Often lost on travelers, in light of the chatter over marijuana, craft beer and the nearby Rocky Mountains is Denver’s historic past as the gateway to the west. In fact, many of Denver’s architecturally-recognized buildings are leftovers from the railroad industry that took this city by storm in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
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Denver, as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, is going through a period of rapid development, much of it taking place in the River North and Highlands neighborhoods to the north and west. A former resident, I returned in March for a friend’s wedding. Walking the neighborhoods, it was hard to ignore the looming presence of new construction, the large apartment buildings that lack character. But it was also great to see that, for all the city has changed, it has mostly changed for the better, with a clear vision of its past in its present.
Downtown’s Union Station, with its refurbishment as a multi-use facility in 2014 and the opening of its new line to the airport in 2016, has ensured that the railroad remains at the heart of Denver going forward. The Capitol Hill neighborhood has retained its abundance of American Foursquare homes. Many of the old buildings, like the Denver Tramway Power Company Plant Building, have found new roles in modern times. In this case, the Plant Building houses one of REI’s flagship stores.
Last month, another historic structure, the Tramway Building in the Theater District, received its due love. Originally built in 1911 by Denver Tramway (the same railroad company that built the aforementioned Plant Building), it has been the home of the Hotel Teatro since the late 90s. The hotel recently completed a $2.5 million renovation in February, prompting me to choose it as my home base for the wedding weekend. I was curious, given all that’s happening in the city, what the hotel was doing with the historic building.
I took the new(ish) A-line from the airport to Union Station. The Tramway Building and the Hotel Teatro are a half-mile from there. I was traveling light with only a backpack, so I walked. Otherwise, it would be a quick cab ride. The Hotel Teatro is named for its location in the Theater District, close to the Denver Performing Arts Complex and Larimer Square, the city’s oldest block.
For the last decade, the Hotel Teatro has been consistently recognized as one of the best hotels in Colorado and has also made regular appearances on worldwide lists. Though the renovation is a serious ramp-up of the modern-boutique brand, it still feels genuine because of the historic roots. To know that this historic building is being looked after with such care and that it’s serving as a home for the city’s guests is something we can all feel good about as Denver moves forward.
The exterior of the building still looks mostly the same as it did in 1911 when it was part office tower and part car barn for the Tramway Company. It showcases the Renaissance Revival period, vertical columns of bright red brick alongside its white windows, the street-level floors now encased in stone archways and awnings. Inside, though, is a mix of generations. Large windows allow lines of sight between the restaurant, lobby and lobby lounge, sufficing the modern desire for an open floor plan. There are sleek wood floors and slender couches with throw pillows in the check-in area. In the details of the décor are relics of the past: The palatial, square-tile ceiling; the ram head skeletons on the bookshelf of the The Study (lobby lounge); the interlocking railroad gears on the wall at the front desk; and the stacks of wood inside The Nickel, the hotel’s restaurant, which specializes in charcuterie plates and barrel-aged cocktails.
The renovations, completed earlier this year, retouched these common areas while completely overhauling the 110 guestrooms, trading out its former retro-gold color scheme for an off-shade blue and a very bright white. Twelve-foot ceilings allow for big windows and ample natural light (corner rooms are great choices because they have two walls of windows instead of one). The furniture and cabinets are custom-built from white oak. All rooms have rainforest showerheads and many have soaking tubs. Some rooms on the ninth floor even have balconies, a rare find at a city hotel.
Once checked in, all guests receive free transportation within 2.5 miles of the hotel. That covers anywhere you want to go downtown or in its adjacent neighborhoods (including Union Station, where you can get the train back to the airport on departure day). I really love this as a perk. How better to pay homage to its Tramway roots than to provide free transportation to guests?
If You Go:
Starting Rate: $279/night
Perks: 12-noon check out time; courtesy transportation service within a 2.5-mile radius; free bicycles to use during your stay; Keurig in-room coffee maker
Consider Upgrading To: A Superior Queen with Balcony. Hotel Teatro has nine rooms with balconies, all on the ninth floor. Balconies are very rare in city hotels, so it’s a unique chance to enjoy in the warmer months.