I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Denver a few months ago. While I was participating in the Cannabis Marketing Summit (I sat on two panels), I was able to reach out to some very interesting people in the cannabis business. One person, in particular, stood out to me, probably because of his New Jersey roots- I still live in New Jersey, born and raised. Chris Chiari has the ambition and the fortitude to do something completely different from anything I’ve ever encountered in my cannabis journalism career.
What he has achieved is the Patterson Inn; The intrinsic synergy between history, continuity, and political balance makes this story worthy of your attention. Of course, stigmas play deeply into this sage of hospitality vs. City Hall, but that’s what makes the Patterson Hotel passage more than just a metaphor. The people who lived in this house are part of the story of politics and rules.
It is the circumstance and the candor of doing what you love, even if the career is in cannabis. Someday it won’t matter so much, and these stigmas will be a thing of the bad old days. I know Chris is on his way to that place of success, doing what he so clearly loves.
Thank you. WB
Warren Bobrow: Please tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Living now? Tell me about The Patterson. What brought you to cannabis?
Chris Chiari: A kid from New Jersey, raised in New York City and currently living in Denver. I own and operate the historic Patterson Inn, the keystone property of The 420 Hotels portfolio and the first legally licensed cannabis consumption lounge attached to a hotel as an amenity. I’m also the producer of the documentary Public Enemy Number One, a film about the U.S. War on Drugs, which won the Seattle Film Festival for best U.S. Doc in 2020 and is available on Amazon Prime, Tubi and Pluto.tv.
Back in my mid-twenties, after the removal of a large melanoma a doctor told me, “Don’t make long-term plans.” After a decade of staying one step ahead and removing over 70 moles, I heard the reverse. Within weeks of this new lease on life, I was in Denver for the first time standing on the street in front of what’s now the Patterson Inn. At the time it was this abandoned castle. The combination of its curb appeal, the address over the door, ‘420,’ and a commitment that the next chapter of my life would focus on cannabis inspired that moment. And on March 7, 2011, I pointed up to the house and said out loud, “I’m going to turn you into a cannabis bed and breakfast!” I missed out on buying the property by two weeks.
For 22 months from March ‘11 – January ‘13, I was on what can only be called an adventure of a lifetime. Over 115,000 miles by car and another 100,000 in the air brought me coast to coast and a lap around the world. At every stop I started all conversations with an image, a simple card. But the King of Clubs holding a bong proved an effective conversation starter and the generosity of cannabis and its community welcomed me and graciously informed me about a plant I’d consumed for years by that point, but a process and economy that I had never been exposed to before except as a consumer. From cannabis cups and contests, to bong and pipe trade shows, and down the occasional dirt road to see legacy operations, I learned about and was exposed to some amazing, innovative, and bold entrepreneurs. I learned about strains and terps, made bubble hash in the forest and experienced cannabis as it was transitioning from purely legacy markets to the emerging legal markets, we have in many states today.
I finally made the move to Denver in January of 2013 and over the last nine-plus years have been active in local politics serving in several leadership positions in the county Democratic Party. I spent eight years on the board of Colorado NORML and served as both deputy director and interim executive director. You will also find my name listed as one of the five-person petitioning committee for the successful 2015 Denver initiative that decriminalized psilocybin.
In 2016 an almost unrealistic life ambition became a reality when I was issued an owner’s badge in the regulated Colorado cannabis industry and then in 2018, an idea inspired by a house became an opportunity when the property at 420 E. 11th Avenue in Denver was once again on the market. Renovated and turned into a boutique hotel by the owners who had beaten me to the property seven-year early by just two weeks, the purchase put me back on the path to taking the hotel and adding the most exciting and unique amenity in hospitality, the addition of a licensed cannabis consumption lounge.
A multi-time, multi-state failed political candidate, I’ve made a career of doing marketing and messaging for startup companies and I’ve never been afraid to lean into the arena on policy and issues. Putting my career experience, as well as an over 30-year passion for cannabis into this company, I’ve made the work of normalizing and de-stigmatizing cannabis possession and consumption my life’s work for over a decade. The addition of this first cannabis consumption lounge attached to a hotel is meant to be just the beginning and where I once was told to not make long-term plans, I can share today that there is a long-term plan, and it includes expanding The 420 Hotels from our first keystone location in Denver to a dozen gateway cities in America and around the world.
WB: What are six and twelve-month goals?
CC: Within the next six months, I intend to have the first consumption lounge attached as an amenity to a hotel open to guests at the Patterson Inn. The twelve-month goal includes further improvements to the property, including the kitchen and the addition of two more guest rooms. After that, the intention is to expand to gateway cities across the country and around the world.
What obstacles are you facing? How do you anticipate removing those obstacles?
International standards around clean air in a smoke-filled environment have created the biggest obstacles. The greatest obstacle has also been the greatest learning experience. Thinking through and working through the challenges with the design of the HVAC system has been the biggest hurdle to date, but finding the solution and building a design that can grow with the company, has offered a great degree of reward as well.
WB: Who is your mentor?
CC: I have had three great professional influences in my life. My boss in an internship in my third year (of five) in college, Bobby Clark. My boss during my last year in school, Calvin Gould. And a securities attorney who imparted way more than even he may have realized, Richard Lane.
Bobby offered me an opportunity, but he told me to go out into the real world and take a risk first. I’ve never looked back.
Cal was retired and near the end of his life. I became the assistant manager (great title; there were only two of us) for what was left of his supermarket beer & wine business. He’d also have me drive him from Worcester to Tanglewood every Thursday in August and come pick him up on Monday. I remember the first drive; he told me he was going to teach me everything he knew about negotiating the close on commercial real estate. Said the world was changing, and I’d never get to use it, but maybe it would be good to know. The world has changed, it has proven good to know, and I think of Cal every closing, and I smile.
Richard was just kind. It wasn’t anything specific he imparted. Maybe in sharing the true room available for creativity in the structuring of a company. Certainly, that full transparency and full disclosure really do go a long way in business and in life.
WB: What kind of food do you enjoy for breakfast at your hotel?
CC: We offer complimentary sweet and savory options every day at the Patterson Inn. I order both daily. Hospitality is about the experience. We pride ourselves on offering a bed you don’t want to get out of and breakfast you’d never want to sleep in on. A typical day might include fresh baked challah French toast with strawberry compote and whipped cream or biscuits with fried chicken and country gravy.
WB: Who is your core customer?
CC: For the Patterson Inn, our most discernible guests are parents of people who live within walking distance. As one of the few hotels in the heart of Capitol Hill, we are the guest room to the neighborhood. Our other most recognizable guests are couples looking for a romantic getaway. Patterson Inn is housed in an old Victorian French chateau castle. The curb appeal and finish to the rooms (many with clawfoot tubs) give the property an air of whimsy that guests mention in reviews.
For the consumption lounge, we are pairing sophisticated, licensed, legal cannabis hospitality with four-star overnight hospitality, which the Patterson Inn already delivers. The lounge will offer guests something they currently don’t have access to when they visit the Mile High City: the ability to consume cannabis legally in a commercial business. So, for someone new traveling to our state to engage with legal cannabis for the first time, especially if they’re from a state still traumatized by prohibition, they’re looking over their shoulder. They’re looking around for that safe space. They’re still aware that what they’re doing, at least where they come from, is illegal. And that sensation, that awareness — we forget that as cannabis consumers here in Colorado, but it’s no less true still for the tourist. The consumption lounge at the Patterson is not meant to be a place to party. This is an upscale, sophisticated lounge for cannabis connoisseurs and canna-curious alike.
WB: Tell me about the cannabis lounge.
CC: We are blazing a place in history: The 420 Hotels, and our lounge at the Patterson Inn, The 420 Denver, is the first licensed cannabis consumption lounge as an amenity to a hotel.
The plan since I first set eyes on the house in 2011 was to turn it into a cannabis B&B. While the last owners beat me to the property, did the renovations, and opened the bed and breakfast, the final hurdles were still left when I bought the building over four years ago. These hurdles included: navigating through an unexpected closure and the realities of the world the last few years, the rezoning of the property from residential to commercial (required for the cannabis hospitality license), and refinancing the property with two years of the worst unexpected financials factored into the appraisal because of covid and that’s how the real world works. With all the unexpected and expected challenges, we are on pace to open the lounge by late 2022 to early 2023.
The lounge will be a sophisticated space that offers the Patterson Inn guests and annual members a chance to experience legal cannabis on their terms. We look forward to welcoming the canna-conscious and canna-curious consumers looking for a space that doesn’t require sneaking around and allows for the open and responsible use of cannabis in a safe, legal and social environment. As a bring-your-own-cannabis (BYOC) venue, we will center the experience around consumption methods and its many variations, we will have staff that is engaged and informed to help guests make good decisions with an awareness of potential effects or intensity, and we intend to focus on food & beverage.
WB: Will you do food geared to the cannabis scene?
CC: The Patterson Inn is a licensed restaurant and supports food & beverage service for the hotel guests, 12 Spirits Tavern, and will support the cannabis hospitality lounge as well. We already feature sweet and savory, made-to-order breakfast for our hotel guests, and we intend to expand this breakfast service into the lounge, as well as opening to the public for a once-a-week service we are calling our Blazy Brunch.
On a daily basis, we already produce a number of simple syrup infusions that support the craft cocktails in our 12 Spirits Tavern. These simple syrups are an easy way to offer terpenes, added to various beverage options, and will be part of our regular offerings in the lounge, along with light tavern snacks and regular specials.
Cannabis pairs well with food. The national cannabis community has a number of extraordinary chefs that have been working with pairings long before it became fashionable. Conversations with friends in this space have already begun. We intend to expand into fine dining on a regular basis with scheduled guest chef events. Since we are a BYOC venue, chefs will not be limited to our inventory but will be able to bring together the best producers of products to showcase their culinary artistry and maintain control over the experience they are looking to curate.
WB: When was the first time that you discovered cannabis? Do you remember who you were with?
CC: I remember the first time I smelled cannabis and knew it was something different. I was in NYC on the balcony of a movie theater during Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I was in first grade.
I also remember very clearly the first time I consumed cannabis. I was with a sibling in their first year in college. It was Boston, and it was in late winter. It was the first time I used a dryer sheet tube to mask the odor. Ended up at a house party where Blues Traveler was still a house band, and the next night was in Albany to see the Grateful Dead for the first time.
WB: Tell me about the music you listen to.
CC: Live Music feeds the soul; I’ve learned that over the years. Music and cannabis pair as well as food and cannabis. At my core, I listen to jam bands mostly. Judge me all you want. I’m also an unwavering TWIDDLE fan. Grateful Dead, Phish, Twiddle, Eggy, and lespecial keep me occupied most days.
WB: What is your passion?
CC: I have committed my life to my passion: I am a cannabis consumer and a productive adult, and making that realization normal is the work I join so many amazing people in this industry and space in spreading. The normalization and destigmatization of cannabis is my passion. I also love storytelling and film and am proud to have created and produced the award-winning film Public Enemy Number One, a feature documentary about the War on Drugs.
About the Patterson Inn
Located at 420 East 11th Avenue, the Patterson Inn is a stately and distinguished National Landmark situated in the heart of Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Historically intriguing yet complete with all the comforts of modern amenities, it offers a luxurious reprieve in one of nine uniquely themed bedrooms. The Patterson Inn is also home to The 420 Hotels, the nation’s first legally licensed cannabis consumption lounge in a luxury hotel. Slated to open in late 2022, this high-end, members-only cannabis consumption club that will be merged with luxury overnight accommodations will provide a sophisticated location to consume and onsite guest service representatives who can advise consumers on safe consumption practices. For more information or to make reservations, please visit www.pattersoninn.com or call 303-955-5142.
For more on The 420 Hotels: https://the420hotels.com/