Spa REVIEWS: The Spa at Brown Palace

The Spa at Brown Palace found its sweet spot by incorporating forward-thinking green practices into a historic setting.

Beekeeper Matt Kentner at work on the Brown Palace roofBeekeeper Matt Kentner at work on the Brown Palace roof

Beekeeper Matt Kentner at work on the Brown Palace roof

Occupying 5,200 square feet in a historic structure in the heart of Denver, The Spa at Brown Palace could easily fall into the trap of big-business practices—or old-school modes of thinking. Yet this pioneering operation offers distinctive services with eco-friendly flourishes—think rooftop beehives, locally sourced ingredients, comprehensive waste-reduction efforts and a subterranean, artesian-water well—to cater to its many loyal local guests, as well as world travelers. “It’s hidden yet modern, tucked away in an iconic building with a rich history,” says Erin Johnston, director of spa and retail at The Brown Palace Hotel, an onyx palace that has hosted every U.S. president with the exception of Calvin Coolidge since opening its doors in 1982. “We have a lot of organic inspiration to draw from; between the hotel’s unique story and the natural beauty of Colorado, there’s freedom to express ourselves in a unique way through our spa treatments and products.”

What’s the Buzz

Aside from the golf ball dent President Dwight D. Eisenhower accidentally created in the fireplace of his eponymous suite, the Brown Palace’s most distinctive feature is an elaborate rooftop haven of beehives whose denizens manufacture the ingredient perhaps featured most prominently in the spa’s retail products and services: pure, organic honey. These three hives, the “dream project and brainchild” of local beekeeper Matt Kentner, who collaborated with the hotel’s green committee to launch the operation in 2010, were initially used to sweeten the Brown Hotel’s renowned afternoon tea services. However, staff from The Brown’s spa and food outlets soon showed an interest in getting in on the naturally nutritious, on-site honey supply.

Today, the spa’s signature retail item is The Brown Palace Honey Lavender Soap, and one of its most popular service offerings is the Queen Bee Sugar Scrub (50 min./$110), which combines organic brown sugar and honey for a full-body scrub that exfoliates and hydrates—an ideal antidote to the dry Colorado climate. “By putting the honey to use in the spa and throughout the hotel,” Johnston says, “we’re using our resources to minimize waste.”

These efforts also help offset Colony Collapse Disorder. This crisis, which threatens bee populations worldwide, is what originally inspired Kentner, who also works as a beekeeper at Kenter Farms in nearby Lakewood, Colorado, to devote his life to creating havens for bees to thrive, where they’re safe from modern pest control. To help preserve the creatures upon which so many plants’ longevity is dependent, Kentner simply provides pollination assistance when needed, and handles honey extraction. Otherwise, the bees are left to do what comes naturally to them: pollinate agricultural crops. “There are many different theories on the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, but ultimately they all center on there not being enough healthy environments for bees to do what they do best,” Kentner explains. “By maintaining a safe colony on the rooftop at The Brown, we’re simply giving bees a home that isn’t going anywhere—space to reproduce, pollinate and produce honey.”

Kentner admits that the operation, which The Brown coined the “Bee Royalty Initiative,” is still evolving; additional uses for this honey supply are constantly being explored. He advises spa owners looking to launch similar environmental operations and/or reap honey’s natural benefits for skin (it’s antibacterial, rich in antioxidants and a humectant!) to contact local beekeeping organizations through the American Honey Producers Association.

“I knew the Brown Palace was the perfect complement to the partnership I was proposing,” recalls Kentner, a self-described “former ski bum” who became a beekeeper after listening to a public radio piece about the colony collapse crisis. “And Marcel Pitton, managing director of the hotel, saw my passion and gave me the green light to start up the program.”

Going Local

The Spa at The Brown Palace embraces its natural surroundings in additional ways, too, collaborating with neighbor businesses such as the American Soap Company and tapping into the subterranean depths beneath its property’s foundation to source the natural, sparkling spring water that has flowed there for centuries. Water used in spa services, guest rooms and drinking fountains is wrought by a 750-foot artesian well that was specially designed to protect the water’s mineral composition from man-made impurities. “Our artesian well cuts down on additional services, filtration and treatments needed to use our water in the spa,” Johnston explains.

The spa staff is constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance service and retail offerings via elements indigenous to Colorado. For example, native juniper oil powers the Colorado Detoxifying & Cellulite-Reducing Salt Glow (50 min./$110), which aims to help clients shed excess water weight and cellulite with essential oils of grapefruit and rosemary. And the Colorado River Stone Treatment (50 min./$115; 80 min./$160), an earthy massage using cool and warm polished river stones, indulges Coloradoans’ outdoorsy mindset.

As the spa serves guests hailing from every corner of the globe, it aims to help visitors adapt to the Mile-High City via the Altitude Adjustment (50 min./$110), a skin-smoothing, renewing facial that stimulates via concentrated, pro-retinol vitamin A. But whether servicing locals or travelers, the business has been able to attract steady clients, even throughout the recent recession, thanks largely to its distinctive menu. “We cater to all types of spa-savvy clients,” Johnston says, “from traveling business professionals to our very environmentally conscious regulars.”

The dedication to local bounty extends to the retail area as well, and Johnston remains particularly proud of the signature products available in the Spa Boutique. “We’ve worked with local companies to make sure everything supports our community as much as possible,” Johnston says, citing the neighboring businesses that provide the spa’s labeling and packaging needs. And the retail selection has been well-received by travelers and regulars alike. “Natural ingredients have always been advantageous in spa products,” Johnston explains, “but because we host so many clients who are traveling, the local element makes our products great souvenirs and gifts.”

Waste Not

Though the rooftop hives, artesian well and indigenous bounty do much to render The Spa at the Brown Palace one-of-a-kind, the business also engages in more common everyday practices that help to reduce waste—employing organic linens in place of paper towels, for example. They also use all-electronic reservations and invoices and Five Star energy appliances. However, like the spa itself, these green practices are continually evolving.

“In 2008, we established an in-house ‘Green Committee’ that works to ensure that everything we do operationally involves the best possible practices for air quality and filtration, water conservation, waste reduction/recycling and renewable energy options,” says Johnston. The committee, comprised of representatives from each of the hotel’s departments, meets monthly to discuss furthering sustainability initiatives.

“One of our best draws is our traditional charm,” Johnston says of the painstakingly appointed, classically beautiful spa, “and it’s important to maintain that originality but still remain current with the most efficient technologies.”

Johnston has found that the spa’s green-leaning practices not only help save money in the long run (particularly in terms of energy bills), but have also garnered 100% positive feedback from guests. Because the staff takes pride in the eco-aware aspects of the business, they’re eager to share these initiatives with clients, and both employees and guests are invited to submit ideas and suggestions to help make operations and services even more efficient. Johnston recommends that any spas looking to go greener take the same all-inclusive approach. “Continue to evolve,” she advises. “Check out what other spas or local businesses are doing, and be inspired by those practices. There is always room for improvement—especially when it comes to becoming more environmentally friendly.”

Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, Mississippi.

The Spa at The Brown Palace

Open since: 2005
Average service ticket: $95
Size: 5,200 square feet 
Facilities: 6 treatment rooms (including a wet treatment room and couple’s suite); men’s and ladies’ lounges; 3 mani/pedi stations; retail shop and a staff room
No. of employees: 30
Most popular service: Colorado River Stone Massage
Product lines: Jane Iredale, Kerastase, Phytomer, Sonya Dakar

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