The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa321 17th Street
A visit to Denver isn't complete without at least stopping inside the stunning lobby of the Brown Palace to ogle the stained glass, burnished wood and old-world decor. And once you're there, stay for drinks and prime rib sandwiches at the Ship Tavern, which opened in 1934 with its seafaring theme. Or, for a true taste of the Gilded Age, book dinner at the Palace Arms. A recent change in hotel ownership has resulted in a new focus on the menu, modernizing the cuisine while preserving the stellar service and posh surroundings. The dinner tab won't be cheap, but maybe you can get your rich aunt and uncle to pick up the bill.
The Crawford Hotel1701 Wynkoop Street
A stay at the Crawford comes complete with the entirety of Union Station as your playground — and dining hall. Lunch and snack options abound, but make sure you stay for dinner at some of Denver's most exciting eateries: Mercantile Dining & Provision (which just earned chef/owner Alex Seidel the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award), and Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia, two unique establishments (serving seafood and Spanish, respectively) from chef Jennifer Jasinski, another James Beard winner. Hang out at the lively Terminal Bar for drinks, or head upstairs to the more sedate and serious Cooper Lounge. And a Denver layover should always include pancakes at Snooze.
Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek245 Columbine Street
Cherry Creek has been loading up with boutique hotels of late, and the Halcyon is one of the best for food and drink. Go pan-Asian with celebrity chef Gregory Gourdet's Departure, or experience a fun and quirky take on tradition with New York City transplant Quality Italian. There's also a rooftop bar and pool for summer visitors and a hidden speakeasy in the bowels of the hotel called B & GC for a sultry night of lounging.
Hotel Indigo1801 Wewatta Street
The Indigo is located behind Union Station in one of Denver's hot new instant neighborhoods. The draw here is Hearth & Dram, which combines wood-fired cooking perfect for meat lovers with a towering bar stocked with one of the best selections of whiskey in the city. Lunchtime is an eye-opener, with a variety of international sandwiches, or book ahead for a whole-beast feast for a special occasion.
Hotel Monaco1717 Champa Street
The Hotel Monaco just celebrated its twentieth birthday, and Panzano has been dishing housemade pastas and fresh-baked bread for that two-decade run. Once a brash upstart amid stodgy downtown hotels, the Monaco now feels lived-in and cozy. And Chef Nic Lebas is ushering in a new era of dining at the restaurant, continuing the Italian tradition while dotting the menu with modern sensibilities.
Kimpton Hotel Born1600 Wewatta Street
Just a block from the Indigo Hotel, the Born opened at about the same time, but with two restaurants — Citizen Rail and Tavernetta — at its base. Citizen Rail offers a sleek, art deco-style dining room with an emphasis on dry-aged beef (you can see big slabs of meat hanging in the display window). Tavernetta is the slightly more casual Denver sibling of Boulder's Frasca Food & Wine. Regional Italian specialties and a stellar wine cellar are the main attractions.
The Maven Hotel1850 Wazee Street
The Maven is filled with art and fanciful decor — like an Airstream trailer in the lobby — nearly to the point of sensory overload, and the food and booze options hit with equal dazzle. Start at Kachina Cantina for fry-bread tacos and margaritas before ending the evening at Poka Lola Social Club, which combines soda-jerk amusement with serious cocktail chops. Stroll through Denver Milk Market for more than a dozen food counters peddling everything from bao buns to gelato, with market offerings if you're looking for gifts or food to cook at home.
The Oxford Hotel1600 17th Street
The Oxford Hotel has seen hard times during Denver's lean years, but it has returned to its former glory in recent years, especially with the addition of Urban Farmer, which takes the modern trend of housemade everything to new levels: Beehives on the roof provide honey, and the kitchen makes its own oversized English muffins for a decadent burger. The Cruise Room has long been a draw, with its Great Gatsby style and classic cocktail bar, but new management and a recent overhaul have made it better than ever.
The Ramble Hotel1280 25th Street
Despite gentrification, Larimer Street in RiNo still feels a little gritty, at least until you step inside the Ramble, with its flowing lobby that acts as check-in for guests as well as bar and restaurant by New York City's acclaimed Death & Co. With that in mind, a cocktail is nearly a necessity, but don't forget about Super Mega Bien, chef Dana Rodriguez's Latin American slant on dim-sum cart service, with bold flavors to match the lively dining room.
The Source Hotel + Market Hall3330 Brighton Boulevard
Brighton Boulevard still feels like the hinterland of Denver growth, so the ten-story Source Hotel sticks out amid its industrial surroundings. But inside, there's good food happening, whether from New Orleans chef Alon Shaya and his ode to his Israeli roots at Safta, or the savory, down-home goodness of Smok BBQ next door. For a real surprise, take the elevator to the top floor for barrel-aged beers and good grub at The Woods, which offers great views of the city and an excellent taste of Colorado's craft-brewing scene.