Three mountain cities bring sustainable cuisine to the forefront
Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs are not exactly unknowns to meeting planners. In fact, they offer tangible benefits matched by few other cities—easy accessibility to the Rockies and outdoor adventure, almost right beside sophisticated urban facilities; value pricing; excellent meeting venues; and vibrant cultural, historic and shopping areas.
Now another advantage can be added to the list: These cities are becoming major players in the sustainable food movement, with an emphasis on local, farm-to-table products, innovative chefs and eclectic restaurants. The result?Planners with an environmental consciousness—and foodies from all over the world—are heading to these destinations in droves.
As you descend toward Denver International Airport, a shimmering city of glass and steel rises up from the foot of the Southern Rockies. After you land,however,what looks like Oz from the air turns out to be a multitextured city of revitalized historic neighborhoods such as LoDo (Lower Downtown Historic District); pedestrian-friendly gathering places; and interesting shops, hotels, restaurants and galleries.
Over the past decade, Denver has spent more than $8 billion to upgrade its meetings and hospitality infrastructure. The Denver airport is now the fifth-busiest in the country. The city was selected by the Brookings Institution as the fourth most walkable city in America. And the Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second-largest facility of its kind in the country.
Last November saw the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum, featuring the works of one of America’s most influential 20th-century abstract expressionist artists. Located next to the Denver Art Museum, it boasts some 2,400 of the artist’s paintings, drawings and prints and also has meeting and reception space for groups of up to 400.Another new cultural facility is the American Museum of Western Art, which opened this spring.Here, more than 650 paintings and drawings by more than 180 artists shed light on 200 years of American history. The $110 million History Colorado Center just opened this spring. It’s an interactive, experiential museum that makes history come alive—and makes it fun. Attendees can ride in a simulated time machine to different places and times in Colorado history.
The city is drumming up interest among animal lovers as well. Thirty miles northeast of Denver is the Wild Animal Sanctuary, the largest carnivore sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. The facility opened its Mile Into the Wild walkway in April, affording visitors a chance to walk a mile-long path 20 feet above some 300 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other carnivores. And in June, the Denver Zoo’s $50 million Toyota Elephant Passage, a 10-acre area that provides views of the inhabitants, made its debut.
These new facilities are complemented by such downtown standbys as the Denver Performing Arts Complex, covering 12 acres and four city blocks, with 10 performance spaces that together can seat 10,000 people (and are available to groups).Nearby is the Denver Art Museum, which houses one of the finest collections of Western and Native American art in the world. Just outside of town, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre sits amid towering red-sandstone formations, offering world class performances and stunning views.
On top of all this, Denver’s now a culinary capital as well. “We have more than 300 restaurants downtown,” says Rich Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Many feature well-known chefs who’ve moved here from other places. They cater to all types of foodies, and their menus evoke an eclectic variety of settings, from Far East to Old West.”
Denver has a sophisticated, educated population, and restaurants emphasizing sustainability have particularly soared in popularity. “Our restaurants serve local meats, from beef and buffalo to elk and lamb,” Grant says. “In the eastern part of the state, we grow a special type of sweet corn called Olathe.Our Rocky Mountain peaches are fat and sweet and juicy. And many of our restaurants bake their own breads using Colorado wheat.”
In downtown, The Kitchen Denver is a leader in the slow-food movement, and local school gardens grow produce for the meals. Rioja uses local ingredients in its Mediterranean-influenced menu, such as Haystack Farms goat cheese made just outside Boulder in Longmont. (The restaurant’s executive chef was also a 2012 James Beard Foundation award finalist.) Fruition has its own farm and offers items such as lamb’s milk and cheese. Root Down sources many ingredients for its dishes, including roasted three-chili chicken, from nearby farms. Elway’s Downtown—owned by football great John Elway—is also a leader in the farm-to-table movement.And in nearby Morrison, The Fort sits in red rocks at the base of the mountains and claims to serve more buffalo steaks than any restaurant in America (Colorado buffalo, of course).
Hiking in the Rocky Mountains
“Sustainability is a big part of our meetings,” says Chuck Potter, CMP, senior manager, conference, meetings and expositions at the American Animal Hospital Association. “We brought together 3,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors this March at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. We made it clear to the folks there that sustainable food was a priority—and they responded beautifully. One of our food stations, for instance, was Farmers Market Salad Station, featuring local produce. And another one focused on local chilies.”
For a good look at Denver’s dining variety, stroll the mile-long, pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall.Here you’ll find table-size chess boards, funky street art, horse-and-carriage rides and more than 30 restaurants, most with outdoor seating. Also make time to enjoy the city’s libation scene; more than 200 different beers are brewed daily in the Denver metro area.
“We brew more beer than any other city in America,” Grant says. “Our Great American Beer Festival is the largest in the world; last year we featured 2,400 different beers. And Coors Brewery, in nearby Golden, is the largest in the world."
One of the best places to sample the local brews Is the LoDo district, filled with 90-plus colorful watering holes. Also don’t miss a trek to the Wynkoop Brewing Company, located in an 1888 building filled with wood and wagon wheels and featuring locally sourced buffalo and elk. It’s Denver’s oldest brewery, serving 14 of its own craft beers. (In addition, it has what most locals consider Denver’s best billiards room.) The city is also home to more than 20 wineries on the slopes of the Rockies’ Front Range, where the warm days and cool nights create grapes with distinct flavors.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Greater Denver boasts 8,400 hotel rooms in close proximity to the Colorado Convention Center.With 584,000 sq. ft. Of meeting and exhibition space, this is a modern facility within walking distance of Larimer Square, the 16th Street Mall, the lively nightlife of the LoDo district and majorleague sports venues.
The Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel is the largest hotel in Colorado, with 1,231 guest rooms and 133,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. It’s located on the 16th Street Mall, within walking distance of the convention center, the State Capital Building, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Museum of Art.
“In meeting hotels, size and location are definite assets,” says Kathie Gonzalez, public relations director of Barnhart Communications, which represents the property. “A hotel like ours offers planners the chance to have their attendees meet and stay at the same place.”
The Hyatt Regency at Colorado Convention Center, adjacent to the convention center, has 1,100 rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. Of space. The Grand Hyatt Denver is a Four-Diamond hotel with 516 rooms and 60,000 sq. ft., and its Pinnacle Club hosts functions with magnificent views of the city and mountains. The Westin Denver Downtown, with 430 rooms and 32,000 sq. ft., was the first Colorado hotel to win LEED certification.
A grande dame of downtown, The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa has been accommodating groups since 1892; Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff even used the second-floor Brown Palace Club as campaign headquarters in the lead-up to his presidential victory. The refined 231-room property contains 12,400 sq. ft. Of onyx—the most ever used in a single building at the time it was constructed— and 13,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space.
History also distinguishes Magnolia Hotel Denver, housed in the First National Bank/American National Bank building, which dates back to 1929.Details reflecting its past include terra-cotta features and a replicated corner clock. The property offers 246 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. Of space.
Just 27 miles northwest of Denver, Boulder is a classic college town—it’s home to the University of Colorado—anchored by the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall. And it’s a leader in the sustainable food movement.
“We’re a very active community,” says Mary Ann Mahoney, executive director of the Boulder Convention & Visitors Bureau, “and healthy eating is second nature to us. Most of our restaurants feature products from local farms; in fact, many of them actually own
Several Boulder-area farms stage dinners in which attendees can actually work on a farm, then eat what they’ve picked.In addition, the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, a noted cooking school, offers team-building opportunities.
The Black Cat is a bistro with its own farm; The Kitchen features a daily chalkboard listing the sources of its cheeses, meats and produce; and the Flagstaff House has been using locally sourced products for its French and American dishes for the past 15 years (and has private space for groups).
The best-known restaurant in town is Frasca Food and Wine, lauded many times over, including by Wine Enthusiast last year as one of the nation’s top 100 wine restaurants. It partners with local purveyors to obtain the naturally raised meats and organic produce on its acclaimed menu. Boulder is additionally home to Celestial Seasonings, a tea company founded by a resident who started picking herbs on local hillsides to brew his own tea.
All of which explains why the city has earned major accolades for its food scene (Bon Appetit dubbed it America’s Foodiest Town in 2010). “We find Boulder to be on the cutting edge of the sustainable food movement,” says Maryann Migliorelli, president of the Boulder Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Migliorelli brought 300 people to the state convention at the Millennium Harvest House hotel in 2010 and is coming back this October.“For example, the chef at the hotel has his own herb garden.”
One of the highlights of the last meeting, in fact, had to do with food—if not sustainable food. “We Did a Marshmallow Challenge,” Migliorelli says, “in which you build things out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. It’s actually a great innovation- generator and a great team-building event.”
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Boulder has 2,200 hotel rooms and about 69,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. One standout venue is Hotel Boulderado, an elegant ode to the Old West built in 1909 that features antique furnishings and a stained-glass ceiling in its lobby. Th e property offers 160 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. Of space.
The Four-Diamond St. Julien Hotel & Spa is a local standout featuring 201 guest rooms, 16,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space and a 10,000-square-foot spa. Near the University of Colorado, Millennium Harvest House Boulder off ers 269 rooms, many overlooking Boulder Creek Path, as well as 18,000 sq. ft. Of space.
Indoor pool at Antlers Hilton Colorado Springs
The state’s second-largest city, with a population of about 416,000, has more attractions than just about any city its size in America. And now, with a burgeoning local-food movement, it’s attracting planners who want sustainable meetings, too.
“We have a rich cultural scene,” says Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager at the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We list more than 60 attractions. We have an authentic western flavor. And you can see Pikes Peak—which inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write ‘America the Beautiful’—from anywhere in town.”
The city’s attractions include Garden of the Gods, with 300-foot-high sandstone monoliths shooting out of the ground (see pg. 150), and Seven Falls, with—you guessed it—seven tiered waterfalls, lit up brilliantly at night.
In the outlying towns of Manitou Springs (where you can take the Cog Railway up to the 14,115-foot-high summit of Pikes Peak) and Old Colorado City, Western heritage is very much alive.In scenic Cripple Creek, wood-plank sidewalks lead to old-fashioned shops, eateries and casinos.(There’s a railway tour, too, which goes past abandoned silver mines.)
Here, farm-to-table is not the latest buzz-term; it’s long been a part of the food ethic. Mountain View Restaurant at Cheyenne Mountain Resort looks out over Cheyenne Mountain and specializes in local game and produce. The Craftwood Inn serves local bison, elk and trout. The Warehouse Restaurant serves authentic Colorado specialties, along with beers from local microbrewers. And The Broadmoor boasts Colorado’s only Five-Diamond, Five-Star restaurant, the Penrose Room, offering local fish, game and produce in an atmosphere of unabashed elegance (The restaurant also staffs a certified sommelier; for his affordable wine picks, see pg. 36). Venetucci Farm and Pinello Ranch also offer farm-to-table dinners and interactive group experiences.
Other distinct dining experiences include the Squeak Soda Shop, a throwback to the ’50s with ice cream sodas and malts in flavors such as kumquat and watermelon. And P.B. and Jellies New York Deli brings real New York deli-style food to Colorado Springs, with one new twist—a PB&J milk shake. Colorado Mountain Brewery offers beer and food pairing exercises for meeting attendees and a restaurant, too.
The foodie revival here isn’t restricted to restaurants.Colorado Springs Food Tours is a mother daughter venture offering walking explorations of restaurants in downtown, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. The Olive Tap is a Manitou Springs shop with more than 50 varieties of artisanal olive oils and vinegars. At Brewers Whimsy at Colorado Mountain Brewery, every Tuesday the brewmaster taps a new keg and shares both drinks and opinions with guests.
“Wines are a big part of our local foodie scene, as well,” Murphy says. “The Colorado Springs Wine Festival takes place every spring and the Manitou Springs Wine Festival every June; both feature only Colorado wines. Every September, at the Canon Harvest in Canon City, you can bring your own grapes, and they’ll make wine from them and sell them the following year. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is located in an old monastery. And at a restaurant called The Wines of Colorado, you can dine creek side to enjoy local wines and try unusual specialties like the wine burger [a patty served with green chilies and forest mushrooms that pairs superbly with wine].”
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
The Broadmoor, built by tycoon Spencer Penrose nearly a century ago, is an elegant combination of Italian Renaissance and Old Deer roam freely on its grounds. Its hallways are adorned with artwork by European masters. And with 744 guest rooms and 185,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, it is one of Colorado’s top meeting places.“Meetings here take place in an incomparable setting and planners tell us that results in productive meetings,” says John Rovie, director of sales at the property.
The Broadmoor offers three championship golf courses, its own lake and infinity, indoor and lap pools. The Spa at The Broadmoor utilizes natural, organic products. There’s a ropes course for team building exercises. And there are myriad retail shops, ranging from the Broadmoor Pet Boutique to Villiers Jewelry and Gift, to entice shoppers.
Paula Karchner, CMP, vice president of meetings for the Washington, DC-based Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, brings 1,400 attendees to The Broadmoor for the Insurance Leadership Forum.And every spring, she brings in 500 attendees for the Employee Benefits Leadership Forum. “The Broadmoor seems to anticipate our needs before we do,” she says.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort features 316 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space at the base of beautiful Cheyenne Mountain. The resort feels like a rustic lodge and modern luxury resort at the same time. It underwent a $20 million upgrade last year, with meeting spaces among the beneficiaries. There’s golf, tennis and a full-service fitness facility, and attendees can gather after dinner at the outdoor fire pit for s’mores and impromptu networking.
Nearby are Cheyenne Mountain State Park— Colorado’s newest—and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the only mountainside zoo in America.
The Crowne Plaza Colorado Springs, with 500 rooms and 48,000 sq. ft., is only a few miles from the U.S. Olympic Training Center, which offers team-building exercises conducted by Olympic athletes and coaches.
“We love Colorado Springs,” Karchner says. “It’s a friendly city with a western feel, incredible natural beauty and great western towns all around.”
Meeting planners, take note: If you’re looking for a place where nature is at the forefront, meeting venues are first-rate and locally sourced food is a way of life—not just a passing fad—Colorado’s really cookin’.
Main image: Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Colorado Springs
THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
Just outside Colorado Springs is a place that may take your breath away when you first come upon it. It’s called the Garden of the Gods. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
When you first spot it from the hillside roadway above, it resembles a Hollywood movie set—300-foot-high sandstone monoliths of gold or lightred, shooting out of the grassy meadows below and the mountains beyond in such stark contrast that they almost seem fake.
Here, contorted into amazing shapes and angles and mini-canyons by 300 million years of wind, rain and sand, is a living geology lesson. You’ll feel like an ant among elephants as you wander the paths in between these formations.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, which offers compelling exhibits and a 15-minute video, is a good place to start. By stopping here, you’ll have a chance to prepare for the otherworldly sights you’re about to see. Groups can also take a guided tour, perhaps spotting an athletic Spider Man type or two attempting to scale one of the park’s spires.
If attendees have the time and enjoy a good hike, they can traverse the outer perimeter road around the park. There’s a strong chance they’ll see deer and other wildlife.