There is only one place to stay in Durango, the town's grandest living icon the Strater.
I arrived tired and travel weary. I strode into the Strater with mixed expectations; this hotel is renowned by the locals as not only a historical landmark, but as part of the life of this "Old West" town.
The Strater, in fact, has bridged the past into the present, bringing the grand quality of 100 years ago forward and merging it with modern technology and conveniences, all accomplished without any compromise in quality. The result is a perfect blending of the best of both worlds that has made the Strater not only a legend in its own time, but a true masterpiece of time.
Only one-step into the lobby, and I stepped back a century in time. It is incredulous.
I walk across the lobby and try to take it all in, and I am amazed by the style and grace. I simply could not have imagined the quality of craftsmanship and the attention to the smallest detail, all defying words.
After a moment of adjustment, leaving the weariness of travel and the bustle of the streets behind me, I find myself "snapped up" by my surroundings and proceed to the front desk. The staff match up to the environment with grace and style in action . . . professional, friendly and personal, I was clearly a welcomed guest..
I was attended to in detail, then offered a drink (they had me at hello . . . but now they really had me), and tending to my needs. Soon I had not one, but several staff all offering to make my night easy by helping to park my car, and getting me into the fully booked Mahogany Grille for dinner. There was not a table available, as the entire night was completely reserved, but somehow they got me in. To be honest, I had no doubts.
You won't get the typical hotel experience at the Strater; the staff is genuine and devoted to the guests and patrons. They have it down professionalism tempered with the personal touch, and its done with class and style. They clearly understand the importance of your experience from the moment you arrive.
That alone would bring me back to stay here.
I was escorted to my room by a young gent on staff, and where do I start? My room was chock full of gorgeous walnut antiques and marble topped tables; the room and doors were all trimmed and sculpted in wood that just amazed the eye. My bed was a massive structure with a solid headboard that had to be over five feet tall. And in the middle of the beautifully laid out bed was a large fresh fully opened red rose surrounded by ferns. It was a welcome clearly felt.
A small bottle of liquor was placed on the marble topped table, a well heard, "make yourself at home, and take a moment to have a drink on us". Actually, I can't remember my home making me this comfortable in a long time.
Every room has a diary, inviting you to author your own review; how many hotels would dare to do that?
1887 Henry Strater, a young 20-year-old pharmacist decided to build a grand hotel. Despite his youth, (he had to lie about his age; I understand this) and complete lack of experience he convinced family to loan him the money. He built the Strater House, which is so phenomenal, and yet to prove his youth and manhood, he built 50 rooms, not one of them with a closet! (Only a man would overlook that.)
1893 Henry leased the hotel to Mr. H.L. Rice and ran his own pharmacy out of the Strater. Henry and Mr. Rice had a falling out, and Henry built a second hotel, The Columbian, to spite him. Both hotels were lost to the Bank of Cleveland during the Silver Panic. Henry moved on to Denver, and the story goes that he later went to Cuba and became a "rogue" and tobacco merchant.
1926 Earl Barker, Sr. became the owner of The Strater, which started a family ownership that is now on it third generation, with Rod Barker as the current owner. Earl Barker, Jr. started the tradition of Victorian walnut furnishings, and the Strater has the largest collection of authentic American Victorian walnut furniture in the world.
Now the stories behind The Strater are best told by the Strater family, meaning anyone who works there, and you have to be there to get the full-bodied experience of the tales and a walk around.
When the Strater was first built, locals moved in during winter months. Rooms were 50 cents a night back then.
After settling in, I met up with my son, Justin, and we are off to the Mahogany Grill.
A local's tale of Good Cheer! by Justin Clifton
At first I was apprehensive because I knew The Mahogany Grille was my very favorite restaurant in town (I live in Durango.). I thought that somehow my personal bias would sacrifice some travel writers code of ethics. Upon further reflection I realized that if I were looking for the best place to eat in an unfamiliar town, I would want a local's opinion, someone who knew not only how good a place was, but how it compared to every other option available. Durango is a huge tourist attraction with a limitless supply of great restaurants. Your average Jo/Jane travel writer could truthfully give 5-star ratings to at least 15 establishments. But I've been to them all. So when I tell you that the Mahogany Grille is the absolute best of the best, you can believe it!
It's funny because I don't think of the Mahogany Grille as part of the Strater Hotel. I have an impression that hotel restaurants and lounges are a bit of an afterthought, something to throw into the mix to sell rooms. You know, kind of like a pool. A hotel pool is usually nice, but it's not a place you would go if you weren't a paid guest.
It is perfectly apparent from the moment you walk into the Mahogany Grille that you are in a special place. The décor is warm and inviting. Old West/Victorian tiles line the ceiling and walls. Beautiful and ornate patterns blend seamlessly around dark wood trim and comfortable deep red leather booths. The lighting is smooth and calming and a grand piano is featured in the center of the restaurant. If the piano is empty it is likely because two alternate musicians are playing soft jazz guitar in the corner.
The second thing you notice is the unfretted commitment to service. On the night my mother and I arrived at the restaurant we were greeted at the door by our hostess, Jamie. Immediately following a smile and hello the phone began to ring at the hostess station behind us. Jamie didn't even blink. Rather, she continued to greet us (as if she was totally unaware the phone was ringing) while someone from the back of the restaurant promptly shifted in to answer it. From that moment and until we were out the door hours later, you might have believed we were the only two people in the entire restaurant.
After being seated and before we could really peruse the menu, our waitress brought us two small glasses of delicious celebratory cocktails called "The Mahogany Cheer". This customary practice is one of my favorites because it signifies that you are in for an evening of total indulgence. We gave a toast and sipped drinks as we contemplated dinner. My mother liked the drink so much that she ordered the larger version actually she ordered two larger versions. She has attempted to snake the recipe from the owner for months now, but so far the owner has kept the secret.
The Food Fest
The menu has a variety of dishes ranging from steak, chicken, fish, and vegetarian. I have never known anyone who cannot find something they love here, and most often my friends and I are stuck between picking from the list of our personal favorites. Prices are very modest considering the quality, ranging from $10-$30 per plate.
We ordered one of my very favorite dishes, Butternut Squash with Pumpkin Ravioli. As I write this I can still taste it. The ravioli is covered in a light vanilla cream sauce that is slightly sweet. When you take a bite of the ravioli with a small portion of the pumpkin it sits upon your taste buds, a delicate balance of salty and sweet with subtle hints of cinnamon and vanilla. My mother ordered the Colorado Lamb Shank. This locally raised and grass fed lamb is tender and delicious. I knew how much she enjoyed it because after every slow bite she made that face like her tongue was so engaged in contemplating perfection that she could hardly force herself to chew and swallow.
Weeks after our dining fest at The Mahogany Grille I was speaking with one of the employees. I found out that in addition to wonderful customer service and satisfaction, the management has a similar deference to their employees. The staff gets paid exceptionally well, and they, along with any of their friends, receive dinners at 40% off anytime! This is a great restaurant run by great people! In the spirit of the Strater, it's all about the people experience, camaraderie, and good cheer.
If you come to Durango, Colorado DO NOT MISS The Mahogany Grille. Oh, and make a reservation; I'm not the only one who knows!
After a great night dining at the Mahogany Grill with Justin, and a well slept night in my room (the bed is so comfortable that you just cush right in), I took some time to explore the Strater and do a bit of snooping.
If you stay at the Strater, you must ask to meet Harold. He started on years ago and was hired to help renovate rooms.
He took me around the floors sharing stories about the hotel, telling me things that changed and things that didn't. Every room in the hotel is unique to itself, each with it's own personality. From the furniture and wallpaper, to the décor, each room stands on its own. Harold pointed out some of the remnants of the past; there are all kinds of little touches leftover from 100 years ago; as we walked and talked, Harold gave me the stories. So if your interested in how things were done way back when or hearing the colorful tales of times gone by and times going on now, ask for your own tour of the Strater. The Internet butler is "Ask Jeeves", I think the equivalent for the Strater is "Ask Harold"; he has his finger on the pulse of this hotel.
Rod Barker . . . owner of the Strater
I met with Rod, who turned out to be a rather unpretentious man, considering that he owns this museum of a hotel. He took the time to give me a brief low down on the hotel, and the work that goes into keeping the inspiration alive. I was not surprised when he told me that he renovates yearly, putting a quarter million dollars into the Strater annually to ensure that it lives on as a stellar hotel, keeping the legend living. He said it's not about the money: "The Strater is part of the heart and soul of Durango and it is my life. It's about the journey of over 100 years with the Strater and all the people who have stepped through the doors."
A Meeting Place
The Strater has been known down the ages for its hospitality and as a place of social gathering. It was a place where people could meet for just about any reason; to attend a nightly poker game put on by a pro, or a spot to lobby the daily issues, or for some, a place just to gather to talk or play games. There's a story about a madam in there somewhere.
The Strater was not only favored by the locals, but by some famous people as well, like Louis L'Amour, noted western author who always asked for the room above the Diamond Belle Saloon, where he could write to the tunes of honky tonk music drifting up from below. The music helped him to slip into the Old West days.
Other famous people who have stayed at the Strater include: J.F. Kennedy, President Gerald Ford, Steven Spielberg, the film crew from "Cliffhanger", Apollo 12 Astronauts, humorist Will Rogers, Robert Redford, Christy Brinkley, Linda Gray, Ambassador Firestone, and General Palmer. There are just too many too list, but you get the idea.
These days the Strater provides a place for everyone, whether you stay overnight or come by to spend a social evening. In the tradition of "home away from home" the Strater brings a flair for entertaining or have your party or event catered!
Rooms of Entertainment
The Strater offers a range of entertaining rooms, so really you just need to visit them all and find the place that suits your mood.
I was impressed by this, but it just seemed typical of the Strater to blend old-fashioned hospitality with a modern touch.
This room is just so cozy and warm; I could have stayed all night. I urge you while you are there to order the special Martini. If you don't care for Martini's, try the Strater's own creation, "The Mahogany Cheer".
Locals and patrons come here to listen to music, sample tasty drinks and meals, and just kick back with friends while musicians string off some tunes. The ambiance of the room just draws you in, so be prepared to settle in for the night.
Ragtime done like it was done back in the days from wenches in fishnet stockings to the honky tonk piano player you can join the nightly party. The Strater touts this room as a "Full Blast Experience", so if you are an "all in" kind of person you need to check this out.
The Pullman Room
It reminds me of being in a Pullman train car, with a built-in mahogany bar. The room has Eastlake style Mahogany, Victorian carpet, and is accessorized with mirrors and chandeliers.
The Oak Room
A banquet room next to The Mahogany Grille.
The Centennial Room
The Strater’s newest creation, this highly decorated “back room” features a walnut fireplace accented with a beautiful “Tiffany-style” stained glass garden vista. The ceiling is a mosaic of Bradbury wallpaper and is adorned with Mahogany beams and brass chandeliers. It seats about 40 and is graced with an elegant foyer topped with a 19th century crystal chandelier. Highlighting features of imported granites and intimate lighting make this room a place begging for a special occasion.
This is a turn-of-the-century theatre, ranked as one of the best in the nation. Try a night of vaudeville and melodrama if you're up for a new experience.
Activities - Durango is a lively town colored with history and charm. If you ask any of the staff at the Strater, they can give you personal recommendation based on your preferences. Here are a few nearby activities. The Strater website is loaded with suggestions for local outings and daytrips.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad 970/247-2733
Mesa Verde National Park 800/449-2288
River Rafting 800/259-3461
Bar D Chuck Wagon 970/247-5753
Sky Ute Casino 970/563-3000
Dalton Ranch 970/247-8774
Piñon Hills 505/326-6066
Sleigh rides and skiing are seasonal. Other activities include: Horseback riding, kayaking, biking and jeep tours, and fly-fishing. I would suggest talking with any Strater staff member or the locals to get a more personal opinion on what to do in Durango.
I've never known anyone who stayed in Durango who didn't have a good time. I myself plan on going back again.
By Mari Clifton, Colorado Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Photos by Mari Clifton and courtesy of Strater Hotel.