Weed has long been a social substance — after all, there needs to be someone to pass the dutchie on the left hand side. But because of laws limiting public consumption, there are very few places where tokers can go to socially consume it like they do alcohol at a bar.
Denver regulators and entrepreneurs hope that will soon change, however, since the city recently legalized cannabis hospitality businesses. In November, the city began accepting applications from folks who want to open smoking lounges and Amsterdam-esque gathering places, or run bus tours where consumers are able to consume cannabis.
So far just one person has applied, according to Eric Escudero, director of communications for Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses. That person is Chris Chiari, owner of Capitol Hill bed and breakfast The Patterson Inn.
Chiari is familiar with the cannabis industry, currently serving as the deputy director of the Colorado branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and having previously invested in a local dispensary. He also co-produced a documentary with rapper and actor Ice-T called “Public Enemy Number One,” which explores the United States’ weaponization of marijuana against communities of color.
Chiari first dreamt of turning The Patterson Inn into a cannabis-friendly space about a decade ago when he walked by and saw the address: 420 E. 11th Ave. The property ended up selling to other buyers, but when it came back on the market in 2018, Chiari jumped at the opportunity to purchase it.
“What I envisioned then and am working on today,” he said, “is to combine four-star, boutique hospitality with legally licensed cannabis hospitality and consumption.”
If approved for a license, Chiari plans to build out the hotel’s 1,000-square-foot carriage house into a smoking lounge for guests, who will be able to bring their own marijuana and use pipes, papers and bongs provided by the establishment to indulge. The lounge, which is expected to open by mid-2022, will serve a curated menu of mocktails designed to complement certain strains, he said.
Guests will pay an entry fee — likely $4.20 per day — to access the lounge and Chiari is considering selling memberships for locals who want to be able to consume there as well.
Smoking will not be permitted in the hotel rooms because of laws that require specific ventilation for smoking areas and because it could prevent the onsite restaurant from serving alcohol, Chiari said. That will also help maintain the 19th-century Victorian structure’s integrity, he said.
Though The Patterson Inn is the first — and so far only — business to apply for a cannabis hospitality license, Escudero and the city are hopeful more will roll in. Dewayne Benjamin, owner at Tetra Lounge in RiNo, told The Denver Post he plans to apply.
Tetra Lounge, which opened in 2018, is currently one of the few places in Denver where cannabis enthusiasts can publicly consume. It closed for 14 months starting in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, during which time Benjamin remodeled and updated the air ventilation system to meet new COVID-19 standards. The lounge reopened ahead of April 20, 2021.
Tetra Lounge operates as a private consumption lounge, and although visitors won’t notice any changes at the club when he switches licensure — Tetra will still require an entry fee at the door and allow tokers to buy or bring glassware to use — Benjamin sees the hospitality license as validation of his business model.
“It’s really exciting to me to finally have built a model that can legitimize cannabis hospitality,” Benjamin said. “Working under the private club model for the last couple years presents its own hurdles [when] trying to establish not only a cannabis club but a consumer marketing platform for cannabis businesses, dealing with compliance issues and not having that legit status behind my business model. That will give me a lot more opportunity to work and grow other brands within my industry.”
The license change will also set Tetra Lounge up for future success, he said, by ensuring he can expand seamlessly, possibly into future locations. Chiari also has his sights set on expansion with hopes of opening 420-friendly hotels in cities such as Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Chicago and New Orleans, as well as ski towns such as Breckenridge and Steamboat.
Both believe more places where people can legally smoke weed in public will usher in a new — and long overdue — era in normalization.
“Hospitality has been one of the biggest missing pieces of the industry for a long time,” Benjamin said. “Cannabis is one of the biggest tourism draws to Denver. You can buy weed on every corner, but you literally can’t smoke it anywhere. Can’t smoke in your hotel, can’t smoke in your car, can’t smoke in a park. This is going to be one of the solid pieces to move the industry forward and progress what it really can be.”
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