The Adagio Bed & Breakfast has seen some rough times over the past few years — including two zoning changes, five years as a cannabis-friendly lodging, and a current attempt to open as a restaurant — but the precipitous drop in tourism, business travel and the economy in general as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has definitely been one of the toughest challenges that owner Helen Strader has had to face in her eighteen years as an innkeeper.
Strader bought the Adagio, at 1430 Race Street, in 2002, but the building has a much longer history. One of Denver's most historically significant architects, William Lang, built the mansion as a single-family home in 1892, one of more than a dozen he completed that year. Lang is most famous for designing the Molly Brown House, the A.M. Ghost building and the Castle Marne (just a block north of the Adagio), but the Race Street mansion lacked his distinctive turrets, rusticated stone facade and other signature architectural features — and it never earned the kind of catchy name from a famous owner that helped many of Lang's other edifices gain attention.
In the mid-1990s, the building was converted into a bed-and-breakfast (its previous incarnation had been as a church), and it finally gained a name: the Adagio. And while the exterior is plain by Lang's standards, the interior boasts the ornate wood finishes, grand staircases and big windows that bed-and-breakfast aficionados crave.
After Strader bought the Adagio from the original proprietors, she attempted to have the property rezoned to make more use of the building, since its five bedrooms didn't provide as much income as she'd hoped. She didn't get exactly what she wanted, but adding a liquor license and the ability to host weddings and other events at least made it possible for Strader to make the bed-and-breakfast work.
But several years ago, the strain of running the business by herself caught up with her, so Strader turned to a new kind of tourist attraction for support: cannabis. From 2014 to 2019, the MaryJane Group Inc. leased the Adagio from Strader and ran it as a "Bud & Breakfast," a term the company trademarked while attempting to expand the concept into multiple markets. Guests were allowed to bring their own pot and smoke it in certain areas, and there were cannabis dinners and other events, though the Adagio was not allowed to sell marijuana to visitors. The deal ended after five years, however: Strader says the proprietors got into legal trouble with cannabis regulations, and she ended up having to pay fines to the city herself.
Realizing she was on her own again, Strader pushed for additional rezoning, this time in order to open the dining room and expansive patio of the Adagio as a restaurant. The application wasn't an easy process, since the property has very little of its own parking, and street parking in the primarily residential neighborhood is almost non-existent. But she says the city was more flexible this time around, and she eventually was able to get a license to open to the public — just as the pandemic hit Denver and restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms.
During the shutdown, which lasted from March 17 to May 26, Strader continued working on her plans, hiring chef Erich Kiparski to create a menu and run the restaurant side of the business. Kiparski, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, was previously the executive chef at Satchel's on 6th; he was also on the opening team at Beckon.
During the closure, Kiparski didn't have many guests to impress with his cooking. But now that restaurant restrictions are easing, the Adagio can serve dinner to a small number of customers, both those coming in just for dinner and those choosing to stay overnight.
Strader says that she has set up agreements with two nearby businesses so that her dinner guests will have somewhere to park; she also expects neighbors to stop in and enjoy the stately dining room and more casual flagstone-covered patio, which wraps around the east and south sides of the mansion. And there's still one cannabis-friendly zone on the property, a detached garage that has been converted into a smoking lounge that Strader calls "the Garagio."
The plan for now is to accept dinner reservations Tuesday through Saturday; Kiparski says he'd also like to begin serving Sunday night family meals once word gets out that the Adagio dining room is open. There's plenty of space both inside the mansion and on the patio for social distancing, so dinner there should appeal to those looking for a quaint, quiet place where they can ease back into dining out after nearly three months of stay-at-home orders — and, of course, those who choose to partake can always get a room for the night after a meal and a few puffs.
Eventually, Strader explains, she'd like to transfer ownership of the bed-and-breakfast to Kiparski, but not until he's had a chance to experience running it on his own. "I don't need another mountain to climb," she says, adding that she's ready to retire.
But for now, at least, she's looking forward to a summer when people will be looking for a pleasant and sheltered spot to relax, forget about the pandemic and enjoy a meal prepared by a young and eager chef — with maybe a quick trip to the Garagio before calling it a night.
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