Luxury Strange in Victor, Colorado: A psychedelic night at the historic, haunted Black Monarch Hotel
A once-famous brothel revived from the ashes, open for business
I stopped my car in the middle of the road and checked the map. Again. Was this right? Was I lost?
Not according to the GPS. According to the satellites, I was close to Victor, Colorado, my destination — within a half mile, even. But the road I was staring down, did not look like one that led to a town people lived in. The road I was staring down was lined with old wooden mining homes; some broken down and abandoned, windows shattered, roofs collapsed, doors unhinged. Others looked as though they might be inhabited, with cars parked outside and lights on within. Inhabited by whom? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
A raven swooped down, low, right in front of my windshield, flew over and landed on one of the abandoned homes. Perching precariously on the roof’s edge, it stared straight at me, cocking its black head. I shivered and proceeded along the route.
I rolled slowly forward, eyeing the strange neighborhood as it passed by. Then the blocky brick buildings of the old town itself crept into view and I sighed with relief.
Image courtesy of Cait Falc.
A few locals hung about, chatting to one another, running small errands, closing up their shops at the end of the day, all eyeing the unknown stranger sidling into town. Their eyes following my truck as I passed them by.
I tipped my hat and they nodded slowly back.
Victor is the kind of old mining town that Colorado used to be full of: blue collar, sparse, small, diminished from its former self and still very beautiful. It’s western. It’s high in the Rockies, just south of Pikes Peak, just north of Nipple Mountain and Canyon City, not far from Cripple Creek.
This place, Victor, was once a city of sin, according to the owner of the hotel I’d come to stay in. It had once been a luxurious town for city slickers from Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo to come enjoy fine liquor, good gambling and high-end prostitution. High society socialites would come here, usually via one of the “pleasure trains” that ran up to Victor, to get their kicks and spend their money.
18,000 people once lived here, enough to fill Madison Square Garden. Which is a difficult thing to imagine looking at Victor now. These days, the population hovers around 400.
Many of the town’s buildings are historic. Some structures have been gutted, disemboweled by the Gold Rush bust, left to stand the test of time. Some are still occupied by local businesses: antique stores, art galleries, bars and restaurants. And still others, like the Black Monarch Hotel, which I had just driven three hours to stay the night at, were being restored, reinvigorated with fresh life.
The Black Monarch. I didn’t know what to expect from this hotel. I knew it was a new business, a startup venture that belonged to a man named Adam Zimmerli. I knew that the building this hotel is inside of was once known simply as the Monarch Hotel, and was renowned as the best casino and brothel “this side of the Mississippi.” That was, before it burned down with the rest of the town in 1899.
I also knew that the Black Monarch was supposedly (by some accounts) haunted. Possessed by the long-dead spirit of a murdered barkeep, shot dead on the job and who never quite passed on.
It sounded like my kind of place. Which was why, when Zimmerli contacted me with opportunity to stay at his strange Rocky Mountain inn, the night after Halloween, high and isolated in a gold mining town no-one seems to have heard of, I didn’t hesitate to accept.
Why not? I thought. Haunted, creepy, odd and bizarre have always been the obelisks of my life. And this opportunity seemed to fit the bill for all four. So, I’d packed my bag with the necessary clothes, toiletries and strange illegal substances and hit the road, heading south.
The drive was beautiful. I went up through Conifer and down through Deckers, the sun was out and snow was melting from the trees; glittering droplets of water falling off them as I drove past. The winding mountain road was all mine, all the way.
Image courtesy of Cait Falc.
And at last, here I was, in Victor, this weird historic little Colorado town that was reminding me an awful lot of my childhood in Leadville.
I parked the car right out front of the town’s general store/post office and got out. I stretched and grabbed my bag.
It took me a minute to find the side-door entrance to the Black Monarch, and when I did I hesitated to enter. I do not know why. But I stood there for a moment, in the cold, my hand hovering over the door handle. What was I about to walk into?
It was only a moment, though. Just a flash of doubt, which passed quickly. Then I grabbed the knob, turned it and pushed the door open, walking inside. I followed a black and white checker tiled hallway to a flight of stairs. They creaked softly as I climbed them. Then, as I reached the top, I looked up and my gaze was met by that of a large, imposing grey wolf. I stopped in my tracks.
“Are you Will?” The voice surprised me. I turned and saw a twenty-something woman with long dark hair and black-framed glasses behind me.
“You must be Sarah,” I held my hand out and we shook. “Adam told me to find you when I got here.”
“Here I am.”
Sarah walked me through the door at the top of the stairs, past the stuffed wolf and into the hotel proper. Everything was black: the walls, the rugs, the wood floor, the toilets, the kitchen, all of it. An oil portrait of a hairless, monocled cat in an old military uniform holding a cricket like a dog watched us with disinterest as we moved across the room.
Sarah led me to a door at the far end of the hallway, to the corner room I would be staying the night in. She unlocked it and pushed the door open.
“Woah,” I gaped, walking inside. I dropped my bag and took the place in.
“This is the largest room,” Sarah told me. “We call it our Nikola Tesla room.”
Image courtesy of Cait Falc - (Black Monarch Hotel).
Which I probably could have guessed. The walls are packed with pictures of Tesla, working in his lab, giving lectures, diagrams of the electrical genius’ inventions, and envelopes that look hand written by the man himself. There is a large leather couch and a TV, a desk, two wing-backed leather chairs, two very comfortable plush queen-sized mattresses, a magnificent chandelier and a spyglass looking down from the corner window at the main street of Victor. Skulls were everywhere. Three big buck racks proudly protruded above the beds and, leering at me from the far end of the room was an angry looking black boar’s head, stuffed and mounted above the door to the adjoining room. The books on the shelves and desk all had titles like “The Corpse in the Corpice,” “Rest in Pieces,” and “Diseases of the Inner Eye.”
I had never been inside of a hotel room quite like it.
Image courtesy of Cait Falc - (Black Monarch Hotel).
“How does it look?” Sarah asked.
“Like I could live here.”
She laughed, then asked if I needed anything else. I told her I didn’t and we said goodbye. But just as she was walking away, she spun around, remembering something.
“Oh,” she said. “The bar across the street there is having Scaraoke tonight. It should be a lot of fun.”
“I’ll probably be there,” I told her. What else was I going to do?
Then she left, I closed the door and the profound stillness and silence of that tiny mountain mining town fell upon me. The sun had set outside and the room was filling up with that cold blue evening hue: the light of loneliness.
Well, I thought, probably about time to eat some psychedelics.
Image courtesy of Will Brendza - (Black Monarch Hotel).
I dropped my bag, opened it up and started setting up shop at the desk. I pulled out my notebook and computer, sent a few last emails and then grabbed the fun stuff: my jar of home-grown golden teachers and my gracious roommate’s donation to my strange adventure: two hits of strawberry-strength LSD.
I stared for while at them, quietly. I listened to the small noises drifting all around me: the tick-tock of the wall-clock, the creaks of footsteps elsewhere in the hotel, an angry black dog barking somewhere off in the distance, ghostly moans drifting through the walls.
Or was that just the neighbors fucking?
I didn’t know, and I didn’t much care, either. Quickly, I ate the goodies I’d laid out and decided to go for a walk. I knew I would have company later, but I still had time, so I threw on my down jacket and hit the streets.
It was cold out. The town was still. I strolled up the block, around the historic mining labor union building, which is still pockmarked with the battle scars of the Colorado Labor Wars. Zimmerli had explained to me that this was one of Colorado’s most endangered historic sites. When the miners had gone on strike in 1904, the federal government responded with force, and an ensuing riot essentially turned Victor into a battlefield. The miners were forced to hold up inside their labor union building, which the Feds apparently shot up to high hell. Today the minors union’s roof is caved in, the windows boarded up. It has been forsaken to history and largely forgotten about.
That building stands above Victor’s new event space, just behind the Black Monarch, where the town plans on hosting film screenings and concerts. Zimmerli had painted a wonderful picture for me, of his plans to build more rooms, on top of the Black Monarch that would overlook this space so his guests could enjoy the music from the comfort of their rooms. He even has plans to put a hot tub on the roof, and a patio for people to hang out on.
And then there’s the downstairs — I never actually got to see it, but the downstairs of the Black Monarch is the old casino (where the barkeep was killed in a gunfight). Zimmerli plans on remodeling that space into a café/restaurant/bar/music venue, eventually. He has Gofundme and Indiegogo pages set up to raise money for the renovation, but he admits that it still might be a while before that vision becomes a reality. There’s a lot of work to do: construction to be done, furnishings to pick out, he needs a barista for that café and some more capital to restore the hotel to its full former glory.
But when I spoke with Zimmerli over the phone, he seemed unshakably confident. There wasn’t a shadow of doubt in his voice as he explained to me his plans. Zimmerli is not new to the business of running a business, he is a contractor and has been operating Air B’n’B properties in Denver for almost a decade. He seems to know what he’s doing, and I’m very excited to see what he makes happen in Victor. If the Nikola Tesla room is anything to go off of, The Black Monarch Hotel is going to be a beautiful Colorado attraction once it’s taken its final form.
Image courtesy of Cait Falc - (Black Monarch Hotel).
My breath was visible on the air before my face as I walked. I passed by hundred-year-old homes illuminated from within by the flickering white light of television sets. The community center was lively with people singing songs that sounded vaguely biblical. I perused an outdoor “museum” of sorts, full of old steel mining contraptions from the gold rush days of Victor.
Eventually I came upon the town’s only liquor store and with only three minutes to spare before they closed, I went inside and bought the most expensive six-pack of Voodoo Ranger I’ve ever come across. But I didn’t have much of a choice. I wanted beer and there was nowhere else in town to get it (and it was far too late to safely drive to Cripple Creek and back). So, I dropped the $15 and got the hell outta there.
By that time it was dark out and a thick fog was rolling into town. The psychedelics were building on me, I realized watching my steps grow long, and patterns swirling on the sidewalk beneath my feet.
I walked back to the hotel, which, luckily, was not far — because nothing is far in Victor. Everything is just down the street or around the corner.
My room was warm and filled with the bright golden light of the chandalier when I returned. It felt comfortable. I cracked a beer and sat down at the desk, staring around at all of the Nikola Tesla themed décor.
He’d been in this town at one point, Tesla. From what Zimmerli told me, Nikola Tesla had actually engineered Victor’s old hydro-electric power plant back in the day. He was one of the only people in the world who knew how to do something like that, at the time, and his lab had been just down the mountain, in Colorado Springs. Though he doesn’t have the proof yet, Zimmerli believes that the old Monarch (now the Black Monarch) was wired up by Nikola Tesla himself, and his crew.
I ran my hand down the black wall beside the desk, imagining that unthinkably intelligent, historic genius in this room almost a hundred years ago, helping run wire though the very walls that would eventually sport his likeness. Had he really been here? Had that super-human electrical intellect stood where I now sat? Was his presence still there?
Image courtesy of Cait Falc - (Black Monarch Hotel).
From beyond my window I heard a howl — a blood-curdling cry in the night, that sent a shiver down my spine. I moved to the window and peered down at the street.
Across from me, the Fortune Club saloon was alive and busy. A witch was standing casually outside, beer in hand. She let loose another howl, throwing back her head and bellowing at the sky.
Scareoke, I thought, remembering what Sarah had told me. I would have to check that out at some point.
Knock, knock, knock.
I spun and stared at the door, frozen. Who dared to disturb my peace? Was it Sarah? Someone at the wrong door? I was in no mental state to deal with business (personal or professional) at this point.
Nervously, I opened the door, and was surprised and excited to see my girlfriend, Rebel. standing there. I had almost forgotten that she was meeting me here.
“You made it!” I said, embracing her.
“Yeah, but that fog didn’t help finding this place,” she looked closely at my eyes, at my already-saucer-sized pupils. “You get started already?”
I smiled. “Can I offer you a beer?”
I brought Rebel up to speed. I gave her a run-down of the room and the hotel, as I danced around barefoot on the black rug, told her what I’d learned and what I’d seen walking around town. We drank beer and she settled in after the long drive from Boulder. All the while those howls from the street continued, and, even mounted in volume. Things were picking up at the saloon, clearly.
Eventually, probably sometime around eight, we decided to brave the unknown and venture over there — to taste the local vibes and witness whatever Victor’s Scaraoke might have to offer. So we threw on our jackets and swam through the fog, across the street and into the Fortune Club saloon.
The place was absolutely packed. It felt as though all 410 of Victor’s residents had turned out to party, to dress up and get down. The energy of that place was electric. We took two seats at the bar and sat back to watch the show. A plague doctor was singing Tool. I looked to my left and locked eyes with a werewolf, clutching his beer and staring at me intently.
“What can I get you?” The bartender asked, breaking my moment with the werewolf.
We ordered two whiskey gingers. The bartender procured them and handed us the drinks. His hat read: This is my lazy costume.
From the ceiling decapitated doll heads hung like fruit, spinning lazily above the chaos. Morticia Adams prowled behind the bar, Sting operated the karaoke machine while pirates, zombie nuns, and all manner of other characters belted out the lyrics to their favorite songs. A friendly sprite floated around, bouncing between people and groups, flirting with everyone and everything.
I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face, as I sat there absorbing all that debauchery. This was exactly the kind of Strange I’d hoped to find in Victor.
We slammed the whiskey gingers and ordered two more. We talked with locals, who all seemed very excited about the Black Monarch Hotel and the fresh life it’s breathing into their town, bringing people into Victor who might not have ever made it there (like me). I befriended the werewolf, and we started howling together for the brave singers who rotated endlessly up to the mic.
More whiskey gingers, more chatting, more laughing. Everyone was in high spirits, everyone seemed to know each other (because they all probably did), everyone treated us like we were friends and made us feel welcome.
At one point a tall, slender man in a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a long black duster walked in. The bar paused. Cowboy Gandalf, I thought to myself. Then, everyone burst out cheering — the locals greeted him like a celebrity. He smiled, waved dutifully, stepped up to the mic, removed his hat, stroked his beard once and then, he started rapping. He started throwing it down, seamlessly to The Humpty Dance.
The bar erupted. Everyone started hollering, me and wolf-man howled together, people climbed up on the bar and women screamed in ecstasy. Whoever that cowboy Gandalf was, he had just stolen the show.
“That’s Bob,” Sarah told me. “He kills it with the ladies.”
I laughed and nodded, of course this guy was a lady killer, I thought. Then I did a double take. Sarah? When had she sat down next to me? Had she been there all along? Had I sat down next to her?
The strangeness was in full swing, now, no doubt. Things were getting weird. Rachel and I ordered more whiskey gingers and the night rolled on. The fog thickened outside. The Scareoke got scarier and the bar got rowdier.
We could not stay forever, though. Around 1:30 AM we paid our $44 tab (which was outrageously cheap considering how many whiskey gingers we had just drank between the two of us) and ambled back into the cold night, across the street, back to the Black Monarch. Back upstairs to the Nikola Tesla Room.
It felt like home, walking back in there. It felt like I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. It felt good; familiar and intimate.
Before we both crashed into one of those plush, comfortable beds, I scribbled a note in my journal which I would not remember writing: It’s a rare brand of Luxury Strange, they’ve got here, at The Black Monarch Hotel.
Image courtesy of Rachel Laux - (Black Monarch Hotel).
The next morning, I rose with sun. We packed, cleaned up, rinsed off in the shared bathroom’s stone basin shower and rolled out in a daze.
I had a heavy heart leaving that place. Even after just one night there, The Black Monarch and the town of Victor itself had left an impression on me: I liked it here, I loved this hotel and I would be back I promised myself, as I took one last look at the old brick building from the street.
This is a very special place — a hotel with a rich history and a bright future, a high-country Colorado gem quite unlike any other hotel you’ll find anywhere in the Rocky Mountains.