Historic Hotel Boulderado: a landmark Boulder luxury hotel

by Mar 19, 2022United States

Hotel Boulderado Boulder Luxury Hotel Exterior

The Hotel Boulderado has been a Boulder, Colorado, centerpiece since 1909. Experience living history and modern amenities with a stay, a history tour, or a meal at this historic luxury Boulder hotel.

In downtown Boulder, Colorado, just a few minutes walk from the Pearl Street Mall, sits an historic luxury hotel, the Hotel Boulderado. The five-story brick building incorporates both Italian Renaissance and Spanish Revival features and is magnificent in every respect.

Open since 1909, the Hotel Boulderado was the first luxury hotel in Boulder. It was designed to establish the city as a destination for wealthy tourists and businessmen who could help influence the city’s growth – and it did exactly that. Even Boulder’s residents pitched in, buying “stock” at $100 each (about $3,000 in today’s money) to build the grand lodging.


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“The town itself owned it,” said historian Laurel McKown. “From the beginning, the Boulderado was ‘Boulder’s hotel’.”

While the hotel has experienced its highs and lows – it was nearly torn down in 1976 because it was in such disrepair — this grand dame has since been lovingly restored and is now basking in its place as both a distinctive luxury hotel and national historic landmark. And yes, it is still very much a downtown Boulder centerpiece – a landmark within walking distance of so much in the mountain town.

Hotel Boulderado At Night

Stepping back in time

Although the Hotel Boulderado officially opened on New Year’s Day in 1909 as Boulder’s only luxury hotel, it suffered during the Great Depression like many other businesses. And it never fully recovered. Following World War II, visitors to Boulder were no longer arriving by train. Instead, they were traveling by car, often passing through on their way to “See the U.S.A. in your Chev-ro-let” as sung first by Dinah Shore in 1952. And these new automobile tourists opted for motels near the highways, not some former luxury hotel in a downtown. To survive, the hotel by the mid-1950s became a home for long-term, low-income tenants as well as business travelers – a far cry from its glory years when it played host to names such as Ethel Barrymore, Helen Keller, Robert Frost, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong, to name but a few.

In the mid-1970s, Boulder downtown was undergoing a revitalization with the pedestrian mall on Pearl Street as the new centerpiece. While there was talk of tearing down the Boulderado, a public outcry saved it. In 1976, the Boulder Landmarks Board approved the hotel as a city landmark – and I am so grateful. In 1976, the Boulderado was sold to a group dedicated to preserving the hotel, and historic renovation began. It was sold once more in 1978, and again in 1980. That’s when the historic Boulderado landed in the hands of its current owners, Frank Day and Arthur Wong, who began lovingly restoring the hotel to is former glory. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

“It’s not an old hotel,” McKown carefully pointed out. “It’s an historic hotel.”

Hotel Boulderado blends modern touches with historic reverence

Whether you enter the hotel through its grand main entrance on 13th street in Boulder, or from the side entrance on Spruce Street, you will, I guarantee, gaze in awe at the lobby and its ceiling. It is arguably the one part of the Hotel Boulderado that consistently attracts tourists and locals off the street for a quick photograph — or more. With rich cherrywood paneling, a grand cherrywood “cantilevered” staircase, original tile floors, and an overhead stained-glass ceiling that bathes the entire room in warm colored light, it is a stunning space. One that also brings in everybody for concerts, happy hours, and the festive annual ceiling-high Christmas tree.

Hotel Boulderado Stained Glass Mezzanine

Look upward at the stained-glass ceiling and marvel at its color, light, and curves. While a huge snowstorm in 1959 irreparably damaged the original Italian glass ceiling, the stained-glass currently over the lobby was restored in 1977 by Maria Garcia, a Boulder-based artist who worked painstakingly for the better part of a year to complete the job.

Boulder 1909 Cantilever Staircase

To the left of the 13th street entrance is a modern reception desk and gift shop. This area was originally the “ladies’ writing room” where the women played the piano, wrote letters, and relaxed because of course they should not sit with the men in their smoking room. Over the years, it has been a real estate office, a barbershop, a candy store, and a gift shop.

Take a history tour at Boulder’s hotel

Other places on the main floor have similar stories of historic evolution including the Corner Bar which was once a hair dressing parlor in the 1920s, while the current coffee bar was the “men’s smoking room.” Just around the corner and to the left of the reception desk is the historic Otis elevator, built in 1906. It is one of the few Otis elevators still in operation in the United States. If you have luggage to schlepp up to your room, you’ll want to take the elevator – it is manually operated and requires hotel staff to take you to your floor.

Just on the other side of the lobby from the registration area is an old-fashioned marble drinking fountain, but this is not just any marble drinking fountain. In the early 1900s, the city of Boulder acquired the rights to the watershed from the Arapahoe glacier and installed drinking fountains throughout the city, all fed by pure mountain glacier water. This fountain at the Hotel Boulderado is the only remaining one still fed by glacier water. And yes, you can fill your water bottle here if you desire. I did, and the water is delicious!

Boulder Glacier Water Fountain

Look across the lobby and you’ll see the original hotel registration desk, which has been converted to a workstation where guests can sit with computers … or just sit. It is a perfect place to hang out, work, read, and watch the lobby’s world wander by.

Hotel Boulderado William Scribner Olaf

William Scribner, a very literary mouse, and his friend Olaf, loved hanging out at the old registration desk.

Next to this original registration desk is a case that contains a hotel guest log – it was fun to read who stayed in the hotel so many years ago. Wander around the lobby, and you’ll discover much more history about the hotel and Boulder.

“You’re like the steward of the history,” said McKown. “You’re not just taking care of ‘things.’ There’s a lot of energy in the building. You know there’s a lot of history, and they talk to you, all the memories here.”

McKown, the hotel’s historian, has been a part of the hotel since 1980. “Some people fall in love with a person or a town…. I fell in love with the hotel.”

Head upstairs for a self-guided history tour

The third floor is where an “official” self-guided history tour begins. Be sure to pick up a brochure at the registration desk before you embark on your historic wandering – open to anyone to wander in and enjoy.

Hotel Boulderado History Tour

Part of a back hallway that has memorabilia on your Hotel Boulderado history tour.

The tour begins at room 300 at the top of the stairs in the east hallway and continues in a clockwise manner. You’ll be guided through the Hotel Boulderado’s past featuring historic photos and various artifacts including steamer trunks, vintage clothing, antique fans (including descriptions on how ladies used them to communicate using non-verbal messages), and a Victorian hall tree.

Although the official tour doesn’t take you beyond the 3rd floor round trip, do take time to look at the other paintings and artifacts, lamps and woodwork on the landings and the 4th floor.

Choose history when booking a room

I’ve stayed in the Hotel Boulderado numerous times from the early 1990s through my last visit in 2022. I’ve experienced staying in the historic rooms in the original building, and the more modern rooms in the newer North Wing, added in 1985. If I have a choice, I’ll always opt for the historic rooms as they are spacious, filled with period antiques, and just feel cozier. Nothing against the North Wing at all, as the rooms there are well appointed, bright and very comfortable – and they also blend well with the historic section. Still, they lack a certain historic charm that, for me, is the reason to stay in an historic hotel in the first place. Besides, I’ve always felt when I was staying at the Hotel Boulderado that I was not just staying in a hotel but getting an opportunity to experience a bit of Boulder’s deep history.

Hotel Boulderado North Wing Hotel Room

One of the more modern North Wing hotel rooms.

Whether you are staying in one of the 42 historic rooms or in the more modern North Wing with 118 rooms, your first moments in the hotel after check-in will most assuredly be a step back in time. To get to your room from registration, you can either take the Otis elevator mentioned above, or you can ascend the grand cherrywood staircase that winds upward from the lobby to the fifth floor – a challenge perhaps if you are schlepping heavy suitcases. The second floor features a walkway that connects the historic building and the North Wing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself working your way around or through bridal parties rehearsing for a wedding since the first landing is a favored spot for taking vows—and once you experience the staircase for yourself you will see why.


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Historic King Suite Living Room Boulderado

Our Historic King Suite living room.

During our most recent visit, Therese and I stayed in a Historic King Suite on the fourth floor. I must admit we began to feel rather like Victorian-era socialites in our well-appointed suite. All the furnishings were Victorian reproductions – couch, armchairs, lamp, desk, bed. The wallpaper and carpet are also designed with a floral Victorian theme. Blended tastefully in with the history were modern touches, like a coffee maker (although we suggest getting your coffee at the lobby coffee bar), mini-fridge, and television (but who has time to watch television with so much exploring to do!). There are plenty of plugs and good Wi-Fi, but no USB add-ons.

Historic King Suite Hotel Boulderado

Historic King Suite bedroom.

Food and drink at the Hotel Boulderado

For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an after-dinner drink, the Hotel Boulderado is ready to please the palate. To start, whether you feel like an adult beverage or not, wander down the stairs from the lobby level into the License No. 1 bar. Colorado had a statewide prohibition against serving alcohol until 1967. With a nod to history, when the prohibition was lifted, the Boulderado was the first to receive a license to serve liquor in a restaurant. Still operating under that same license, License No. 1 is a fun, quirky speakeasy-style place with lots of little cubbies and room to look around, or grab a drink to sit a while.

License No. 1 Historic Bar Boulder

On the main level, we had a most delicious dinner, and excellent service at the Spruce Farm & Fish restaurant, an award-winning restaurant that specializes in food sourced from local farmers, artisans, and ranchers.

Hotel Boulderado Spruce Farm And Fish Restaurant

Orange ginger trout with walnut-crusted Rocky Mountain ruby trout, pan seared kale, carrot ribbons, and asparagus with braised fennel, finished with orange ginger beurre blanc. Oh my goodness soooo delectable.

If burgers and beers are more your thing, then there is the Corner Bar. During the day, the Boxcar Coffee Bar, next to Spruce Farm & Fish, offers beer, wine and of course, coffee, along with small plates that can be enjoyed back in your room, or while sitting in one of the many comfy seats or couches in the hotel lobby.

No matter if you are spending the night, stopping in for a drink at License No. 1, enjoying a delicious meal, or simply passing through to get a glimpse of historic luxury, it will be easy to see why the Hotel Boulderado is still, very much, “Boulder’s hotel.”

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Disclosure: We were fully hosted at the Hotel Boulderado. The review, opinions and ratings here are our own, and are not approved, provided, or otherwise endorsed or influenced by the hotel.

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Rating Hotel Boulderado

94%

Our Rating Our hotel ratings will tell you what we think of an individual property and are not a comparison to other hotels in the area. They are valid at the time of our visit, which in this case was during the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant no daily housekeeping and some limitations on meal service. Things can – and will -- change, of course, but we hope only back to pre-pandemic operations and not overall with properties like this that we love! We frequently pay for our hotel stays and will disclose whenever we receive discounts or comped room nights as a part of a hotel stay. Our ratings are a percent, with 100% being perfect and 0% someplace not even a rat would stay. We rate cleanliness/upkeep (e.g. dust on the windows, dirt under the beds, unclean bathroom fixtures, need of repairs/maintenance, etc.), comfort (e.g. taking into account quiet, how comfy the bed is, if there is a nice robe, a comfy chair, etc.), amenities (e.g. free parking, breakfast included and its quality, free Wi-Fi, free bikes, fitness gear, workout room, pool, etc. -- and we are not fans of hotels that say they include things, but then charge a facilities fee!), location (e.g. how easy is it to get around by foot, bike, and car), and value (e.g. how much we feel we got in return for the amount charged).

Cleanliness/Upkeep
95%
Comfort
95%
Amenities
90%
Location
100%
Value
90%