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The Inn Crowd

Table Mountain Inn puts more than hospitality on the menu.

"I wish we'd never had kids," announced the woman sitting next to us, as she poured the remaining half of her husband's margarita into her glass. "God, it's so good to be here without them."

Okay, so not everybody needs to get away as much as that couple, the parents of four-month-old twins. But the bar of the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant contained quite a few folks from Denver trying to escape -- even if they got no farther than a dozen miles from downtown -- into big margs and, with any luck, then into one of the inn's cute, Southwestern-themed rooms at the end of the evening.

The Table Mountain Inn sits on the main drag of Golden, an old-fashioned Foothills town that lately has started promoting itself as a newfangled mountain town. Not only is Golden "Where the West Begins" -- and where tourists can chug down free beer during the Coors tour, browse through a few antique shops and look at rocks at the Colorado School of Mines museum -- it's also now home to some high-end art galleries and the Colorado Mountain Club (which moved into the old high school); Outward Bound is expected any day. And while most of the restaurants here cook up variations on a hamburger theme, the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant (formerly known as the Mesa Bar & Grill -- a name the hotel is now trying to distance itself from because it was confusing) offers thoroughly modern meals.

Room service: A visit to the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant is a fast urban getaway.
Q Crutchfield
Room service: A visit to the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant is a fast urban getaway.

Billed as Golden's longest continually operating hotel, the inn started out in 1925 as the Hotel Berrimoor, named for owner Robert Berry, who liked the style of the Spanish Moors. Tracy Quick, son of Herbert Tracy Quick, who built the Colorado School of Mines's Hall of Engineering, designed the Berrimoor, which prospered until the Depression. In the 1930s, Edgar P. Sparks and his wife bought the business and renamed it the Cody Hotel; the next owner changed the decor to Art Deco. In 1948, longtime Golden businessman and onetime mayor Lu Holland took over and renamed it the Holland House. Fifteen years later, Holland decided his town needed a motor inn, so he updated the building's style and built a parking area next door, where the First Methodist Church once stood. But after he retired in the early '80s, the hotel went through a rapid succession of owners, until it was a ramshackle old biddy that no one wanted to touch.

The structure had been empty four years when it was purchased in 1991 by Frank Day and Bart Bortles. Day is well-known in these parts as a restaurateur who was inducted into the Colorado Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame two years ago; he's president of Rock Bottom Restaurants, which has fifty eateries nationwide, and also owns Concept Restaurants, parent of Boulder's Hotel Boulderado, the Woody's Wood-Fired Pizza spots and other eateries. In order to get the hotel up and running again, Day and Bortles spent $3 million renovating the place, adding more parking, resurfacing the exterior in stucco, gutting the interior and adding 42 rooms to the existing 32. They filled the place with beautiful Southwestern details, many of which hark back to the original Spanish theme and none of which are howling-coyote kitschy.

Then they turned their attention to the restaurant. There are two main dining areas, as well as a smoking section on the bar side; one of the dining areas is a long, low-lit series of booths, the other is a brighter, more wide-open space. Both are decorated like the rest of the hotel, in colors of the desert accented with eye-catching Southwestern knick knacks, and the resulting atmosphere is so successful that even a meal here feels like a real getaway. The theme carries over to the menu, which offers a collection of Southwest-inspired dishes that incorporate contemporary components and show real flair. The food is cooked by three chefs: top toque Mike Lapres and his right and left hands, Ian Kleiman and Brad Grozius. They manage to balance authentic Southwestern fare with what a bunch of gringos will actually eat -- no small feat.

The Red River Wraps appetizer ($9.25) stuffed lobster and minced vegetables inside deep-fried, crispy flour tortilla shells; while the accompanying mango sauce was more sweet than the promised spicy, it was delicious nonetheless. The house-cured trout ($8.95) was light on the tequila with which it had been cured, but had a nice citrusy tang and came with a rich horseradish sauce. Our third starter, the wild-mushroom tamale ($6.50), was so heavenly I almost forgot I had kids myself. The only "tamale" to this dish was the corn husk used to prop up the mushrooms, but even if the 'shrooms weren't steamed in the husk, they'd been sauteed with garlic until they were soft and juicy, then bathed in a roasted yellow pepper sauce and served atop a mound of textbook mashed potatoes.

More of those killer spuds came with the Taos sirloin ($17.95), a flawlessly cooked steak garnished with caramelized onions -- we could have used more of those -- and a roasted Anaheim chile sauce that had a sharp sherry taste; on the side came a pile of salty, thinly sliced onion rings. Better yet was our order of the oddly named rellenos con queso ($13.95) -- that stuffed Anaheim chiles with gooey pepper-packed jack, then dipped the packages in beer batter and deep-fried them. The delicious difference here was the batter, which turned into a crispy shell more flavorful than the traditional egg style and less doughy than the wonton-wrapper type; the green chile on top was mild and sweet, easy on the heat, with plenty of pork and a gravylike consistency.

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