Hot Sulphur Springs: Historic Riverside Hotel changes hands |

Hot Sulphur Springs: Historic Riverside Hotel changes hands

Tonya Bina/Sky-Hi Daily News

Two weeks ago, Abraham Rodriguez sold his historic Riverside Hotel after a quarter-century’s worth of hospitality.

Under the former proprietorship of Rodriguez, the Riverside was as idiosyncratic as its host town, Hot Sulphur Springs.

The restaurant was open at the whim of its owner, the decor was post turn-of-the-century boarding-room with sparse extras like a chance painting or animal head on the wall.

There are 17 sleeping quarters, some with a pedestal sink in the room, a striped wash cloth hanging from the towel bar. For most rooms, the bathroom is down the hall.

An armoire keeps clothes, and a different print of wallpaper defines each space, from florals of the Old West to prints you’d find on dad’s neckties.

It’s hard to pinpoint the era of Rodriguez’ Riverside ” antique furnishings mixed with Salvation Army finds, iron bedsprings and the occasional southwestern accent ” but one thing is certain, it evokes the feeling of your grandparents’ upstairs.

The hospitality, not just the decor, lends to this feeling.

Rodriguez, 74, known as Abe around town, brought distinct character with his Manhattan accent and jokes cracked table-side.

Those who dined in the Riverside’s quaint restaurant were treated to friendly service, white table linens, an antique lamp on the table, a pristine view of the Colorado River, and the fares of the day, scrawled on a pedestal chalkboard.

“It was a dining experience never to be duplicated,” said patron Steve Ditto, a massage therapist at the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort, who often referred clients to Abe’s place. “The food was good, and there was always classical music playing. If (Abe) was in a particularly good mood, he’d come out and spout poetry from memory he’d written years ago.”

Ditto especially admired the wild begonias that Rodriguez grew in the front room opposite the old fireplace. They crawled up the wall and partially covered the ceiling.

For the last 24 years, Jaime Medina headed the kitchen. He created signature dishes featuring Cornish game hen or barbecue ribs.

The restaurant focused on the fine-dining experience with fresh fish, fowl, beef and pork. An old-fashioned barroom complemented the experience.

“People liked it,” said Rodriguez, a Manhattan native. “They’d look for me after their meal to say ‘thank you,'” he said.

The Riverside was originally built in 1903 and has been featured in about 19 guidebooks, historic hotels and lodging publications under Rodriguez’s watch.

After cycling through several owners, the large Grand Avenue building was rundown when Rodriguez acquired it.

“When I got there, I closed it for 16 months. It was in a state of massive disrepair,” he said. “I bought the hotel because I saw the potential of giving new life to a historic place.”

He updated the rooms (according to him, one or more had orange paint and there were fluorescent lights in the dining room) and hunted for antique furniture pieces.

He deliberately kept the atmosphere simple, he said.

Throughout the years, the Riverside attracted repeat clientele.

“They appreciated the simplicity of the hotel, the decor, the cleanliness and especially, the food,” he said.

The hotelier, who has a two-year degree in industrial chemistry from the State University of New York and a master’s in physiological psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, worked nine years as a vocational counselor for the Colorado Division of Employment before finding his way to Middle Park’s county seat ” a far cry from New York City.

“Right after graduation from college, I left the city,” he said. “I never did want to stay there,” Rodriguez said.

Now that the historic Riverside Hotel is sold, his only plans are to retire and approach life with spontaneity.

“I want to thank all the people in the community who have supported me,” he said. “I know the new owners will carry on the tradition that has been established.”

And with that, the three-decades-long Hot Sulphur resident tilted his head and added, “Good bye, I guess.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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