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Pinkies up: High tea at altitude

Take your lumps (one or two?) at Denver's Brown Palace Hotel. At $22, it's one dainty deal.

January 14, 2007|Cynthia Mines | Special to The Times

Denver — THE Dom Perignon Champagne brunch ($179.95) was out. So was the seven-hour spa package ($450).

But taking tea at the majestic Brown Palace Hotel enabled me to be treated like royalty -- at least for a few hours -- for a comparative pittance. It's a post-holiday splurge that's at least affordable.

Monarchs from around the world and almost every U.S. president -- as well as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones -- have stayed at the Brown Palace, considered the finest hotel in the West when it opened in 1892. But a reservation for afternoon tea, with prices starting at $22, was all the entree I needed to feel at home in the elegant atrium lobby with its canopy of stained glass.

A harpist on the staircase landing offered a serene backdrop to a scene that has been re-enacted daily for more than a century: afternoon tea served on Royal Doulton bone china by waitresses trained in the fine art of English tea service.

I felt welcomed and pampered, even with two somewhat reticent nieces in tow. They brightened considerably when they learned "tea" actually meant an array of finger sandwiches, miniature cakes and their own pots of hot chocolate.

The signature buttermilk scones, tea sandwiches and artfully prepared sweets arrived aboard a three-tiered serving plate with the scones on the bottom, savories on the middle plate and an assortment of petit fours on top.

The top tier, of course, was the highlight. The selections change with the season and the whim of the pastry chef. One of our favorites was a layered concoction of white cake, kiwi and pear, and Bavarian cream topped with a delicate frosting flower. Other sweet offerings included lemon poppy-seed cookies, decadent chocolates, a tiny orange cupcake decorated in honor of fall, pumpkin cheesecake and nutty chocolate tarts.

There were so many, we couldn't eat them all.

While nibbling, I surveyed the balconies, which rose eight stories above us. Henry C. Brown set out to build a grand hotel for Denver, and his Italian Renaissance vision included creating the country's first atrium lobby and shipping white onyx from Mexico.

The hotel opened Aug. 12, 1892, the first guests paying $1 to $4 a night for one of the 400 rooms.

Denver and the hotel have changed in the last century. Hotel rates now start at about $300 a night. But some things remain the same: The Brown Palace is still luxurious; it is Denver's only Mobil four-star and AAA four-diamond hotel.

And the tea service is still wonderful.

Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St., Denver; (800) 321-2599, Tea served noon-4 p.m. daily in the lobby $22-$27. Reservations for weekend tea should be made well in advance, especially during holidays. Free historical tours of the hotel are at 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.

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