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Shake Up the Norm

Catch a glimpse of inspiring new spaces that ooze local charm and embrace the outdoors

By Beth Buehler

Junkyard Social Club_venues
Event at Junkyard Social Club in Boulder. || Courtesy of Junkyard Social Club

One happy outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is the shattering of archetypal meeting and event venue molds. Businesses, nonprofits, and local governments have put on their collective thinking caps and imagined all-new approaches, and we’re confident you will love the results just as much as Colorado Meetings + Events does.

For example, the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has been fully realized at the whimsical Junkyard Social Club in Boulder. In the same vein, vacant buildings considered eyesores by some are far from it in the hands of Non Plus Ultra, which elevates unused spaces with amazing results.


Sometimes a new approach to venues means considering destinations that aren’t typically on the radar for meetings and events. Such is the case for Frontier Drive-Inn, located in the southeast Colorado community of Center. Opened in 1955 as a traditional drive-in theater, the name was tweaked slightly to fit the reimagined hospitality destination after it sat unused for three decades before reopening last year.

Today, Frontier Drive-Inn has a restored neon sign and movie screen, as well as 14 attractive guest rooms in the form of 10 yurts and four hotel suites inside SteelMaster sheds. The original snack bar has also been revived and renovated to include a chef’s kitchen and seating for 25. New this year are the Skylo towers, 3D-printed adobe structures for stargazing.

In step with its history, Frontier Drive-Inn offers a summer film program that runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings through Sept. 23. While lounging on the lawn under the stars instead of in cars, attendees can watch classic, cult, and independent films falling under themes like “Really Fast Cars and Bald Strong Guys” and “Bugs, Bugs, and More Bugs.”

The accommodations are available for full or partial buyouts to host meetings and events. The developers behind the project, Denver-based Continuum Partners, held its corporate retreat at Frontier Drive-Inn, staying in the 14 lodging units and parking rented RVs and trailers on-site for additional amenities. Partner businesses in Center can assist by providing meeting space, catering, and additional activities.

“Frontier Drive-Inn serves as a gateway to the San Luis Valley and the surrounding region, as well as a gathering place for Coloradoans [or anyone] from near and far,” says Luke Falcone of Continuued, part of the team overseeing the Frontier Drive-Inn restoration project.

Another Denver-based company, Zeppelin Development, delivered something completely new but with a flashback effect. Situated on 3 acres, A-Frame Club in Winter Park features 31 A-Frame cabins; a saloon serving French alpine-inspired food and drink; and a heated outdoor deck facing Winter Park Resort. An event lawn with a fire pit extends the property’s ability to host groups.

In terms of style, a 1970s-inspired design aesthetic is woven into the stand-alone, 475-square-foot cabins that have a living room, kitchenette, and full bath on the main floor and a lofted bedroom with a desk and soaking tub. Original 1970s ski art and posters, old print advertisements, and photographs of Hunter S. Thompson by David Hiser are featured in the decor.

Small & Charming

What started out as pop-up gathering spaces on restaurant and hotel patios during the pandemic have become favorite choices for leisure and business occasions in both cities
and the mountains.

Annette at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora installed miniature greenhouses and a yurt to extend its dining space. Owned and operated by Caroline Glover, a 2022 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Mountain, the restaurant has since added a patio that can be enclosed during the colder months. Elsewhere in the Denver metropolitan area, heated winter igloos on the terrace at The Curtis, a DoubleTree by Hilton, double as communal areas for gatherings held in the adjacent Four Square Ballroom.

Located on the campus of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Hotel Maverick is bringing its snow globes and gondolas back to the rooftop patio of Devil’s Kitchen this winter. Warm blankets and heaters keep the inside atmosphere cozy, and a fire pit lounge area with festive lights gives groups a space to mingle.

Hotel Maverick’s snow globe and gondola private dining experience. || Courtesy of Hotel Maverick

“The rooftop activations at Devil’s Kitchen, including the gondolas and snow globes, are a unique way for our guests to enjoy the outdoors with our incredible views,” says Tammy Anderson, general manager of Hotel Maverick. “Enjoyed by locals and hotel guests alike, these spaces are immensely popular for family celebrations, groups, elopements, and engagements.”

The Gant Aspen’s heated igloo on the rooftop terrace of Molly Campbell Conference Center is transforming into the Golden Globe this winter as a nod to the property’s 50th anniversary. In addition to dazzling gold-themed decor in the six-person private hideaway, there are tempting drinks to order off a signature anniversary cocktail menu and 1970s throwbacks, including a Rusty Nail or Sloe Gin Fizz. Food is available through Pepperjack’s, located inside the conference center.

Empty to Activated

Non Plus Ultra energizes vacant historic and architecturally significant landmarks as event venues. The company expanded from the the Bay Area in California to Denver in 2021. Currently, Non Plus Ultra has Sports Castle, The Arch, The Brighton, and The Broadway in its Denver portfolio.

Held in the 35,000-square-foot Sports Castle on March 15, Feel Famous was hosted by Arvada-based MiHi Entertainment and sponsored by an array of local meeting and event suppliers. The theme “A Walk Through a Night of Fame” was brought to life on multiple floors, each designed to embody different aspects of fame and to showcase MiHi Entertaiment’s and its partners’ capabilities in an engaging and entertaining fashion for up to 500.

For example, the fashion floor was a chic and stylish haven that evoked thoughts of Parisian design and East Coast high society. Guests had their autographs printed on personal name badges, and video experiences compiled highlight reels of them walking the runway at a fashion show. On the influence floor, guests were invited to dance inside a smoky, laser-lit video booth and create Instagram and TikTok live videos all while a DJ spun records surrounded by a high-tech light show.

“Our Feel Famous event was nothing short of extraordinary, and the venue played a pivotal role in creating an unforgettable experience,” says Jeff Libby, owner of MiHi Entertainment. “The space was absolutely incredible, providing the perfect atmosphere for our innovative ideas to come to life. Its versatility and aesthetics exceeded our expectations, leaving our attendees in awe.”

The Brighton in the RiNo Art District has 30-foot ceilings and over 75,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space that can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees. Last holiday season, Non Plus Ultra offered “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience” as a turnkey option for corporate buyouts. Attendees were encouraged to appear in their finest clothing, and actors representing the British high society dressed in period attire, greeted guests, and interacted during the Regency-era event.

“The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience” at The Brighton. || Courtesy of Non Plus Ultra

Playgrounds With a Purpose

RiNo ArtPark at 35th Street and Arkins Court in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood is a powerful example of community collaboration. The $7 million, 3.5-acre space opened to the public in August 2021 and continues to add new features, most recently the Truss House, a performing arts and events venue that opened in June of this year.

 To make it happen, the RiNo Art District partnered with the Denver Public Library, Denver Zine Library, Focus Points Family Resource Center, RedLine Contemporary Art Center, Alto Gallery, and Denver Parks and Recreation. The group envisioned the adaptive reuse of two city-owned buildings and the creation of green space along the South Platte River.

Truss House, one of the adaptive reuse buildings, represents the final phase of construction and features a 3,700-square-foot open floor plan on the ground level that doubles as a meeting and event venue and performance space. Large doors on three sides allow access to the adjacent park, and the upper-floor mezzanine provides additional opportunities for groups.

“The Truss House is the result of countless conversations with our creative community and our neighbors about what they need and want from ArtPark,” says Charity Von Guinness, executive director of RiNo Art District. “We have an incredible concentration of creatives making experiential art here in Denver, but we lack safe, affordable, beautiful places to share that art with the community. We see the Truss House as an opportunity to offer a highly flexible, affordable performance space as well as a one-of-a-kind riverfront venue for private events.”

 In Boulder, Junkyard Social Club bills itself as “a rebel museum, adventure playground, and cool cafe for adventurous families and creative adults.” During the day, there are science experiments, junkyard art projects, and a coffee-house vibe. At night, Junkyard Social turns into a lively locale with performance art, comedy clubs, game nights, light bites, and a full bar.

Junkyard Social Club has 3,500 square feet of indoor space that includes a full-service bar and cafe, performance stage, second-floor private meeting space, climbing wall, indoor jungle gyms, reading nooks, and more. Glass garage doors open onto an additional 6,000 square feet of imaginative and useful outdoor space that is watched over by an antique airplane and 13-foot-tall junkyard giraffe sculpture.

Junkyard Social Club also can help with team building on topics such as exploring and developing outside-of-the-box design ideas and getting inspired and motivated for action. “When a company invests in team building and off-site meetings, an engaging environment that celebrates innovation and free thinking can get the creativity and connection going,” says Operations Manager Alexis Edens.

“Junkyard Social Club is the perfect venue for both quiet, intellectual strategy sessions as well as for free-spirited fun and team building,” she suggests. “We’ve worked hand-in-hand with corporations like Google and DMC Technologies, small businesses, and nonprofits to create a fresh and exciting event customized to meet their goals.”