When the Ritz-Carlton opened almost a decade ago in downtown Denver, there was plenty of buzz about the city getting its first five-star hotel. There was also plenty of buzz about its location, on the edge of the city, next to the bus station, decidedly removed from the more popular LoDo area and downtown's 16th Street Mall.
The timing of its January 2008 opening was also less than optimal, coinciding with the start of the economic downtown and a resulting backlash against luxury.
But even as sales of its residential units languished and occupancy built slowly (and many new luxury properties around the country were failing), its Elway's restaurant, opened in partnership with Denver Broncos football legend and current team GM John Elway, became a hot draw for locals and guests alike, portending what has become one of the hottest trends in luxury: local, local and more local.
In recent years, a Four Seasons and several other hotels have joined Denver's downtown luxury lineup. But the popular Elway's, hotel GM Grant Dipman said, still gives the Ritz a competitive edge.
"We get a lot of visiting sports teams," said Dipman. "They literally want to be here because we have Elway's."
Indeed, even on a weekday night between Christmas and New Year's, Elway's bar and restaurant drew a crowd that would make any out-of-towner feel like they were part of the local scene. The venue is often singled out by Ritz-Carlton officials as an example of the success of its reimagined brand standards, which like the broader trend in luxury have moved way beyond just shedding cookie-cutter rooms.
Elway's for instance, which was renovated a few years ago to add an outdoor patio and several private dining areas, has gone "hyperlocal," employing a full-time butcher to select and cut fresh Colorado-raised beef and lamb and stocking its bar with local beers and spirits. All of its tap beers are brewed and sold within walking distance of the hotel, and all of its well liquors are locally distilled.
And the hotel spa includes a number of exclusively local treatments, including the Mile High Malt Scrub and Microbrew massage.
In the next few months, the hotel's lobby and meetings spaces will also be transformed. The $12 million renovation will keep with the hotel's contemporary design, but with a champagne, blue and purple color scheme and furniture and art based on an urban-adventure theme designed to make you "feel like you are in Colorado," Dipman said.
As someone less than well versed in the finer points and underlying messages of contemporary art and design, I have to admit I'm not sure I would ever, at least consciously, spot "Colorado" in the new spaces.
But as someone who loved (except for the cold) every minute of a six-year stint in Denver, the already-renovated guestrooms and suites, combined with the hotel's consistently AAA Five-Diamond-rated service, have always topped my list for Cowtown accommodations. So there must be something to this "local" connection.