How do you want your hotel lounge? A little flashy, a little trashy. Luxe, but not so upscale that you can't meet an old pal for a casual cocktail. Formal, but not so uptight it discourages the sort of merlot-fueled indiscretions out-of-towners indulge in knowing they won't bump into their boss — or their spouse.
Yes, these lounges have their purposes, and they also have their style.
Judging from the dramatic overhaul given to its first-floor 16Mix bar, the Sheraton Denver Downtown understands that a well-thought-out lounge can make or break a stay at a quality hotel. 16Mix is a glowing ember of a room, overloaded with textured fabrics, bold patterns and flattering lighting. Swank, rich and relaxed, the scheme screams "indulge," and it doesn't make judgments about how one might accomplish that.
Or who. With the emphasis on cocktails, it's an oasis for business trippers needing to unwind. But its giant windows along the 16th Street pedestrian mall extend the invitation beyond hotel guests to the people who frequent the business district. An after-work manhattan, an after- dinner Grand Marnier — the design is outfitted for it all.
The revamped bar is part of a massive $70 million renovation that the hotel needed and deserved. The Sheraton, until recently an Adam's Mark, is one of Denver's overlooked architectural assets, especially its tower building on the south side of Court Place. It was masterminded as part of the award-winning Courthouse Square by the great I.M. Pei, more famous for creating game- changing landmarks such as the National Gallery of Art's East Wing.
Not everyone likes the building here, a cool, precast-concrete monolith that takes cues from the International style influential when the hotel opened as a Hilton in 1960. Purposefully stripped of whimsical adornments and regional touches — save the crushed rock that was quarried on-site — it is a block-long, 21-story sheet that shows off its simple form. To be sure, the building is complex and detailed, but it doesn't appear that way, and it is generic enough that it could just as easily stand in downtown Milwaukee or Copenhagen. Why should a local care?
Countering that, however, is an amazingly gentle bearing. It is long, lean and surprisingly graceful, despite its overwhelming mass and brutality. It moves like a giant cruise ship floating on an asphalt river.
The recent renovations bring out its best attributes. New lighting, carpets and furniture pick up the public spaces and diminish the dowdy looks of the squat, granite-and-glass building that holds the lobby. Flat-screen TVs update the rooms. A ground- floor area called "Link," all wood and comfy chairs, provides a communal setting for guests to plug in and collect their e-things and i-things, a modern touch for a building that once exemplified modern thinking.
As for the general public amenities, they have been whomped up too. The confusing circular driveway remains, as does the unpopular ballerina sculpture out front, but tired joints like the Supreme Court bar and Bravo restaurant have been switched out for new spots like Katie Mullen's Irish Pub. It looks alive.
The 16Mix bar, though, is the part everyone will notice. It doesn't rely on Irish country nostalgia to make its mark. Instead, the room finds it influences in the trendiest hotel lounges out there, new standard-bearers like The Standard in Los Angeles or the Hudson in New York. It is so Ian Schrager, so Mondrian, to put things into hotel-design parlance.
The interior style is a combo of glam Vegas touches (lots of curtains, rich colors, mirrors) and the straight and narrow lines of modernism (thin legs, processed metals) — Liberace's palace, if it were in Levittown; Louis' Versailles, if he had built it along Chicago's Miracle Mile.
16Mix's particular standouts: backlit candy-apple-colored drapery that stretches atrium-length from floor to high ceiling; a large oval bar made of polished white stone; and fire-colored pendant lights that make the stainless-steel backbar shimmer.
It's all about juxtaposition of surfaces. Smooth, lacquered cocktail tables placed on animal-print rugs. Textured, gray wallpaper interrupted by flat, vertical mirrors. It sends different messages — but it makes the room versatile. However you want your hotel lounge, it is that.
Of course, it will be customers that make the space work — or not. Too many bingeing conventioneers will turn it ordinary. Too many singles will make it sleazy. But if 16Mix can lure a mix of interesting drinkers, its lush looks could elevate it into a downtown destination.