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 November 5, 2010

Holiday venues range from urban to homey

The mid-term elections have finally arrived and passed, leaving the denizens of Northern Colorado wondering where the heck October went. Indeed, the first serious winds of winter had blown away all the leaves of fall before Election Day and delivered a blustery reminder that the time for making holiday plans in upon us.

Even though the business of holiday parties remains flat, despite the fact that the Great Recession was recently declared over in June 2009, those who think they might want to host a seasonal fête had better get with it. Available options weren’t what they were last year, what with Fort Collins’ Lincoln Center’s remodeling now expected to stretch into next summer.

The Armory Event Hall on Mountain Avenue will be holding events through the end of the year, according to owner Amy Satterfield, but is under contract for sale in 2011.

Many other choices also remain open for consideration, venues with atmospheres from an urban speakeasy to home on the range. Even better, proprietors have ideas for how to ease guests into the rushing currents of the season, from holiday shopping to eating or even spontaneously tying the knot.

For starters, an old friend is offering new options.

“Originally we were going to have one big area for events and banquets in the basement,´ said Steve Levinger, who with his wife, Missy, owns and nurtures the Armstrong Hotel in downtown Fort Collins. “Instead we created three spaces with access from the street.”

In their original renovation of the historic hotel, the Levingers carved out a small event space by removing some of the interior rooms on the third floor.

“But mixing rooms and banquets was not ideal,” he said. “So we returned that space to rooms and this year transformed the basement into Mantz Hall – named for Charles and Carolyn Mantz who built the Armstrong Hotel – the Chandler Post Conference Room and Ace Gillett’s Lounge.” Gillett once owned both the Armstrong and The Northern Hotel.

The Mantz Hall banquet room, cleverly designed with big presentation screens hidden behind silky formal curtains, can hold up to 72 people. Its doors open up into Ace Gillett’s lounge and dining room, allowing for a flow in either direction. The flexible basement spaces that may be used together or separately fills in the missing pieces for the Armstrong. The hotel now has a kitchen and a place for guests to relax in the evening.

Those additions make the Levinger’s annual six-week Shop & Stay for the Holidays promotion – starting Nov. 15 and ending Dec. 30 – all the more appealing for those who book rooms at the Armstrong during that time. Some 40 downtown businesses, including restaurants, clothing stores, spas, salons, entertainment venues and gift shops, offer special discounts during the promotion.

“By coming and staying downtown for their holiday shopping, people can take the time for a leisurely stroll and see what Fort Collins has to offer,´ said Missy Levinger.

Steve Levinger added that their regular holiday shopper/guests from Denver have already made their reservations to come to Fort Collins, shop a little, dump the loot in the hotel room, then go out and shop some more.

While the offerings of the Armstrong have a kind of urban/subterranean feel, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch outside of Loveland continues to offer up bracing Rocky Mountain holiday fare, and Tapestry House in LaPorte makes it easy for those inclined to wed to do so almost as soon as the notion strikes.

For festive souls who fancy pumpkin pies baked in other ovens, and who have no interest in keeping the number for the Butterball Hotline (or the therapist) at the ready on Nov. 25, Sylvan Dale’s stress-free Thanksgiving buffet offers up all the traditional trimmings. No dishes to wash, no remote to fight over. Time out from the gridiron or from the family embrace is just a stroll away along the river.

Marketing manager Troy Clark noted that while company holiday parties have declined in the past couple of years, Sylvan Dale had one of its best summer seasons ever and expects to do well this fall.

“People aren’t traveling as far for their summer vacations and winter holidays,” he said. “We are close and beautiful. The three-day Thanksgiving getaway fills up fast every year.”

Like the Armstrong Hotel and Sylvan Dale, which have added value to a visit by subtracting holiday hosting hassles, Tapestry House has a deal for those who really do not want to go through the thrill of wedding planning: The Elopement Special. No chilly courthouse here, but a two-hour window of time to celebrate a wedding with 10 guests, officiant services by Happy Feet Weddings, and champagne for toasting.

Over the past couple of years, proprietors Bobbie and Mark Randolph had noticed an increase in “pop-up,” last-minute events, so why not facilitate that trend? Book 30 days out (appropriate for an elopement), and pick any available day. Plan further in advance, and the special is limited to Monday through Thursday mornings. Easy.

Winter markets for the holidays

If it were possible to catch a bit of summer good enough to eat, then the place to stock up would be at the winter markets: two of them in three locations in Fort Collins this year.

“We are starting our fifth year of winter market,´ said Gailmarie Kimmel of Be Local Northern Colorado, who, with Hill Grimmet, came up with the idea of matching holiday shoppers with vendors from the summer farmers’ markets. “In our second year, we started bringing farmers, chefs and vendors together to see what was possible to do in winter. In year four, we counted the number of people who came to our 10 markets from November to March. We averaged 1,800 per market. That meant 18,000 people and roughly $213,000 in the pockets of small producers.”

Grimmet noted two encouraging trends for the winter markets.

“There are new producers coming on the scene who weren’t here last year,” he said. “And farmers are revisiting the use of root cellars for the storage of root crops. We might see the development of more greenhouse farming.”

All good. Now that farmers have an outlet they can count on, they can plant more late crops, often root crops and winter squashes. Poultry, beef, eggs and cheese know no season, nor do salsas, dried beans and baked goods.

The original market featuring 40 vendors, in the Opera Galleria, opened Oct. 30 and will run twice a month until April. A second venue will open in the lobby of the Northern Hotel on Nov. 13. And on Nov. 7, the summer market from Harmony Road and Lemay Avenue moves into the Foothills Mall space once occupied by B. Dalton Bookseller.

Books to beets. Perhaps a giant local food court would do the old mall good.

Jane Albritton is a contributing writer for the Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

The mid-term elections have finally arrived and passed, leaving the denizens of Northern Colorado wondering where the heck October went. Indeed, the first serious winds of winter had blown away all the leaves of fall before Election Day and delivered a blustery reminder that the time for making holiday plans in upon us.

Even though the business of holiday parties remains flat, despite the fact that the Great Recession was recently declared over in June 2009, those who think they might want to host a seasonal fête had better get with it. Available options weren’t what they…

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