When Hotel Boulderado first opened its doors in 1909, guests were ushered to the doors in horse-drawn carriages. The Chautauqua was a new fixture in the city—a mark of Boulder’s growing prominence as a cultural hub—and the railroads chugged with traffic from mining camps to the west and Denver to the southeast. It was the start of a golden age.
The Hotel has seen many chapters in its storied history, but always stood the tests of time—becoming an anchor for Boulderites in good times and bad.
Thanks to the prescience and care of the Hotel’s current owner—Frank Day—it is once again a cultural beacon for Boulder, Denver, and Colorado. Over the past year or so, the hotel has enjoyed a $2.5 million renovation, deftly weaving modern design and technology into the well-preserved core of the property. The ground level bar, for instance, adjacent to Spruce Farm & Fish, is now open to the lobby with bar seating, while a communal table docks opposite the entrance—a space designed for gathering, for work, or for people-watching with a cocktail. Some of the more show-stopping improvements, however, are on the mezzanine where conference rooms have been opened up with flexible frosted glass doors and the reception area has expanded to included 270-degree views of downtown and the flatirons. Guest room and event center updates—incorporating a balance of modern décor, classic artwork, and top-of-the-line connectivity—round out the hotel’s renovations.
As is Chef Payne’s wont, easily dulled dishes are anything but forgotten features; each longstanding menu staple is tighter, neater, and more on point than before—subtle proof that the experienced culinarian dotes on every dish on his menu, regardless of its tenure.
Of primary interest to DiningOut, of course, were the updates to the three onsite culinary/bar concepts: Spruce Farm & Fish on the main level, The Corner Bar on 13th and Spruce, and License No. 1 on the lower level. To rejuvenate the culinary program at all three, Day hired well-vetted Executive Chef John Payne—a man with towering credentials from Seattle to San Francisco, including a stint at nationally lauded The Herbfarm. Payne is an unassuming man, whose keen focus and energy is on his food; no hint of ego strikes when you chat with him about the fish he got in that morning, and how it landed in the revamped Fish and Chips on Spruce’s menu, or how the Palisade peach and shortcake dessert was a fun-loving exploration of what the later season would offer. His goal is simple: Keep it simple.
But simplicity does not preclude quality, and Payne has been keen to revisit some of the sourcing choices made by previous kitchen staffers—including the introduction of Colorado striped bass in the ever-popular Fish and Chips and the introduction of a Colorado Blackberry-Braised Pork Shank. One of Payne’s hallmarks is reigniting Spruce dishes that have been mainstays for years—including the perennial “chicken dish” that is often in danger of becoming stale on restaurant menus; while the Half Chicken at Spruce is moist with cracklin’ skin, the star is undeniably the warm farro salad that accompanies it—an herbaceous, citrusy blend of lemon, fennel, and arugula flanked by a meaty mushroom jus.
Payne has also given ample line time to seafood—a challenge, by his own admission, in a landlocked state, but something the public is craving. To wit, he offers a bounty of the sea-studded Bouillabaisse, buttery Scallops atop inventive cauliflower “couscous,” and rotating specials that give Payne and his team the opportunity to have some fun. Recently, he showcased a plump Opah with mango; “It’s got some Hawiian influences,” he mentions casually, but you can see him light up at the possibilities. I’m not sure Spruce has seen this kind of flavor invention before.
Naturally, the kitchen has honed its long-fired classics, including the Center-Cut Filet Mignon, the Steak & Fries, and of course, the House-Smoked Prime Rib. But as is Payne’s wont, these easily dulled dishes are anything but forgotten features; each one is tighter, neater, and more on point than before—subtle proof that the experienced culinarian dotes on every dish on his menu, regardless of its tenure.
Naturally, these updates extend to The Corner Bar, where more casual fare holds sway—though many of the dishes can be found at Spruce as well. Seafood-heavy apps like the Tuna Trio and Blue Crab Cake are always popular, while the juicy burgers of Boulderado renown are consumed with gusto. Payne says his next goal is to redouble the kitchen’s effort on License No. 1, where guests have always been able to experience exceptional mixology (ask for Vince and get the Vieux Carré), but haven’t always seen much in the way of culinary offerings.
Another sign the Boulderado and its rainbow of flavors is still flying high? “Our brunch is packed,” Payne says with a sly smile. “And we’ve decided to expand it to weekdays.” For anyone who’s ever craved a table for classic AM indulgences—without an hour-and-a-half wait—this is most definitely a boon; from Pork Carnitas Burritos to a classic Waffle topped with seasonal berries and whipped cream, Spruce delivers for just about every brunch palate out there. Bonus: Brunch runs through 3pm, so no need to set the alarm to get your fix.
Undoubtedly, Day and Payne will continue to tweak, adjust, update, and hone as the years march on. But if the grace of this most recent transition is any indication, we can expect the monumental Boulderado to be serving a satisifed community for decades to come. Cheers to that!
Hotel Boulderado is located at the corner of 13th and Spruce Streets in downtown Boulder. Visit them online to book a room, or visit Spruce, Corner Bar, and License No. 1 to peruse menus and make a reservation.
Jeffrey Steen, Managing Editor