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The locals’ holiday: Aspen wholeheartedly embraces Halloween

  • 3 min to read

From the dimly lit depths of the infamous Caribou Club to the carnival-esque extravaganza at the North Forty, Aspen enjoys a rich history of embracing Halloween as the only true locals’ holiday.

“It’s an entire town that turns up for Halloween,” Aspen Mayor Torre said in an interview Thursday, “whether you’re trick-or-treating or you want to party downtown.”

Even in a boisterous town that needs little to no reason to celebrate, Halloween stands out as the only (nonreligious) holiday that falls during the “quiet” of offseason.

“And that’s part of what makes it so cool,” Torre said of the largely local feel.

The mayor said that while he’s experienced his share of “great [Halloween] parties” — be it scattered throughout San Francisco or amassing in Manhattan’s Lower East Side — what’s special about Aspen is that the whole town comes alive.

Even Aspen’s most exclusive members-only club opens its door to the masses for one ­night-turned-early-morning each year.

Louie Velasquez isn’t sure exactly which year the Caribou Club decided to toss the rulebook on Halloween. He knows it’s been at least 25 years since he joined the posh club as general manager.

The legend that the ‘Bou first opened the floodgates one Halloween because it became near impossible amid the crowds for the club’s hosts to recognize the decorated, costume-clad members from non-members, is true, Velasquez explains.

In other words, the doorman simply said, “screw it,” and a disorderly tradition was born.

There is, however, one rule that the Caribou Club strictly enforces on All Hallows’ Eve.

“You cannot just come with your street clothes,” Velasquez said adamantly. “You have to have a costume. It’s the only night.”

Asked to paint a picture of Halloween at the Caribou Club, Velasquez chuckles coyly and his eyes widen. He shares a story that’s not for print.

Pressed for a more printable anecdote, Velasquez disappears with no explanation. A minute or two later, he returns to the cushy, crimson couch in the corner of the club’s living room holding several stacks, each six or so inches thick, of photos.

Caribou Club tradition dictates that disposable cameras are left to document much of the night on Oct. 31. From the imaginative to the oh-so-basic, the get-ups run the gamut — princesses, pilots, captains, rockstars, vampires, scarecrows, go-go dancers, Edward Scissorhands and, of course, a tight black leather ensemble topped with furry animal (cat) ears.

The space itself transforms into a site that’s spookier than usual. In the alleyway outside the club, a grave site pays tribute to icons who passed that year: “Burt Reynolds East Bound and Down” and “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown - or What” read two tombstones from last Halloween.

“Some of the people really put a lot of thought and energy into their costumes,” Velasquez said, flipping through the pictures.

“It’s a good energy [and] a fun night,” he offered. “Most everybody knows each other. It’s busy, and the people love it.”

A photo of Aspen socialite and self-proclaimed Halloween enthusiast May Selby — or, on this night, Cinderella — surfaces from the stacks.

While Selby appreciates all of the holidays, Halloween holds a special place in her heart.

“Halloween is just so fun … It’s just a celebration of dressing up and getting down,” she said in an interview earlier this week. “And I love the fact that it’s not a night that [local businesses] are trying to make a lot of money, they just make a lot of fun.”

Before hitting the town, Selby, her husband, Troy, and their six-year-old son, Remy, wander the streets in character and in search of sweets. Selby said it is this distinct combination of “child-like fascination and adult revelry” that places Halloween at the top of her list.

Of course, a holistic look at Halloween in Aspen would be incomplete without recognizing the unofficial trick-or-treating headquarters.

Halloween at the North Forty, simply put, is “a night like none other,” said Mike Wessler, a North Forty resident and HOA president.

Wessler starts thinking about the next year’s Halloween in November when stores discount candy and other unsold items.

No matter the year, a stroll through the North Forty at the end of October reveals a similar level of commitment and care.

There is nothing basic about Halloween in this neighborhood, where hologram attractions dance in windows, life-size witches and ­cauldrons ornament lawns, sensor-based ­decorations spook passersby and a mariachi band performs on a porch.

“It’s the place to be on Halloween,” said Tami Solondz, who also lives in the North Forty. “There’s lots of lights and sounds and visual aesthetics and good cheer and people from all walks of life.”

A North Forty resident of 10 years, Solondz remembers her first Halloween in the neighborhood. While Solondz admits that her neighbors warned her of the mayhem, “You kind of don’t believe it until you see it,” she said.

Today, Solondz helps organize the annual themes, by which other moms of the North Forty dress accordingly. Spoiler alert: This year’s theme is “whistleblowers.”

Replacing Cemetery Lane as the go-to locale for children, “people come from all neighborhoods” to trick-or-treat in the North Forty, Solondz said.

Positioned on the neighborhood’s main strip, Solondz feels comfortable buying no fewer than 1,200 pieces of candy each year. For homes located more toward the back, she estimates that closer to 900 to 1,000 sweeties is a safe call.

Asked what makes Halloween in this Aspen neighborhood so special, Wessler said, “The community aspect rooted with the adults and children is the real selling point for all of us in the North Forty.

“No one ever has a bad time.”

Erica Robbie is the arts and entertainment editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.