The mountains are looking a little more stylish heading into summer, as new boutique hotels and independent restaurants open from ski towns to the Sand Dunes.
Perhaps most surprising among the new destinations — in terms of design, food and hospitality — is a renovated 132-year-old hotel in Ouray, once a miners settlement, now known for hot springs and dramatic mountain backdrops (and nicknamed accordingly as the Switzerland of America).
In Ouray’s historic center, The Western Hotel & Spa is an original, three-story wood structure, built as a boarding house during the town’s mining era. Over the last two years, Denver-based Zeppelin Hospitality carefully restored the hotel to preserve much of its 19th-century character while bringing it firmly into the present. And, as of May, The Western has officially reopened.
Guests and visitors will find a new saloon and wood-fired restaurant on the main floor, 16 guest rooms upstairs and a subterranean spa set to open later this summer.
“It’s kind of like an accident of history that this pretty modest boarding house was still intact,” said Kyle Zeppelin, who developed The Source, among other projects in Denver, before starting his new hospitality company and branching out to the mountains. “The challenge with the renovation was really to take it back to its original glory, peeling back layers that didn’t really have too much to do with where it started.”
When The Western opened in 1891, Ouray was still experiencing a heyday, shortly before the silver crash that came just two years later. The hotel building has stayed in operation, in one form or another. But when Zeppelin and his team came across it during the pandemic, they felt called to take on another project similar to their transformation of a late 19th-century foundry in Denver’s River North Arts District.
The Source Market Hall opened in 2013, a decade before Zeppelin Development and its new hospitality arm made their way farther West.
“What we’ve learned along the way (developing in Denver): It’s hard to build character into one generation of development,” Zeppelin said. “Really it takes generations and layers … to really make a great place.”
In late 2022, Zeppelin sold The Source Hotel + Market Hall for $70 million. Earlier this year, he opened the A-Frame Club in Winter Park. That hotel features 31 striking, triangular cabins clustered behind a saloon (both A-Frame Club and The Western are united by their culinary programs created by Michelin-trained and former Denver chef Nic Weber).
After selling his major Denver hotel and restaurants, Zeppelin said, his company is focusing on destinations that might have previously been overlooked in terms of luxury or boutique hospitality offerings. So while Winter Park and Ouray have hotel rooms to spare, Zeppelin thinks he can fill a niche in the style and quality of their accommodations.
At The Western, leather-upholstered beds, Colorado-made quilts, wood rockers, working fireplaces and free-standing tubs add to the refreshed Old West ambiance. The saloon’s floor is covered in an original painted mural, while the hotel’s walls are covered in patterned wallpaper.
Nods to regional history continue on the restaurant’s menu, where Weber, the hotels’ culinary director, is using wood fire to make most dishes. He hopes to start to tell a story of Western cuisine and its various influences through these mountain restaurant menus, serving dishes such as sous-vide bone-in short ribs, succotash served with Oaxacan mole and Ute tribe blue cornbread smothered in duck confit gravy.
“We’re trying to bring that attention to detail that comes with fine dining without as much of the pretension,” Weber said.
The only thing missing currently from the hotel’s full lineup is its spa, which should complement Ouray’s existing town and private hot springs, Zeppelin said. By summer, The Western’s cavernous basement will be transformed with hot and cold saltwater plunge pools plus private rooms for spa treatments.
Zeppelin envisions weddings and more group events taking place between the spa, hotel and restaurant. His hope is that travelers want to experience the remote San Juan mountains with a bit of luxury tacked on at the end of the day.
“To be able to bring (The Western) back to its original glory and beyond, that can be a draw, he said. “This was (about) taking an existing hotel and matching the features with the caliber of the town, the building itself and the mountains around it.”
If you go
The Western is now open at 210 Seventh Ave. in Ouray. Find room availability, rates and more information at thewesternouray.com.
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