DENVER, Colorado — Afternoon Tea at The Brown Palace is a Denver tradition that echoes the refinement of another age. The iconic downtown hotel boasts of imported cream, soothing classical music, and handmade tea sandwiches and scones.
Guests from all over the world make reservations weeks, sometimes months in advance, for a guaranteed seat in the eight-story atrium.
For one day of the year, the centerpiece isn't the crisp English Tea but rather two 1,400 pound animals fresh out of the stocks.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Tea with Steer at The Brown, a highlight of the National Western Stock Show.
It all started in 1945 with a man named Daniel I.J. Thornton. He sold two bulls that year "for the highest amounts ever" Paul Andrews, the president and CEO of the National Western Stock Show said.
Each sold for $50,000.
As an influential businessman, Thornton seized the opportunity to parade his success through the halls of one of Denver's most elite hotels.
"He called the Brown Palace and asked if he could bring [his bulls] down the next day and they obliged," Andrews said.
A tradition was born.
Every year since then, the Grand and Reserve Champion steer have marched through the halls of the Brown Palace.
"If you can imagine the bull in a china shop, this is kind of two bulls in the tea area," Andrews said.
As one can imagine, the tradition has had its hiccups over the years. In 1996, one of the steers got spooked as it entered the historic hotel and took off through Downtown Denver.
"We scrambled our cowboys immediately to head him off at the pass," Andrews said.
He estimated that it was about a half-hour of excitement before the cowboys wrangled the prized animal.
For the last 10 years, Marshall Ernst has been in charge of making sure that doesn't happen again.
"Well, I think I need a bonus," said Ernst when he learned of his unique responsibility as Senior Director of Livestock Operations.
He hasn't lost a steer yet.
Even with his many years of experience, the setting isn't lost on Ernst.
"You get really nervous because there’s this Baby Grand behind us that’s very expensive and china cabinets along the walkway. You never know how the animals are going to react," he said.
If the steer is the unknown variable, Ernst and Andrews can pretty much always count on the crowd to perform as expected. Ernst described it as "about the busiest day at the Brown Palace all year long, every year."
The 75th anniversary of Tea with Steer will be held Jan. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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