What’s special about where you live in North Denver?
I live in Uptown. I loved the neighborhood 11 years ago when I first moved to Denver, and I love it even more now. One of the first apartments I toured when I moved to town happens to be in the building where I live now, Avenue Lofts. I ended up living in LoDo for several years, but was fortunate to buy a unit in Avenue Lofts six years ago. You may know Avenue Lofts by the neon pink glow emanating from my upstairs neighbor’s apartment. No, it is not a secret speakeasy as some have speculated on Google Maps.
Uptown’s mix of architecture, living spaces, restaurants and mom & pop retail appeals to me. Having two dogs is the perfect way to meet neighbors. Folks here are warm, down to earth and friendly. The sense of community is real. It’s heartwarming and assuring to see Black Lives Matters signs in yards all over the neighborhood. And when we pass the neighbor’s yard with a pet turkey and duck, smiles cross our faces.
What would you like to see improve in 2021?
Uptown, like so much of Denver, is gentrifying rapidly. Dozens of single-family homes have been razed to make way for massive apartment buildings. Several are under construction or have come online in recent years. The influx of people indicates people want to live here, but I wonder where the people who used to live here have gone.
I’d like Denver to develop an even more comprehensive housing plan that addresses gentrification, homelessness and affordability. It’s heartening that Denver voters have approved tax increases to address some of these issues, but we all need to do more.
What have you done to get through the pandemic?
Cooking and eating, baking and eating. I am an avid cook and baker, and a silver lining of stay-at-home orders is having more time to cook. Food has always been a big deal in my family. We’re Mexican and food means warmth and love to us. I’m known as a food pusher. Come to my house, and I’ll “force” you to eat fresh pasta, tacos wrapped in homemade corn tortillas, smoked brisket, scratch-made tamales assembled with my sister Michele, and fresh-baked potica, which reminds me of my hometown Pueblo. Yes, I am a Colorado native. I garden a lot, too. Years ago, I planted a small vegetable garden to grow everything needed to make fresh salsas and pasta sauces.
What are some favorite places to hang out in your neighborhood?
Uptown is incredibly walkable, and that is a big part of its charm. We love White Pie, a Connecticut-style pizzeria, and Dos Santos, a taqueria. Both restaurants are owned by brothers Chris and Jason, who have a knack for making guests feel like family. Pro tip: if there is a wait at White Pie, walk around the corner to Dos Santos for a margarita.
Looking for cool stuff or greeting cards that will make a sailor blush? Check out Squadron and Soul Haus on 17th Avenue. Owners Chris and Stephanie curate hip clothes, barware, and raunchy cards. Wes, who helps manage both stores, is the friendliest guy you’ll ever meet. Just don’t comment on his music playlist.
Who in the community do you admire?
That’s my upstairs neighbor Michael Matergia. Michael is a doctor who decided to pursue medicine while living in India after graduating from college. Michael’s work is all about service for others. He’s a family physician providing full-scope primary care, including prenatal, obstetrical, and hospital care, with a particular interest and focus on care to patients with substance use disorders. Michael is on the clinical faculty at the Saint Joseph Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program (right here in Uptown!) where he teaches and supervises family practice residents.
Michael’s commitment to service extends far beyond Denver. In India, the country that inspired him to become a doctor, Michael and his wife Denna, a teacher in Denver Public Schools, co-founded the Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance in 2011. The international non-profit partners with rural communities in the Darjeeling Himalayas to provide innovative solutions to health and education. Through their school-based health programs, teacher training, and child mental health intervention, Broadleaf has touched the lives of over 10,000 Indian children and youth during the last decade.
I admire Michael and Denna for harnessing their passions and skills in medicine and education to improve lives in Denver and beyond. I hope you can support their mission. You can learn more about Broadleaf and donate here. https://www.broadleaf.org/
I am a journalist and television producer by trade, and a cook, baker, cyclist and beer lover by passion. I grew up in Pueblo, and my career has taken me across Colorado, the country and the world. No matter where I am, Colorado will always be home and Denver will always be the cycling and beer capital of the world.
Jim VanVranken / January 14, 2021
Great article! Phil, I’ve known you for a while and it never ceases to amaze me how you truly are a renaissance man.
Mary Jo Brooks / January 14, 2021
I totally agree with Jim Van! Thank you for bringing us this story, Vicky!
Ania Popielak / January 14, 2021
Great interview, nice to see you Phil! And thanks, I just drooled on my keyboard from those delicious food pics. And lucky to now you are a terrific mixologist as well!
Kool Aid Pickles / January 14, 2021
It’s fun to hear about your neighborhood and I think Vicky Collins has a hit on her hands with profiles like yours.