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Cozy up to the heart of Bellingham at Hotel Leo

Bellingham is home to craft brews, artisan fairs, and a plethora of activities, from mountain biking to kayaking. Views of majestic Mount Baker loom over the city, beckoning residents, visitors and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Whether you're shopping in the revitalized downtown core, brew hopping, or just passing through town, Hotel Leo is the ideal central location to stay in the heart of Bellingham.

Step into the lobby of this grand hotel and you are stepping into a living tableau. From the white porcelain fountain greeting each patron into the lobby to the blue and yellow tiled floors, the intricately carved woodwork, and the old-fashioned mail chute, hints of history are in every corner.

Originally the Leopold Hotel, dating back to 1883, served as a social hub for the elites, as well as the laborers; for this town was booming with timber, fishing, and rail. Even Clark Gable stayed here while filming Call of the Wild in the 1930s. Where once he meandered through these rooms (perhaps even sauntering up to the bar) now weddings, concerts, conventions, and parties are held, filling the grand Crystal Ballroom with modern-day laughter. And that is exactly how co-managers Peter Frazier and Jamie Verkist want it to be.

Along with their business partner Bob Hall, they moved forward opening the refurbished hotel — right before the pandemic struck. They are keeping with the prominent, lively tradition and sophistication of this historical landmark, ensuring there is coherence from the nostalgia of the 1920s to modern-day 2020s.

“Joining modern comforts with classic style” is how both Frazier and Verkist describe the vibe inside Hotel Leo. Frazier adds, “Every great city needs a grand hotel at its center."

They received a little help from their friends when it came to creating that vibe. BreAnne Green, owner of Greenhouse Home and Design, assisted in blending the two centuries together, renovating it into a blend of “chic, contemporary design while preserving the vintage features,” says Verkist.

In fact, it is quite easy to envision a flapper girl lounging against the contemporary furnishings... And you just might! Only, it will most likely be a tour guide from the Good Time Girls, a pair of history buffs who provide guided walking tours and know (almost) everything about the history of this fair city. (Even the ghosts!)

Meander into the upper lobby and spend an evening tucked away inside a prohibition-style speakeasy, aptly named Amendment 21. This stylish addition to the hotel offers delicious craft cocktails and dining, as well as a nod to a bygone era as the black and white photographs displayed around the room suggest.

Gin is the name of the game in Amendment 21, so try your hand at one of their crafted creations and imbibe with a cocktail made from local gins paired very nicely with their own herbal tonics. Immerse yourself in the Model A tonic and its flavors of Juniper, Rosemary, and Fir. It’s as if you are drinking the essence of the PNW.

Also on the spirit menu are wines, craft beers, and ales, most of which are sourced within a few miles keeping to the “green” mindset of both the hotel and speakeasy. Keeping it local also means a keeping lighter footprint.

The dining fare is also sourced locally, be it the cheese in the fondue coming to you from Samish Bay Cheese or the day's catch brought in by Lummi Island Seafood. The emphasis is on the abundant agriculture of this terroir with many of the ingredients sourced within a general radius of Whatcom County. Many of the flavors reflect the wilds of this area between mountains and sea.

If a movie night or game of billiards sounds more appealing, head downstairs to the “hidden” Gable Theatre and game room. Yes, you guessed it: the theatre is named for none other than Clark himself! Hotel Leo has it all for your night on the town with friends or a cozy night in with a good book.

What do Frazier and Verkist see for the future? Don’t be surprised if Frazier's dream of preserving “seven hotels in the Salish Sea area” really does come true.

Hotel Leo offers "PNW style in the heart of downtown Bellingham."

MaryRose Denton is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. While the products, services and/or accommodations in this story were provided without charge, the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.

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