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Ghosts Busted

Beverly Stephen - December 2013

Estes Park, Colorado—Some 800,000 tourists a year tromp through the venerable Stanley hotel, looking and listening for something that will send a shiver up their spines. A few even pay extra to stay in the most haunted quarters, such as Room 217, once occupied by Stephen King. (Yes, The Stanley inspired the fictional Overlook Hotel in The Shining, but the movie was not filmed there. And the new sequel, Doctor Sleep, is generating more interest.) Did the footsteps of a ghost really cause the floor to creak or did the 100-plus year old building just settle? Did that closet door close by itself? Is that the sound of children playing coming from the fourth floor? All this hullabaloo can make the lobby seem a little like Disneyland. Besides all the ghost stories, there’s a Stanley Steamer parked right inside the main door. Yes, F.O. Stanley, the hotel’s builder, also invented the steam-powered automobile, thus establishing himself as a pioneer of automotive tourism. And even he would probably be surprised, if not dismayed, at the sheer numbers of cars in the parking lot and congesting the village streets.

Quiet, please! For the past year and a half, The Stanley has been working on putting The Lodge next door on the map as a quieter alternative. Positioning it as a 40 room bed-and-breakfast, the hotel hired innkeeper/pastry chef Midge Knerr to emphasize the historic charm of the neo-Georgian building, built in 1909 and originally used as a summer retreat for the wealthy. She cossets guests every morning with a dozen sumptuous pastries—croissants, Danishes, blueberry scones, banana/walnut madeleines, sticky buns, cinnamon doughnut holes—whatever strikes her fancy. “I call this Danish with Parmesan a haystack because it looks like a Monet painting,” she says. “I make doughnuts for the main dining room, so I use the doughnut holes here.” She also makes a banana/peanut butter/whole wheat dog biscuit for four-legged guests. “We’re very dog-friendly,” she explains.

This summer, on Friday and Saturday nights, executive chef Richard Beichner, who has been working on revamping the menu at Cascades, the hotel’s signature restaurant, began offering a chef’s dinner series focused on regional meats, fish, and produce. The $65 four course menu is limited to 20 people at one seating per night in contrast to 250 covers in Cascades.

When he was hired in 2011, Beichner was also charged with upgrading the wine list. He accomplished that in short order, winning the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence first in 2012 and then again in 2013.

The other big change at The Stanley was the installation of the Whiskey Bar, a 1909 37-foot antique Rothschild bar, shipped in from Ohio and reassembled on premise. “Rothschild was a company based out of Cincinnati that was known as the premier maker of bars in this country—all handcarved and made of solid wood,” explains Dan Swanson, The Stanley’s vice president of e-commerce. This antique, handcrafted in the same year the hotel was built, enhances the lounge area by giving it a historical anchor. “Since it was remodeled, we have more than doubled revenue at the bar,” Swanson says. The whiskey collection itself is impressive and growing—640 at last count, including a handful of Japanese brands. “We hope to get to 800,” says food and beverage director Ian Lane, of the staggering selection displayed on backlit shelves flanking the bar. “We believe we’re the largest whiskey bar west of the Mississippi.”

And why whiskey?

“The old-fashioned booze goes with who we are.”