Historic Jerome Hotel: Aspen’s Social Center

Historic Jerome Hotel: Aspen’s Social Center

“Don’t be too obvious, but take a look to your right,” my wife whispers over breakfast. “Sitting two tables away is Don Henley, lead singer of the Eagles!”

I glance over, scarcely surprised by the celebrity sighting. After all, for more than a century, stars have sipped morning coffee at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome.

Once a silver-mining boomtown, Aspen lies nestled at 7,900 feet in the valley of the Roaring Fork River. Mountains surround the Colorado community. Their rounded humps and jagged peaks glisten under a blanket of powdery snow. To the south, ski runs lead straight to the edge of town, the trails carving broad swaths down a plunging hillside.

Displaying its minerals-to-megabucks lineage, Aspen exhibits an eclectic blend of old and new. Renovated brick and sandstone buildings abut pseudo-Victorian and contemporary structures.

Pedestrian malls horseshoe the town’s hub, their brick walkways lined with shops and galleries. Restaurants abound and scent the mountain air with sautéing garlic. Near the heart of it all stands Hotel Jerome.

Racking skis at Hotel Jerome

In 1889, silver magnate Jerome Wheeler financed the hotel to rival the Ritz in Paris. His three-story brick edifice boasted electric lighting, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water and one of Colorado’s first elevators, a device so slow that settees were installed for ladies who needed to rest between floors.

New owners expanded and refurbished the structure in the 1980s, updating plumbing and wiring, enlarging rooms and adding new wings. Although thoroughly modernized, the venerable hotel’s turn-of-the-century elegance remains.

We had entrusted our car to the curbside valet and entered a lobby that resembles a Victorian parlor. Flames flickered from a fireplace, its mantle made of relief-carved oak. Over-stuffed sofas and glass-topped coffee tables sit atop an oriental rug. On the wall hangs an oak clock that once contained the ashes of a former chef. Like luminaries before us, we registered at an old-fashioned reception desk.

From its inception, Hotel Jerome served as the social center of the Aspen community, hosting swarms of celebrities. Albert Schweitzer stayed on his only visit to America. Lowell Thomas broadcast from the Jerome’s confines.

Movie stars Lana Turner and husband Lex (“Tarzan”) Barker sojourned in one of the suites. Gary Cooper sat on the sidewalk, ogling lithesome lovelies with the locals.

John Wayne reportedly boozed and brawled in its bar when he breezed through town on business.

Bedroom suite at the Hotel Jerome

Hotel Jerome has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, and walking to our room is like sauntering through an open museum. Brass and iron light fixtures grace hallways and rooms. Cast hinges have been polished and reused. Original bronze, ceramic and cut-glass knobs still open doors. Antique furniture lines hallways.

Individually decorated, each of the rooms creates its own ambiance. Ours features a combination of flowered green carpet, dark wood trim and bold, floral-print wallpaper. Lace panels cover window glass behind heavy draperies. A down comforter covers the bed.

“Most hotels look alike when you wake up,” one regular guest tells us, “but you always know where you are when you awaken in the Jerome.”

I lay back on the leather couch to watch the last half of the game. My wife opts for a bubble bath in the Jacuzzi tub. After pouring in a bottle of bubble bath, she activates the jets and luxuriates as an ever-increasing sea of foam threatens to overflow and inundate her sanctuary.

While our chamber appears ostentatiously Victorian, the bathroom is lavishly modern. Finished in marble, it includes twin sinks and a separate shower and tub. Dressing room-style lights border wall-to-wall mirrors. Slippers and monogrammed robe await when my love eventually emerges from beneath the soothing suds. She dresses, and we head down to dine.

For meals, the Jerome offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Garden Terrace restaurant, which features Colorado-style French cuisine. Across the lobby, there’s the Library Lounge, where we can order tapas-style dishes and premium alcohol. We choose, instead, the classic J-Bar.

Many of history’s notables have imbibed beneath the room’s pressed-tin ceiling. It’s said that actress Hedy Lamarr anchored a barstool for days. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, author of the “Fear and Loathing” books, once campaigned here for sheriff. His election poster still hangs behind the bar.

Inside the J-Bar at Hotel Jerome

My wife suggests we go for a swim, so we depart the bar and take the elevator up to our room. Donning suits and robes, we head for the pool with a bit of anticipation.

At Hotel Jerome, there is no telling who we might find there.

If You Go

For information, contact Hotel Jerome directly, 970-920-1000, www.hoteljerome.rockresorts.com. Telephone reservations also may be made with Rock Resorts, 877-412-7625.

Dan Leeth is a freelance writer who lives in Aurora. Visit his website, lookingfortheworld.com.

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