This is where the locals go. It’s the authentic essence of Boulder, condensed into 15,000 square feet.
It’s simultaneously completely relaxed but professional. Creative yet functional. Historic yet innovative.
You’ll find craft beer, local food, local bands and locals from all backgrounds, from students to retirees, business-people to lovers, bikers to dogs to kids. It’s like the founders managed to bottle up Boulder, Noah’s Ark style, one by one, and magically bring everyone together under one roof. Er, and the open sky, too.
It might not be your standard tourist destination when you head to Boulder, but even if you only have one day in town, make it a point to visit the Rayback Collective, if you want to experience Boulder like a local.
The indoor-outdoor Rayback Collective is Boulder’s first food truck park, featuring an ever-rotating variety of four or so food trucks for lunch and dinner, as well as a permanent indoor bar with tons of craft taps. The main constant at the Rayback Collective is that it’s always changing: the food, the live music and even the flexible layout is designed to shuffle around to accommodate different events.
There’s a coffee bar to allow for early hours and a full bar for craft cocktails later in the day.
In the summer, it’s a popular place to sit outside on the picnic benches, sip beer, munch on BBQ (or street tacos, or you name it) with a view of the mountains under the open sky. For locals, the collective provides a co-working space, event space, a hangout, a meeting space, a place to eat with their dog or a place to play yard games. For travelers, it’s the best way to get a sample of Boulder’s foodie, craft beer and music scene and meet some new friends. It’s a curated taste of everything that makes Boulder, Boulder.
The Rayback Collective started as a dream between Hank Grant, Justin Riley and partners. In 2015, they began trying to develop a much smaller, simpler, seasonal food truck circle off east Pearl Street. They launched a Kickstarter and raised money for the vision, making it not the venture of a couple of rich trust-funders, but rather a concept literally built by a large community, all working together.
That energy is infused into the atmosphere of the space and is embodied by the name: The Rayback Collective.
“It’s locally owned by entrepreneurs, a young group who had a vision and wanted a place to call their own,” Grant says.
After the east Pearl space fell through, the co-founders began hunting for other space and came across the old Rayback plumbing supply building and lot, which long-time Boulderites may remember as a looming tower of old toilets and sinks. The group gutted the area and designed a flexible space that ended up being much bigger than their original dream. They adopted the Rayback name, as a way to honor the history.
“It’s more than a food park. It’s a gathering place for food, drink, relationships and games,” Grant says.
The collective opened July 2016, and in less than a year it hosted more than 500 different events and gatherings (birthday parties, receptions, a cornhole league, awards banquets, political events, fundraisers, school functions) in the private room in the back of the building, a clear testament to the need for the space, Grant says.
In addition to live music, the space hosts many events open to the public, such as yoga and beer, ballet barre classes, hip-hop yoga, artist markets and meditation.
With an assortment of food, entertainment, drinks and activities, Riley calls the Rayback Collective a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
“It’s Boulder’s backyard, as well as Boulder’s living room,” he says.
How to Use the Rayback Collective
Parking is limited, so it’s best to ride a bike (you can rent one if you don’t have one) along the nearby bike path and park at the collective, 2775 Valmont Road. When you arrive, on the left, you’ll see outdoor games, such as bocce ball and cornhole. Head inside if you want a drink.
The collective currently opens at 7 a.m. daily. During the lunch window, until about 2 p.m., you will typically see two to three food trucks. Around 5 p.m., another batch of four to five trucks roll in for dinner. The collective stays open until 10 p.m. weekdays; 11 p.m. Saturdays; and 9 p.m. Sundays.
If there’s a line at the bar, don’t wait. You can flag down anyone in a Rayback Collective shirt and order a drink from them. They are all equipped with an app that allows you to order and pay right on the spot. (No more waiting for the server to bring you your bill and then signing it and waiting for them to pick it back up.) Then find a seat, by the fire if it’s chilly (ask for a S’mores kit) or on a couch if you want to relax, and wait for staff to bring the beer to you.
Depending on whether you want to enjoy or avoid the crowds, the least busy time to visit is 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays (although the lunch crowd is growing). The busiest time is 5-7 p.m. on weekends, although that depends on the weather and that day’s events.
Dogs are welcome outside on a leash. You’ll find water bowls for them. They’re welcome to sit at the outside tables and don’t have to be tied off on the fence out of the fun.
If you want to work, the best place to sit is at one of the long “community tables,” which are all equipped with 20 outlets for your ever-dying laptops and phones. If you want to enjoy the music, score a table near the stage. If you want to socialize, look for a barstool.