A champagne toast to King Tut

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Every year, the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa hosts a special ceremony that marks the beginning of the Brown Palace’s holiday season. The 23rd Champagne Cascade at the Brown Palace on November 7 was another glowing success this fall. The theme surrounded the King Tut exhibit here in Denver, complete with servers dressed as pharaohs flanking the 6,000-glass six-sided “pyramid.” As I walked in, the three-piece jazz band played while facing the tall temple as the music and the crowd filled the room and balconies above.


Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Brown Palace Managing Director Marcel Pitton presents a donation check to Denver Art Museum President Cathey Finlon.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Employees of the Brown Palace dressed as pharaohs.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Bernard Ganter sabers the first bottle.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Ganter hands the bottle off to an employee before a repeat performance.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Pitton pours Moet into champagne glasses as Finlon awaits her turn.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
The carefully assembled glass tower
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

I had been to visit the Brown Palace last year for a special Halloween tour, hearing some of the rumored ghost stories as well as some of the history. Built in 1905, the same year as The Statesman’s own office building at 1535 Grant St., the hotel has had some famous and infamous guests visit from all over. The Brown has housed such rock bands as U2 and the Beatles as well as Hollywood stars and politicians. The “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, Queen Marie of Romania, and nearly all past presidents have visited — everyone except Calvin Coolidge, who never visited Denver.

Speaking of presidents, there is not one, but three presidential suites on the top floor available for the bargain price of $1500 per night. Between the Eisenhower Suite, the Roosevelt Suite and the Reagan Suite, I think I would prefer to stay in the first, though all of them are absolutely gorgeous. I’ve heard that President Eisenhower used to play golf in his suite, and at some point swung his club so hard that he accidentally put a dent in the fireplace mantel! The Brown Palace is also known for housing the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

While everyone anticipated the “sabering ceremony,” the atrium filled with anxious spectators. Just after noon, the annually-contracted saber wielder, Bernard Ganter, sliced off the top of three over-sized Moet et Chandon Champagne bottles with an antique Neopoleonic saber with “Moet et Chandon” carved into the blade. There is a legend that in Napoleon’s time, when his soldiers returned home after a victory the townspeople handed them bottles of Champagne in appreciation. Since they were on horseback, rather than fiddle around with the foil, the wire basket and cork while holding on to the reigns, they simply sabered off the cork and drank from the bottle. How’s that for efficiency?

Once the bottles were opened, Marcel Pitton, managing director of the Brown, poured the champagne into the top glass of the pyramid, letting it cascade to the glasses below. It was fantastic! Not all glasses were filled, since he told me that it would have taken 120 cases of champagne to fill all 6,000 glasses! When I asked him how the pyramid was constructed, he said it took five hours for a team of hotel employees to build it and they did it, “Very, very carefully. One glass at a time.” Though he said there are usually no casualties during the sabering ceremony, “There is always the unknown, since it is live.”

Members of the museum and other VIPs posed for professional photos before the ceremony, and then proceeded to the catered fourth floor where they were met with bottomless champagne glasses, hors d’ oeuvres, desserts and a splendid view of the festivities below. All other balconies of the atrium were lined with spectators, as the event was open to the public. Prizes were also given including overnight stays, Mummy Wrap spa treatments and VIP tickets to the Denver Art Museum. The Hotel and Spa also presented a $5,500 donation to the Denver Art Museum right before the main event.

Last year they celebrated the Broncos 50th anniversary, and the year before that it was a celebration of Denver’s 150th anniversary with now-Mayor, soon-to-be Governor Hickenlooper in attendance. Mr. Pitton said that he wasn’t sure what the theme will be for next year, but it is always relevant to the city, and he hopes it will be just as spectacular!