Best Luxury AspenThe Insider’s Aspen Playbook
A 30-year Aspen insider, who founded the publication that launched many a socialite career, Janet O’Grady gives us the definitive Aspen Playbook. It's just a peek of what is to come, with her soon-to-launch project A-TheBlog.com, a lifestyle and travel online publication. While the world is a beautiful place, Janet calls Aspen home for the summer, her absolute favorite spot to spend the season. With these recommendations, we can see why.
The town's history is deep, and its sense of place strong, evidenced by the beautifully preserved Victorian buildings from the mining days and historic ski chalets. You’ll also find Modernist buildings from the Bauhaus designers that the Paepckes, the couple who re-founded Aspen as a cultural mecca and ski resort, brought to help shape the look of the town in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Today there are many contemporary buildings and influences.
Why to go:
· Aspen is eco-minded, and obsessed with nature and outdoor pursuits. Aspen’s passion for fitness may be why so many professional athletes, from skiers to bikers, call it home. If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Aspen is the town that never rests.
· The crystalline air and the brilliant light. It hits you immediately. Beauty will initially take your mind off of how thin the air is at town’s base elevation of 7,900 feet.
· Despite its reputation as a destination for celebrities—it’s that too, especially in winter—Aspen possesses a relentlessly highbrow, cultural side, which is in full bloom during summer. It inspires you to lift yourself out of your usual, everyday self and become that more interesting person.
· There’s something about this place that gives you the confidence to leave your comfort zone and try new things. Whether it is to push your knowledge, test your physical abilities or bring out your sense of adventure, Aspen stirs something within you to live a better life.
Paepcke Suite at the Little Nell
Where to Stay
The Little Nell. With a perfect location at the base of Aspen Mountain, The Little Nell is both posh and comfortable. A remodel a couple years ago transformed it from chintz into a contemporary mountain palace with verve and style. Picture sleek Holly Hunt furniture and wood floors, with bold contemporary art and comfy fur throws. Not to mention the impeccable service. Splurge on one of their six ultra-lux suites, including the 2,500 square foot one-bedroom Paepcke Suite and chill out with a glass of bubbly in hand on your private balcony, taking in big views of Aspen Mountain.
Where to Eat
The Little Nell
Victoria’s is the best coffee and chai latte in town. Don’t forget the house-cured lox—on a bagel or with scrambled eggs, and the breakfast wraps. For late afternoon to early evening, it transforms into a chill wine bar, making it the place to begin and end your day.
Peaches is a popular local gathering spot, with a lively outdoor patio with great people watching, breakfast eggs, as well as a menu with healthy salads and tasty comfort foods—from burgers to pizzas— all made with local and organic ingredients.
Spring Cafe is an organic vegetarian menu, including some gluten-free and vegan dishes—with a comfy outdoor patio. Highly recommended are the huevos rancheros, tacos, and scrambled tofu as well as the smoothies.
Meat & Cheese
Ajax Tavern is the reward of a languorous lunch after a hike or bike ride, when you’ve earned its In-N-Out style Double Double burger. If you are eating on the lighter side, order oysters with a crisp Chablis. Ajax is part of The Little Nell, so its wine list is superb.
Prospect Terrace at the Hotel Jerome’s garden has a gorgeous view of Aspen Mountain, and is famous for its Cobb Salad.
Meat & Cheese, owned by the valley’s Avalanche Cheese Company, has of course house-made cheese and charcuterie boards, but extends its offerings to the best rotisserie organic chicken in town. If you’re packing a picnic, this is the place to stock up.
Matsuhisa. Named after celebrity chef Nobu’s original LA spot, this restaurant is not part of the Nobu chain. Rather it’s part of a locally owned group that also operates Matsuhisas in both Vail and Denver. Downstairs is the scene and hard-to-get res, but upstairs is more civilized, especially in summer on its patio. They don’t take reservations, so sip cold sake while you wait. If you’re lucky, alpenglow will illuminate your view of Aspen’s famous Red Mountain as you dig into Matsu’s signature yellow tail jalapeño sashimi.
Element 47. Named for silver, the precious metal that first put Aspen on the map in the 1890s. In a go-go world, the Little Nell’s restaurant is a place to experience Slow Aspen and the pleasures of the table. It’s heaven for oenophiles, with more than 20,000 bottles of wine in its big-rep cellar. Nothing better than putting your Burgundy destiny in the hands of Master Somm/Wine Director Carlton McCoy.
Chefs Club at the St. Regis. While it has its own menu, its specialty is spotlighting dishes from Food & Wine magazine’s annual list of Best New Chefs, including special event dinners with these chefs throughout the year. In addition to its dining room, prime seats are at the countertop that looks out on the open kitchen. Let the in-house, longtime local chef Todd Slossberg cook a meal just for you.
Cache Cache. This Aspen institution, with a dedicated clientele, serves amazingly good French bistro fare, like Escargots a la Bourguigonne. Also, it has a top notch wine list, especially strong in Burgundies and Champagne. Its patio and open air bar are the places to sit.
Ellina. This is special for its intimate, open air bar, and bar menu. Its artichoke dishes—bruschetta, as well as steamed whole artichoke with aoli—are must have dishes.
Creperie du Village. Small and inviting—you feel as if you're in the Alps— with some outdoor seating. In addition to crepes, serves classics like raclette and fondue, as well as specials, with aplomb.
Aspen has many of the luxury brands you’ll find in NYC—from Prada to Dior to Vuitton and more, but locally owned, interesting stores are:
· Nuages. Owner Mary Moyer has a great eye, with a specialty of finding emerging designers.
· Performance Ski. Chic but functional active and sportswear you won’t find elsewhere.
· Gorsuch: a classic for ski and outdoors wear, and also fashion brands that work with the active but stylish Aspen lifestyle
· Ute Mountaineer: The go-to for all outdoor clothing and supplies, from Patagonia to North Face and more.
The Art Scene
· Baldwin Gallery. Long a trailblazer for contemporary art, it’s one of best galleries both locally and internationally. Roster includes Will Cotton; Carroll Dunham; Eric Fischl; Jim Hodges; Marilyn Minter; Tom Sachs; Laurie Simmons and others.
· The Aspen Art Museum. Aspen’s commitment to the arts, and its vast wealth, have no better symbol than the museum building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Shigeru Ban. You can’t miss the hulking size of this three-story glass-walled building, with its distinctive basket-like wood-clad and glass exterior, with wood truss roof. It's a kunsthalle rather than a collecting institution, with exhibits focusing on cutting-edge contemporary artists.
· Anderson Ranch Arts Center is where you’ll discover your inner artist. Located at the nearby Snowmass ski resort, the former sheep and cattle ranch houses artists’ studios and offers workshops in photography, painting, ceramics, and more.
Belly Up is the place for live music. Check its website before your trip; many top shows sell out quickly, so buy tickets in advance.
· Find your way into the Caribou Club, Aspen’s first and best private club, with incredible food and scene. You can buy special weekly membership; ask your hotel concierge.
· The wine cellar at the Little Nell. Also make sure to get their delicious honey, which is from beehives on Aspen Mountain tended by a ski patroller.
· The Aspen Meadows. A dairy farm eons ago, this aspen tree lined parcel of land is home to the esteemed Aspen Institute, a non-profit that offers programs in leadership and ideas. Its campus is home to the Aspen Music Festival; and the Aspen Physics Center. Most of the buildings, originally designed by Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer, were rebuilt in the 1990s with a Bauhaus look and spirit. Get a map at the front desk of the Meadows and do a self-guided tour of its outdoor art, including a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome.
· JAS Café. The intimate concerts presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS), which holds a major summer and Labor Day festivals. This moveable series takes place in three locations: The Little Nell; the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum; and at the new Cooking School of Aspen.
· The Saturday downtown Farmer’s Market: the produce comes from nearby, lower-elevation Western Colorado towns.
· The Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop cafe, So, for a midmorning cappuccino with sweeping views of Independence Pass.
The Adrenaline Rush
Dubbed the “Daily Double”—first I hike to the 11,212 foot summit of Aspen Mountain, then take the gondola down; followed by an afternoon bike ride up the Maroon Bells or Castle Creek valleys.
Aspen Music Festival, entering its 67th season, is dubbed the “Julliard of the West,” because the 600 some international students at its affiliated school study with world-class musicians, many of whom are from Julliard. It’s a local tradition to bring a blanket and sit on the lawn, which is free, though I prefer sitting in its iconic Benedict Music Tent. Features talents like Joshua Bell, the Emerson String Quartet, Sarah Chang, and others.
Favorite Local Excursions
· The Little Nell’s Adventure Shop, with knowledgeable, fun guides. Experience Aspen’s high country by Jeep, from Little Annie’s to Taylor Pass, along with a picnic of culinary and wine bliss. Or Ride and Dine: bike down valley to a farm in Emma, where a farm-to-table feast is served; then cars return you to town after dinner.
· The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) offers free hiking tours led by experts on anything from wildflowers to local fauna and flora and mushrooming.
In Janet’s Aspen Survival Kit
· Clarins Sunscreen and Creme de La Mer Reparative Face Sun Lotion
· Clothing to layer, from a Moncler pouf to a Frauenshue fleece with a Patagonia windbreaker.
· Wide-brimmed Helen Kaminsky hats, with built in UPF 50+ sun protection
· Sensible but cool Nike black sneakers
· Big Celine sunglasses
· Drinking more than eight glasses of Aspen tap water a day
Don’t rent a car. The downtown is highly walkable, and the public transportation, called RFTA, can get you most places.