Yves St. Laurent “freed women from fashion” by pioneering ready-to-wear dresses and adapting comfortable men’s fashion for the female form, ranging from safari jackets to tuxedos. This was all paraded out with an eye-popping array of 100+ YSL ensembles at the Denver Art Museum last spring after stops in Paris and Madrid. Designed by celeb architect Daniel Libeskind, the crystalline-shaped building is the most striking in Colorado and one of the city’s most popular venues for galas. A host of spaces with schizophrenic lines and darting shadows are available for private rental, along with Experiential Group Tours discussing the art and architecture.
Everything in Denver relative to meetings and conferences stretches along the 16th Street pedestrian mall extending from the Art Museum, including the 2.2 million-sf Colorado Convention Center. When the city promotes itself as the greenest, most convenient and walkable big city in America for large scale groups, it just might be right. Free hybrid electric shuttles run the entire length of the street every few minutes.
Across the street from the Art Museum, the $100 million History Colorado Center opened in April with multiple special event venues. The most dramatic is the rooftop Mountain View Event Room with wraparound windows and great views of the city for 300-pax receptions.
SHERATON DENVER DOWNTOWN HOTEL
Within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum, the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel is an all-in-one conference hotel with 1,231 rooms and 82 suites. There is 133,000 sf of meeting and event space, including a large outdoor pool open year-round. This is one of Sheraton’s marquee meeting hotels in the U.S., and the place is always humming with activity from dawn to dusk.
Sitting with Susan Stiff, area director of PR for Starwood, she says, “We focus on big, big meetings. Mining, oil and gas are among the major industries in Denver, and we’re becoming a first tier destination for national and international meetings. We have two opera companies, the ballet is good, and we have the fifth largest performing arts complex in the U.S…. [And] you can walk or ride for free to all of it!”
During our tour, the staff is setting up for “Sheraton Social Hour,” which is becoming a brand standard for all Sheratons in North America. Guests are invited Monday through Thursday to the huge 1550 Lounge to sample wines rated 90+ by Wine Spectator. It’s a great way to network and learn a little about good wine.
“Sheraton Social Hour has become really popular, especially with a lot of women business travelers who feel comfortable coming alone,” says Stiff.
The F&B lineup at Sheraton includes two high energy restaurants. Katie Mullen’s Irish Pub & Restaurant looks and feels like a traditional Dublin pub, seating 550. The Yard House is a Denver institution with an astonishing 130 beers on tap and a fun menu with dishes like salmon sliders and blackened tuna burgers. After a day at the convention center, this place gets busy, and it doesn’t take long in this city to realize that they take craft beer here very seriously.
“Oh for sure, Denver is the Napa Valley of beer,” says Stiff.
THE WESTIN DENVER DOWNTOWN
At the opposite end of the 16th Street Mall, The Westin Denver Downtown also has a large indoor/outdoor pool and deck with great views overlooking the city. Capacity is 200 pax. The 32,000 sf of meeting space, much of it with natural light, is undergoing a $6.2 million renovation with work scheduled for completion in February.
The 430 guest rooms are among the largest in the city starting at 420 sf, and some of them have terraces with mountain views. Definitely opt for the mountainview rooms if they’re available.
The Palm steakhouse restaurant on the ground floor opens up out to Tabor Square, a pedestrian thoroughfare and quiet park. During our meal there, the sommelier was hosting a wine and cheese pre-dinner reception for guests. Buyouts are available for 150 pax.
Check out the 2nd floor Augusta Room with a beautiful wall of floor-to-ceiling windows for 240 pax seated with a great flow into the chic, 2nd story lobby bar. And high up over Tabor Square, the historic clock tower is a unique special events venue for 100-pax receptions right behind the old clock.
“We do about 40% group business and planners always tell us they love the location, the quiet nature of the hotel and our meeting space with so much natural light,” says Christy DeSiato, director of group sales. “We’re also right next to the highest concentration of restaurants in the city in LoDo and Larimer Square, which are excellent for dinearounds.”
LODO, LARIMER & UNION STATION
Beer is religion in Denver, and ex-mayor John Wright Hickenlooper made it all the way to the Governor’s Mansion championing beer. Hickenlooper founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company pub in 1988 in a dilapidated section of lower downtown Denver. Today, the LoDo District is the hippest place in town with dozens of artsy and upscale restaurants and bars. Wynkoop hosts banquets for up to 1,200 people.
Adjacent to LoDo, Larimer Square is more upscale with dozens of restaurants serving everything from Northern Italian to buffalo steaks—all with an eye on sustainable, local ingredients. Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch operate three popular restaurants here: Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Rioja and Bistro Vendome. Euclid serves great pub food including homemade sausages, po’ boys, poutines and schnitzels, along with 40+ local and international craft beers.
Anchoring the lower downtown area, the historic Denver Union Station railway depot is a magnificent building that was once the gateway through the Rocky Mountains back in the Gold Rush days. Presently undergoing a massive renovation, Union Station will reopen in early 2014 with a 110-room luxury hotel, numerous restaurants, a Great Hall and 40,000-sf plaza.