Business trip: Denver

Even the most notorious nose-to-the-grindstone business traveller will have a difficult time not having fun in this sunny Colorado city.

Even the most notorious nose-to-the-grindstone business traveller will have a difficult time not having fun in sunny Denver, located on the eastern edge of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Its location near the geographic centre of the US, a world-class airport and a rash of recent hotel developments in its pedestrian-friendly core have combined to make Denver an increasingly regular stop on the business travel circuit. From 2010 to 2011, there was a 17% increase in business travellers coming to the city, and a hotel building boom will add some 1,400 new rooms over the next two to three years.

Also, the city’s diverse economy has weathered the recent economic storm better than most other major US cities. In April the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation had to revise its  forecast due to better-than-expected gains in employment, retail sales and applications for residential building permits.

Denver’s historic centre is in the middle of massive redevelopment in and around Union Station, which is located in the lower downtown area known among locals as “LoDo”. By mid-2014 the Beaux Arts-style rail station should emerge as a new multi-modal transportation hub, with a 112-room hotel and an expansive indoor/outdoor dining and retail area. With nine new office buildings under construction within a few blocks, the end result will be an unusual mix of modern glass and steel alongside the area’s original red brick, iron, stone and timber buildings. 

Denver International Airport is considered one of the best airports in the world – and one of the least expensive. Stiff competition among low-fare carriers like Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines (along with the dominant United Airlines) has reduced average fares to and from Denver by about 28% over the last decade. This year the airport will add new long haul nonstops to and from Tokyo, Mexico City and Reykjavik.

However, the airport’s distance from downtown – some 40 to 60 minutes by car or cab depending on traffic –  has long irritated visitors. That frustration will evaporate in 2016 when the new FasTracks East Rail Line will cut the duration of the 25-mile trip between downtown and the newly renovated Union Station to just 30 minutes. In the meantime, cab fares from the airport to downtown are set at $55.15 plus tip. Renting a car is another option, but be aware of steep fees if you plan to park at a downtown hotel.

Hotels

Elegant
There are two five-star hotels in Denver. The chic 239-room Four Seasons Hotel Denver opened near the Colorado Convention Center in October 2010 – relieving pressure on the 202-room Ritz-Carlton, Denver, which opened in January 2008 – to accommodate the city’s increasing number of luxury-seeking visitors. Both hotels are located in modern downtown high-rises and offer upscale steakhouses, spas and club levels.

Denver’s two elegant grand dames are the Oxford Hotel and the Brown Palace. Both are more than 100 years old, yet they have done a masterful job of keeping up with the times, remaining fixtures on the local social and business travel scene. For example, the 80-room Oxford, located steps away from Union Station in burgeoning LoDo, will be the “sister” to the station’s yet-to-be-named new hotel, sharing meeting, spa and gym space. The ornate hotel is filled with European antiques and elegant suites (some with four poster beds and claw-foot tubs), plus modern amenities such as large flat screen televisions and complimentary high-speed wi-fi throughout the historic five-storey brick structure. The iconic Brown Palace (located a few blocks to the east) is where locals gather in its soaring, stained glass-capped atrium for afternoon tea or weekend brunch. It joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection of independent hotels in 2012, which means guests can earn or redeem points in their popular Rewards program.

Edgy
Denver’s downtown hotel scene is dotted by several upscale boutiques in historic buildings, such as the 246-room Magnolia Hotel, sporting handsome, contemporary rooms with high ceilings, large windows and dark wood furniture; the eclectic 189-room Hotel Monaco, which renovated all rooms and public areas in 2011; and the 110-room Hotel Teatro, located in a beautifully restored red brick and limestone Renaissance Revival-style building.

In recent years, a parade of brand-name hotels has opened along 14th Street, across from Denver’s convention centre. The newest of the crowd is the 302-room Homewood Suites by Hilton / Hampton Inn & Suites, which opened in April 2013 and is notable for its adaptive reuse of an existing building. This unusual “hybrid” hotel (two brands in a single building) is housed in a converted mid-century modern, 13-storey office tower that was gutted and converted into a hotel. The starkly modern, art-filled lobby is split between the two brands, with separate front desks and dining areas, but with communal space for meetings and a shared indoor pool and fitness centre. Homewood Suites accommodations are designed for extended stays and include small kitchens and separate seating areas, while Hampton Inn rooms are smaller, but have nice touches such as mini-refrigerators and microwaves. Both brands offer complimentary wi-fi and breakfast.

The popular 403-room Embassy Suites Denver opened in December 2010, and recently joined some very high-class peers as one of TripAdvisor’s Top 25 US Hotels for 2013. Guests enjoy large two-room suites, cooked-to-order breakfasts, a 24-hour fitness facility with a swimming pool, and a prime location directly across the street from the front door of the convention centre.

Expense account
Mingle with the downtown corporate crowd for a healthy, organic and sustainable lunch at The Kitchen, a big, bright community bistro in LoDo. Enjoy farm-to-table favourites such as Colorado lamb burgers in a rambling collection of large, rustic, exposed brick-and-timber dining rooms, brightened by the large floor-to-ceiling windows.

Denver’s movers and shakers gather at the classy Capital Grille in Larimer Square to make or celebrate deals over what many consider the best steaks (and martinis) in town.

For something lighter, check out Rioja, also in Larimer Square, where James Beard Foundation award winning chef Jennifer Jasinski turns out a frequently updated menu of Mediterranean-inspired fare, such as coconut-carrot braised rabbit leg, artichoke tortellini or pan-roasted venison.  

For a close look at the new urbanism on the western side of downtown – complete with gorgeous views from a buzzy indoor/outdoor dining room and deck – wander over to Linger, which offers a diverse menu of dishes from around the world, such as Indian masala dosa, Middle Eastern carrot and lentil falafel or Mongolian barbecue duck buns.

Off the clock
The steps of the Colorado state capitol building downtown are exactly 5,280ft above sea level, which is why Denver is known (literally) as the “Mile-high City”. To adjust to the altitude, get out of your hotel room, board room or meeting room and take a walk. If you are downtown, start your stroll somewhere along the city’s pedestrian-only corridor, the 16th Street Mall, and head west toward the mountains. The original tree-lined mall is exactly one mile long, but as you near its western end at Wynkoop Street, continue past the construction sites around Union Station and LoDo. Crossing the pedestrian bridge, you can peer into the rapids (or rocks depending on the season) of the Platte River. Continue heading west, and you will cross another pedestrian bridge over I-25, Colorado’s main north-south freeway. On the western side of the bridge is Lower Highlands, one of Denver’s newest, trendiest neighbourhoods, known among locals as LoHi. Once there, turn around and soak in the city skyline views, or stop for a locally brewed beer at one of the many cafes and restaurants.

If you rented a car, try to spend an afternoon in hip Boulder, a gorgeous university town in the foothills of the Rockies about 30 miles northwest of downtown. Spend a day strolling the Pearl Street Mall or join the healthy, outdoorsy locals scrambling around the trails and rock faces of Chautauqua Park.

Go local
Looking for the perfect souvenir to bring back from your Denver business trip? Check out Rockmount Ranch Wear for an array of snap button shirts, cowboy boots, western belts and other supplies that will let you bring home a taste of the Wild West. The jam-packed store, located in the same LoDo storefront since 1946, has sold its snap button shirts to a long string of celebrities, from Elvis Presley to Paul McCartney.

Don't do this
Despite its image as a starting point for ski vacations, do not come to Denver expecting to see much snow – or any form of moisture for that matter.  Denver has more sunny days than any other major US city, including those in Florida, California or Hawaii. So instead of packing an overcoat, bring your sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen. The sunny, dry weather and access to outdoor activities is one key reason why Colorado has some of the fittest, least obese residents of any US state.