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It all comes down to breeding: When you go to high tea at the Brown Palace Hotel, you've got to know where to hold your pinkie and how to properly administer your lemon curd and clotted cream. That's unless you happen to be the National Western Stock Show Grand Champion steer, for whom all such distinctions are purely genetic. This year's leading bovine hunk will make himself at home in the lobby from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on January 24, and the public, as always, is invited.

Livestock in the Brown Palace lobby is more common than you'd think: The posh parlor has hosted not only champion steers at tea each year, but numerous cattle auctions and even "B" Western star Monte Montana, who once climbed the grand staircase mounted on his faithful steed, Rex. And folks love it: People deliberately make reservations each year in order to sip Darjeeling five feet away from a snorting beast, notes Brown Palace chief engineer Geno Crusan, who's also the man in charge of satisfying the steer's creature comforts. All of them.

"We transform a whole corner of the lobby to mimic a ranch," Crusan says. "We build a cattle pen, lay down green carpet to mimic turf and underlay with a roll of plastic, since these little creatures don't care where they are when they gotta cut loose. Then we put a big silver bowl in there so he can drink with kings." And, though poop-scooping isn't actually part of his job description, the responsibility simply came with the territory. Plus, he's just so darned good at it: "Only a few know how to scoop in a timely fashion," he boasts.

Most champion steers don't seem to be a bit perturbed about lunching with all the little old ladies. "They could care less," Crusan explains. "You look at those faces chewing on straw, and it seems like they're saying, 'I'm gonna be a porterhouse in a few days, but today I'm here in the lobby, so everything is good." Still, he adds, during the traditional pose in which a row of knife-wielding chefs encircle a steer, "It always seems like its hair stands up on end, like it knows."

The Brown Palace Hotel is at 321 17th Street; call 303-297-3111.

 
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