The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado, is far more than just a luxury hotel, it is a surviving piece of history and the more you know about history, the more impressive this hotel really becomes, especially regarding the menu. This menu had more options than most restaurants today. What made it even more impressive was the fact how they were able to serve such a wide array of food especially for its time period.
In 1892 the only way to get to Colorado’s capitol was either by horse, train, or wagon. But a hotel opened on a triangle-shaped lot between the State Capitol and the elegant neighborhood of Cherry Creek. It was not just a hotel, but a grand work of art complete with fireplaces and bathrooms, a grand ballroom and a menu that was fit for a king with options and choices that were sure to please the taste buds. This hotel still stands today and is the longest continuously opened hotel in Colorado. On August 12, 1892, the hotel opened to the awed socialites of Denver, who were amazed by the iron grill work panels, volume of onyx and marble, stained-glass ceiling at the top of the eight-story atrium, the fine furnishings and numerous amenities. Since everything else about the hotel was grand, we can assume that the food they served was just as impressive as the architect and furnishings. Serving nothing but the very best, the Brown Palace initially provided meat, vegetables and cream from its own farms. It generated its very own electricity, had its own incineration system for garbage, and its own artesian well to provide water. Let us dive in and look at how and why the Brown Palace was able to serve such an extreme wide array of food during the very start of the 20th century, by looking at in terms of cultural, environmental, and economic factors.
Work started in 1888 on the Italian Renaissance structure, using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone for the building’s exterior. The Hotel was built by and named after Henry C. Brown which opened its doors to the public in 1892, becoming one of America’s first fireproof structure and upon its completion was Denver’s tallest building. This hotel was really something special for its time and remains a standing timeless piece of history. Notable guests have included every President and celebrities like the Beatles. From numerous paranormal and ghost stories reported countless of times by staff and visitors, to even having a couple murders take place within its walls, this hotel has just about seen it all. Their food selection was just as diverse and unique, a menu from the hotel at the start of the 1900’s had nearly two to three times as many things on a menu that one would see today and nearly all the food items are things that we still enjoy to this day with the exception of a few things, and we will discuss why some of those dishes aren’t as popular today.
Now let’s explore some of what I and most of us would consider familiar items that are on the menu that we would see on a menu during modern settings and dissect them on several levels. From fresh fruit to breakfast foods such as omelettes , scrambled eggs with bacon, boiled eggs and pancakes, but it seems eggs played the most prominent role on the menu in terms of breakfast options, being it made up the vast majority of the breakfast menu options. The reason this might have proven true is because, according to the United States National Chicken Council, during the 1800’s to the 1900’s early poultry production consisted of many households having backyard flocks of dual-purpose chickens and as stated earlier the hotel did have its own farm that produced its diary and meat, so it could be very possible the reason eggs were dominating on the breakfast menu is because one they were easy to produce and two because the hotel had its very own supply. Next, I noticed the menu had quite the selection of seafood, especially for Denver a land locked city. I mean the menu really had an extensive list of seafood for its time, from trout, salmon, herring, cod, frog legs, mackerel, blue fish, and crab, it really is quite an impressive list of seafood. I noticed that for the period (1901) how were they able to transport all the fish that was not local? Refrigeration as we know it did not start until around 1910 so it was the invention of the ice box and refrigerated rail cars that made all this possible and economic development and rising incomes that lead to advances in the availability and quality of food. I then examined the meat selection and found it typical of what meat we would find on a menu today. For example, lamb chops, ham, tenderloin, sirloin, and hamburger steak. Refrigerated rail cars played a huge role in allowing us to transport our meats all over the country. There were, important technologies for shipping cattle carcasses and marketing cattle products were developed in the late 1800s by companies such as Cudahy, Wilson, and Swift. In the United States, the evolution of the cattle industry may be best illustrated by the large cattle drives of the 1880s, where cattle were trailed (walked) from the south-central United States to rail centers such as Dodge City, Kansas. The cattle were then transported by rail to urban centers like Chicago, where they were slaughtered then processed and sold to local buyers. That is one of the unique things about this time period is how fresh everything was compared with today where meat can sit around for longer periods of time because certain chemicals are added to the meat. Lastly on the menu the most prominent item was the potato. It looks like this was your guaranteed side item. This menu had potatoes galore; Potatoes Saute, Potatoes Fried, Potatoes Lyonnaise, Potatoes Baked, Potatoes German Fried, Potatoes Au Gratin, Potatoes Stewed In Cream, and that is not even the entire list of all the variations they have for the potato. Now this really got me thinking that either potato production was extremely high in the US or that Colorado had a steady supply of potatoes. According to the the Colorado Agricultural College in 1895 Colorado put in 37,000 acres of potatoes and produced three and one-half million bushels and ranked as the twentieth state in the Union in total potato production. Next year the state was twenty second. In 1900 it was twenty-third. In 1902 Colorado rose suddenly to sixteenth place in the Union. In 1903 she was tenth, and since that time she has held about that position. So that would explain why the menu had such an extensive list of different varieties of potatoes and that is because just before the 1900’s the state put in 37,000 acres of potatoes. With a depression on the rise you would never tell with the way the people at the Brown Palace Hotel got to enjoy food.
Now let us examine some of the more unfamiliar food items compared in terms with what we consume today and dissect those items on different levels. I noticed that calf’s brain was on the menu more than once and we typically do not see that today and that could be in part because we modern day people aren’t in the mentality that we need to use every piece of the animal and also do to advances in technology we have come to find that actually consuming cow brains can give you BSE aka Mad Cow Disease. I saw that tripe was on the menu (which is the lining of the stomach of various farm animals) now its obvious we do not consume tripe to this day because it sounds very unappealing but also there are so many more food options out there that it has made tripe obsolete. The decline in the popularity of tripe coincided with an increase in economic prosperity from the mid-1950s onwards. As poverty decreased an ingredient associated with austerity was rejected, particularly by a rebellious youth culture which moved against offal in general and tripe in particular. Then I wanted to understand why pigeon or squab was popular during this period and what made it unpopular. The pigeon’s descent into the proverbial gutter is hard to chart, but its fate appears to have been sealed by 1914. As the birds snacked in farmer’s fields along the way during their migration, hungry humans would pull the babies from the nest and cook them for a quick meal. People not only stole the babies but shot the adults from the sky. Deforestation and over hunting drove them to extinction in just a little while.
From a rich and extremely unique history, to beautifully stunning architect, to a diverse range of elegant food, this hotel seemed way ahead of its time. When you dissect what is on the menu you come to understand a much broader picture and connection between things and how and why certain things were popular in some areas as opposed to others. Today, while the Brown Palace Hotel may be dwarfed by the surrounding modern skyscrapers, its reputation and food is no less grand than it was over a century ago.