Chris Chiari stood in front of 420 E 11th Avenue in Denver 12 years ago having just sold his home in Florida. The building there looked like a castle, he says. It was on the market. "I pointed up to the house," he says, "and I said, 'I want to turn you into a marijuana bed and breakfast.'" But the weed-friendly address wasn't destined to be his quite yet.
In 2018, it went up for sale again. This time, the recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Colorado years earlier, he bought it, opening The Patterson Inn as a nine-room bed and breakfast. Now, he plans to open what his company says is the nation's first weed consumption lounge inside a hotel.
The idea, when the consumption lounge opens at some point in 2023, is a space where the weed-curious and regular consumers alike can sit and enjoy themselves in something similar to a bar setting with guests just steps from their room.
Chiari makes frequent reference to cannabis hospitality, differentiating it from cannabis-friendly locations that sometimes simply turn a blind eye where legal usage may be in question. "Cannabis-friendly is starting to emerge coast to coast," he says. "Go outside, smoke on a patio, we won't look. We look the other way, right? We let you do this. I'm truly trying to create this other thing called cannabis hospitality, and unless you've achieved a license, you have not yet achieved cannabis hospitality."
The goal, he says, is to build a space where people can feel relaxed and safe, where he can continue his goal to contribute to the "normalization and destigmatization of cannabis possession and use."
The Patterson Inn lounge will hold 42 people, more than the bed and breakfast accommodates. "I want to offer my guests a place to go for a really fun and active and engaged experience around cannabis consumption," he says. "I'm hoping to host them for the joint they'll smoke when they check in because they're looking around going, oh my God, I can't believe I can do this."
It has been 11 years since Colorado voters voiced the desire to make recreational cannabis legal. It has since spread to states across the US in various forms. Along with that spread, consumption lounges have begun popping up. "I think this is totally going to disrupt the cannabis industry," says Sara Stewart, speaking of consumption lounges at large. Stewart isn't involved in the Patterson Inn but is the CEO and co-founder of Ritual Cannabis Hospitality, which offers operations and business development for cannabis companies.
For Chiari and the Patterson Inn, this newly-forged space has not been easy to achieve. Overcoming the obstacles makes it a unique space, and could make the small bed and breakfast an alluring destination for cannabis-curious travelers.
However, significant barriers make it unclear if this could become a trend in the hotel space. "The biggest hurdle is that we're creating a smoke-filled room indoors," he says. "Whether it's a restaurant or a tavern or a bar, it's about employee safety. It's about the ability to work for an eight-hour shift in a healthy and safe environment."
He references businesses that allow for cigar or hookah smoke as examples of where guidelines have been established for similar businesses. Ventilation requirements and complying with both state and local regulations make it a slow and difficult process to achieve for any consumption lounge.
"A lot of states have come online with not very good regulations," says Stewart. "California was not great, and a lot of people have adapted California regs. However, Nevada's are very interesting and exciting, and they make more sense. And they allow for the hospitality to come through. I'm hoping states look to Nevada to adopt those regs [going forward]."
Businesses Stewart has worked with sell cannabis and, often, food as part of their model. She says it's necessary because they can't make the same kind of money on weed that a bar makes on alcohol.
Chiari, however, has opted to allow guests to bring their own cannabis products instead of selling products in the Patterson Inn. The lounge will serve drinks, and guests can bring in food from the adjoining restaurant, almost functioning with a take-out relationship between the consumption lounge and the restaurant on-site.
"We're going to offer [non-alcoholic] spritzers and beverages, and we're already making simple syrups infused with lemongrass and thyme that we use in one of our signature cocktails," he says. "We have a food menu now where if you tell us what you're smoking, we can talk about experience, we can pair complementary foods or additives to the food that can enhance or impact the experience. You get a little edgy, we can help shave that down with food. The goal is to start low, go slow, which is what we tell people at the counter with a budtender but now we take it into an experience.”
With a smaller hotel, Chiari doesn't believe the lounge will turn potential visitors away. He has been open about his intentions with guests since opening the space and feels confident it can succeed. Even though the lounge at the Patterson Inn has not officially opened yet, Chiari says he has his eye on opening more hotels with a similar plan in mind. "This is meant to be a model that can expand to major cities like Chicago, New York, and Boston, cities that will likely regulate this like cigar lounges. Not for smoking on a patio but for smoking inside in a bar-type environment."
The Patterson Inn, once it is cleared to open its consumption lounge, will become a unique destination for travelers. "I see it as an amenity," he says, "and I see it as the most exciting and unique amenity in hospitality." But laws and practices are constantly changing in the world of legalized weed. If there's one thing ten years of legal weed in the US has revealed, it's that the only thing you can count on is change.