A Stay at the Brown Palace Hotel
Historic hotel retains its elegance and tradition while offering the style and service that modern travelers want
LOOKING UP EIGHT STORIES to the stained glass ceiling from the atrium lobby of The Brown Palace Hotel recently, I was struck by both the elegance and artistry of the landmark. The traditional interior decor combined with modern amenities and service makes this iconic hotel a true Colorado gem. The first time I entered the Brown was as a teenager. I recall taking in the grand entrance, the busy lobby and the upper floors with balconies bordered in cast iron railings featuring ornate grillwork panels. A few years later, I had afternoon tea in that lobby and thought I must have been transported to a different city as I sipped Champagne, listened to harp music and ate incredible pastries, sandwiches and scones.
I have had drinks in the restaurants and enjoyed the Ship Tavern’s hamburgers more than a few times, but it was only recently that I came to the hotel as a true guest, staying overnight and enjoying this historic property as a getaway. If it’s been awhile since you walked through those revolving doors in downtown Denver, it is a good time to take a fresh look.
Located on 17th Avenue between Tremont Street and Broadway, The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa has occupied the same block since 1892. It was designed by architect Frank E. Edbrooke for Henry C. Brown, who was denied entrance to another downtown Denver hotel because of his cowboy attire and decided to build his own. Today, the property is part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
There are several restaurants and bars in the facility, including Ellyngton’s where you can enjoy breakfast and brunch; Ship Tavern, known for its prime rib and American fare; Churchill’s for cocktails; and the renovated Palace Arms for fine dining. There also is, of course, the lobby, which serves afternoon tea daily from 12 to 4 p.m. The winter holiday tea service is so popular that reservations are booked almost a year in advance.
After many years in the business, Nick Moschetti took over as general manager of the hotel and spa in March 2020, “clearly a challenging time in hospitality, he said. The renovation of Palace Arms restaurant had just started when he came on board, and then the hotel closed for the first time in its history due to the global pandemic. The timing, Moschetti said, was both good and bad. It was a good time to work on renovating the restaurant, but the hotel was unable to get furniture and lighting, some of which was coming from Europe.
“Then, relaunching fine dining in the midst of COVID-19 was also a challenge,” Moschetti said. But it gave the staff time to work on the concept. Their goal was to keep the integrity of the restaurant but add a little light, update and replace carpet and furniture, and reframe the art in order to showcase and preserve the historic works. Today, Moschetti’s favorite menu item at Palace Arms is the steak because of the high quality of local beef from Fitch Ranch in Grand County.
The Ship Tavern is the oldest restaurant in the hotel. It opened in 1934 after the repeal of Prohibition. Fans of the spot will be happy to know the décor hasn’t changed, and includes a complete mast and crow’s nest, an old ship’s clock, and a collection of sailing ship models given to the restaurant by former hotel owner Charles Boettcher.
And while the restaurants and the Chur- chill Bar have true Old-World elegance, the rooms and the spa are fresh and modern.
The hotel’s several suites include the Beatles Suite, where the musicians stayed in 1964. The Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen also have stayed at the Brown, along with almost every president from Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump.
As I waited recently for my chai tea in the lobby coffee shop, I glanced through a book on the history of ghosts and The Brown Palace. When I asked Moschetti about the ghost stories, he said in a matter-of-fact tone, “It is part of the history of who we are. The employees and guests who tell these stories are very passionate, and it is part of the mystique of the hotel.”
There have been many reported ghost sightings at the hotel, including a guest who saw a train conductor, ghostly hotel employees and laughing children in the hallways.
My getaway at The Brown Palace did not induce a ghost sighting, though I was so full of good food and relaxed from the spa, I might not have noticed.
I have passed by The Brown Palace hundreds of times and admired the beauty of the red sandstone building that is a gateway to downtown Denver. But on this trip, it was a treat to go inside the historic hotel to enjoy tea, excellent food and ambiance and a relaxing night’s sleep. It was a reminder that modern luxury and old-school elegance often go hand-in-hand in Colorado.
BROWN PALACE HOTEL AND SPA
321 17th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Rooms start at $244; check website for spa and dining packages
Photos courtesy The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa
Lindsey Schwartz is editor of Colorado Expression.