Michigan's Grand Hotel, Since 1886
I have wanted to stay at this appropriately named hotel for a long time. The grand-ness wasn't the only thing that lured me. I was initially drawn to the size of the porch, which is 600 feet long! Evidently, it's the longest porch in the world.
Arriving by Ferry
Since the hotel sits on Mackinac Island, we headed by ferry across the Straights of Mackinac, to reach the hotel. This is what we would have seen, had it been a clear day.
It was actually pouring on the day Don and I ferried to the island. We only had one night at the hotel, so I should have been grumbling. But I was so giddy about our stay, that I hardly cared. Besides, I love sitting on a porch when it's raining.
The Island and Town
If it hadn't been raining when we arrived, we could have seen the sweet "village" as we traveled from the ferry station by carriage.
The island, which covers less than 4 miles, became a tourist attraction and "summer colony" in the late 19th century. Cars have been banned on the island, practically since the time they were invented. Instead, the island guests and 600 residents use horses, carriages and bikes to get around.
Our carriage/taxi kept us mostly dry with the plastic flaps. We didn't luck out with one of the hotel's enclosed carriages. But a bellhop, wearing one of those wonderful little drum-shaped caps, did usher us towards the lobby.
From Rain to Sun
The rain stopped as soon as we arrived. Even with puddles and soggy flags, the hotel was stunning. When the sun came out, it was even more delightful. Best of all, the rains scared the crowds away from the wonderful porch.
Keeping Tourists Away
Actually this is about as close as tourists (who aren't hotel guests) can get to the hotel, if they don't pay $10. for a visitor's pass. This elite-sounding rule made me cringe for a moment. Then I thought about all the guests staying in 393 rooms, and I pictured about 800 people rushing to enjoy the porch after the rain. I suddenly was okay with that rule.
The Parlor Floor
After checking in, we strolled throughout The Parlor floor. My 6 a.m. photo doesn't show all the people who were enjoying Afternoon Tea that day. But my photo does show the bold colors and decor of designer, Carleton Varney, who transformed the Grand's style in 1976. The gigantic red, geraniums on the carpet matched the 2,500 geraniums, planted along the porch railing. (someone else did the counting)
Flowers, Tea and Harps...
Don and I wandered a bit before finding our room. We passed by a table covered in flowers, sweets, tea and iced Champagne. We paused to enjoy the harpist, performing near a painting of a harpist.
As we studied the framed artwork and mural covered walls, I thought about how much my grandmother would have loved this interior. She would have thought it, "grand indeed!" Of course, grand was a word Daw used frequently, for often less exciting things. "Oh, it would be grand to go on a drive!" But oh, she would adored the classic style!
We followed the geranium carpet down a hall, just off the Grand Parlor. I was curious to see our room, since I'd studied the website photos. At first, I thought the Carlton Varney decor looked a little garden-clubbish. But the more I studied the photos, I chose to see a bright and whimsical, Dr. Seuss-look.
I was ready to open our door to stripes and florals, pinks and greens! But we both paused in front of our door and noticed how it was framed with an extra flair! We learned that our room, was one of the 40 or so "named suites"! How did we get that?
The Lincoln Room!
Our corner room was missing all the bright fun of the C. Varney decorated rooms. But it felt calm and dignified, with about 20 portraits of Lincoln! Our spacious, themed room was quite a surprise, since we had booked with a special low rate offer.
Yea for Lincoln!
It's hard not to feel important when you're staying in the Lincoln room. Were they doing random upgrades when we arrived? I wondered if the desk clerk looked at us and thought, "No they don't look like they'd choose the Betty Ford Room or the Pat Nixon Room." Did the woman just sense that I had grown up in a house with a huge portrait of Lincoln? I did, actually. So I felt right at home.
Room to Get Ready!
Since The Grand has a dress code after 6:30 pm, it was nice that we had lots of space to spiff up for dinner. There was a cute little dressing area and a glamorous chandelier in the bathroom!
A third floor view would have been nice, but our porch level, corner room gave us two views. Our windows facing the porch showed us the rockers, geraniums and Lake Huron beyond. The side window gave us a peek towards a quiet road, lined with Victorian houses.
The photo with yellow awnings, shows our windows at the end. Since the rain scared guests away from the porch, we felt like the whole end of the porch was ours.
Happy Hour on The Porch!
Dress code hadn't kicked in so Don and I grabbed drinks and headed out to the porch before dressing up. A couple strolled by and offered to take our picture if we would take theirs. We were game for that. Then we made a toast to our 16th president.
From our rockers, we could frequently hear carriages passing by below the porch. I jumped up to watch a few carriages pass, before heading up the hill, with all the lovely homes.
I Want Them All!
At some point, Don and I walked up the road and tried to pick out the house we thought was most impressive.
Porches With a View
I tried to imagine living in any of the houses and having this as my porch view.
Parade of Families
From our rockers we had some fun watching the earliest diners, strolling the porch before dinner. I had the fun of helping out 2 different families as they corralled kids to take family photos. The family of 9 was the trickiest. I did some stunts to get the little boy laughing. I was hoping they would invite us on their yacht as a thank you, but maybe everyone who stays at The Grand isn't rich after all.
The Cupola Bar
Before dressing for dinner, we made one more stop. The 2-story bar in the rounded cupola was worth the price of an expensive drink. We climbed to the upper floor, with an opening that held an impressive, colorful chandelier.
The view was pretty amazing. A church steeple here, the hotel garden there, the Mackinac bridge and Lake Huron...
Before the dining room opened I had a peek and saw the tables being meticulously set. The mirrored columns made it look like an infinity dining room. I don't think I've ever seen such a large dining room in my life. It takes a kitchen staff of 100 to serve up to 4,000 meals a day.
Don Makes a Fashion Statement
Here is Don looking at the wine list after he gently talked his way past the fashion police at the dining room entrance. "I'm sorry Sir," The young woman had begun apologetically. "But we require jacket and tie in the dining room." When Don explained cheerily that a bolo tie was a special kind of tie, he sounded a little bit like The Grinch talking to Cindy Loo Hoo. I tried not to laugh when the sweet woman turned back from her phone call to tell us she had gotten the okay to let us enter.
I'm wondering if they gave the young man with the green hair a hard time.
Once again, I was stunned with our luck. Even with Don's bolo tie, we were given a window table, without asking. Our 5 course meal was heavenly from start to finish. I'll put more details in the dining blog for that!
Dressed Up Diners and Dancers
There was something so oddly delightful about dining in such a huge space with couples and families, all dressed up. I studied them in the dining room and later in the Terrace Lounge, where Don and I danced a few... to the tunes the Grand Hotel Orchestra. It was easy to be reminded of a cruise ship, or an elite country club, or even a wedding reception. But the midwestern crowd was actually pretty down to earth. I didn't see kids playing video games at the table or couples checking their Facebook. It was a treat watching families celebrate together.
About 200 sailboats had arrived the day before. They were involved in a race that ended in Mackinac. It was pretty wild seeing the equipment and sails "drying out" after the stormy race.
We had to check out at 11, but were able to store our bags and enjoy the beautiful day. It was hard to decide how to best make use of our time. Staring down at the garden would have been enough.
Pool or Croquet?
It was tempting to stop for a game of croquet or bocce ball as we strolled past the rose bushes. It would have been memorable to have done a few laps in the 500,000-gallon, Esther Williams Pool. The movie "This Time For Keeps" was filmed here in 1947, starring the swimming/movie celebrity.
For the remainder of our time, we chose to rent bikes and take in the heavenly scenery on the 8-mile island loop. There were tots with training wheels, grannies on tricycles and horse carriages to dodge, but we had no mishaps. We relaxed on the porch one more time before catching a ferry back to our car. We'll save the fudge shopping and fort tour for next time.
The grand size of the hotel and the charm of the historic island made for such a magical combination. The top hats, tails, harps and carriages could have seemed a little corny or Disney-like in another setting. But this hotel has been entertaining guests for 130 years. It all worked!
The porch itself would have been enough to please me. All the rest, was icing on the cake!
Rescued Hotel in Fort Collins
It had actually been much worse than that, for a number of decades.
This is how the building looked in 1936, without a wall of tree growth. There was no outdoor cafe, but the corner of the building did hold a coffee shop, just as it does today. The hotel was built by Charles and Carolyn Mantz on the property owned by Carolyn's father, Andrew Armstrong. They named the hotel after him.
The Hotel Today
When we arrived on a beautiful Saturday, things were bustling in the Old Town area. The hotel showed no signs that it had been a flophouse in the 1990's. The peaceful crowd sipping coffee outside, didn't reflect the rowdy characters that became associated with the place in the '70's or '80's, when the Old Town area had begun to suffer.
The cozy lobby greeted us with festive, purple walls and a few leather chairs. Luckily we had no use for the collection of available umbrellas.
Checking in with Oreo
Don and I always adore the extra bonus of a hotel pet, when we're on the road. 12-year-old, Oreo seemed aware of that and put up with our cooing and petting. After a while, she skillfully distracted us with the complimentary Pixie Stix, on the counter.
Before climbing the stairs, we peeked at the intimate lounge area with chessboard and books. The glow on the table, was an iced margarita machine. They were of the non-alcoholic variety, but it was a fun change from the usual pitcher of water.
Our Room on College Avenue
I loved the big window in our bright and simple room, facing College Avenue. Standing beside the freshly painted radiator and peeking out through the trees made me feel like I was a kid back in Grinnell, Iowa. Seeing the awning above the window, reminded me of my grandmother's house in Springfield, Missouri. Mostly I liked the college town feel as I looked out at the activity... busy, even in summer.
Vintage or Modern
When the Levinger Family purchased the hotel in 2002, they made some good decisions. They chose to renovate the 40+ rooms in vintage and modern styles. Don and I always prefer hotel renovations that capture the era from when the building first opened. But some people prefer modern, new accommodations. What a treat, to have a choice.
Vintage, but Fresh
We of course chose a vintage room. But, I was happy not having to deal with vintage plumbing and claw-footed tubs. They did a good job making the bathroom look old, without feeling old.
Ace Gillet's Lounge
We wandered the spacious basement area, following the sound of laughter and music. When we found the entrance, it felt like we were entering a speakeasy, for those who were in the know. We found 2 open stools at the bar and hoped no one asked us for a password.
The lounge was once again, the perfect retro/modern mix. It felt like we were stepping back in time to have a few drinks with Dean Martin, minus the cigarette smoke. However, our bartender was not a bit out of the '50's or '60's. Ray was utterly amazing the way he whipped from one end of the bar to the next, mixing, visiting, tidying, pouring. In fact the entire staff seemed choreographed in their efficient moves. On top of that, the whole team seemed pleasant and happy to be there. That's different!
I ordered the Pinker Pussycat, without laughing. It was made with pineapple rum and coconut sake. Don thought we were in New Orleans and ordered a Sazerac. It was about twice the size of the Nola version. We sipped and took in the atmosphere.
The live jazz trio made it hard for us to think about getting up and searching for a restaurant. We decided to stay put and Don and I both ended up making requests. My choice, "The Girl From Ipanema" fit the 1960's vibe.
Since I was not blessed with the ability to drink all night, (thank goodness) we needed food if we were going to enjoy more music. We kept our bar seats and enjoyed a huge hummus plate and an order of crawfish beignets.
I always appreciate a hotel with shady past. I'm so glad the Levingers rescued this hotel and respected the history. I'm glad they didn't modernize every nook and cranny.
The cozy guest room, lobby and sitting areas, were pleasant but not as memorable as the basement lounge. Gillet's Lounge and Oreo the cat, may be what I remember most!
Reasons to Stay
Why Not Stay?
We couldn't afford it. The rates were out of our range, when we made our plans for a summer Colorado trip. But on June 15, we stopped in for a drink at the classy, Churchill Bar.
The Book Paves the Way
We didn't spend the night, but we had drinks and ended up meeting the talented, Chef Kasper from the hotel's Palace Arms dining room. My Dining Blog link below, tells how my silly cookbook helped introduce us. It also explains how Kasper's generosity and enthusiasm lured us back, to spend a night at The Brown!
A Week Later
A week after our evening at the bar, Don and I altered travel plans and headed back to Denver. This time we actually had reservations at The Brown. Chef Kasper was able to get us a rate we could afford. My Denver friend Martha, even offered to drop us off to avoid the $37.00 valet parking fee.
Even though we had seen the grand hotel a week earlier, I walked through the revolving doors like a giddy child. Before checking in, I paused to sample water from the ritzy water fountain. The hotel was actually built on an artesian well, so there's a reason for the fancy fountain.
I love historic hotels, when they make me feel like I'm stepping into one of my favorite classic movies. The escalator and retro elevator did the trick. If only I'd been wearing a hat and carrying a train case. Then I would have paused for sure, to make a call on that classic, house phone, near the escalator.
From the street, I could see the lovely stained glass and model ships in the windows. I studied the impressive way the tavern fit into the "rounded point" of the flatiron building. I learned that there's a reason for the hotel's shape. It's because it was built on a pie-shaped plot of land. Now, I don't know why there happened to be a pie-shaped plot of land.
Red & Blue
If only we'd had more time! I would have loved to have had a drink, sitting on one of those nautical stools! What a fun mix of old world wood and patriotic colors.
I took this photo of the Atrium, a week earlier, not knowing we'd be returning. The gold and marble was just as impressive on the second visit.
Arches on the Second Story
There's probably a name for the second story with all the fancy arches. If I'd had a lot more time, I could have studied all the intricate designs on the panels. I heard there are a couple that are upside down. You'd have to be pretty observant to notice that.
Our room was spacious and lovely. I really have no idea where this ranks in their line up of accommodations, but we couldn't have been more pleased. Don and I spent a lot of time shaking our heads and grinning at our good fortune. We were getting the Brown Palace experience, for about the same price as 2 nights of valet parking!
We didn't have a whole lot of lounging time, but there were cozy robes and comfy sitting spots and a wonderful shower for freshening up.
This was one more gracious gesture on the part of Kasper! Luckily our dinner reservations were on the late side and our Denver friends weren't arriving for a little while.
Enjoying with Friends
By 6:30, the Atrium atmosphere had gone from Tea Time to Jazz & Martini Time. My college buddy Martha and her hubby, taxied over to join us for drinks and music.
Double the Fun
It was so much fun having Martha and Bill to share our giddiness. They live in Denver and have experienced some fun at The Brown before. In fact the piano player, recognized Martha from last December, when he recognized her theatrical flare and managed to get a "White Christmas" performance out of her. It was the wrong time of year for that, but we did some dancing.
By 7:45, we our friends had headed home and we were headed into the elegant Palace Arms for our reservations. There were other diners when we arrived, but by the time we finished our 6 courses of food, the place was dramatically quiet.
From Salt Block to a Bag of Jams
The Dining Blog shares more about our extraordinary meal, prepared by Chef Kasper. These photos show how we began and ended... with crisp vegetables, served on a cold salt block and a gift bag full of jams and breads made by Kasper himself. What an amazing evening.
The Brown Palace is a dreamlike hotel, all on its own. The people will be what made this historic hotel experience notable!
A Mansion in Denver
The Keating Home from 1891
Mr. and Mrs. Keating built this home 126 years ago, in an area known as "Millionaire's Row". They built their splendid home with ruby sandstone, in the "Richardsonian Romanesque" style. I had to look that one up and I didn't absorb much. Let's just say, the cylindrical tower with conical cap, have something to do with that style.
A Rounded Porch
I adore any house or hotel with a good porch. But this one was extra fun, with it's curved, wrap-around shape.
Stone, Tile and Wood
Restored in 1994
After being a private residence, the mansion rooms were later used for hotel guests, office workers, apartment rentals and my favorite, "The Happy Home Convalescent Home". In the 1990's the building was purchased and renovated. The parlor shows much of the original detail that was saved. The maple window trim, marble fireplace and relief molding on the ceiling are all mighty impressive.
Stairs and Window
Looking down from the stairs also had a whimsical feel. What an odd little platform, built in the space of the round tower! I wonder how it was used originally?
She told me I could take a picture of her office if I wanted to. Then she scooted out of the way. I didn't ask about the teapot or the crucifix. I'd already annoyed her just a bit when I said I liked her chef's hat. She replied to that comment with a silly you tone, "Oh that's not a chef's hat. That's just my work hat." She was pretty adorable.
There were 8 guest rooms in the home. Ours was on the second floor, along with a few others, which opened up to a wide hall/sitting area.
The Other Turret
The Forget-Me-Not Room
The odd shape of our room, made furniture placement a little tricky. Our queen, French Country canopy was angled into the center of the room.
The curved shape is more evident in the photo that shows the windowsill. The other photo shows a bit of a view of the garden patio, as well as a large mansion across the street.
This evening photo, shows Don wearing his tropical shirt, standing on the porch calling up an Uber driver. It was such a treat being so close to the city. We could have walked many places. We paid less than $10. for a ride to Adrift Tiki Lounge!
The dining room was empty in the morning, because when weather allows, breakfast is served on the patio. It was lovely in the morning and we had the pick of numerous tables when we arrived.
Our breakfast was served by someone who wanted to talk. She was in and out attending to us numerous times. Each time she stopped and chatted non-stop, pretty much about herself. If I could have gotten a word in edgewise, I would have asked more about the house history or Denver. But we learned about her history, her childhood, her likes and habits and talents etc. Don and I are travelers who love to engage with others. But there was no sharing of conversation. My suggestion is: Read Your Audience! If no one is asking you questions or making eye contact, it's time to retreat!
In the hotel hallway, I spotted this photo of the inn, after it was purchased by E.E. Nichols in 1877. At that time, the simple structure stood practically alone, in the landscape. The mining boom was over, so Nichols changed the hotel name and he changed the focus, to the nearby mineral springs. The hotel became a luxury, health resort for the wealthy.
A New Style
At some point, the hotel was given a new look. The Queen Anne Victorian image is what greeted us when we arrived. Flags and flowers, a lovely porch and bay windows! The circle drive took us to the porch. It felt more like we were coming to visit our rich relatives, than a hotel. And the valet guys were friendly and un-rushed, as we took forever to gather our stuff. Plus, overnight valet parking was less than $10. What a bargain!
Ahhh! A Porch!
The living area across from the lobby desk, was oddly formal. I would have preferred more random antiques to the Marriott-looking decor, but that's okay. We had the porch!
Celebrity Guest Suites
Since our travel budget usually puts us in the cheapest rooms, we were feeling pretty giddy with our fireplace and wet bar. Mr. Nichols gazed towards the bay windows, from his portrait over the desk.
I loved looking out over the porch, towards the mountains. We could practically plan our walking route as we gazed out at the town below.
Comfy Chairs, Bed and Bath
It was a treat having 2 matching, comfy chairs and a table. Our road trips, sometimes have us fighting over the good chair.
I peeked in the dining room to see if it matched an old photo. The dining area was divided into 2 rooms instead of one large space. The tables were set formally, as they were years ago. The simple, square columns still dramatically held up the ceiling.
I love a little hotel exploring, but I didn't make it too far. I would have loved to have had a peek into one of the round, turret rooms. Mostly I wanted to get inside that mystery door! The hefty, black door with the lovely painted cottage scene, had obviously been a door to a safe. But what was it now? I never found out.
Red Mountain Bar and Grill
This had been one of our hotel options for dinner. I loved the fun shape of the old building. I also wanted to sit on the big porch and order dinner. Unfortunately, I got sick and missed out on both options. I can't remember ever being too ill for dinner, when staying at a hotel. This was a first for me.
Better by Morning
Luckily I woke feeling better. I was also starved, which was good, since breakfast was included. The breakfast buffet was served in the dining room and the atmosphere was peaceful and relaxed. I loved sipping my coffee and looking across at the old stone, post office.
Coffee on the Porch
Before checking out, we enjoyed the morning with a quick walk around town. The retro arcade & shopping area was quiet and free of tourists. We sampled some mineral water from one of the public fountains. Bubbly! Then we chatted with the car valet after checking out. He talked us into making the trip up to Pikes Peak. Perfect!
I just wish we could have stayed one more night.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!