Culture / Travel / Society

Aspen VIP Guide — Insiders Reveal the Secret Haunts of the Rich Man’s Paradise

Where Membership Is (Almost) Everything

BY // 06.09.17

In advance of the Aspen Food & Wine Classic this weekend, the swans and their mates from across the country take wing on their Gulfstreams and Falcons heading for this high-altitude, high-roller summer aerie. It’s the ultimate rich man’s playground, the 8,000 foot high answer to Cap d’Antibes or St. Tropez.

A Centurion card is not the only thing required to savor the haute luxuries that Aspen offers. You’ll need to know where to hang out, where to hike, to dine and rest your head at night. In addition, in order to savor the total ultra Aspen experience, you’ll need friends with the benefits of membership — in the Caribou Club, the Dancing Bear, the Roaring Fork Club, and the Little Nell’s Top of the Mountain club.

PaperCity surveyed a number of Aspen regulars and has combined their recommendations for this insider’s guide to haute Aspen.

Where to stay: The Little Nell ranks the best for bunking with the swank Viceroy in Snowmass and the Hotel Jerome, much improved since joining Auberge ranks, rounding out the recommended choices. However, friends with memberships come in handy for two amazing private residence clubs: the sophisticated Dancing Bear in the heart of Apsen and the grandly mountain-esque Roaring Fork Club on the road to Basalt. (Love the latter’s golf course, spacious clubhouse and surrounding mountain cabins). 

House rentals: Looking for something more lavish than a hotel room, cabin or condo, those in the know turn to Frias Properties of Aspen,  Engel & Volkers, and Five Star Destinations. Aspen and Snowmass boast scores of dwellings suitable for the most demanding energy barons and kings of commerce. A number of Texans have time shares at the chichi Little Nell Residences thus friends with memberships become friends with benefits.

Dining: You must find a friend with membership in the Little Nell’s Aspen Mountain Club for this is where you’ll find the celebs, your Texas friends and amazing views of the Elk Mountain Range. You can still rub shoulders with the elite by snagging an outside table at Casa Tua, reserving a rooftop perch at Aspen Kitchen, checking in at Acquolina, Cache Cache, Ajax Tavern, Matsuhisa and Pinions. Check out the White House Tavern for lunch and try the deviled eggs. 

Statement Makers

  • J McLaughlin - Card Deck 2 - Statement Makers
  • J McLaughlin - Card Deck 2 - Statement Makers
  • J McLaughlin - Card Deck 2 - Statement Makers
  • J McLaughlin - Card Deck 2 - Statement Makers
  • J McLaughlin - Card Deck 2 - Statement Makers

For breakfast, we long for the days of the Main Street Bakery & Cafe, which closed in October. In its place we must make the drive all the way to Carbondale to Village Smitty. Devotees swear that it’s worth the drive and the wait in line. Closer to home, Aspen’s Paradise Bakery with its to-die-for, fresh from the oven muffins is always a breakfast winner.

Celebrity sightings: They descend from their mountain aeries for the old-fashioned, colorful Fourth of July parade, which poses a great opportunity for star-gazing. The party of the season, where everyone who is anyone is in attendance, is the Aspen Art Museum’s ArtCrush and accompanying WineCrush. Dallas’ Amy Phelan chairs the three-day fete.

Further schmoozing with celebs and power brokers can be found on the museum’s rooftop cafe SO (spectacular views of Aspen Mountain and Independence Pass), the bar at the Little Nell and, of course, the Caribou Club. But you’ll need a friend with membership for the Caribou, which is consistently, year-round the hottest place to see and be seen.

Bicycling is a favorite Aspen pastime.
Bicycling is a favorite Aspen pastime.


Outdoor moves: Fly fishing, biking, hiking, mountaintop yoga. We recommend Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt for the best guides and overall shop experience. Biking to Maroon Bells and Woody Creek Tavern for lunch are an Aspen tradition while more recently biking to Basalt and even to Carbondale ( mostly downhill, hitch a return ride) are popular. A personal favorite is biking to Pine Creek Cook House but you’ll need to be good shape for this one, or forget the exercise and take a car as the views are spectacular. Private yoga instructors and group yoga are part of the Aspen experience including mountaintop stretches and deep breathing events.

Hiking:  So many trails, so little time. Our experts, all of whom have vacation homes in Aspen, recommend the hike between Maroon Bells and Gothic, the Arbaney Kittle Trail connecting Basalt and Old Snowmass Trail, Hunter Creek accessible from downtown Aspen, Lost Man trails for high Alpine terrain, and the Ute trail, 5.5 mile, 3,169 feet elevation gain. If you are up for the challenge, trails lead to the West Maroon Pass where you can keep going all the way down the other side to Crested Butte and hitch a shuttle back to Aspen. It’s a rite of passage for Aspen regulars.

Golf: Maroon Creek Golf Club is the hands down winner in this category. But once again, you’ll have to have a member willing to share the golf cart. However, the Aspen Municipal Golf Course, the Snowmass Club golf course , and the River Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carbondale offer spectacular views and fairway challenges.

Everyone’s favorite: The Aspen Music Festival provides all the classical music one could want in this spectacular setting — more than 400 classical music events including concerts by five orchestras, solo and chamber music performances, opera performances and opera scenes master classes. Whether picnicking on the grounds of the Benedict Music Tent or securing reserved seating, the concerts are the cultural epicenter of Aspen in summer.

What to wear:  Jeans (blue and white) with sassy Ts or tailored shirts. As one regular declared, “jeans and bling.” Casual but chic with serious designer handbags, great shoes. Gents can leave the blazer and ties at home, unless you have invitations for uber-swank Red Mountain evenings. Layering is not only trés chic but trés important as the temps can drop with a tiny rain shower.

Aspen no no’s: Speeding through town (the speed limit is 25 mph) and failing to give pedestrians the right-of-way in this walking-friendly town. Hostess gifts — as one Aspen homeowner noted of this frequent faux pas, “Showing up at a private party with an oversized hostess gift no one needs or wants.”  

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