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Boulder's new hotel melds history, luxury and stylish design

published August 01, 2005

Christine Loomis
( 55 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Charging $7 a month for a room, she ran the small boarding house in the shadow of the Flatirons until her death in 1962 - becoming one of Boulder's first successful female business owners in the process - but the grand hotel never materialized.

The property passed on to her son, Joe, who never saw in it what Ruth had.


"My father inherited the property but he didn't have my grandmother's real estate vision or passion," said Charles Gower. "He sold it in 1966 for $60,000."

The parcel slipped into ignominy, turned into a used-car lot, then a weedy, potholed parking lot at an address that should have been among Boulder's most desirable. It was declared "blighted property" in the 1980s, and though it no longer belonged to the Gowers, the fate of the 9th Street land remained a topic of conversation among family members for years.

Fortunately, the dream of a grand hotel at 9th and Walnut didn't die with Ruth Gower. It was reborn when a small group of investors also envisioned a premier hotel there - a world-class facility, but one that would reflect Boulder's independent spirit and Western sensibilities, a sophisticated city hotel reminiscent of those in Europe but infused with a charm born of the natural splendor of the Rocky Mountains outside its doors.

The St. Julien succeeds admirably in bringing these influences together. The result is a hotel worthy of its environment, striking and sophisticated in architecture and design yet comfortable and welcoming. And if marble and exotic woods in the lobby speak to its world-class status, its name is a nod to humbler digs and history - Boulder's original St. Julien, a small hotel on 14th and Spruce run by a Mrs. St. Julien in the early 1900s.

Perfectly situated an hour from Denver's airport and from Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and 35 minutes from downtown Denver, the St. Julien is an ideal base for exploring Colorado's Front Range.

Upon checking in, one thing is immediately clear: The owners were willing to reach deep into their pockets to build a first-class establishment - in fact the first hotel of this stature to open in Boulder in nearly 100 years (the historic Hotel Boulderado was built in 1909).

"It's about details," said General Manager David Lurie. Details like walnut floors and mahogany pillars in the lobby and Spanish marble in the public restrooms. Details like four-poster beds and custom mattresses covered with 300-count Egyptian cotton linens and 28-ounce white goose down comforters - in all 200 guest rooms.

The downside to this guest-room "detail" is that it fosters a wanton desire to wallow in the luxury rather than getting out of bed to partake in Boulder's famously active lifestyle.

You could, for example, rent bikes and peddle the 100 miles of bikeways that run along gurgling Boulder Creek and throughout the city. You could try rock climbing, indoors or out, a pastime for which Boulder is internationally known, or hike with the locals on dozens of trails that wind through wildflower meadows, pinyon forests and past dramatic boulders and rock formations.

Or you could give into the spirit of extreme indulgence (my recommendation) and roll out of bed only to hike as far as the spa. Like the hotel itself, the spa also honors its natural surroundings, offering signature treatments derived from native plants, seeds, rocks and extracts. Canyon Sensation is a 110-minute treatment ($160) featuring a pinyon and pine body scrub and a dry massage with a protein-rich pinyon powder made especially for the hotel. Boulder Rocks - referencing the city's ebullient spirit and abundance of stones used in renewal and healing practices - includes a facial and hot-stone massage ($190). The therapists and aestheticians are excellent (my facial didn't include gemstones as described in the brochure but was superb nevertheless), and the intimacy of the space made even my previously anti-spa boyfriend comfortable enough to thoroughly enjoy the facial For Men Only ($80).

Pampering aside, you can't stay here without exploring Boulder. It might be Denver's hip, youthful neighbor - the University of Colorado definitely ramps up the town's character - but Boulder lacks neither culture nor sophistication. The annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival is considered among the nation's top three and music has flowed from Chautauqua for more than a century.

And there's fine dining. Across Walnut from the hotel, Brasserie Ten Ten is Parisian bistro in design with a varied menu, including steak frites and a delectable salt- and tarragon-crusted free-range chicken. Astonishingly beautiful Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, handcrafted in Tajikistan and reassembled on 13th Street, is truly unique, offering eclectic ethnic cuisines, more than 100 teas and a full bar.

The St. Julien's own eatery, Jill's, has experienced growing pains, including a change of chefs, but is coming into its own. How the new chef will influence the menu remains to be seen, but Jill's is an appealing setting with views of Boulder's lively street scenes and dishes featuring fresh, organic local and regional products.

Speaking of street scenes, pedestrian Pearl Street Mall, starting a block north and east of the hotel, is famous for talented buskers - jugglers, contortionists, magicians and the like. Among them is the ZIP Code Guy, who stuns crowds with his peculiar knowledge of every ZIP code on the planet and corresponding towns. Go ahead, try to stump him.

However you spend your day, St. Julien's lobby lounge, T-Zero, is the place to unwind. A back-lit, white onyx bar and dark-hued palette create an ambience of cozy sophistication, but it's equally pleasant to sink into one of the lobby's plush sofas or chairs where bar service extends. Fabrics in green, gold or earthy red-browns and tiny recessed lights like stars in the ceiling echo nature's understated beauty, while floor-to-ceiling glass and a see-through fireplace welcome nature in. The patio stretches south and west, its visual centerpiece the gazebo behind which the Flatirons rise into that cerulean western sky, a spot destined to be among Boulder's top photo ops for brides and others.

Like all new hotels, the St. Julien has kinks to work out - service is alternately impeccable and not - but it's already a place of gracious hospitality, one poised to become Boulder's hip gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. It's a grand hotel that stands as testament to Ruth's vision of what was possible at 9th and Walnut.

"Ruth's dream has finally come true," Charles Gower said. "It is magnificent."
Thus, the St. Julien brings this corner of the world full circle. Except, alas, for that $7 room rate.

IF YOU GO

St. Julien Hotel & Spa, 900 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80302 (720) 406-9696, toll-free (877) 303-0900; www.stjulien.com. Rates: $165-$595 a night.
Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, (303) 442-2911, (800) 444-0447; www.bouldercoloradousa.com. Information on restaurants, tours, attractions, bike rentals and more.

Colorado Shakespeare Festival, (303) 492-0554; www.coloradoshakes.org. Traditional and contemporary productions, June through August.

Colorado Chautauqua Association, (303) 442-3282; www.chautauqua.com. Concerts and cultural programs, May through August.



Christine Loomis is a freelance travel writer.

© Copley News Service

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