Aspen: The Height of Cool

A picturesque hike through Maroon Bells | Photo by Linda Armstrong

A picturesque hike through Maroon Bells | Photo by Linda Armstrong

As soon as the asphalt starts to burn, I hit the road. So quickly, so eagerly and so frequently that a friend recently gifted me a shirt with a message I proudly stand behind: “I Heart Vacation.”

One of my favorite summer escapes: Aspen, Colorado. Wipe from your mind the vision of Aspen only being a snow-covered luxury enclave for the one percent. I prefer the place long after the A-list has packed up their Moncler puffers. The temperature is perfect from April to October, right around the time when Vegas is sweltering. Plus, when I hit the road, I have three primary goals—eating well, drinking well and sleeping in a cool hotel—and Aspen has that trio on lock.

Take, for instance, the Hotel Jerome. A historic property built in 1889 to rival the Ritz in Paris, the Hotel Jerome reportedly housed the first steam-powered elevator west of the Mississippi when it opened. In 2012, the property turned to Las Vegas-based interiors firm TAL Studio to restore it to its modern glory, with an aesthetic that is best described as mountain authentic meets raw luxury. For the remodel, TAL principal Todd-Avery Lenahan brought in pieces from various time periods that were significant to Aspen, but the feel is never Victorian. For example, the interiors of the elevator are a patchwork of old leather belts, and the in-room minibars are crafted to look like steamer trunks.

Even for those not staying overnight, the Hotel Jerome’s Living Room is a great place to have a cocktail with friends and bask in the rich, Americana decor. The J-Bar—the former “office” of area resident Hunter S. Thompson—boasts the best burger in town; I order it almost mooing, and this ketchup lover is left wondering why condiments were ever invented.

Once I have sufficiently rested and eaten, it’s time to drink. For that pastime paradise, I head to Bootsy Bellows, the only real Vegas-style nightclub/lounge in Aspen. The brand is a carryover from the popular Hollywood venue of the same name, whose operator (the H.wood Group) runs the exclusive Heart of Omnia at Caesars Palace.

And this is just my first day in town. There will, of course, be several more. Because while the energy and excitement of Las Vegas always pull me back home eventually, I’m never in a rush to abandon the crisp Rocky Mountain air and 70-degree midsummer days.

Makes you wonder why the one percent ever leaves this place …

The historic and recently renovated Hotel Jerome | Photo courtesy Auberge Resorts

The historic and recently renovated Hotel Jerome | Photo courtesy Auberge Resorts

How to get there

Fly direct from Las Vegas to Grand Junction, Colorado, on hometown airline Allegiant. There are only two round-trip flights per week, so you can’t be picky with the dates, but in turn the fares are more than reasonable. Once grounded in Grand Junction, rent a car and drive about 130 miles east through some amazing scenery to Aspen.

Where to stay

The Kimpton’s Sky Hotel shows well for the cool set with a fun lobby scene and comfortable, brightly outfitted rooms. It’s pet friendly, and they have a daily hosted wine reception known as Altitude Adjustment from 6 to 7 p.m. … For the ultimate in luxury, book the St. Regis; with your room, you gain access to special events such as a Whiskey and Midnight Supper soiree or an experiential driving adventure with Lexus.

Where to dine

Dinner gets plated at the Food & Wine Chef’s Club restaurant. | Photo by Aaron Arizpe

Dinner gets plated at the Food & Wine Chef’s Club restaurant. | Photo by Aaron Arizpe

For something a little more formal, St. Regis features the Food & Wine Chef’s Club restaurant, which showcases the talent within the magazine’s Best New Chefs awards platform. … Le Creperie du Village is perfect for a savory lunch. Try the croque madame, or for an evening sweet treat, order the Midnight in Paris crème brûlée. … The White House Tavern is where you might find me on the patio with a glass of pinot grigio and the Chicago-style spinach dip. … If you like your ribs hot and juicy (just like Oprah does), stop at Hickory House for some of Aspen’s best barbecue.

What to do

Since Aspen is a town that retires on the early side, there’s no excuse not to wake up fresh and burn some calories. From biking and fly fishing to hiking and rafting on the Roaring Fork River, the outdoor summer activities in Aspen rival those in the winter. If you’re looking for something less strenuous—and some spectacular Insta-worthy images—check out Maroon Bells for a view of some the most photographed peaks in the United States.

Don’t miss

Another advantage Aspen has over Vegas: a contemporary art museum. Hit the Aspen Art Museum for a healthy dose of modern visuals from some of the top artists creating works today, such as Anne Collier, Teresita Fernández, Anthony Discenza and Rob Pruitt.

Back to Summer Getaways.