Each Friday for the last couple weeks, a modest but attractively designed wooden cart has rolled out at Milk Market, the Denver micro-district that aspires to turn its Ballpark-adjacent block of Lower Downtown into a model food hall and social hub for the 21st century.
Its wares? Unique experiences.
No, not holiday gift certificates that invite you to get high and paint mediocre pictures in a room full of strangers, nor ones that allow baby goats to climb on you while you struggle to complete yoga poses (also in a room full of strangers). Those experiences, once novel, have become common in Colorado — and, increasingly, everywhere else.
We’re talking about custom, one-off sessions with some of the region’s most notable cultural leaders: chef Frank Bonanno, Denver Art Museum curators, internationally known designers, architects and gallery professionals, scientists, bartenders, vintners, classic-car collectors, pilots and writers.
With titles such as Meow Wolf Experience Tube Pizza Party and Buggin’ Out with Food Science, there are 15 experiences in all, with prices ranging from $15 to $1,500.
“Everyone is talking about the experience economy, but what does that look like? What’s the role of retail in that economy?” said Brian Corrigan, creator of the F.U.N. pop-up cart at Milk Market. “Commodities you can just get on Amazon. For those, it’s about what’s the cheapest, most convenient and fastest delivery method. But when you start to think about how you can compete with that in brick-and-mortar retail, experiences are your competitive advantage. These are things you can’t get online.”
Or anywhere else, for that matter.
Corrigan, the creative strategist behind the OhHeckYeah street arcade, Clyfford-Still Museum’s opening gala, and numerous other art, design and economic-development projects with the city, first hatched F.U.N. thanks to Denver Startup Week, where he’s co-chairman of the Design Track.
He and co-chairman Castle Searcy met Jacqueline Bonanno, creative director at Bonanno Concepts (the minds and money behind Milk Market and its Dairy Block), through Startup Week. Jacqueline began wondering about retail possibilities at the collection of 13 eateries and three bars, and Corrigan conceived F.U.N., which stands for Futures United Network.
The name is particularly meaningful to Corrigan because he sourced and created most of these experiences from the personal and professional network he’s built since moving to Denver nine years ago.
“The Bonannos have been amazing partners in their support for trying something creative and different,” said Corrigan, 38, a former teacher at Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art. “And that’s important, because they’re the first clients of F.U.N.”
Of course, the Bonannos seemingly have little to lose if F.U.N. tanks. With businesses ranging from fine dining’s Mizuna and Luca to the Vesper Lounge and faux speakeasy Green Russell, they can afford to experiment here and there. But as part of F.U.N., chef Frank, for example, is contributing his time and cooking skills to things he’s never attempted — such as collaborating with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to cook a full dinner based on insects.
“Frank has all of these really great ideas he wants to explore, so he’ll be cooking with everything that’s found in the garden. And I mean everything,” Corrigan said. “Insect cuisine is a trend right now. It’s on the wild side of farm-to-table.”
That experience takes place at Milk Market on March 9 and costs $50 per person, with a limit of 20 people. More traditional (and pricey) is Tailor-Made, a $300-per-person experience at Mizuna during which Bonanno will cook dishes based on recipes from legendary designer Christian Dior’s little-known cookbook, “La Cuisine Cousu-Main.”
“That includes a visit from Florence (Müller), the curator behind the new Dior exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, who will be talking about the connection between food, fashion and design,” Corrigan said.
Feeling couch-locked? For $150-$300, curator Deanne Gertner from Hey Hue will visit your home with a pop-up gallery of locally made, original pieces. She’ll give you a one-hour consultation (available only in the seven-county metro area) and let you pick out something to put on your wall before she leaves.
On the other end of the spectrum is Planes, Tastings and Automobiles, a custom experience in the tiny town of Paonia, about 200 miles southeast of Denver in Delta County. For $750 per person, you can tour the city by airplane and, after landing, explore its wineries and agricultural heritage while being chauffeured around in a 1928 Buick, then dine and carouse at Leroux Creek Inn, which will serve a five-course, organic dinner sourced from local farms and ranches.
For a few dollars extra, you can add various other custom, one-on-one experiences — such as artisanal jewelry making or DJ’ing at the local radio station.
“I’ve been working in experiences for such a long time, and there’s just this kind of bubbling up that’s happening with them in society right now,” Corrigan said. “I overhear people saying, ‘I don’t want or need any more stuff. I want to do things. I want to make memories.’ So this is about rethinking what we put value around, and how we can connect with people through that.”
A few small products from Meow Wolf and renowned typographer/designer Rick Griffith (of Denver’s Matter; he also designed the F.U.N. cart and its logo) round out the offerings. But F.U.N. is mostly about food, art, architecture, drawing classes, history lessons, private museum tours, and pastry and booze celebrations.
For the full menu, visit Milk Market (1800 Wazee St. #100) during the pop-up shop’s operating hours, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23. denvermilkmarket.com