The only suites at Denver's Brown Palace Hotel with any designation beyond a room number are named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Beatles, and that seems fitting. The hotel's opulence, while not faded, is a product of an earlier time.
Visitors accustomed to the style of many luxury American hotels these days will not know what to make of the Brown Palace. The lobby's stained-glass atrium dates from 1892 and its terrazzo floor from the 1920s. The acclaimed Palace Arms restaurant, one of four in the hotel, is decorated with flags, etchings, two pairs of dueling pistols and two of the original papier-mâché eagles that lined the Champs-Elysées for Napoleon's coronation in 1804. Colors are bold. While the Brown Palace can't match the seamless splendor of today's up-market chains--it shares valet parking with the Comfort Inn next door, for example--it thrives as a modernized (modem-ready phones, hair dryers, fitness center) replication of the way fine hotels used to be.
The 230 guest rooms are different, too--not only from guest rooms elsewhere, but from each other. The hotel's site, at a three-way intersection in downtown Denver, enabled nineteeth century architect Frank Edbrooke to fill the building with oddly shaped rooms of acute angles and plenty of light. There is a hierarchy of seven categories of guest rooms based on location and size; each includes several distinct room shapes.
The hotel keeps a staff of craftsmen, plumbers and painters for on-the-spot restorations. In its yearning for authentic detail, the hotel's management is sometimes forced into desperate measures. When a section of wallpaper on the ninth floor recently suffered water damage and a precise match couldn't be found, painters were instructed to copy the pattern. Only by touch can you tell the difference. Renovations are made continuously. The hotel recently installed new carpeting and updated amenities on three of the eight guest-room floors and plans to upgrade the remaining floors.
The Brown Palace opened for business on Aug. 12, 1892, and it has never closed. Eisenhower used it as something of a Western White House during his presidency because Mamie's mother lived nearby on Denver's Capitol Hill. The Beatles stayed there during their inaugural U.S. tour in 1964. The hotel's staff archivist reports that the Fab Four shared a two-room suite.
The hotel's reputation suffered during the 1980s, when it was owned and operated as part of a national chain. Dallas-based Quorum Hotels and Resorts, which took over the management of the Brown Palace in 1987, has worked hard to resurrect the hotel's former distinction. That effort includes Scotch-and-cigar dinners, which the hotel management initiated in 1989, well ahead of the fashion. In February, the hotel opened a cigar friendly space called The Churchill Bar, featuring 30 vintage Ports, 40 single malt Scotches and 65 varieties of cigars. The bar also leases humidor space; for $500, a customer receives a wooden cigar box with a brass plaque and one year of humidor storage; annual renewals are $250.
That feature has attracted many of Denver's top executives. "Instead of having that last meeting in the office, they bring them here for a cigar," says the hotel's managing director, Peter Aeby. The bar is filled most every afternoon. Its comfortably worn red leather chairs, rescued from the lobby, give it an easy, clubby feel, as if it, too, had been around since Eisenhower's day.
Bruce Schoenfeld is a magazine and television writer living in Colorado.
Brown Palace Hotel
321 Seventeenth Street
Phone: (303) 297-3111; fax (303) 293-9204
Rooms from $184 to $235 per night; suites from $285 to $785