I texted a friend midday Saturday to tell him I had run into a mutual acquaintance at the new W Hotel’s rooftop pool. The response came back: “You’re inside the roundabout on Labor Day? Brave Man. God’s speed.”
It’s the kind of thing some locals say to each other at the height of tourist season, when it’s really busy in Aspen. After all, those of us who work for a living within commuting distance of the 81611 zip code all share the experience of Aspen’s tourism cycle. At some level we all like it and we all certainly appreciate it. After all, it pays the bills directly or indirectly for most of us. But there comes a point when fatigue starts to set in just a tad, and you start to long for those late-fall mornings when traffic in and out of town declines to merely insane levels.
But sometimes the stars align in such a way that its would be downright unfortunate to pass on an opportunity to spend a night in the Aspen core on Labor Day weekend, and for me this was it. Several months ago, I received an email notification that Amos Lee would be playing Belly Up on Saturday, Aug. 31, Labor Day weekend. Being one of my favorite singer-musicians, I booked tickets for me and my wife as soon as they went on sale.
I must admit I felt a little like Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s goof-ball movie “Vacation,” planning our little jaunt into town down to the most minute detail. The next question was where to stay. While investigating options I then learned that the new W Hotel was anticipated to be open before Labor Day. With the help of a friend or two I was able to snag a room during the hotel’s grand opening holiday weekend. It was all coming together.
Where to eat was the next question, the answer to which was actually quite simple. Victoria’s on Durant had offered dinner for two as a silent auction item at last April’s Jake Foerster Music Arts Fund Sonic Showdown fundraiser. The certificate had been staring at me from the back of my desk for a few months and this opportunity would give me a chance to use it.
When it was all said and done, an Aspen “staycation” night was booked. Dinner at Victoria’s, a concert at Belly Up and a night at the new W. All three venues within a stone’s throw of each other on Aspen’s venerable Durant Avenue. All that was left was the experience itself.
Upon arrival, my first observation was how pedestrian my Honda looked compared to all the exotic vehicles parked in front of the W’s entrance. My second observation was how many people in Aspen work on Labor Day. The irony of so many Aspen laborers not enjoying the day off on our nation’s holiday in honor of labor was not lost on me. Aspen locals work hard, often inconvenient shifts as a tradeoff for the opportunity to reside in this genuinely spectacular place.
Upon going inside, I was relieved to hear another local couple inquiring about getting a room in the next week or so in order to experience the W for themselves; such was the vibe created by its recent opening. Once checked in we dropped our bags, donned our bathing suits and headed to the rooftop, where the aforementioned exchange with a mutual acquaintance took place. Needless to say, the view of Aspen Mountain is unobstructed, and since the pool, bar and disco are open to the public, I am confident that many Aspen workers will make it a regular off day spot in the future. And yes, there were actually people dancing in their bathing suits in broad daylight at the outdoor disco on the W’s roof.
Dinner and Amos Lee were next. Victoria’s staff successfully navigated the process of accepting my donation certificate as payment for dinner for me and my wife on their patio, and then around the corner and down the stairs we went to see Amos Lee at Belly Up.
An unexpected surprise was Amos Lee’s guest performer, Madison Cunningham, whose trio performed a brief but exquisite opener of original music. Her performance reminded me of many years ago, in 2006, when my wife and I saw another relatively unknown female artist at Belly Up. On that particular mid-week February evening the still relatively unknown performer was Sarah Barielles. A year later her single “Love Song” propelled her to mainstream success, including seven Grammy nominations. I don’t know anything about the music business, but I would not be at all surprised if a similar outcome awaits Madison Cunningham. Amos and his band were, of course, sublime.
Upon returning to the hotel, wanting to see all of what it had to offer, we visited both the Living Room indoor outdoor bar/restaurant and the hotel’s downstairs disco lounge (they call it a “bar and grotto”). While it’s true that I frequently run into W Hotel developer John Sarpa on my work-related ventures into Aspen, the last place I expected to see him was in his own hotel’s disco on Labor Day weekend — but at midnight there he was. When you’re opening a new hotel in Aspen, even the developer can’t enjoy a holiday off. I congratulated him on the W’s grand opening and his perseverance over the years in dealing with intransigent elected officials and bureaucrats, including me.
It was a fitting end to a brief, but memorable “inside the roundabout” Aspen Labor Day “staycation.”