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Welcome to Cannabis Hospitality

One of the oldest and most storied buildings in Denver is about to become the country’s first hotel and cannabis lounge - thanks to one man’s dreams...
By Will Brendza
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Welcome to Cannabis Hospitality blog image

Chris Chiari remembers the day he laid eyes on 420 East 11th Avenue in Denver, very clearly. It was March 7, 2011. Denver was cold and cloudy, but as Chiari stood before the century-old mansion downtown, with spires and turrets and huge walls made from quarried Colorado-red sandstone, a bright light flashed behind his eyes.

He had a vision that would come to change his life. “The second I set eyes on it, I pointed up at this abandoned property, 420 over the door, and I said, ‘I want to turn you into a marijuana bed and breakfast,’” Chiari recalls. And that was that. Chiari’s sights had been set, and he’s been working ever since to turn that old property, the Patterson Inn, one of the oldest buildings in Denver, into a fully operational hotel, restaurant, bar, and cannabis lounge. And in doing so, he hopes to help tear down the stigma that still, to this day, surrounds the plant.

Welcome To Cannabis Hospitality blog imageCanna-fest destiny At the time in 2011, cannabis was still illegal in Colorado and it was still highly stigmatized. Starting a cannabis-based business of any kind was a fringe idea. But Chiari saw the writing on the wall. Or, at least, he had a gut feeling that cannabis prohibition couldn’t last forever. So he followed his gut and sure enough, the very next year Colorado voted on Amendment 20. Recreational cannabis became legal (in this state) in December of 2012, and then, the green rush was officially on. Kind of. It took a while for politicians to flesh out how all of this legal marijuana stuff was going to work.

The legal structure had to be built. Industry regulations had to be created. And it wasn’t until January of 2014 that retail sales actually began. And even then those dispensaries were hiding huge, dangerous amounts of cash in the back, “Breaking Bad” style. And cannabis hospitality? Forget about it. That got shoved onto the back burner. Cannabis lounges and social consumption areas still haven’t really caught on yet in Colorado, even ten years after the fact. There are too many regulatory hoops to jump through.

Too many permits to get cleared with the city. Too many legal landmines to avoid. Most businesspeople wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. There are some spots around Denver that have figured out how to make it happen. The Coffee Joint was Denver’s first licensed cannabis lounge, and it allows patrons to bring and consume their own cannabis while they hang out and enjoy a nice cup of joe.

The Marijuana Mansion, just down the street from the Patterson Inn is another – an event space and exhibit that likewise allows BYOC consumption for tour groups or event attendees. But it would take an absolute madman to try and establish a working hotel and cannabis lounge that also had full dining services and a bar. Such an endeavor would be a legal Gordian knot, crossing alcohol licenses with cannabis hospitality licenses and all the licenses required to run a restaurant and hotel.

Not to mention all the federal weirdness that still hangs around cannabis businesses like a dark cloud. That’s not to call Chris Chiari a madman. But he wasn’t going to let anything stand between him and his dream—his future. And he’s well on his way to manifesting that destiny. The final mile Says you’re walking in downtown Denver, and someone stops you to ask where they can buy legal marijuana. You could point them down the street, literally, to any one of Denver’s 200-plus cannabis dispensaries. However, as Lenny Frieling, a cannabis defense lawyer with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), points out if you were to ask, “Where can I smoke legal marijuana?” Well, that’s not such an easy question to answer. “That’s a problem,” says Frieling flatly.

Frieling served as a judge in Lafayette, Colorado until 2009, when he resigned in protest of his way to manifest that destiny. The final mile Says you’re walking in downtown Denver, and someone stops you to ask where they can buy legal marijuana. You could point them down the street, literally, to any one of Denver’s 200-plus cannabis dispensaries. However, as Lenny Frieling, a cannabis defense lawyer with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), points out if you were to ask, “Where can I smoke legal marijuana?” Well, that’s not such an easy question to answer. “That’s a problem,” says Frieling flatly.

Frieling served as a judge in Lafayette, Colorado until 2009, when he resigned in protest over a local measure to increase the fine for cannabis possession for an ounce – from $100 (which was the state penalty) to $1,000 and a year in jail. Frieling has been defending drug cases and working for NORML since. The de-stigmatization of cannabis has come a long way since Frieling left the bench.

He acknowledges that. But he also sees the current lack of public and social consumption areas as a vestige of the prohibition days. “We need to have an answer to, ‘Where can I smoke legally?’ In your car, in the parking lot? In the alley, the way we used to do it before concerts? Well, you know, I’d like to do better than that. I’d like to have a better answer to that question,” he says. Frieling points to what Chris Chiari is doing at the Patterson Inn, as a massive step for the normalization of cannabis.Welcome To Cannabis Hospitality blog image

It’s part of Chiari’s mission as a whole. He isn’t just opening up a niche vacation spot for canna-curious tourists. He’s trying to usher in a new era for cannabis, one where it’s as normal to consume in a social setting as alcohol. “The normalization and the de-stigmatization of cannabis is my passion and life’s mission right now,” Chiari says. “I’m excited about that because I just don’t think, at least at this level, it could be more legitimate … We’re getting the world ready.” Chiari has jumped through all the hoops, cleared all of the permits, and navigated all the legal landmines. He became the official owner of 420 East 11th Avenue in 2018.

He got his provisional license to become a cannabis hospitality business a year after the state government passed the Marijuana Hospitality Establishments bill, legalizing exactly the kind of business Chiari had envisioned back in 2011. He says the moment when his application was approved and he received that provisional license, he just marveled at how far he’d come toward achieving his goal. But Chiari wasn’t about to start celebrating. Even today, as he’s begun the final stage of renovating the interior of the lounge, he’s holding off on popping the champagne until the hard opening. Because, as he puts it, every day in the hotel industry is a Monday, and every victory is an opportunity to do more work. Still, it’s easy to tell he’s excited about how close he’s getting—even if he’s reserving the victory laps for later.

“I’ve been overjoyed at a number of benchmarks throughout this process. But the true goal is still opening that lounge,” he says. “This is as close as anyone’s gotten. But there’s still that final mile. And that final mile is going to take as much energy as it took to get this far.” A first of its kind, but not the last Once all the renovations are complete and the final legal and regulatory kinks are ironed out, the Patterson Inn will have what Chiari is calling, “the Grand Smoking” of the Patterson’s cannabis lounge. It will be a long-awaited and hard-earned celebration for Chiari. But, he says, that’s when the real work is going to begin.

“Once that celebration is over, thankfully, we don’t get hangovers from cannabis, so I’ll be up early the next day running a hotel,” he says. The Patterson Inn will not only continue to host guests in its historic rooms, but it will have a kitchen offering full dining services, breakfast through dinner, with fine dining once a week, and “Blazy Brunches” where people can bring their own cannabis and get lazy while breaking bread. They also have full drink services through the adjacent 12 Spirits Tavern.

Chiari explains guests will be able to purchase regular drinks or specialty drinks that can be paired with a particular strain of cannabis. In the Patterson’s kitchen, they’ll make simple syrups that can be added to any non-alcoholic beverage, each with descriptions of strains and terpenes so that guests can complement their BYOB cannabis with food pairings. “We are already pulling terpenes like lemongrass and thyme into simple syrups as part of our signature cocktails,” he says. “We already have descriptions that speak about what these terpenes are purported to do so that guests can find fun ways to make food [and drink] an intimate part of that cannabis experience.” And of course, there will be the Patterson Inn’s cannabis lounge. It’s the only part of the hotel where smoking cannabis will be allowed, making the one room like a cigar bar or hookah lounge. It’s a clever workaround for not crossing the alcohol and cannabis hospitality licenses. “

As a company, we have found a way to facilitate the coexistence and cohabitation of these conflicting licenses through sound structure and through the strictWelcome To Cannabis Hospitality blog image separation of where they occur as far as consumption of cannabis and sale of alcohol,” Chiari says. The lounge will also be a very classy place to spark up. Blazy Susan, the infamous local rolling tray company has partnered with the Patterson to provide custom carved-wood paneling for the banquettes in the lounge. Using high-end computer carving equipment, Chiari says they’re going to create solid oak panels that will look more like “works of art” than table rolling trays.

When the lounge is complete, the Patterson Inn will have everything you’d want from a cannabis hotel. As Chiari says, throwing out the food or alcohol side of things to create a cannabis castle would have done no one any good. He wanted it to be the full shebang—and the full shebang is what he’s creating. Not to mention it will be inside one of the oldest, most historic buildings in downtown Denver. Chiari seems to love that fact and casually boasts that it’s also the second-most haunted hotel in Colorado.

Though, he says, “I don’t get caught up in the competition for first.” The only “first” he’s interested in competing for is opening his cannabis hotel, restaurant, bar, and lounge first. And while the Patterson Inn certainly will be a first of its kind, it won’t be the last. Chiari has already incorporated in Nevada, with plans to expand beyond Denver when the Patterson is up, running, and humming along. “We’re going to build off of this first location,” Chiari says. “This has never been a one-off in Denver. This was always meant to be a brand and something bigger.” On the cusp, Chiari recently closed the first-ever cannabis business crowdfund campaign on Republic.

He’s now onboarding with the crowdfunding StartEngine, and he’ll be the first licensed cannabis business to launch on both platforms. StartEngine allows investors to get in on the ground floor of grassroots startup companies they want to own a piece of. Which is how Chiari is structuring this business. “It’s not mine,” he says. Welcome To Cannabis Hospitality blog imageFor him and his 284 committed investors, “It’s now something I can say is ours.” It’s an opportunity also, for people to help play a part in destigmatizing cannabis—in dissolving one of the last vestiges of prohibition—and in helping give Denver (and eventually Nevada) a classy place where they can have a meal, enjoy a drink, and socially smoke some cannabis like it’s a normal thing. Just like it should be.

The Patterson Inn is already open for guests who want to come and book a room in the historic building. Last November marked its 10th anniversary as a functioning bed and breakfast. Chiari anticipates the Grand Smokening of the lounge completed by the fall of this year when the final remodeling is done. “We are on the cusp of being the first to deliver the most exciting and unique amenity in hospitality, today,” Chiari says. “I’m thrilled to be doing it.”