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Stargazing in Aspen
Favorite Nightspots are a Constellation of Stars During Aspen Winters
Astronomically speaking, the Colorado high country is a great place for serious space cadets to watch meteor showers, satellites crossing the night sky, planets going retrograde or stars twinkling in galaxies far, far away.
But for close encounters of a celebrity kind, stargazing in our resort villages, particularly Aspen, can be just as rewarding.
Long known as a favorite playground of the rich and famous, Aspen has over the years provided residential refuge to a number of well-known personalities, including members of the Kennedy family, actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Angelica Huston, Sally Field, Kevin Costner, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John, Don Johnson, and Jack Nicholson. Singer Jimmy Buffett and members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band also hold locals' status.
The list of frequent visitors runs the celebrity gamut, from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver to Paul Simon, Oprah, Paul Hogan, Calvin Klein and Bill Clinton.
Just where might you rub elbows with these folks? Well, Aspen boasts several hotels, restaurants and nightspots that count not only film and rock stars among their guests, but also political powerhouses and sports giants. And, of course, you might just spot a prince or a Backstreet Boy on the slopes of Ajax Mountain or at Snowmass.
One great place to start is the elegantly historic Hotel Jerome on Main Street, where Rosie O'Donnell, Christie Brinkley, Sylvester Stallone, David Spade, Johnny Depp, Steve Forbes, Stephen Stills, Eddie Van Halen (and Valerie Bertinelli), Donald Trump (and Whoever), Al and Tipper Gore, Lee Iaccoca, MTV's Kennedy, Matt Lauer and a few dozen more heavy hitters have stayed. Inside the Jerome, visit the Library and the J-Bar, picked by Playboy magazine as one of the best taverns in the country and headquarters for gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson when he ran for Pitkin County Sheriff. Thompson, by the way, can now usually be found at the Woody Creek Tavern just down the road.
Another good bet for catching that glimpse of a celebrity is the St. Regis on Dean Street at the base of Ajax, where piano music tinkles in the lobby lounge and Whiskey Rocks nightclub dishes up live music. Word on the street is that the St. Regis is a favored rest stop for lots of big names when they're in town.
Looking for the definitive in Aspen chic? It flows freely at East Durant Street's Little Nell, where Oprah has been sighted on several occasions. Wintertime is the best time to run into musicians who are in town for performances. Check out The Greenhouse bar, where you might catch sight of a famous face.
Dances with Wolves? How about Shoots Pool with Sharks? Kevin Costner is somewhat of a regular at Eric's on Hyman Avenue, where there's a main bar with microbrews and imports on tap, a pool room (where Kev hangs) and a cigar bar that serves up primo cigars and yummy martinis in a comfortable setting.
If it's rock 'n' roll you seek and those who make the magic, Club Chelsea on the Hyman Avenue Mall is your CD (Club Designee). Lots of Aspen locals (read: celebrities) drop in often, either as headliners or to sit in. And for more live rock ’n’ roll stars, hit The Double Diamond on Galena Street. Among those who played here early on in their careers are Sheryl Crow, Bruce Hornsby, Jimmy Buffett, Widespread Panic, Bonnie Raitt, Blues Traveler and Barenaked Ladies. Consider that your tip-off.
Restaurants that draw celebrities include those at the Jerome and St. Regis, as well as Hannibal Brown's, where the cuisine is gourmet natural. And Kenichi sushi has served Chelsea Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Demi Moore and Dean Cain. For Mexican food and politico sightings, try the Cantina on Main Street, especially on election night.
There's one more nightclub that must be mentioned, and that's the famed Caribou Club, a private place with no name on the door, but to which you can buy a weeklong membership. The bartender of the Collins Block (near the Wheeler Opera House) establishment makes it his business to learn your favorite drink — and remember it. The surroundings are absolutely remarkable, and the photo gallery on the website (www.caribouclub.com) tells the story of the club's guest list.
Coffee houses such as Cafe Ink on Durant Street are good vantage points for people-watching, and if you down enough joe to float a battleship, your chances of spotting a celebrity increase. Health clubs and styling salons can be strategic locations, too. One Aspen local told us that her manicurist saw Meg Ryan, ball cap pulled low for that incognito effect, walking down the street and in dire need of having her nails done.
If you book your trip to coincide with special events, you increase your odds of running into a famous face. The Aspen Film Fest in October is a surefire bet, and New Year's Eve at the St. Regis is fabled. The Wheeler Opera House hosts more than 300 events each year, including a tribute to the late John Denver that's attended by friends and family of the singer/songwriter/actor.
Five-time World Cup champion Kiki Cutter's Spirit of Skiing event in late January is still another big celebrity draw, and, for the past eight years in late February, HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival has been held in Aspen. In addition to up-and-coming comedians, the festival showcases the talents of the country's best and brightest. Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Jerry Lewis, Jerry Seinfeld, Catherine O'Hara, Janeane Garafalo, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Larry David, Albert Brooks, the guys of Monty Python, Rob Reiner, the Smothers Brothers, George Carlin, Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Martin Short have all been on the roster. Also, "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and program producers James L. Brooks and Mike Scully have attended.
And, for the literati, there's the Aspen Writers' Foundation Winter Words, a reading/lecture series that's brought John Irving, Amy Tan, Peter Mathiessen, Spalding Gray and other renowned authors to town.
So, now you know it's true: The stars really do shine just a bit more brightly in Aspen. And if you take a break from stargazing to look into the heavens above, you'll see they absolutely glitter over this famous Colorado resort town, too..
Kathleen Thomas is a freelance writer living in Hartsel, Colorado.