Developer Dana Crawford remembers the first time she saw the Cruise Room. It was in the '50s, and the Oxford Hotel, a once-elegant Victorian establishment that welcomed visitors getting off the train at Denver's Union Station, had become a "flophouse," she recalls. "The people who lived there were retired railroad workers and indigents...the place was really a mess."
But then she opened the door to the Cruise Room -- and found a jewel. See also: - Best Classic Cocktail: the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel - Landry's owner finally hooks McCormick & Schmick's Seafood
The art-deco bar, modeled after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary, had opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, with chrome and neon reflecting off bas-relief wall panels of international revelers created by Denver artist Alley Henson. Other than a Nazi "toast" featuring Hitler, which was taken down during World War II, the place was almost untouched.
Crawford became a partner in the Oxford in 1980, and over the past few decades the entire hotel has been restored to all its former glory. Now the Cruise Room is getting a facelift -- but one very sensitive to its history, both official (it's a designated landmark) and unofficial (everyone has stories about a night in the Cruise Room). Initially, the renovation work was supposed to be done in 2011, but that project was delayed by the purchase of McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants by Landry's Restaurants Inc.
McCormick's had signed a lease with the Oxford in 1987, renovating the old BoozeWazee music venue into the dining room and kitchen and putting a bar in the Corner Room that had once hosted concerts, including a performance by Peter, Paul & Mary. Even when the hotel was down and out, Crawford notes, it still attracted some of the town's most contemporary entertainment. And when it opened exactly 25 years ago this month, McCormick's Fish House & Bar continued that tradition. Lower downtown was still a year away from being named the LoDo Historic District, but people flocked to the new restaurant, in the process discovering the charms of this part of town.
And Landry's, which has signed a new lease with the Oxford, promises to keep the charm as it spruces up the Cruise Room. (Both the McCormick's dining room and bar will soon be renovated, too.) The marble floor has already been replaced (a LoDo denizen was kind enough to deliver a piece of the original floor that he'd found a the alley to my desk), some of the booths have been taken out for restoration, and the walls will soon be painted - the same historically accurate light-pumpkin color.
And through all this, the bar will keep pouring. "I'm just so thrilled with what's going on at the Cruise Room," Crawford says. "Something about it says you've got to have a martini."
We'll drink to that!
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A version of this story appeared earlier today in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter covering Denver's drinking and dining scene. Find out how to subscribe here.