Extended-stay hotels in Denver: Catbird in Rino makes them cool again

Denver-based Sage Hospitality Group wants to make these types of hotels cool again, starting with its first extended-stay property, Catbird, which opened in RiNo in August.

“If you look across the world today, it’s dominated by very traditional concepts, all of these very generic suburban hotels that have a kitchen in the room. That basically checks the box for being an extended-stay hotel,” said William Balinbin, who is the principal of development for Sage Investments and oversaw the Catbird project. “The first (extended-stay hotels) were built in the 1980s and, for more than 40 years, no one has done anything new. When you look at the broader hotel industry, there’s been a lot of change — and for good — but that hasn’t happened in extended-stay.”

While breathing new life into the outdated extended-stay hotel concept, Sage also drew inspiration from short-term vacation rentals offered on platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo.

Though travelers get more of the conveniences of home by booking a house or a condo through these sites, they also miss out on some of the benefits of staying in a hotel — perks like a pool and hot tub, fitness center, housekeeping and on-site restaurants. Short-term vacation rentals can also be pretty hit or miss when it comes to service, cleanliness, host responsiveness and other elements of hospitality, Balinbin said.

Catbird fills in those gaps while maintaining the immersive neighborhood vibe and personality of an Airbnb.

“We just wanted to shake it up and be pioneers and really look at lifestyle hotels, look at the good parts of Airbnb and home-sharing and take the best parts of extended-stay hotels and really mix it all together and come up with this idea of Catbird,” he said.

Catbird’s walkable, public transit-friendly location is a major upgrade from traditional extended-stay hotels, which are often located in suburban office parks and accessible primarily by car. The new wedge-shaped building, located a block away from the 38th and Blake light rail stop, is surrounded by art galleries, breweries, restaurants and bars.

Another perk of the location is that Catbird’s 17,700-square-foot rooftop — which includes its bar and restaurant, The Red Barber, pool, hot tub, firepits, lawn games, stage and event space — offers panoramic views of the Denver skyline and the mountains beyond it.

“We want to be in neighborhoods where people want to live,” Balinbin said.

Catbird’s 390-square-foot studios also go way beyond the traditional hotel room, offering all the comforts of a vacation rental in the clever, space-saving style of a tiny home or a camper van.

Each studio (nightly rates starting around $175) has a lofted bed with space underneath for a system of large, pull-out closets and a convertible desk. The bed faces a massive picture window that also doubles as a TV — the pull-down window shade becomes a screen for the projector mounted above the bed. (The room layout and the lofted bed design are so unique that Sage even applied for a patent.)

In the corner, there’s a tricked-out kitchenette, complete with a sink, small cooktop, tiny dishwasher, refrigerator and freezer and a microwave that doubles as a convection oven. The kitchen is stocked with pots and pans, utensils, plates, a pour-over coffee maker, a cookbook and even glass food storage containers for leftovers. There are also miniature spices and seasonings.

“It’s all the things you functionally need to be able to really truly cook, especially for a month or more,” Balinbin said.

The rooms also have free weights and a yoga mat, plus a pull-out sofa sleeper for extra guests. There are free laundry facilities and supplies on every floor (and inside some of the larger rooms), plus water dispensers with sparkling and chilled water. The hotel also has long-term storage lockers and smart lockers for package deliveries.

The lobby is laid out like an open-concept kitchen and living room you’d find in someone’s house. To preserve the home-like feel, there’s no fixed front desk; instead, guests check in at on-site kiosks or on their phones.

The kitchen offers made-to-order breakfast, lunch specials and grab-and-go food and drinks, including a handful of prepared food items that guests can take back to their rooms and cook.

“The central focus is the kitchen counter,” Balinbin said. “When you go to someone’s home, everybody bellies up to the kitchen counter and that’s just where people feel comfortable.”

The ground floor is also home to small, private offices and a quiet den area with a library curated by Tattered Cover (there are also books in every guest room). Catbird’s “playroom” offers rentable bikes, skateboards, scooters, cameras, GoPros, games and musical instruments. Guests can also borrow a houseplant from the lobby via a special “rent-a-plant” program run by Denver’s ReRoot.

With Catbird, Sage hopes to attract long- and short-term business travelers, people who recently moved to Colorado, vacationers and even Denver locals. With the rise of remote and hybrid work arrangements, especially during the pandemic, they also expect to host travelers who work remotely, freelance or run their own businesses from the road.

“People love exploring the world,” Balinbin said. “And they can move into a place with their suitcases — for one month or three months or whatever — that’s fully furnished and has WiFi, TV and housekeeping. They literally don’t have to worry about a thing.”

In addition to nightly bookings, Catbird offers leases for guests who plan to stay more than 90 days, with rent ranging from $1,500 to $3,200 per month. Groups of up to 12 guests can also rent out Klee House, an 1890s home that Sage kept on the property.

Based on the early success of the Denver location and what the company’s leaders see as a huge void in the market, Sage, which owns and operates dozens of hotels and restaurants across the country, is already planning to build similar properties in Atlanta and New York City.

“People are tired of the same formula of the boring hotel brand, the boring room, the boring restaurant in the lobby,” Balinbin said. “People don’t want boring experiences anymore, they want something that’s really innovative and fun and where they wanna be and be seen.”

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