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Colorado M+E Best of 2019 Winners

By Julie Scheff

It’s the 13th annual readers’ choice awards for Colorado’s meetings and events industry. An impressive group of planners, suppliers, venues and hotels are being applauded by readers, peers and clients for their valuable contributions. Hats off to our Best of 2019 readers’ choice awards recipients and runners-up!

It was lucky No. 7 for Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre as the Best Attraction in Denver Metro. So lucky that Red Rocks took home two other wins: Best Outdoor Meeting/ Event Venue and Best Meeting/Event Venue in Denver Metro (No Hotel). What makes it so lucky? Maybe it’s the wildlife and beautiful natural surroundings. “Red Rocks continues to be a natural wonder—there aren’t many venues around that provide a hillside full of deer while you’re having dinner with a band in the background. The occasional bear wanders through along with eagles, hawks, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes, skunks, rattlesnakes and rodents of many shapes and sizes,” explains Director of Marketing and Communications Brian Kitts.

“This was a big year in terms of food and beverage at Red Rocks. MillerCoors remained a partner; however, a bunch of new partnerships kicked in, including service of Colorado’s own Stranahan’s Whiskey and also Absolut Vodka and Altos Tequila.  And New Belgium came on board, which resulted in the first-ever Red Rocks-specific beer: the Kolsch-style Stage Rock Colorado Ale. Additionally, the venue brought on some local vendors for specific foods including Rolling Smoke Barbeque and Biker Jim’s Hot Dogs featuring elk, bison and more.”

The Broadmoor wraps up its yearlong 100th anniversary in style as the only other winner to rack up three awards: Best Historic Venue, Best Renovation Project and Best Hotel or Resort outside Denver Metro (More than 200 Guest Rooms). Whether it’s a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond dinner in the Penrose Room, checking out the Wilderness Experiences properties and activities, an afternoon of fun and games at Play or a tour of Seven Falls with a reception at restaurant 1858, the resort enters its next century poised to entertain and enthrall with great facilities and top-notch customer experience. Here’s an extra toast to classic dishes that also have celebrated 100 years: Broadmoor Pepper Steak Flambé, Crab Louis, Rocky Mountain Red Trout Amandine and Broadmoor Signature Lobster Cocktail.

VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau wins the Best Destination Marketing Organization (Town/ Area 25,000+ in Population) for the 13th consecutive year; this dedicated team has never been defeated in the category. As Denver continues to impress on national and international stages, it’s constant new additions to the downtown hospitality skyline like the dual-branded Le Méridien and AC Hotel, Staybridge Suites Denver Downtown, Hotel Indigo Denver, The Maven, Source Hotel + Market Hall, The Ramble Hotel, Kimpton Hotel Born and newly completed Hilton Garden Inn Denver Union Station that draw on the curiosity of groups and leisure travelers and bring repeat business to a city. Cherry Creek is also hosting more corporate events than ever with the opening of The Jacquard Hotel & Rooftop, Halcyon and Moxy Denver Cherry Creek in recent years.

Vail Valley Partnership has landed the Best Destination Marketing Organization (Town/Area Less than 25,000 in Population) a variety of times over the years. The focus since inception in 1964 has been serving as a regional Chamber of Commerce and pursuing destination sales and marketing and economic development for the nine towns in the valley. The partnership has eight signature programs and works with more than 870 local businesses (nearly 80 percent of the local workforce) to ensure visitors and groups to Vail Valley have streamlined, exciting and memorable events

It’s only fitting that Vail Mountain also takes home Best Attraction outside Denver Metro again. What was new in 2018? For the first time in 10 years, the mountain opened early for the 2018/2019 ski season due to great snow conditions. And, to stay on trend and keep up with the mobile craze, Vail Mountain debuted Emma—Epic Mountain Assistant— for guests to access weather, grooming conditions, planning information through departure and much more to learn about the mountain before arrival.

It was another well-deserved Best Event Décor/ Florist win for owner and designer Cindy Ollig and her team at The Perfect Petal. Here’s some inside scoop from Ollig regarding color, themes and quirks.
» What were the most popular colors requested for 2018? “Gold, champagne, amber! Half-tones are still in vogue, muted lavender browns, gold-rusts, pink-tans. The other trend was mixed foliages and greenery varieties.”
» What was a color that was not used much for events? “Turquoise. Which is fantastic, because I have rarely seen it done well.”
» What was the strangest thing requested? “Lifelike Game of Thrones event tied with and adult dinosaur party!”
» What was something you wished a client had ordered for an event, but didn’t? “Climbing wall sculptures in floral and branches.”  

It’s a three-peat for Catering by Design for Best Caterer in Denver Metro. The Denverbased caterer has expanded its brand to match the crafting and curating demands of the meetings and events industry. Our voters’ stamps of approval are in line with Catering by Design’s impressive awards won in 2018: International Live Events Association (ILEA) Esprit Award for Best Culinary Innovation, ILEA Denver IDEAs Award for Best Culinary Innovation and Best Catered Event, International Caterers Association CATIE Award for Best Signature Caterer for Best Multi-Day Event.

Boulder-based Spice of Life Catering + Events’ back-to-back win in the Best Caterer outside Denver Metro category can be attributed to constantly changing it up and looking for new approaches to classic events, cuisine and spices, of course. Pitch the truffle salt and ghost pepper, owner David Rubin’s team has declared that the most on-trend and ambitious spices for 2019 are black garlic, Szechuan pepper, black cardamom and white turmeric.

Who’s on first? That’s a loaded question for the Denver trio of Imprint Group, who took the award for Best Meeting/Event Planning Company, accompanied by the same runnersup as the previous two years, Convention Designs and ACCESS Colorado. They are leading the pack with consistent and outstanding performances. However if it’s the Best Destination Management Company category, then the roles are flipped and ACCESS Colorado is on first, and Imprint Group and Convention Designs earned the runnersup slots. But, just when you think you know who’s playing, Elite Entertainment took first place as Best Entertainment Agency after a back-to-back win by 5 Star Talent and Entertainment, who was a runner-up along with Imprint Group. Confused? Don’t be, it’s community and teamwork that keeps the competition fierce in Colorado.

Imprint Group welcomed Alpine Access, a destination management company serving Colorado mountain resorts, to the fold in late 2018 as a new division called Imprint Events Colorado Resorts. With additional offices in Orlando and Las Vegas, Imprint Group has provided destination management, entertainment and production services to clients in Colorado for nearly 50 years, and the merger now provides full-time presence in the mountain region.

We asked the team at ACCESS Colorado about their wackiest event and they answered a western shoot-out stunt show on an Old West movie-style set. “We had a custom script, actual guns, people falling off roofs, and the CEO of the client company played the role of sheriff. We had the entire group get ‘kidnapped’ by outlaws on the bus to the venue, our staff was ‘shot,’ and the group was ultimately rescued by the CEO sheriff. It was such a fun way to embrace the history of the area and get the entire group involved,” says Director of Sales Alex Lomas.

We also inquired about what dream event they would like to create with the other nominees. “A full-fledged Rocky Mountain National Park-themed concept. Roaming park rangers, event/park maps, national park signage, real wildlife encounters, etc. This ties greatly with the outdoor-inspired event trend, but so far no one has requested it!” he adds.

Elite Entertainment has more than DJs, lighting and photo booths; they take these usual tricks of the trade and truly amplify them. For a 2018 event, the theme was fire and ice and a DJ was suspended over the dance floor on a hanging stage. “We also did a big production at Coohills where we lit up the entire pedestrian bridge that transformed into a venue,” shares Office Manager Josi Coleman.

It was a golden year for Jillian Livingston, owner and creative director of Eclectic Hive. When it comes to specialty rentals, her team outshone the competition in the Best Specialty Rentals category. We asked Livingston how she best used rose gold for an event in 2018, as this was the biggest color and décor trend for the year. “Rose gold mirrored bar menus, rose gold and marble bars and food stations, rose gold accent tables, rose gold pillows, wall of fame that included all employee names etched into rose gold bricks that lined the building wall, rose gold balloon installation (coming out of a baby grand piano), rose gold ribbon cutting and rose gold mirrored glass invitations,” she says.

Ideally situated in one of Denver’s newest and most urban community gathering spots is From the Hip Photo, first-time winner of Best Photographer/Videographer. A husband-and-wife duo, Nina and Danny de Zayas, with a full-time team of five have become known for running a business that offers clever alternatives to static shots. A plus is they have regular weekday hours where you can drop in, a rarity in today’s virtual marketplace.

There was another upset in the technology category, PSAV took home top prize for Best Audio-Visual Provider. With 40 partner locations throughout the Front Range and a handful in the mountains, the company is uniquely in touch with trends and venues and able to both localize and amplify meetings and events.

Halcyon made a splash by knocking off a four-year consecutive winner for Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space in Denver Metro (200 or Less Guest Rooms). Maybe it was the rooftop pool and bar or the Gear Garage? The views of Cherry Creek, downtown Denver and the surrounding Rocky Mountains are stunning and event perfect. What’s the trendiest drink to order for your next poolside event? It might just be the Halcyon Horizon, a signature combination of Halcyon Rum, Luxardo apricot liqueur, lime juice and honey syrup. Yum!

In the July 2018, Colorado Mountain Express announced that its name has changed to Epic Mountain Express, which pairs well with owner Vail Resorts’ well-known Epic Pass. Driving home the top prize for Best Transportation Provider, Epic Mountain Express offers 16 scheduled departures out of DEN going door-todoor to all hotels, condos, private residences and more in Summit and Eagle County. Both luxury and economical transportation options are available for groups with a fleet of 250 vehicles.

For the fifth consecutive year, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa wins for Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space outside Denver Metro (200 or Less Guest Rooms) by constantly upgrading and offering top quality. “We are nearing the end of a pool expansion project, including a large addition to the pool deck, a permanent pool bar and cabanas. Really, the focus has been on bringing the service levels up and highlighting the sustainable property with a focus on experience, including outstanding culinary (our very own Wagyu beef herd) and a wide array of outdoor mountain activities such as stables and a spa,” says Senior Director of Sales Thad Carlson.

Like VISIT DENVER, Event Rents has won Best Rental Service Provider 13 consecutive times since the inception of these readers’ choice awards. Last year there was a rare first-place tie between the company and Butler Rents; however, the long-standing company took back the reigns of a solo first-place finish to solidify their standing as one of the Rocky Mountain’s best rental provider.

After a runners-up finish in 2017 and a year off in 2018, Denver’s Coohills cooked up a delicious win as Best Restaurant/Bar with Private Dining Space. What makes the restaurant stand out as a group gathering place? Private dining options are available for six to 600 guests, and choices include the Wewatta Room, Cherry Creek Room, main dining room, Wine Room, bar and terrace or a total venue buyout. There are views, accessible parking, a variety of menus and the all-important outside space. Guard and Grace and Punch Bowl Social are new to the list of finalists for this category.

It’s the seventh win for Spruce Mountain Ranch  in the Best Meeting/Event Venue outside Denver Metro (No Hotel) category. “I love how our guests take such an interest in our herd of black angus cows and the [agriculture] industry when they come to a Spruce Mountain event. However, we do have to warn our groups that although our cows are quite majestic, they do have a sense of humor. One day, I saw a group of our cows and their calves near the fence. Dressed in my best for an event, I walked over to see if I could call them over and pet them, thinking I was the cow whisperer. I picked up a handful of grass, held it out, and low and behold a mama cow came walking toward me. This is not common. Cows are shy and protective animals. As she got just within arms reach, she sneezed! I was covered in cow goo. After she sneezed she casually turned around, and I know she was giggling as she strutted away,” shares Tara Ames, owner of Spruce Mountain Events.

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa  is very familiar with top prize as Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space in Denver Metro (More than 200 Guest Rooms). Consistent group events and tourists for tea, the historic hotel see hundreds or thousands of visitors each day. We asked veteran chief concierge and member of Les Clefs d’Or USA Zac Johnson for insider information. 
» What is the most asked question? “‘Where is the bathroom?’ is the winner in sheer numbers; however, questions about dining are the most common as it relates to my profession.”
» What is your most recommended restaurant? “Based on its proximity, consistency, popularity of the type of cuisine that they feature and overall excellence, Guard & Grace takes the title.”
» What is the silliest question?  “Is this a hotel?”
» What is the craziest thing you have arranged? “I once dressed up as the Easter bunny and delivered Easter baskets full of goodies to a room at the request of a family staying with us for the holiday.”
» Guests come from everywhere, but where is the most common location? “Anecdotally, I would say from other parts of Colorado. As an icon of the state, it makes sense that this is the case.”