By Mike McClanahan
Sorry, this isn’t a sordid tale of a May-December fling—the closest I got to that was a late-night conversation at a hotel bar with comely thirty-something. She was in town to pitch her wares to one of the high-tech giants across the road in the “Silicon Mountain” corridor that stretches along U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder. When it became evident that I had only the slightest grasp of her business, we settled on small talk before heading off for the night. Separately.
No, it’s about the experiences of a writer in the 50-to-Death demographic who spends a weekend at a hotel expressly designed to appeal to travelers half his age. I’m talking about Aloft, a rapidly-growing part of the Starwood Group, a hotel conglomerate that includes such decidedly non-youthful brands as Westin, Sheraton and St. Regis.
The whole thing came about as a result of procrastination, a process I have perfected over the course of many years. I registered for a writers’ conference at a decidedly more stodgy hotel a few blocks away. They had set aside rooms for attendees, and I had every intention of getting one, but when I finally decided to act, they were sold out. That led to a search of the area for a nearby spot to crash and ultimately to Aloft. The price was right and I was curious to see if the place was as hip as I had been led to believe.
Now “hip” has a number of meanings. To early jazz musicians, it meant in tune with the latest trends in music, or more generally, just being “cool.” Jack Kerouac described it as being “in the know.” These days, “hip” seems to refer more specifically to what’s stylish at the moment, especially among the 18-34 demographic, so spending a couple of nights at an Aloft seemed the perfect way for me to find out just how out of touch I was.
As I rolled my suitcase through the hotel entrance, I knew I wasn’t in a St. Regis. Instead of plush carpet, soft music, and warm, rich wood, the wide-open lobby was appointed in metal, leather, polished tile, and hard surfaces. A small oval enclosure served as the reception desk, but had I looked around, I would have noticed that human interaction wasn’t necessary. A couple of touch-screens offered to check me in or out and even print my boarding pass. Sadly, there’s no airline service between Broomfield and SE Denver, but it might have come in handy were I staying at the Aloft at DIA.
The human at the desk was quite pleasant, though, and she pointed the hotel’s many features. Behind me was the W XYZ Bar, a Clockwork Orange-y-looking expanse of backlit glass and what turned out to be a fine selection of spirits and other adult beverages. I didn’t ask what the name meant; that wouldn’t be very hip. A lounge area that would have made Charles Eames proud spread out toward a glass-enclosed exercise room and pool, designed so that the youthful guests could show off their six-packs and lithe, slender limbs.
There was no restaurant or food service, but off to my right was Re:fuel, a self-serve coffee and breakfast bar with shelves and coolers full of snacks and sandwiches for later in the day. Sort of a 7-11-meets-La Quinta vibe. Interestingly, the hotel info says room service is available, eliminating the need to dress to go downstairs for your Pop-Tart. I would be well fed at the conference, so the snack bar would meet my needs nicely. The desk clerk handed me a couple of key cards, and I was off to check out my room.
While my room at Aloft wasn’t a loft, it was definitely trendy-modern. It had a Euro-snug vibe to it without feeling cramped. The bath and dressing area just inside the door had a translucent glass vanity with a vessel sink and ultra-modern faucet. A mini-fridge sat under the vanity. Storage for clothes and personal items filled the opposite wall. I can’t call it a closet—the hanger bar and shelves were behind a curtain—and there were open shelves next to it with a microwave, coffee bar, and magazine rack in case you wanted to catch up on back issues of random periodicals.
The shower at the end of the area had an interesting touch. The partition between the shower and the bedroom area was frosted glass, raising some intriguing possibilities for interpretive dance. The stall was large enough for a duet if you were so inclined, but the tile floor felt slippery in my bare feet, so I advise footwear with some traction, especially if the dancing were to be very…let’s say, “interpretive.”
The modern look carried through to the sleeping/living area. A large flat-screen HD TV hung on the wall at the foot of the bed over an upholstered banquette flanked by two desks and a chair. A strange-looking metal box sat on one of the desks. It had a pad on top that may or may not have been to charge electronic devices wirelessly. I hooked my cell phone to a USB cord plugged into the outlet next to the bed so I wouldn’t have to stumble across the room in the unlikely event I got a call or urgent message in the middle of the night. The box had some other jacks that I presume were to connect to the free high-speed internet service in the room. The room also had free Wi-Fi, so I didn’t see a need. It let you connect other devices to play through the TV, too.
The TV service was good; most basic cable and local channels were available, as were several free movies along with some pay-per-view choices. As a fan of deco design, I was pleased and impressed to see a replica Moonbeam Clock did duty as the alarm. Its loud, obnoxious buzz would wake a vampire at high noon. You can see it on the nightstand next to the dance studio.
The king-size bed was firm and comfortable with plenty of pillows and 300-count sheets. If you’re a light sleeper, the sound level of the air conditioner might be annoying, but to me it was just white noise.
Touted by Starwood PR as a modern, fresh hotel “where energy flows, personalities mingle, and opportunities abound,” a place with “a sense of excitement that leaves guests amazed and abuzz,” I was ready to be immersed in Hipster Heaven. Unfortunately, I caught it on a dull late summer weekend. The business travelers had gone home (except for the sales rep I chatted up Friday night), the Events Center across the way was dark, and the place was pretty empty. A wedding party materialized Saturday and whooped it up a little in the lounge and at the pool tables, but all in all, my stay was pleasant and relaxing.
I suspect the sense of excitement and amazement varies considerably depending on who’s in residence and where the hotel is located. Many are in downtown areas of major cities (one opens in downtown Denver in December) or next to large airports, so I imagine the energy and “opportunities” abound there more than at my suburban enclave.
As for Aloft being Boomer-friendly, I think a lot depends on where the hotel is located and whether you were a fan of Led Zeppelin or Andy Williams. Moon River flows more gently through a Westin or St. Regis, but you’re more likely to find rock ‘n roll good times at the Aloft, if you’re still in the mood. You might even get in a little interpretive dancing.
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