Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boulderado Dining Room: A History Lesson

One of the most fascinating spots to consider in the Hotel Boulderado is our dining room, located on the lobby level of the northeast corner of the historic section. It has the distinction of being the oldest continually-operated restaurant in Boulder -- with the exception of a brief closure during World War II, the dining room has served guests since the hotel opened in 1909. Management and menus have changed a myriad of times, as has the look and feel of the space.

When we opened in 1909, the dining room was one of the premier places to eat out in Boulder. A Daily Camera newspaper reporter who wrote the article about the Boulderado's opening noted, "The spacious dining room, with its snowy linen, polished silver, and delicate bouquets, gave promise of the tempting delicacies and huge banquets that are to come. The kitchen, with its massive ranges and variety of modern conveniences, appeared equal to the tasks of furnishing the best and the most that could be demanded of it. The handsome electric chandeliers, the exquisitely patterned rugs, the profuse decoration of palms, ferns, and flowers, the beautiful music of the orchestra, all added to the sum to make a perfect total."

During his tenure as owner and manger of the Hotel Boulderado, Hugh Mark and his family were always given the honor of being the first guests to enter the dining room at mealtimes, and they occupied the same table year after year. It was at this table that Hugh Mark would keel over from a heart attack, taking the life of one of the Boulderado's most dynamic leaders. Betty Mark, Hugh Mark's young daughter, took full advantage of the formal dining room when she started taking tap dancing lessons and needed a place to practice. "The private dining room was a marvelous pace to practice, as the taps resounded beautifully on the tile floor," Betty recalled years later.

But the Marks were not the only ones who took regular meals in the dining room. Several service groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary groups, held weekly luncheon meetings there. Even though President Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition in 1933, Boulder remained a "dry" county. Only 3.2% beer was permitted to be served in the dining room, despite the fact that more than one chef snuck down to the basement to nip from a flask. By the time the stock market crashed in 1929, the formal waiters with white jackets and finger bowls had given way to waitresses and a less formal atmosphere.

When it came time to re-open the dining room after it closed during the Second World War, the Hutsons decided to modernize and remodel. New equipment was brought in, including a range, refrigerator, new dishes, glassware, silver, and linens. Soda-fountain-style booths and a new, U-shaped lunch counter gave the dining room a more casual feel, as did it's new Mexican motif and "Cactus Room" name.

This didn't last too long, as by the late 1950s the dining room had been transformed into the Boulderado Coffee Shop. According to Legend of a Landmark: A History of the Hotel Boulderado, "A variety of dinners was offered from charcoal-broiled chopped sirloin steak with mushroom sauce and French-fried onions -- for $1.25 -- to choice roast prime rib of beef au jus, for $1.75. More beef dishes, chicken, pork, and seafood rounded out the menu. All dinners included potato, salad, fruit, and beverage."

A day came after the Howards took over when the manager of the then Chinese restaurant that occupied the dining room simply did not show up to work. June and Ed frantically kept the business going until they convinced friend and local restaranteur Fred Shelton to take over the space. He opened Fred's Steakhouse in the dining room, and a popular phrase took off -- "Come eat with Fred and sleep with Ed." Fred's specialty was a sirloin steak dinner priced at $2.15. Fred stayed until 1969, when the Howards gave up the hotel. From there, a dizzying succession of various owners, themes, and names came about:
  • Doug and Fran Simcoe's Boulderado Empire Room in 1969
  • The Prosperity Garden in 1972
  • Fleur de Lis (1970s)
  • Winston's Seafood Grille (1980s)
  • Teddy Roosevelt's American Grille
Teddy Roosevelt's remained until John Platt moved Q's Restaurant from the second-floor Porch to the dining room, where it has stayed through the present day. Patrons who eat at Q's must cross the same original tiled floor that proved so useful to Betty Mark in her tapdancing days.