Prior to its cancellation towards the tail end of 2017, Anthony Bourdain had planned an immense Singapore-style market on Pier 57 in Manhattan. His love of sprawling collectives where individual proprietors served unique and unpretentious menus generally centered around one or two fabulously-prepared items is well-known. The legacy he left as a champion of culinary democratization was neatly laid out in his unabashed admiration of spaces that let individuals shine as part of a greater and somehow more noble summation.
Today’s landscape is decidedly different than the one he last described in 2018, but it’s likely that he would have appreciated NTMRKT. Orchestrated by KREAM Kimchi‘s Virgil Dickerson, NTMRKT has organized some of the best in Denver street food for a monthly convergence centered around cuisine-bending food trucks, pasta-pressers, sauce-makers, thrifters, musicians and artisans, with the whole lot eager to collaborate. While Bourdain understandably envisioned a material space, Dickerson has imagined a disembodied and amorphous collective hellbent on introducing and amplifying some of Denver’s finest untethered new voices and talent.
“This whole thing reminds me of when I first got into DIY punk rock. We’re trying to build this community so everybody can be more successful,” said Dickerson. Born from an August collaboration between KREAM, Ladybird Vintage, Oh Golly Dumpling, Milky.Wav and Fort Greene entitled Little Greene Mart, the project officially launched as NTMRKT with an inaugural event over Labor Day Weekend and has since grown steadily and organically with each passing month. “Most of the people I’ve brought onto this were just people I met starting KREAM,” he continued.
NTMRKT has already conducted several iterations at Fort Greene, with a pop-up at CRUSH Walls’ Voodo Ranger Clubhouse and an upcoming event on Larimer further extending its reach. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s probably better not to have a permanent location,” said Dickerson. “With NTMRKT, there’s a destination where people can buy stuff they weren’t expecting to buy and eat food they can’t find anywhere else.”
While some participants are established concepts, many of the involved groups are new businesses that sprung as a direct result of the pandemic. “People are trying to make their side hustle their main hustle. If any of these people turn their side hustle into their main gig, I’d like it if this could be a part of that,” said Dickerson. Yuan Wonton has been a staple, with Penelope Wong’s army of the pre-order savvy coming for the dumplings and staying for the fresh wares from the likes of Amada Artesania and efta. “Having Yuan has been a huge feather in our cap. Her followers love everything about NTMRKT,” grinned Dickerson. This speaks to a general trend — despite the seemingly haphazard assembly, there’s a clear unifying undercurrent across the disparate contributors. The talent is raw, and people are hungry to present their unfiltered vision. The revolving cast has begun developing some usual suspects — Yuan, Samosa Shop, Chimichurri Bros and Linji Market have all made multiple appearances — though many of the participants have been exclusive to each event.
“If you look around it doesn’t look like a normal Denver event,” said Dickerson, noting the wide demographic range of the attendees. “You’ve got farmers’ markets, but a Korean kid from Aurora isn’t going to go to that,” he continued. The sheer breadth of the involved sellers leaves room for both novelty and familiarity to be achieved regardless of perspective. “I have no illusions of making it the next Lollapalooza. But I would like to make a space for local makers to make some money,” he said. To supplement the gatherings, social media has played a large role in facilitating the kind of mutually-beneficial promotion so vital to these new enterprises.
Dickerson’s community-building approach that favors both buyers and retailers has created a fruitful atmosphere for everyone involved. With the November edition planned for Fort Greene, the project is tentatively set to continue indoors — safety permitting. This Friday’s event on Larimer will feature contributions from Ratio Beerworks, The Block, Finn’s Manor, Odell Brewing, Barcelona Wine Bar as well as a long list of vendors. “Come hungry. Come with a couple dollars in your pocket and you’ll leave full and with something you didn’t plan on having,” smiled Dickerson.
NTMRKT’s next event takes place on Friday, October 30 from 5 – 9 p.m. on Larimer St. between 29th and 30th, a full list of participants can be found on its Instagram. The following one is slated for November 6 and 7 from 5 – 9 p.m. outside of Fort Greene.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.