to basketball, the arena can remain quiet for much of games. But when it comes down to crunch time, or if one of the fan favorites throw down a thunderous dunk, the crowd goes wild.
The Nuggets are exceptional when playing in the Mile High City and their fans have much do do with that success at home.
New to the Pepsi Center for 2011 is "Flash Seats," an extremely efficient and easy way to buy, sell and transfer tickets through Kroenke Sports' own ticket company "Ticket Horse." I had the opportunity to use "Flash Seats" as Kroenke Sports transferred tickets to me (thank you again Kroenke Sports) and it was much quicker than having to go to the Will Call. When you sign up for an account with "Flash Seats," you simply enter an ID (credit card or ID) online, just like when you make an online purchase at any other website. All you have to do is bring the ID with you; the ushers at the door scan it and print out your tickets in mere seconds.
Also, the Pepsi Center parking lot is large, although entering and exiting can be a test of patience. The cost is only $10 though, down from in years past, or you can pay slightly more $15-$20 to park in a private lot which gives the ease of leaving much more quickly.
But if you're not into paying exorbitant rates for parking at the stadium, there is plenty of parking downtown and walking a few blocks can cut that cost in half easily. If parking downtown doesn't work, Denver's lightrail trains take around 30 minutes from anywhere in the city and cost only a few dollars for a round trip.
A night out to the Pepsi Center offers a good time and solid return on the dollar.
The cheapest seats to a Nuggets game are a mere $15, two drinks and food will run around $20 and splitting parking with a friend will cut that cost to around $5 if you're willing to walk a little.
The Pepsi Center is completely fan-oriented, it's easy to notice when you enter the building and see the smiling faces of the ushers and other professional and personable people that work there. They are always willing to help, so don't hesitate to ask.
The Pepsi Center is stacked full of amenities for any and all fans, it's sure to be a fun and exciting experience for people young and old.
Overall, the Pepsi Center itself, holding games for not only the Nuggets, but the Colorado Avalanche, Crush, Mammoth lacrosse, concerts, and other events, is state-of-the art through-and-through.
The Pepsi Center should be regarded as one of the best in all sports, for its many great aspects.
Rich Kurtzman is a Colorado State University Alumnus and a freelance journalist. Along with being the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for Stadium Journey, Kurtzman is the Denver Nuggets and Denver Broncos Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and the CSU Rams and Fort Collins Beer Bars Examiner for examiner.com, as well as a weekly contributor to Mile High Hoops.
You can follow Rich on Facebook or on twitter.
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