“The Host Who Fills Every Want”
The Infamous Proprietor of Colorado’s Hotel de Paris
On October 13, 1900, the Georgetown Courier published an obituary with a startling revelation: “Louis Dupuy, proprietor of the Hotel de Paris, died suddenly Sunday morning of pneumonia after an illness of several weeks’ duration…By his death a part of the secret of his life was revealed and the public had become acquainted with his true name—[Adolphe Francois Gerard].”
Who exactly was Louis Dupuy? At the time of his passing his reputation had grown far beyond the small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains where, for twenty-five years, Dupuy established the Hotel de Paris as a center of fine French dining. In some way his Georgetown restaurant anticipated the modern foodie culture, where he provided an unparalleled dining experience in an entirely unexpected place.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Born in France in 1844, Adolphe Gerard lived the life of a nomad. After running away from seminary in his late teens, Gerard traveled from his home in Alencon to Paris where he worked first as a dishwasher and then as an apprentice cook in one of Paris’s many restaurants—an experience that would be incredibly valuable later in life.
In May 1867, Gerard boarded the Harpswell to New York City, and upon arrival started his new life as a writer. One day he was caught selling an article—a piece he had not written—from Blackwood’s Magazine to the editor of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Disgraced, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping to put the trouble behind him.
The army posted Gerard in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and assigned him desk duty as a clerk. A short time later, for an unknown reason (some suspect dealing with military corruption that was rampant in the West at that time), Gerard deserted his post and was once again on the run. In 1869 he walked from Wyoming to Denver, leaving Adolphe Gerard behind to start anew as Louis Dupuy.
For the rest of his life, Dupuy would hide in plain sight—as a reporter, a miner, and finally the famous proprietor of the Hotel de Paris.
“Show them this little souvenir of Alencon which I built in America, and they will understand.”Louis Dupuy
Colorado and Georgetown in the 1800s
My trip to the Hotel de Paris—and to Dupuy—coincided with a summer family reunion, so on this particular day, I skipped out on the family bonding and traveled with my cousin from Colorado Springs to Georgetown.
Today as you travel along I-70, it’s not difficult to imagine Colorado in the latter part of the 19th century. Dotting the highway are exits to towns that began as mining camps, with the soaring Rockies reaching up to the sky from all sides. One of those camps, Georgetown, is located right before the Eisenhower Tunnel where packs of skiers travel every year to resorts and peaks beyond.
Established in 1859, Georgetown (George’s Town) began life a mining settlement after a Kentucky prospector named George Griffith struck gold. After a short decline when placer gold (pronounced plasser, meaning gold found in stream beds) in the town ran dry, the discovery of silver re-set the town on the map.
While silver mining in Georgetown began in the 1860s, many of the silver mines were initially not successful due to the high price of gold. But in 1878 the passage of the Bland-Allison Act (which allowed silver coinage) ushered in an era of greater prosperity for the region. This Colorado silver boom brought with it an influx of immigrants, money, miners, and most importantly, the railroad.
During this period of silver mining Louis Dupuy worked as an itinerant reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. His beat—to interview silver miners at their campsites—allowed Dupuy to take up a second job as paid cook. This second job soon earned him a reputation as the best cook in the Colorado Territory.
Despite that reputation, in 1872 Dupuy decided to try his own hand at mining, until one fateful day in March 1873 when he was nearly blinded saving a miner’s life during an explosion, and also ended up with a broken rib and clavicle.
Unable to continue work, but respected by the townspeople of Georgetown for his bravery in saving the miner’s life, he was presented with a reward. The monies allowed Dupuy to rent the Delmonico Bakery in town, which he immediately renamed the Hotel de Paris. It took a mere three years for Dupuy to purchase the building outright, and by the time of his death, he expanded the original building five times.
“For a Good Meal Go to the Hotel de Paris"
There are perhaps three key reasons for the success of Hotel de Paris. First, the silver boom solidified Georgetown as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies” where it would be, for a short time, the second largest city in the state (Colorado achieved statehood in 1876). Second, a direct consequence of the first, was the railroad which rolled into town on August 1, 1877.
The railroad, much like the internet today, was a key connector. It brought not only people but also news and products into remote areas where communication usually took double or even triple the time to arrive. For Louis Dupuy, it brought regular imports of foodstuffs such as salmon from California which were raised in alpine lakes above Georgetown, oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, and peas from as far away as France. The railroad allowed Dupuy to build a restaurant rivaling some of New York’s finest, while also bringing famous guests, as the American Heritage Cookbook described, in “red-plush coaches of the narrow gauge Colorado Central (the only means of access) to sample the mushroom [omelet]…”
The third reason for the hotel’s success was Dupuy himself. After he purchased the bakery, he worked tirelessly to expand and deploy a commercial kitchen unlike anything else in the Rockies. His attention to detail included fine Haviland china from Limoges, France, and refined choices of the perfect wine (often French or Californian vintages). The success of the restaurant was also due in part to Dupuy’s insistence on including local game and food from his own gardens.
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He didn’t do this alone. His staff at the hotel included a distant relative Marie Sophie Bladier Gally and her husband Jean-Antoine, as well as Chinese employees who had worked in the mines, in laundry, and at other local restaurants. One individual, John Touk, was employed as a gardener (located in the East Court) where he cultivated fresh herbs and greens such as chard and spinach for the Hotel de Paris’ menu.
Dupuy also procured fresh game through hunting and butchered the meat on site. Evidence remains at the house of the butchering equipment; a saw for cutting bone, a butchering table with zinc top, and the original iron meat hooks are still attached to the exterior of the kitchen addition. In 1887 Dupuy, who had been constantly expanding and adding to the Hotel, purchased his own ranch called Troublesome Creek, further controlling the sourcing and location of the restaurant’s food.
For those enamored by the modern-day farm-to-table and locally grown food trends in restaurants across the country, this ranch-to-table setup would have been heaven. For Louis Dupuy, it was continuing a practice that he had been taught during his time in France and England as a young man.
An Epic Meal
To really get a sense of the restaurant in action, here is the story of one specific meal.
In March 1879, nine men collectively worth over two hundred million dollars traveled to Georgetown to eat at the Hotel de Paris. The overall purpose of their trip was to investigate further expansion of the railroad past Georgetown into Leadville, and so it was only natural that they stopped at the finest dining establishment in the region. These men—Jay Gould (owner of another National Trust property, Lyndhurst), his son George, Grenville M. Dodge, Sidney Dillon, Russell Sage, Captain G. H. Baker, Oliver Ames, W.A.H. Loveland and E.K. Berthoud—were a collection of industry magnates and engineers and represented the type of patrons Dupuy typically served.
The menu they enjoyed was a combination of imported seafood along with vegetables and meat from Dupuy’s own kitchen, including oysters on the half shell, "Sweetbreads Eugenie," and peach charlotte with brandy sauce.
Following the meal, these men likely spent some time conversing with Dupuy, whose enigmatic personality was akin to today’s modern-day celebrity chef. A sense of the conversation is evident in this speech presented by Dupuy at this meal:
“I love these mountains and I love America, but you will pardon me if I bring into this community a remembrance of my youth and my country. To have the human name preserved has ever been not only the desire but one of the illusions of my race, and will doubtless always be.
The desire to be remembered, that our dust shall retain the tender regard of those whom we leave behind, that the spot where it shall lie will be remembered with a kind of soothing reverence…
…and so my friends, this house will be my tomb—and if, in after years, someone comes and calls for Louis Dupuy; show them this little souvenir of Alencon which I built in America, and they will understand.”
“Should M. Dupuy depart, Georgetown would lose a portion of its individuality...”Georgetown Courier, October 13, 1900
While the Hotel de Paris continued on after Dupuy’s passing, the restaurant slowly transformed away from the genius of its original proprietor. The hotel passed first to Sophie Gally, who died a mere four months after Dupuy, then to her nieces Angeline Pouget Lefebre and Rosa Pouget. In 1901 it was rented and later sold to the Burkholder family who ran the property throughout the first half of the 20th century before it closed in 1949. The hotel is now owned and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Colorado, and the Hotel de Paris Museum is part of the National Trust's portfolio of 27 historic sites.
With over 90% of its original furnishings inventory, visitors who stop by can glimpse into Louis Dupuy’s kitchen and peek into his wine cellar. The historic site is also working on a culinary-focused specialty tour that will be available for the 2017 tour season.
When you visit, stand in the center of the kitchen and take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to see, smell, and taste what the Georgetown Courier reporter experienced over a hundred years ago:
“The time to see Dupuy is when, seated at the table, you watch him cooking your order on a pure white porcelain stove or range. He is the chef with ruddy face and snowy linen cap and apron. Under his experienced fingers the chops or steak are broiled to that degree when they will melt in the mouth. His coffee—but that deserves separate encomium. That coffee from Dupuy’s porcelain stove is another nectar. The tannin is missing, for there is none of it—it is as pure as the snows that cap the neighboring peaks and when the lump of sugar saturated with cognac is suspended in tongs above the brown liquid and the blue flame sputters, leaps and gurgles into the cup, the finishing touch to an epicure’s meal draws the comfortable feeling of satisfied appetite without critics, to the host who fills every want.”