Strater Hotel: the Grande Dame of Durango, Colorado

Strater Hotel in Durango Backdropped by a Quintessential Colorado Blue Sky

If you’ve read some of my posts on my blog and/or if you’re familiar with my books on France, you likely know by now that I love hotels. Historic hotels in particular move me. I’m a big fan of experiencing these bastions of history and tradition during one’s travels, whether it’s to pop in for a drink or to stay a few nights. No matter how you choose to discover these landmark properties, a visit to them allows you to soak up the spirit of the place for either a brief moment or a more luxurious stay. The world is peppered with such places of lodging, steeped in history, that folks have been enjoying in many cases for more than a century. I encourage my readers to seek them out at every turn because it’s often within their splendiferous interiors that we gain the true essence of the place we’re visiting; it’s here we’re able to peer into the past while embracing the present.

In most cases, these fine establishments serve as the cornerstones of the cities and towns we love to visit. Many were built during the golden era of that destination in an effort to express to the world all that the town had achieved, all that the community was becoming. Erecting a notable place of lodging for business and leisure travelers alike was a sure-bet way of putting a destination on the map in addition to providing the right conditions for welcoming visitors in a more dignified and glorious manner.

Nearly every town and city in Colorado boasts a fine hotel, most of which were built during the boomtown era of the mining days toward the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was one of the most significant ways of saying “we’ve arrived.” Finally an old cow town could receive its potential investors and other movers and shakers of the day in a proper manner. The Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado stands out as one of the finest examples of this necessity to build a handsome place of lodging in emerging towns throughout the West.

Strater Elegance

As Durango’s future hung in the balance between a mining camp and a metropolis, a very young Cleveland pharmacist named Henry Strater had the vision of exactly what this southwestern Colorado town needed: a grand hotel. He fibbed about his age, borrowed money and forged forward. Toward the end of the 1800s, the Strater Hotel opened and its 376,000 native red bricks and hand-carved sandstone cornices and sills are as resplendent today as at its beginning.

In more recent years, the Barker family restored this Victorian gem to its original glory while updating it with today’s amenities. Staying in one of the hotel’s guest rooms, each handsomely decorated with hand-carved woodwork, beautiful Bradbury and Bradbury wallpapers and fine antiques, makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The hotel’s collection of American Victorian-era walnut furniture is, in fact, one of the largest in the world. Renowned western author Louis L’amour loved the Strater so much that he would hole himself up in room 222, just above the hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon to write his western-inspired novels. The honky tonk music from the Diamond Belle apparently helped set the mood for his writings about the Old West.

The Diamond Belle Posse

Still going strong today, no trip to Durango is complete without entering the Diamond Belle Saloon, a gilded scene straight out of the Far West. There’s always great entertainment to be enjoyed filled with exuberant piano playing and old time-y tunes. If you’re looking to pass a more reserved moment at the Strater, have a drink at The Office Spiritorium, a handsome bar/lounge where you can enjoy drinks, appetizers and fine music. New American cuisine is served nightly in the Mahogany Grille, also within The Strater.

For a real step back in time, check out the Durango Melodrama & Vaudeville at The Henry Strater Theater, a tradition that has marked Durango summers for forty-eight years. Good news:  This year the shows are running through September 24th, a real testament to the increasing popularity of this event since they previously ended in August. Here’s Webster’s definition of melodrama:  a work (as in a movie or play) characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization. I’ll also add that you should expect lots of audience participation, so it’s best not to arrive late or you’ll miss the necessary cues. Here, too, the tickling of the ivories doesn’t get much better.

As you can perhaps tell from all the offerings, the Strater represents the hub and the heart of Durango, one of the best darn towns in the West. Today you can still rub elbows with ‘ole cowboys and ranchers (especially on weekend nights) along with outdoorsy types of every ilk. Durango and the Strater seem to be more happening than ever. Isn’t it lovely how they’ve moved forward while honoring their past? Even if you only have a moment, take a little walk around the lobby at The Strater Hotel and admire the Victorian elegance and western charm of this iconic establishment. And even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, here I promise you’ll breathe in a good whiff of the West’s prominent past.

Strater Hotel, 699 Main Avenue, Durango, Colorado, 800-247-4431,

Visit Durango Area Tourism Office for more information on this fun town. 




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