Monday, February 29, 2016

Denver Beer and Connecting with Friends

It was day two of my press trip with SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver and Infinite Monkey Theorem Wine.

We had tasted and paired the wine on day one, and now it was time to check out some more food and beer.

Our schedule didn’t start until 9:30 a.m. so we got to sleep in a bit, which was much needed after the late night.

We got started by all meeting for breakfast. The SpringHill Suites offers a nice hot breakfast to begin with, and the chef from the Degree restaurant next door brought us some scones and treats to go with it.

After breakfast, we all piled back into our limousine to hit some of the breweries of Denver in the nearby LoDo and RiNo Art District.

Even though I don’t drink beer, the tours were fun and informative as we went through Wynkoop Brewery, Falling Rock Tap House, and Epic Brewing.

We then went back to the SpringHill Suites to say goodbye. Most of the group was heading home, but I decided to stay another day.

Since I was finished with the press group, I was able to make more plans for my last day in Denver.

The first was with Jesse Davis, Director of Public Relations for the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau.

We had a nice talk about all the improvements coming to the city, including a train directly from the airport.

After Jesse left, I headed to Avanti Food and Beverage to meet up with Chris Moose Koons, whom I had met during a trip to Colorado. He does marketing for Peach Street Distillers, a favorite artisan distillery of mine.

We had kept in touch over the years and I was glad to hear the company was doing well. We toasted to it with the Peach Street Gin.

He took me around Avanti Food and Beverage, a very interesting concept.

They had all types of food booths as well as a bar, set up with general seating in between. The seating ranged from tables and chairs to couches and loveseats.

Avanti also has a great rooftop with terrific Denver views.
We left together and he dropped me off at Amato’s Ale House.

I’d known my dinner partners for more than half their lives, but hadn’t seen them in a few years and not together in more than five.

Catrina and Christian Thompson, and Christian’s boyfriend Stephen Bass, had all played junior tennis while I was covering it and then later on played for (and graduated from) Notre Dame.

Catrina had ended up back at Notre Dame as an assistant coach while Christian was now the Head Coach of the University of Denver. As luck would have it, Catrina was visiting Denver with her boyfriend Matt the weekend I was there.

I had a glass of wine at the Ale House while I was waiting for my friends. It was so great to see them and catch up. Although most of my writing now is travel and not tennis, I am grateful for the relationships like these I’ve made and kept.

I also have to give a shout out to the Ale House’s Four Cheese Penne.

Christian and Stephen brought me back to the SpringHill Suites.  

I went straight to sleep when I got back. I had an early flight to head home.

The trip ended as good as it began, with my second straight upgrade on American Airlines and looking forward to visiting Denver again sometime soon. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wine, Dine and Fun in Denver

My press trip invitation from Zimmerman Public Relations was very different than any I had received, but it definitely peaked my interest.

The trip was a collaboration between SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown and Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. It was only two days long and it sounded like a lot of fun, so I cleared my schedule.

I was one of the first to arrive in Denver, a city I hadn’t visited in a few years.

It had been a while since I’ve stayed at a SpringHill Suites and this one was even nicer than I had remembered.

The lobby was very warm and welcoming, as was the staff. I would learn that the staff here was especially friendly as they were all students from the Hospitality School at the Metropolitan State University.

The school was right next door and there was a very unique partnership between this SpringHill and Metropolitan. Not only did the hotel employee many students, but profits from the hotel also went into scholarships at the school.

The relationship of SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver did not end at the front desk. 

Degree Food and Drink was also next door to the hotel and served as its only restaurant.

I had a delicious lunch at Degree with the staff from Zimmerman while we waited for the other guests to arrive.

My room was ready right after lunch and I settled in since we had some free time.

I was quite impressed with the suite, one large room with a divider between the living room area and the king sized bed.

The ladies from Zimmerman had left us all a big selection of goodies, ranging from snacks to samples of Infinite Monkey wine, and even a hangover kit for those of us who ended up indulging too much during our night time activities.

As I glanced at the schedule I realized here was a very good chance of that!

We met in the lobby at about 5:00 pm. It was the largest group of journalists I remember ever traveling with.

Within the group was Kristen Hanson. We had traveled together on quite a few trips and had become friends over the years. It was great to have a chance to catch up between the festivities.

We all hopped into the oversized limousine and headed to Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery

I was one of the few who already knew a bit about the company having attended their Swine on the Mine event at the Aspen Food &Wine Festival.

This winery is a very unique “urban winery,” located in a factory in the city and using some unique wine making. 

They are also known for their canned wine, still delicious using a special method to keep the wine from taking on any aluminum flavor.

My previous experience with Infinite Monkey had only been about “white or red?” but I soon learned this company has drastically expanded their bottles and cans, including the addition of a bottled sparkling wine and a canned pear cider.

We left the winery and returned to SpringHill Suites for a unique “Can & Cheese Dining Experience.” Cheese was a huge underestimation of the spread we saw.

The chefs at Degree had whipped up a wonderful selection of pairings with the Infinite Monkey Theorem wines that included Black & Blue Sliders with the Red Wine and Brown Butter Pouchettes with Rose.

After sampling some desserts with the Pear Cider, we headed out for some cocktails and popular Denver nightspots.

Our first stop was at Beatrice and Woodsley. It teetered on the whimsical with toilet paper on the bathroom walls and a community sink outside the restrooms, but it was also quite formal in some ways.

The cocktail menu was unique and enjoyed some interesting play on words. I had, for example, the Violet, You’re Turning Violet, a reference to a line in the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory movie.

It was a concoction with house-infused Violet Vodka, made with teas, blueberries, and ginger, then covered with lemon juice.

We finished our drinks and then headed to The Blake StreetVault in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. Despite the very decorative front of the building, it had a classic pub fee inside.

What we didn’t know until after we got our drinks was the place had a very long history that included ghosts. We took a tour through the basement and vault, where we heard the story, but had no sightings.

We returned to the SpringHill Suites Downtown after midnight.

I was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t made it to our last stop, Linger, as it had been a favorite of mine on my last trip to Denver

Unfortunately, they were closing earlier than we could get there.

I settled into my very comfortable king suite, resting up for another full day in Denver.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rock Hall and More in Cleveland

I always relish trips with hotels and resorts because they keep the schedules light so you can enjoy their accommodations.

Westin Cleveland Downtown had brought me to Ohio to write about their equisitely renovated property.

I had a leisurely first day exploring and day two was about checking out a few of the top sites. I was especially looking forward to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I slept in and hit the gym at the Westin Cleveland. They had spared no expense in the remodeling and stocking the fitness studio with state-of-the-art equipment, televisions, headphones, and even water and towels.

After a pilates workout, I went back to the room to shower and order my breakfast from room service.

I had a yogurt parfait with lots of berries, as well as an order of blackberry pancakes.

My first stop of the day was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I was getting a private tour from Director of Communications Shauna Wilson.

The excitement was mounting as I got closer and closer to the building, which reminded me a bit of the Louvre.

Outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sign dedicating this spot as the “Birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

These dedication is due to one person, Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey who used the term “rock and roll” for the first time in 1951.

Once inside, I found Shauna and the tour began. Every time I walked past something, I would be more and more amazed.

I stopped to text a picture of Jerry Garcia’s guitar to my brother, a true Deadhead, then marveled at the Inductee Class display.

On every turn, there was something remarkable, as you can see from just a sampling of the photographs (more below the text)

I could have easily spent the entire day in the Rock Hall, but I also wanted to get to the Great Lakes Science Center, which was right next door.

I was glad I did leave some time as it was another impressive museum, with lots of interactive displays for kids of all ages to enjoy.

I especially loved the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, dedicated to astronaut and Ohio native John Glenn.

I walked back to the Westin Downtown Cleveland the long way, enjoying a beautiful day.

I had worked up quite an appetite exploring so I decided to have an early dinner.

I was back at the Urban Farmer for dinner and just as impressed as I had been the day before. My dinner started with a bread tray unlike one I had seen before.

I had my own can-sixed corn bread as well as some lightly salted rolls that had a bit of a Bavarian pretzel quantity. While I was tempted to feast on these and cancel my dinner, I’m glad I didn’t.

The smoked chicken with green wheat, date, and rapini was delicious with a side of the Roasted Foraged Mushrooms.

I managed to save room for the S’mores Tart and was glad I did before I headed up to my room for the last time.

In the morning, I grabbed a veggie frittata and housemade English muffin for breakfast before heading to the airport. It had been a great stay at the The Westin Cleveland Downtown and I knew would be heading back to this city again soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Welcome to Cleveland with Westin Downtown

After a major renovation, The Westin Downtown Cleveland offered to flew me to the Ohio city to write about the hotel.

It had been years since I had even been there, and I was anxious to see what the city was doing in preparation for the 2016 Republican National Convention, so it didn’t take me long to accept the opportunity.

It was my first time flying into Cleveland and I quickly learned that this town has its priorities straight. It’s all about the food and the music, with top chefs producing the former and music’s most famous museum hosting the latter.

A sign greeted me the minute I walked out the door of the airport announcing the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Exhibit. (The 2016 Exhibit will be up soon and I look forward to seeing it.)

As much as I would have loved to go straight there, I was waiting for my ride from Christopher Moore of the Cleveland Tourism Board.

I made a quick stop at The Westin Cleveland Downtown to check into my room. The hotel is indeed impressive, with over 1,500 works of art added during its $20 million renovation.

My one-bedroom suite was also magnificent and offered breathtaking views of the Cleveland waterfront.

The living room was modern and well-equipped for business or pleasure.

The only thing I didn’t like was something I’m seeing all too often in hotels – the lack of a bathtub. I will never get used to this trend.

I had a little while to unpack before Christopher picked me up for lunch.

I had hoped to get in touch with Michael Symon, who had told me to come visit Lola when I interviewed him, but he was not available and Christopher suggested I might like Greenhouse Tavern. He was not wrong.

Greenhouse Tavern was, ironically, right next to Lola on East 4th street. This pedestrian-friendly street is closed to traffic and open to outdoor seating for fun restaurants, music, and comedy clubs.

Jonathon Sawyer had won a James Beard award for Greenhouse Tavern, with indoor and outdoor seating and a very relaxing feel.

A cocktail seemed appropriate to start and I made a great choice ordering the Pineapple-Chili Margarita. It was flavorful, but not overly spicy.

Everything on the menu looked wonderful and I took some ques from my host.

For an appetizer, we shared orders of the Crispy Chicken Wings Confit, a beet salad, and Pomme Frites, both of which were excellent. Then it was on to the main dish.

The Pulled Barbecue Mushroom sandwich has been recognized throughout the country by vegans and vegetarians. With the barbecue sauce and Carolina coleslaw is sounded amazing.

I did keep it out of the vegan category by adding some cheddar, but it’s hard for me to turn down cheese on anything.

After lunch, I decided to walk back to the hotel so I could explore the area a bit.

I really liked East 4th Street and knew I’d like to come back some time to enjoy a night of exploring the Martini Bar, Lolas, and a show or two.

I took a walk through The Arcade. At first I thought it was some type of entertainment venue, but I soon learned it was more of a mall, with shops and restaurants, in a historic building.

I then went through the 5th Street Arcade, where I enjoyed browsing through the smaller shops – and picking up some treats at Colossal Cupcakes.

My chocolate with cream cheese frosting cupcake didn’t last long when I got back to the room.

I got some work done and then headed down to the Urban Farmer, the restaurant at The Westin Cleveland Downtown dedicated to locally sourced food.

I often sit at the bar when dining alone and this one was very friendly. I was overwhelmed with choices, starting with the cocktail menu, but I didn’t have to drive and I had nowhere to go, so I figured I’d take my time.

My first libation was the “Devil in a Blue Dress.” It is made with infused Mount Gay Rum with blueberries, lavender, simple syrup, and soda. I loved the fruit and floral combination.

There were so many things on the menu that sounded delicious I decided to order a few small things rather than a full dinner.

I didn’t realize my “small” dishes weren’t quite so tiny, but I did my best not to leave too much.

The vegetable salad was a fresh, unusual, and tasty start. It was followed by a creamy mac and cheese, and a cheesy broccoli kohlrabi au gratin.  
It’s rare that I turn down dessert, but I was just too full. Besides, I had another chance to eat at Urban Farmer the next day.

I went up to my room and watched a bit of television before dozing off to sleep in my Westin Heavenly Bed®. It wasn’t easy as I was quite excited about my upcoming private tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.